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Old 07-27-2006, 12:05 PM
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Default How to photograph handguns (Updated for 2013 post #3!)

Hi all,

Time to give back to the Calguns community!

Maybe you wonder (or maybe not!) how people get their nifty photos done. Problemchild and Ken Lunde have this down cold - they are the local experts. I've seen others post pictures that leave a little to be desired, so hopefully this will help us all get a little bit better.

Getting started

First, you should assess your equipment. Point and shoot digital cameras will work ok but aren't ideal. You don't have a lot of control over the camera and what it's doing. Digital SLR's on the other hand, place a lot of flexibility into the hands of the user. If you are serious about taking a lot of studio or product photos, you should consider getting a digital SLR, as the better results will be imminently noticeable. I use a Nikon D70S with the standard 18-70mm kit lens. You don't need to spend a lot of money buying specialized lenses or anything like that - the kit lens, as you will see, generally works fairly well.

Second, you should consider the types of pictures you'll be taking. I enjoy studio shots where I can control lighting and the overall environment. This helps to ensure consistent, repeatable images which suit my purposes just fine. For the purposes of this posting, I'm going to talk exclusively about "studio" pictures. Don't use a flash! It kills the photo and makes it look just like a point and shoot consumer photo.

Your "Studio"

I've set up a small light box in my computer room. It looks like this:



The light box is made up of PVC pipe, to form a box shape, then it is draped with an inexpensive white bed sheet to serve as a light diffuser. I then used an old calendar, flipped it over to the white glossy side, and taped it to the rear of the light box to form a ramp-like shape. This serves as the white background. Different colors can be used, as well as fabrics, if you so choose.

I purchased two small 60 watt lamps from Target at $5.00 each on sale. I am using a Home Depot clamp light to provide illumination from the top of the light box. For nearly all shots, you should consider using a tripod (as above) or somehow stabilize your camera to prevent camera shake. You don't need an expensive tripod, all you really need is one that will hold the camera without tipping over or dropping it, and allow you to make minor adjustments as needed. Make sure that wherever you put your light box, you close the drapes or blinds. This prevents excessive sunlight from leaking in, if you're taking pictures during the day. Else, take pictures at night, and you won't have to worry about this problem.

It is possible to take photos of objects without a light box, but you have less control over lighting and you can't soften it as much. I recommend light boxes for generally all small photo work.

Total cost for your lightbox studio above should be no more than $30 to $50.

Do you "need" professional studio lights? Well, you certainly could get some - Ken Lunde uses a set of Lowel lights as he's stated here before. What this does is gets him a known color temperature, which he can then set his camera to match. I've found that if you use incandescent bulbs (the standard round ones in most homes) and use the incandescent white balance on your camera, your photos generally will turn out ok.

Let's talk about how to set up your camera. I will cover two cameras - point and shoot, and digital SLR.

Your Camera Settings

Here are the settings I use on my Canon S400:
  • Manual mode. This allows you to adjust some of the settings below.
  • White balance set to incandescent, or match it to your light bulb type.
  • EV can be set to +1, or +2, depending on the subject matter. Dark objects look good if you EV +2 and Photoshop the brightness and contrast later. Setting EV brightens up an image, making dark colors contrast better against a white background. You'll need to experiment with this setting to suit your product photo needs.
  • Flash turned off. Flash is the #1 enemy of good close up product photos, as it creates hot spots. Our goal is to produce consistent, even lighting, without washing out any particular part of the object being photographed.
  • Use high resolution and lowest compression available. This will give you plenty of pixels to work with later, during post-processing.
  • ISO 200, or as low as you can go.
  • Use your LCD to gauge how the image will turn out before you snap the picture. Obviously, this will use up a lot of battery power unless you have an AC/DC adapter.
  • Because these cameras often determine aperture on their own, you'll need to play around with the focus to make sure you are getting the right parts of your product in focus. This may require pressing the shutter button halfway to get the camera to focus, then looking at your LCD to ensure the image will turn out as you'd like.

Here are the settings I use on my Nikon D70S:
  • Aperture mode. This setting allows me to pick the depth of focus as it relates to the product being photographed. Generally speaking, for items that have depth or are longer, I like to use a smaller aperture (a larger aperture number, such as f/22) to allow more of the item to be in focus at once. The downside is that the shutter must stay open longer, which necessitates a tripod and consistent, bright lighting. In aperture mode, the camera will choose the proper shutter speed to produce a properly exposed photo. You won't need to worry about picking a shutter speed. Often the f-stop I end up using is in the range of f/22 or higher.
  • White balance set to incandescent, or match it to your light bulb type. I then tweak it to +3 for my light box setting. This is done with one of the parameter wheels on the camera. At a white balance setting of +3, this gives me a color temperature of 2700 Kelvin according to the Nikon D70S manual.
  • EV can be set to +1, +2, +3, or anywhere in between, depending on your needs. Lighter objects tend to photograph better if you don't adjust this setting. Darker objects benefit from a higher EV as it helps wash out the background to white, creating a nice contrast. You should experiment a little to find out what setting works best for your subject material.
  • Sharpening mode normal. You will do all of your sharpening in post-processing, which is ideal, as it gives you more control over your results.
  • RGB color saturation set to as high as possible, this is my personal preference to give more vivid colors.
  • Use high resolution and lowest compression available. RAW is good, but I generally just use low compression.
  • ISO 200.
  • Timer mode. This allows the shutter to fire without any camera shake, even on a tripod. This is the only way to get completely sharp images unless you have a remote or fire the shutter remotely. I also use Nikon software to trigger the shutter using my notebook PC, which helps tremendously.
  • Tripod. A tripod is a must have for taking photos with a digital SLR.
  • Manual focus. I let the camera auto focus first, then turn off auto focus to manually tune. For the duration of the session, I usually leave auto focus off.
  • Remote control. I now mostly use Nikon Camera Control to remotely fire the shutter. This eliminates the need to use the timer mode, plus I can transfer images directly to my hard drive, skipping the memory card altogether. This saves time and allows me to instantly begin editing the photos I've taken. You can also name them anything you want automatically and track/reset the numbering scheme via software, which is helpful if you don't want to bump up the counter in the camera because the camera's image counter stays static while you are using the control software.

Let's look at some samples!



Note: Gun above has been sold, so I don't have it any longer.





Your Post-Production Editing

All of my images are processed through Photoshop. Here are the steps I take:
  • Start with your full resolution image.
  • Auto color, auto levels, auto brightness and contrast. Start with one function and examine your image. Do you like the results? If not, move on to the next and try again. Compare and contrast the results with these automatic functions of Photoshop. Typically, one of them will produce results that improve the image's appearance. If not, it's time to go manual.
  • Brightness/contrast. I typically increase brightness by +25, and contrast by +10 or +15. This helps to wash out the white background and to contrast the product sharply against the background. The result typically suggests that the product simply "floats" in space on your website, assuming you are using a white background as well.
  • Apply filter "sharpen image". This brings out the detail of your product a little. I usually don't over sharpen, as it makes your image turn out grainy.
  • Resize for web viewing, if appropriate.
  • Erase leftover artifacts. Sometimes the background doesn't always wash out. If this is the case, then I go through with the eraser tool and clean up the image a bit.
  • Save or rename your final photo.

Last edited by Turbinator; 06-02-2013 at 11:06 PM..
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Old 07-27-2006, 12:07 PM
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Some General Tricks, Tips, and Hints

I've done enough home studio work to have learned a few more tricks, tips, and hints that I can share:
  • Sometimes you have to move or block light sources. The lights often are too bright, which calls for more diffusion. You should then use either another piece of fabric or a sheet of white paper to help diffuse the offending lamp even more. This helps eliminate hot spots on your product and allows for more even lighting. It is not always necessary to add a second diffuser, but if needed, you can use this trick to help.
  • Timer mode is not always necessary on point and shoot cameras. If you are using a tripod, often that is enough to ensure the camera is stable. I generally recommend timer mode or remote triggering of the shutter for SLR cameras.
  • Don't always rely on the LCD to show you your photograph results. You need to load the image onto a PC where you can then stare at the entire image in high resolution. Sometimes a portion of the photograph will be out of focus, or you'll see some lint or dust on your product. This is not always evident when you preview the image on your camera's LCD, so be sure you keep a computer handy to check out all of your work as you snap pictures.
  • Keep a log of your work. Write down (or type up) what worked for you and what didn't. This is the only way you can really remember and document your progress, thereby enabling you to improve upon what you have already done. It will also help prevent you from making the same time consuming and frustrating mistakes twice, assuming you even bother to read your notes.
  • Experiment. Not all settings work equally well for all subject matter. Try different settings and note your results. You may stumble across a fantastic setting and configuration for a particular product photo.
  • Read as much advice as you can and share your results. This is the best way to learn quickly and helps give back to the overall community of amateur photographers.
  • One problem I've noticed only is an issue when you use higher f-stop numbers (or a smaller aperture). If you have any dust on your sensor, you will get small black specks showing up in your photos. I've noticed this is a consistent problem for me, which then requires that I go clean the sensor by gently blowing air across it with a blower. At smaller f-stop numbers, dust typically does not show up, fortunately, because the shutter time typically is less and the sensor doesn't pick up on the dust.

New for 2010: Getting White Balance Right

One thing I've noticed in my own photos and photos that other people take, it's often quite difficult to get a good white balance going without introducing a hue or color cast to your photos. Getting the right blend of reds and blues can be difficult, but not so much so if you know how to set your camera's white balance properly.

All cameras have some sort of "auto" white balance mode built-in. Unfortunately, this feature doesn't always work accurately, and subsequent photos may show yellow, blue, or reddish tints upon further review at your PC. The human eye sees "white" as "white" in nearly all types of light. Electronics, however, have to interpret the light source and use different built-in reference points to accurately reproduce shades of white. Since the "auto" feature doesn't always get this right, that's why you see colored tints appear in your pictures.

There are a many ways to fix this, but for now I'll cover my most recent method that seems to work for me. I went out and bought one of these:



Some of you professional guys might have purchased a similar product, called the Expodisc. I was going to do so until I noticed that this little device cost only $26 from Amazon instead of the $90 for an Expodisc. It is essentially a plastic "grey card" with two sides - a white reflective side, and a grey colored plastic backing side. What you do is set your SLR's white balance off of this disk under the lighting in which you wish to take pictures. Subsequent photos taken in that same lighting should look properly color balanced - not too blue, not too yellow, not too red.

Here's how I do this on my older Nikon D70s, possibly similar on other cameras as well:

1) Press the WB button
2) Thumbwheel over to "PRE" mode (release WB button)
3) Press and hold WB button until "PRE" starts flashing (release WB button)
4) Focus on and snap a picture of the Prolite Full Color & White Balance Disk, about an arm's length away, in the lighting conditions you are using
5) Camera will tell you "Gd" (good) or "No Gd" (no good). If you get "No gd" try again. Else, the camera will set its white balance off the disk using the lighting setup you've got, or the ambient lighting present.

Now, leaving your WB in the "PRE" mode, go snap some pictures of your intended subject. Let's look at some comparison images. For this test, I'll use my primary home defense gun as an example:



Above: Camera is on AUTO WB. Looks kind of yellow. Not too good.



Above: Camera was set to INCANDESCENT WB since this is the type of bulb I'm using in my light source. Looks better, but still has a bit of a tint to it. I'll try again, but this time using the white balance disk.



Above: Final try, this time the PRE WB was used and set off of the white balance disk. Looks much better now - no tinting, no casting, no odd colors. You can do any final adjustments as you wish in Photoshop, if needed.

NOTE that this method makes it really easy to get nicely color balanced photos no matter what kind of light source you have available. It could be fluorescent, incandescent, shade, sunlight, morning, evening, whatever - as along as you do a manual white balance adjustment, your images will come out great every time.

(By the way, that gun is NOT my primary home defense gun, I was only joking! )

Enjoy! I hope this is helpful to others out there on Calguns. Feel free to ask me any questions that you may have on how to do this for yourself.

Turby

Last edited by Turbinator; 01-16-2010 at 11:18 AM..
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Old 07-27-2006, 12:23 PM
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Figured it was time to do a little refresher on this photo thread. I've looked back at some of the advice I gave, and realized that I've learned a little bit more since then. Here is my updated advice specific for dSLR's as we work our way through 2013:

Manual Mode instead of Aperture Mode - Some time ago, I figured out that in manual mode, I get to specify the shutter speed and the aperture. In the photography world, this is helps to determine the exposure - how much light gets into the camera's sensor and gets translated into an image. When taking multiple pictures of a single item (perhaps from different angles), you want the exposure to be the same across all of your photos. The best way to do this is to take control and to specify all of the settings yourself. If you don't, each time you fire the shutter, the camera is evaluating light data coming in through the lens, and it chooses a shutter / aperture setting to produce what it deems to be a good exposure. The key here is to take control and determine for yourself what you want your image to look like - hence why you're going to specify both shutter and aperture.

If you're taking a picture of a handgun, try starting with f/8 or f/11 as a start. For shutter speed, use the built-in light meter in your dSLR to help determine what the right setting is to use. I tend to pick a shutter speed that overexposes by about 1/2 to 1 stop, in order to give my photos a slightly brighter look. I adjust the shutter speed slower and slower until the built-in light meter indicates that my photo will be overexposed by 1/2 to 1 stop - that's when I take a sample photo to see how things are turning out.

Use RAW - Yeah, I was a JPG guy for a long time. However, after I started using Adobe Lightroom and playing around with the white balance settings, I figured out that taking pictures in RAW and then having the freedom to edit white balance completely in post-processing was just amazing. I now take nearly all of my light box photos in RAW, post-process, and then I'm good to go.

The only downside is that RAW takes up more space than JPG, but with storage being so affordable nowadays, I don't expect this will be a serious problem for anyone.

Camera remotes - In my original article, I talked about using a timer or using software on a PC to control the camera. I have since moved over to using a wired or wireless remote to fire the shutter. The timer was just taking too long to wait for, and it was getting annoying to set it up each time. Hooking up a remote or using a wireless remote is just easier overall. Obviously, if you don't have one, using the built-in timer will be the way to go.

Micro / Macro pictures - From time to time, you may have a need to take pictures of items VERY close up. This can be accomplished in a couple of ways.

With a point and shoot camera, look for this setting:



Choosing the macro setting on your point and shoot allows the camera to focus on something very close to the lens. This allows you to obviously get closer to your subject, thereby producing a much larger image of a relatively small object.

If you're using a dSLR, you can go out and buy a dedicated micro / macro lens. Nikon uses the term "micro" to describe these close-up lenses, whereas Canon uses the term "macro" to describe their offerings.

Here are some example micro lenses offered by Nikon (image credit goes to Ken Rockwell):



Now, suppose we wanted to take a picture of some snap caps. Without a micro or macro lens, most of our pictures will look similar to this:



Let's look at a sample taken with a Nikon micro lens:



This is of course a close up image of a Pachmayr 9mm snap cap, the business end that takes all the beatings from firing pins. Notice you can see all the fine detail where the metal has been dimpled by repeated firing pin strikes. Also notice that micro lenses tend to have a very narrow depth of field, which is why not all of the snap cap is in focus. This effect can be leveraged artistically, if one is so inclined. Using a micro lens or your camera's macro setting will allow you to show off unique, distinct details of your favorite hobby items - for example, show off your new stippling work, engraving art, night sights, proof marks, rust spots, or blue job - just about anything that needs to be viewed up close and personal in order to be appreciated.


Will update with more content soon!

Turby

Last edited by Turbinator; 06-02-2013 at 11:56 PM..
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Old 07-27-2006, 12:40 PM
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Very nice! Good advice and techniques.

I've been using a white plastic trashbucket, on it's side with fluorescent tubes taped on top (actually the side wall of the trashcan). I set my piece of crap little Canon SD400 on a cheap tripod and use the shutter timer function as to not shake the camera during the shot. I match my camera to fluorescent lights and start snapping.

Samples:




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Old 07-27-2006, 12:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by donger
Very nice! Good advice and techniques.

I've been using a white plastic trashbucket, on it's side with fluorescent tubes taped on top (actually the side wall of the trashcan). I set my piece of crap little Canon SD400 on a cheap tripod and use the shutter timer function as to not shake the camera during the shot. I match my camera to fluorescent lights and start snapping.
Looks great as well - same concept, applied a little differently.

Very clean pictures of your Sig.

Turby
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Old 07-27-2006, 12:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Turbinator
Looks great as well - same concept, applied a little differently.

Very clean pictures of your Sig.

Turby
Thanks Turby!

I've been meaning to upgrade my lightbox by building something similar to yours for long-guns. And of course I'm gonna need a new camera too.
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Old 07-27-2006, 12:40 PM
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Were you talking about me when you said "I've seen others post pictures that leave a little to be desired, so hopefully this will help us all get a little bit better."

sample of my "work"



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Old 07-27-2006, 12:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ivanimal
Were you talking about me when you said "I've seen others post pictures that leave a little to be desired, so hopefully this will help us all get a little bit better."

sample of my "work"
Looks great, Ansel!!



Turby
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Old 07-27-2006, 1:01 PM
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Quote:
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Looks great, Ansel!!



Turby
Who you callin an Ansel?
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Old 07-27-2006, 12:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Guns R Tools
Excellent post.
Thanks.
Question: Do you know if the fluorescent bulbs are okay with light box?
They should be but they may not be bright enough to get through your diffusing fabric. Try it out but I really recommend something that can break through your diffuser material.

You will also have to set your white balance to flourescent, of course, to get the color to come out properly.

Turby
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Old 07-27-2006, 12:49 PM
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Turbinator
THanks for posting this.


I realise my pics (the ones that ive taken myself haven't been really up to snuf and one of the reasons is im alot better with my cannon A1 then I am with the digital camera (Kodak easy share CX7430) but hey I have grauadated I use to only use my webcam for pics I took of stuff I sold on ebay.

Ill upload a few pics I took today of ammo that is kinna strange.
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Old 07-27-2006, 1:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SemiAutoSam
Turbinator
THanks for posting this.

I realise my pics (the ones that ive taken myself haven't been really up to snuf and one of the reasons is im alot better with my cannon A1 then I am with the digital camera (Kodak easy share CX7430) but hey I have grauadated I use to only use my webcam for pics I took of stuff I sold on ebay.

Ill upload a few pics I took today of ammo that is kinna strange.
You're welcome, you can use point and shoots to still get decent results - try it and you may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Turby
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Old 01-15-2009, 10:39 AM
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Bump for a new generation of Calgunners. (and photographers)

Turby
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Old 01-15-2009, 11:38 AM
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Great thread, glad to see it's been resurrected!
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Old 01-15-2009, 11:46 AM
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Can this be stickied somewhere?
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Old 01-15-2009, 12:26 PM
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8dollar walmart lamp hand held,on one of my Shirts LOL with my Nikon D80 on a Tripod... IMO the key to any keepers is the Tripod

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Old 01-23-2009, 9:19 AM
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8dollar walmart lamp hand held,on one of my Shirts LOL with my Nikon D80 on a Tripod... IMO the key to any keepers is the Tripod


King,
Great dramatic shot...just for s***s and giggles, try this...fill in the heavy shadows with a tin foil reflector inserting light into the non-detailed places. The shiney side will give a more direct beam than the frosted side. By crumpling the foil and then reopening it you can get different degrees of diffusion. To get rid of those strong highlights you can strategically place strip diffusers in front of the light where it will only affect the glare. Crumpled saran-wrap (or something like it) works well.

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Old 01-15-2009, 12:27 PM
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Quote:
8dollar walmart lamp hand held, LOL with my Nikon D80 on a Tripod... IMO the key to any keepers is the Tripod
Excellent, great example. Any way you can get rid of the highlights on the wood grip panel and on the cylinder?

Turby
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Old 01-15-2009, 12:29 PM
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Excellent, great example. Any way you can get rid of the highlights on the wood grip panel and on the cylinder?

Turby
This was all done through "Picasa" photo collector and editing (STUPID easy editing) If i hit it up on photoshop i could get rid of it.

JOe
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Old 01-15-2009, 12:31 PM
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same setup... the color balance is off in this though.

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Old 01-23-2009, 3:44 PM
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same setup... the color balance is off in this though.
Great! I like the staging of the setup. Nice job.

Turby
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Old 01-23-2009, 3:48 PM
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Great thread Turby I'll set up this weekend with my Canon and see what I can do
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Old 01-23-2009, 8:58 PM
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Great thread Turby I'll set up this weekend with my Canon and see what I can do
Thanks, I aims to please! If you run into any issues, come on back and feel free to ask any questions.

Turby
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Old 01-23-2009, 10:12 PM
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I just wish I lived in a CCW shall issue state: You don't need to spend a ton of dough sometimes - this was done with a $100 Vivitar 100mm macro lens. Normally I don't touch the cheap vivitar stuff - but the 100mm macro is one of the sleeper cheap lens out there.



One soft box directly above, and a reflector to the right to fill in some shadows.

Last edited by creampuff; 01-23-2009 at 10:20 PM.. Reason: forgot to mention lens
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Old 01-24-2009, 7:35 PM
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Creampuff,

Nice job on the USP 9 compact! Good, even lighting, and a nice drop shadow. And, totally agree that you don't have to spend a lot of money to get good results - kit lenses often will do the job, or as you mention, the $100 macro lens works great. Thanks for sharing!

Turby
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Old 01-25-2009, 8:30 PM
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Here are I couple that I've done for friends using just a flash and a 17-40L or the 18-55 kit lens







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Old 01-25-2009, 8:54 PM
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Love the pic of the BAR, nicely done! What did you use for your background surface? Large table and white paper?

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Old 01-25-2009, 9:42 PM
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I used a white cardboard backing for the BAR shots and white paper for the pistols.
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Old 01-27-2009, 10:47 PM
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my first shots from a home made "Light Box"... more difficult than i thought actually.









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Old 01-27-2009, 10:48 PM
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and one my normal way, just sitting on a piece of clothing, lol

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Old 01-28-2009, 10:01 AM
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Keep practicing. Guns are shiney and they have all sorts of different angles and crevices, which makes photographing them challenge. The more time you spend with the light box the better you'll get. Once you master the light, your entire room could be used as a "light box"!
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Old 01-29-2009, 9:10 PM
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Very cool thread turbinator! I actually used it today to get some shots of some products I sell to the medical community!

THanks!!
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Old 02-05-2009, 6:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by raceison View Post
Very cool thread turbinator! I actually used it today to get some shots of some products I sell to the medical community!

THanks!!
Glad this thread helped you out!

Turby
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Old 01-30-2009, 10:13 PM
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Lightroom/Photoshop:



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Old 02-08-2009, 10:20 PM
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I originally bought PVC piping to make target stands... I will have to forgo the project and make a lightbox instead!

Great info Turby, I passed the info on to some other forums.
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Old 02-09-2009, 1:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NiteQwill View Post
I originally bought PVC piping to make target stands... I will have to forgo the project and make a lightbox instead!

Great info Turby, I passed the info on to some other forums.
Glad it helped! By the way, a friend of mine used PVC to create a target stand. It works, but isn't the sturdiest target stand out there. I'd suggest getting a metal base (or a heavy base in general) and using wood onto which you'd staple your target. The PVC is just too light for a target stand.

Turby
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Old 02-09-2009, 2:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NiteQwill View Post
I originally bought PVC piping to make target stands... I will have to forgo the project and make a lightbox instead!

Great info Turby, I passed the info on to some other forums.
Did you pass it along to wackjum on AZ.com? His pics look like they used the same process described in the first posts of this thread.

Awesome job on their pictures everyone!
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Old 02-10-2009, 6:16 AM
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Light boxes / photo tents can be found on flea-bay for not a lot of money these days. I decided to purchase one several years ago rather than spend the time to build one. Here is only one example out of many hundred results to my simple search for "photo tent." If you are non-flea-bay I'm sure they can be found at various other online outlets.
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  #39  
Old 02-13-2009, 1:18 PM
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Not bad for $11.99 and free shipping. Costs less than my "invention" (which by the way I didn't invent) - I think mine is about $20 to $30, not including the lights. The pipes generally are the most expensive part along with all the trimmings - endcaps, fabric, lighting..

Turby
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  #40  
Old 02-14-2009, 11:15 PM
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First shot setup inside my light box

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