AmericanLongRifles Forums

General discussion => Tutorials => Miscellaneous Tutorials => Topic started by: B Shipman on July 17, 2008, 07:40:36 AM

Title: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: B Shipman on July 17, 2008, 07:40:36 AM
I'm the idiot, so this has to be simple.

There are many ways to do gun photogrphy. Positioning banks of lights, light painting,light tents, etc.  The simplest way is diffuse light.

Photograph on a overcast day when you can't see your shadow. Diffuse light is the key. I have an old 5 mp digital. Expensive at the time but better ones today are half the price.

Set for standard pictures with the exception of distance. Set for the proper distance. No flash.

Steady the camera. I use a tripod and rotate the camera on two legs. You could probaby use a stick.

Run your eye along the line of sight of the camera. What you see in terms of highlighting carving, glare or shadows on brass, etc. is what you'll get.

The background. You can't use a white background. What appears white in publications is actually "photo grey". Any medium color will do, and even black, but not white. Solid color will make the work more distinct for pure photos which is what I like. Something like barnwood or a pile of leaves will work fine in terms of light but may confuse the camera. What does it focus on?  The leaf or the rifle. Background paper can be obtained from Just lay it on the porch or driveway. I use hidden plastic bottlecaps to tilt the rifle a bit if I want to.

A three star quality setting is fine. A TIFF setting is not necessary. Use the quality setting just below it. If you're posting to a website, determine the maximum width of photo the site accepts. Edit to this width exactly and your photos will be as clear as possible. You or a website cannot resize an already resized digital photo without "impalations"; that jagged, fuzzy border.

Can't wait for an overcast day?  Taking the picture in a shadow will work; though not as well. Also, strong light sources nearby will wreck things. Example: Perfect overcast day, snow on the ground, driveway clear. Terrible photos because of the glare from the snow.
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: ironwolf on July 17, 2008, 11:44:17 AM
  Thanks for sharing those techniques Bill.  You always did take the nicest pictures.  Gotta' go out and practice more with the camera.

  Thanks again, Kevin
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: B Shipman on July 18, 2008, 07:04:34 AM
About 20 years ago, I flew to Tenna. to have a pro take pictures of some of my rifles. He'd done covers on Muzzleblasts and other gun mags. Cost 800 bucks plus planefare back then. I think my shots on the driveway, as far as pure gun pictures go, are as good or better. There are fancy background papers that are shaded and other things you can think u[p to be artistic if you like. Remember - what you see along the axis of the camera, is what you get. Be fussy and move the camera around.
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: John A. Stein on July 22, 2008, 02:25:38 AM
For a nice neutral background spray paint a large piece of cardboard or plywood with gray auto body primer. It has a soft, flat surface. John Stein
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Jim Filipski on July 23, 2008, 02:22:02 PM
Here is one done in Photoshop from a straight shot

Here is the straight original simple shot

The set up was placed 4 feet from a glass patio door that had a thin sheet of white muslin hung
on it to difuuse the sunlight coming in the window. This was on the left side. you can see the direction
of the main light is coming from the window on the left ( note the highlight on the flintlock cock)
A white posterboard card was held over the set up to evenly illuminate the steel parts by reflecting some light back ito the top of the shot.
A silver piece of mylar packing material ( usually used to ship refrigerated materials ) was held at an angle by the cameras right side
to bounce light into the shadow area.
This was taken with an old point & shoot digital camera (3 megapix  2001 vintage) Shot on the Manual setting so I had control
of my shutter speed & f stop. built in flash was turned off and camera was on a steady tripod. Exposure was about 1sec at f5.6
I will try to post a line drawing diagram of the shot when I draw it up.
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Acer Saccharum on July 23, 2008, 05:39:54 PM
Jim, that last one has a 'dreamy brunette' look to it.

I like the idea that this thread could post some pictures and give  some simple instruction how to achieve the results.

Maybe when you guys are done showing off you can give us some clues how to proceed with taking our own photos. After a while, maybe this whole post could be edited and consolidated into a really useful tutorial.
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Jim Filipski on July 23, 2008, 06:31:41 PM
Bill's tutorial here is a great start and they are words of wisdom Folks can go along way improving by what he wrote  no need in complicating things

Anyway I'm planing on adding to the tutorial  with some tips on "Simple" and "A Step Up photography" for builders. The latter will require some tools of the trade you can make ( way simpler then making tools for gun building so I know you all can handle it)
Just need to get out from behind my workbench after hours but it is in the works.

(Tom.....Now as to those "Dreamy Brunette Photos " They will be in you email box tonight! I don't just photograph guns you know)

Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Photog on July 23, 2008, 11:24:03 PM
Sorry, I haven't added to my profile yet. I am in northern Michigan.

And I wasn't just showing off, the bottom pic was done with a twenty dollar flash and a mag light. The top one could be done next to a window with a reflector or with 2 cheap flashes and some cardboard.
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Jim Filipski on July 23, 2008, 11:53:13 PM
You are to be commended on the nice work with minimal equipment...............
I was the one over the edge!  My apologies go to you and the readers of the forum ( Just wishing for a section to post neat photos-Hint Hint!)  I did some "showboating" with a few of my post and it was uncalled for. I have removed those I thought were out of place . The folks here were adding useful hints & I was posting pretty pics with no information to help with the tutorial.

Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Photog on July 24, 2008, 12:10:30 AM
OK here goes.
Here is the set up. A foot or two from the window, a tinfoil covered piece of cardboard on the other side to reflect light into the darkside. I shot this hand held at iso 800, much higher than I like. This should have been on a tripod, but I wanted to see if I could do it without. Around F4.5 at 1/30th.
And here is what it looks like.
You can do the same thing with a long gun, you will just have a lot of dead space, detail shots would take care of that.
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Photog on July 24, 2008, 12:19:25 AM
As you can see from my post times this took me around 45 min. to do. During that time I had to run upstairs to find the gun,  then scroung around for a nipple, then figure out a way to hold my background up (that's where the tripod is) and do all the photoshop work. By the way all I did in photoshop was take out the stand, turn the pic, and ramp up the contrast. Oh yeah, photoshop crashed while I did it and I had to restart the computer, and then post the shots to So the overall setup and photography took around 15 minutes.
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Acer Saccharum on July 24, 2008, 01:39:05 AM
Photog, THAT'S my kind of set up. Simple and effective, yet really nice results.

If I used my south facing window, I'd want some kind of translucent film to diffuse the light a bit. Add a few more low-cost tin foil reflectors, and away we go. I also like your dark backdrop, way, far away.

i'll have to learn photoshop, THEN I will be dangerous!


Jim, none of this material seems out of place at this time. if it bothers you, you can delete your own post.

i am on the road to Dixon's tomorrow!
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Jim Filipski on July 24, 2008, 02:00:03 PM
If I used my south facing window, I'd want some kind of translucent film to diffuse the light a bit. Add a few more low-cost tin foil reflectors, and away we go. I also like your dark backdrop, way, far away.


Jim, none of this material seems out of place at this time. if it bothers you, you can delete your own post.

i am on the road to Dixon's tomorrow!

Yes a diffusion screen over a South window would also work. Use some cheap muslin or other thin white cotton fabric to attach to the window If the sun hits the diffusion material you will get a nice light with  more direction (of the light source) Also depending on the reflectivity of the finish of the wood or the metal you can substitute white reflector cards which may reduce the shine coming back.

Tom I did pull some of my posts ( they weren't helping with the tutorial)
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Acer Saccharum on July 24, 2008, 07:00:14 PM
Tom I did put some of my posts ( they weren't helping with the tutorial)

Yeah, I know, but everyone likes to show off now and then, including yours truly. Thank you for your sensitivity.

in a half an hour, I will be wheelin' my way to Dixon's.......
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Jim Filipski on July 24, 2008, 07:04:32 PM
On Acers sugestion....What I would like to try to do in a few of my upcoming posts to this photo tutorial is to offer some assistance & explain a few basic concepts which will be geared for folks who want to take some better pictures of their work, but with the simplest equipment. (later hopefully to be followed by a more advance practices)

   First thing I will address is the simple point & shoot digital camera: while these are limited in the quality and features for doing high end photos that shouldn't discourage you because there are a heck of a lot of them out there and most of you will have them. 

To get started This is what you have to do:
1) most of these cameras have a "manual setting" if you have never read your cameras' handbook I suggest you do so  to understand how this setting works. This will be the most important feature to use on the simple point & shoot camera. This feature will let you set your exposure for the existing lighting by varying the shutter speed and f stop ( aperture). Any other mode then manual will have the camera microprocessor decide for you and most times it will be wrong with the lighting we will be using in our demonstrations.

2) forget about the built in flash Turn it off... It will not help you.

3) get yourself a steady tripod. (Hint the mounting hole thread in a camera for a tripod is 1/4-20 I'm sure you guys may be able to improvise on a steady just needs to be mobile to maneuver it around on multiple axis)

Other items you will need will be some light transparent white fabric like muslin to be used to diffuse light.  I would get a couple of yards of this cheap fabric.
Get at least two large pieces of white poster  or mounting board to be used as reflectors. two silver reflectors ( can be made by place alum foil over mounting board or what have you.

Also recommended but I'm sure you can find substitutes are some photoflood lights (2 or 3 if you want to work indoors without window light) and some light stands to hang lights or reflectors on( or a suitable alternative)

In theory: good photography can be achieved with
a) a main light source ( provides the bulk of the light and shapes the object)
b) A fill light source   ( adjusts the light in the shadow areas)
c) Modifiers and highlighters ( used to selectively place light or shadow in the image or controlling areas).

The difference in intensity of  the main and fill light will control "contrast" ( a lot of main and a little fill makes for high contrast or deeper shadows & Equal amounts tend to provide low contrast---- High contrast is harder to work with Low contrast is easier to work with) Higher contrast can help at times to bring out detail in close up of carvings etc. but the proper control of this " contrast"  is necessary to produce good images.
Modifiers and highlighters allow you to throw a reflection of light on things like patchboxes locks & barrels to illuminate them to the degree necessary for you to see them properly within the over all shot ( sometimes you may need to modify the light in a given area by using a card or what ever to lightly block light falling on that section to achieve the results you want).

One of the simplest methods which produce good lighting is what Bill was talking about in the start of this tutorial. Outdoor cloudy day or on an area of only north light the illumination is even but of lower contrast which make it easy to deal with.
by using this type of light and some white card reflectors the results can be excellent has his photos attest to.
Indoors the same type lighting can almost be achieved by bouncing flood light into a white ceiling and using white reflector cards (no direct light on the object)

Now if we were to add some main light to this overall soft light It would make the soft light the "fill" and this additional light the "main" this can be achieved by reflecting some sun via a white or silver card across the object to give it more modeling  Now we are getting fancier here but don't get scared this add'l light when placed across the object can give you more punch & dimension  when you learn to control it.... You can pop off carving on a dark stock or accentuate the dip in a cheek piece and if you go slow and easy with it, always watching the changes you are making, you shouldn't get yourself into trouble exposure wise

Keep in mind all the lighting we have been talking about is diffused in one form or another whether it be cloudy sky or bounced off a ceiling or reflected by white cards.
All of it has been modified to some extent & this is what gives you the control to create a good photo.  You can't get a good shot of you gun with the bright sun ( blue sky)  gleaming across it because the shadow to highlight contrast will be to high. It may look good to your eye but it will be out of range for good photo reproduction.
Although an overcast sky with the hint of diffused sun achieves naturally what we are trying to mimic but again this only happens occasionally under certain conditions and we would rather create the lighting when we need it.

Keep in mind I can't address everything here or continue writing a book on photography, but I'm willing to share what I have learned in my photographic profession of the past 35 years, to help you guys get some photos to highlight your super work that you do and be able to present it here if you would like the help.
(to be continued)
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Scott Brush on July 24, 2008, 07:36:00 PM
Bravo Jim!  Thanks for taking the time to type all that information.  I took Bill's advise on shooting on overcast days a while back, and someone else's on back ground color (this may have been Bill too) and was amazed at the improved pictures I was taking.  Your explanations seem very straightforward and relatively easy to understand.  My wife has told me to read the manual several times, of course I haven't.  I'll now have to readdress the issue and get her to tell me again so I can let her win one...and so she can tell me where it is.

Thanks for sharing your expertise,
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Jim Filipski on July 24, 2008, 08:27:58 PM
Starting back in where we left off:

The simple point & shoot digital camera......
I'm sure those that are interested have become fully familiar with working with their cameras in "Manual Mode" learning how to get a proper exposure of a scene by adjusting the shutter speed and aperture ( F-stop)!
This will be the mode that you will be using to get those pictures you want.

Color Balance: learn a little about this if you don't know what it means.
Normally if you keep this in auto or auto balance it will work 80 % of the time.
If you know what type of light you will be using: such as "tungsten" photo floods ( incandescent), daylight etc it could benefit you to set directly to that color balance.
Try not to mix lighting types. Daylight is bluer , Incandescent is yellow and fluorescent is green to cameras.
In my shop if I need to take a "quick" shot to show someone I will use mixed lighting because that  is what I have in the shop and most times the "Auto color balance" setting will be useable ( not perfect).

Getting to "shutter speed" and "f-stop" In our case we are not photographing moving objects and our camera is going to be mounted on a steady tripod so we can look at shutter speed as just a  means of setting the proper "f stop" that we will need to get the proper exposure...I know this sounds confusing but realize low f-stop numbers (f 2.8 f4) will not give you the depth of field ( expanse of sharpness from the point of focus forward & back) you may need something like F8 or greater to maintain everything in focus....or alternately you may want your focus to only be limited to a small area (in which case f 2.8 may be just right).
In manual mode you can use your shutter speed  to determine the f stop you need for what you feel you need to keep sharp while maintaining the proper exposure.
Shutter speed and f-stop are "linked to created the proper exposure" such as you will need a long shutter speed if you want to get use f8 for more sharpness or if you want less sharpness over the view you may want to open it up to f 2.8 but that means you will have to select a faster shutter speed to get the proper exposure relatively speaking.

Quality of the image setting.: Most of these small digital cameras have only jpeg capture modes settings.  Jpeg is a format that compresses the image by actually dispensing with what it feels are redundant pixels to make the images smaller in file size. This is called "lossy compression"  smaller size jpegs shot with high compression to keep files small tend to have artifacting due to "interpolation" ( what Bill calls "impallations") where when the image is enlarged there are missing pixels that the software tries to recreate ( many times not very well...the fuzzies)
I highly recommend shooting the biggest and highest quality of jpeg that your camera can take. You may want to use these photos for something other then e-mail or the web. Shooting the smaller size file while getting you more pictures on your card is not a good idea if you are looking for quality. Choose the high quality largest file size, then edit & reduce the size of the photo afterward in your computer. Make sure you have an unaltered backup copy of the original file saved on a disk somewhere  because many times if you edit the photo and make it smaller your software will just overwrite the larger higher quality original with this smaller file.
(To Be Continued)

Got to get ready to go to Dixon's!
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Jim Filipski on July 24, 2008, 10:28:42 PM
One of the biggest problems you will face with the small point & shoot cameras ( remember these are the type of cameras we are addressing first due to their popularity) is the problem of focus. Most of these style cameras are set up for "Auto Focusing" which can cause problems in low contrast lighting and situations we will face photographing your work. Some models will allow you to manual focus by switching off this feature in their menu and setting it for manual focus which isn't simple with this style camera. My suggestion is to leave it on auto focus, Compose your shot and get your exposure setting set correctly. Once you have the shutter speed & f-stop set the way you want for the proper exposure you can have an assistant place a piece of paper with black type on top of the spot you want to be your focus area. By holding your shutter button down slightly the camera will auto focus on the type on the paper. The assistant pulls the paper out of the shot then you continue to push the button to complete the exposure. Please note this will not work if you are not using "manual exposure mode" because the paper would throw off the auto exposure meter in the camera at the time it was focusing. But since you set the exposure manually you do not have to worry about this.
If I'm loosing some of you guys don't worry I'm sure if you use 1/3 of the tips we are giving you along the way you will improve. If you still are following we will be getting to a simple set up soon but I will have to "photo illustrate" that which will take me longer to do before it gets posted here.

If you can get this far though my suggestions you are close to trying the demos yourself to see how you do. I will try to keep them simple at first. I probably won't get to this until later next week so just get to know your camera better.

Those folks with the more expensive SLR style cameras have it a lot easier because those cameras manually focus on the lens and have far more user settings.

But if they would like to improve their shots they can follow along because sooner or latter I will be taking it all one notch higher giving them a bit of a challenge too.

In the mean time everyone can benefit by learning how to Diffuse, modify & control lighting to get good photos of their work.

Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: smallpatch on July 31, 2008, 06:41:55 PM

I see what you're saying.  It would separate the gun from the background a little more.  The nice thing about the open shade is the "flatness" of the lighting.  But that flatness also blends everything together, so their is not as much separation of detail.

I'll give it a shot on my next one.

I have an old lighting umbrella or two around.  It 's been years since I've used any of this stuff.... kinda got lazy I guess.
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Jim Filipski on April 14, 2009, 02:35:38 AM
Since it is a good reference to add to this tutorial I will re-post this info for photographing metallic objects indoors:

For a polished metal surface indoors bounce a work light or two off a white ceiling
or a white card about a few feet above the piece. Arrange the card until you see its refection in the piece you want to photograph. Do not let direct light hit the metal only the card or the ceiling.
Also if using a small digital camera try to use manual setting if possible and do not use the camera flash...shut that off.
There should be a setting on the camera for macro focus ...usually it is designated as a flower icon or some such thing that will help if you are auto focusing at less then 10 inches

 use the above info along with this "crude" drawing
Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: LynnC on May 31, 2009, 07:22:17 PM
And one last thing - Please consider cropping some of that empty background for those poor folks on dial-up.

That won't work on photos like roundball posted or the high art compositions, but for the photos in the average post, it helps to be looking at part of the subject as the picture downloads ;D

Title: Re: Gun photography for idiots
Post by: Dennis Glazener on February 13, 2015, 09:35:33 PM
How did I photograph this rifle?

Photo of rifle on horizontal view:


Photo of rifle, stock & lock view:


Photo of firearm stand:


Photo of rifle in vertical view:


The Set-up

This rifle is “resting" on a stainless steel cleaning rod sitting in a cut-down clothing rack. The wooden ramrod handle has been reduced in diameter to sit inside the black pipe of the stand. A PVC “T” section is inserted in the top of the chrome pipe with a hole drilled in the top of the “T” section, allowing the cleaning rod to go through. The “T” section stabilizes the cleaning rod and keeps it centered. The brass bore guide is sitting on top of the “ T“ section. The legs of the stand are heavy steel alloy, so it is very stable with a 12 lb firearm sitting on it.  Check clothing stores for old fixtures ready to be tossed.

The top end of the cleaning rod is fitted with a specific caliber or gauge bore brush to fit inside the barrel of the firearm to be photographed. When the firearm rests completely on the ramrod bore guide, the cleaning brush keeps the firearm from moving around, and allows minute rotation of the firearm to catch the light just right. I can also display a handgun on top of the cleaning rod as well.
The rod and/or bore guide are then cropped out, followed by rotating the image to the horizontal position in the photo editor application.


Avoid using the camera's flash. Instead, use external flash units or strobes. As an alternative, I use either window light or four CFL bulbs, each @ 105 watts. The bulb is equal to a 400 watt incandescent bulb without the heat.  If privacy permits, shoot outdoors on an overcast day, which eliminates reflections or hotspots in the photo.
It helps to have a photo editing app on your computer like Google’s free apps, “Picasa” and “Snapseed".  I use “Snapseed" on both my iPad & iPhone to edit photos taken with them. Go to: 
If you can spend the bucks, get the latest version of Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, Version 13, or sign up on Adobe’s website for Photoshop, (“the Big Kahuna”) on a monthly subscription.

All shooting should be done with a single lens reflex (SLR) digital or a “point & shoot" camera sitting on a tripod, using either a remote shutter release cord or the self-timer feature (10-second or 5-second) to reduce camera shake, which usually occurs when you manually depress the shutter button. A macro lens, macro lens setting, or a set of “close-up” lenses,   allow you to get closer and magnify detail. Keep a good distance between the firearm and the background wall to minimize shadows.

This photographic idea was shown to me in 1977 by the late John Bivins, when I came to his house to pick up my rifle he made, his first left-handed one.

Hope this helps,
Buck Buchanan