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Photography and firearms go together like bread and butter, but when some of us try to put the two together, it ends up more like peanut butter and relish. The cool, artistic photographs of guns mystify and bewilder us, and when we try to do it ourselves the results can be… less than desirable.
Well today, that is going to be fixed. Together, we are going to cover the basics so YOU can take nice photographs of YOUR guns, in your own home. Step by step, we will cover everything you need to know to make it happen. The only thing you need is a camera, (a cell phone will work), some patience, and a little creativity.

So with so many different elements to take into consideration, the most often asked question is “Where Do I start?” Well, I always start with what you know, the gun.
First, it should be clean and free of fingerprints, excess lubrication, dust, etc. Fingerprints will show up on almost any flat surface, so a good wipe down is very important. Alternative, you can photograph a gun dry, and use a lint free cloth to remove dust and such. Either works equally well. Once the gun is wiped down, it is best to minimize handling to prevent finger prints. If you are going to include any accessories such as holsters, ammo, magazines, etc. now is the time to wipe them down as well.
Once your gun is clean, before setting anything up, you want an idea of what you want your picture to look like. If you are not sure, the internet is an asset. I myself like to use pinterest. There are many photography boards related to firearms, providing a wealth of visual aid and creativity.

Once you have an idea of what you want your picture to look like, you can start assembling whatever you may need for the picture. What’s that? You don’t have a really cool piece of diamond plate Lexan? no problem. The focus of your picture is the gun, not the background. When picking a background to shoot against, try to pick something that compliments the gun in both design and color. Strong backgrounds, such as diagonal lines, multiple colors and defined shapes can easily overwhelm a picture. A simple background, such as a single color bed sheet, poster board, etc. keep a picture from looking to cluttered and lets the eye focus on what’s important, the gun. I always keep large sheets of poster board on hand in Gray, White and Black. These three colors go with just about any color, and do not overwhelm the eyes. When selecting a background, it is important to use a piece of material that large enough to completely fill the background of your picture. A background that suddently ends is visually akward and distracting.

So what do you do when you have your background picked out? Set it up! There are 101 ways to set up a background, but nothing ever needs to be fancy. A large sheet of white poster board laid on a kitchen table is as simple as it gets. The larger the poster board, the more room you will have for experimenting with angles, so make it big. If you have to, you can tape the edges of multiple pieces of poster board together to make a big sheet. Other on hand materials work great too… Bed sheets, pillow cases, just keep in mind that textured materials will show in the picture.


Your gun is clean, the background is laid out, and it’s time for pictures…...right? Not quite. The one thing element of photography that many struggle with is lighting. Lighting comes in many forms, both natural and un-natural. Light also has different qualities, that can have different effects on your picture. Understanding these qualities is important to know how to use them.

Light comes in two forms, hard and soft. Hard light makes dark shadows with defined edges, and soft light makes soft, light shadows with less defined edges. Luckily for us, natural light comes in both varieties. So how do you know what happens when? Easy! If the sun is shining you will have hard natural light. If it is overcast, you will have soft light. It’s that easy!

The easiest light to find is natural light. The sun is free and gives off a lot of light. All you have to do is use it to your advantage.
So how do we use natural light to our advantage? Set everything up in front of a window, an open garage door, or take it outside, but be creative!!! There really are no set rules here. If the sun light is hitting it try it. I have shot guns on the hood of my car… if the light is right, use it! Luckily for us guns are generally small so something as simple as a coffee table or an end table works great around the house. Like I said, we are not doing fancy here. One think to keep in mind, sunlight is very powerful when the sun is high in the sky, but on an overcast day it is quite weak. You will have to compensate with camera settings, especially anytime you are using natural light indoors. In such cases, a tripod is your best friend. Sunlight is also directional… if you use a window, be sure the sun is coming through the window and not shining on the other side of the house. If your phone is your camera, learn what settings you camera phone has available. Most are very basic with few options. Because of this, I have found the best results with cell phones outside on a sunny day. Also, you can download a myriad of editing programs and play with your pictures right on your phone…..

Artificial light is the next most common form of lighting. Artificial lights come in every shape, size, and color. House lamps, car headlights, security lights, street lights, Photographers flashes, studio strobes…. The list is endless. Different light types have different qualities that all have an impact on your picture. So let’s talk about a few.
Perhaps the most common is household lighting. We all have it, and it is easily available. Incandescent, fluorescent, CFL…even halogen. Each type has its pros and cons which are important to know. Halogen and incandescent bulbs are also known as hot bulbs, because they emit heat. **** Caution-Halogen bulbs get very hot !***** Because of this, be selective with what materials you use in front of them. A halogen bulb can soften kydex ….. I know from experience.

When thinking of household lighting, most of think of two types, Fluorescent and incandescent. Both can be used effectively but both have different characteristics that need to be considered. Incandescent has been around longer than most of us, and is found everywhere. It is relatively powerful, cheap and efficient. However, it is important to keep in mind that incandescent lighting gives off a yellow orange color cast, and it will affect your picture if not corrected either in the camera or in the computer. Fluorescent light bulbs on the other hand are quite weak, even though they are bright. Because of this it is important to stabilize your camera. Most household fluorescent lights are daylight balanced so they have similar characteristics of sunlight. They still tend to be a little on the blue side, and again this will need to be corrected in camera or in the computer.

After lighting comes setting up your background. I use an infinity sweep as I find it the simplest to use with minimal fuss. If you look at my pictures you will it is literally two pieces of poster board taped together, then taped to a wall and a small table so it has a gentle sweep in it, hence the infinity sweep. I like to start with my lighting placed at around a 45 degree angle above my subject, placed to the side so it creates light shadowing for depth. If you need more light, simply move the light source closer to your gun, and away if you need less light. You can change the visual impact by moving the light around and changing the angles of the shadows as well. As always, do not be afraid to experiment. If you are using a fixed light, obviously this is not going to be an option, but dont be afraid to experiment with angles by shooting from them.

20140201-DSC_3213.jpg 20140201-DSC_3212.jpg


Once you have everything set up, and you have an idea of what you want the picture to look like, you can start shooting!!!! FINNAALLLYYYYY!!!!! Take a few shots, and really look at them. Look at the background and make sure it is clean and uncluttered. Are there random wires or weird stuff? Is there anything in the picture that shouldn’t be there? Do you need to dust off the gun? Do you like how the lighting is in your picture? Do you like the shadows? Are any spots too bright? Too dark? Do you like the angle of the shot? This seems like a lot to worry about, and it is, but your pictures will be better for it. I always use a checklist, even after doing this for years, to make sure I don’t forget any of these.

This is by no means an end all be all method of photographing your firearms. There are many more methods, this is just my method. Do not be afraid to experiment, try new things, and ask questions!! You can even PM me directly if you have a question, I would be happy to help. Also, I encourage everyone to share ideas here. We can all learn from each other !!!

My setup……..
Nikon D7000
A myriad of lenses
A simple infinity sweep table top set up
Various sources of light
Alien bee B800 strobe
Nikon SB700

My setup uses a simple wooden tray table, a wall, and two sheets of posterboards taped together. This works for 90% of my shooting. The lights shown are some simple lights I have picked up here and their. The large one is a brooder light I got at home depot , the two smaller ones I got at lowes on clearance.
As you can see there is nothing fancy about my setup. The whole thing cost less than 30 bucks, camera gear not included. This setup is great for items pistol sized or slightly larger. If you need to shoot larger items, you just make a bigger background! I have several small tables I set side by side for shooting long guns and such.
For those who have camera equipment, fancy is still not required. My most used lense is my Nikon 24-120 F4…but a standard 18-55mm kit lens will do just fine. One thing I look for is the ability to focus close for those up close detail shots, but it is not a requirement for good pictures.

Some shots i have done using this simple set up....

Ruger SR40C-7.jpg SHTF Gear new mag carrier medium-1.jpg SA1911-5.jpg SA1911-2.jpg


A note on shiny guns, such as nickel plated or polished stainless steel. These are very difficult to photograph due to the reflections where light hits the metal, also known as hotspots. I have found a light tent works best for me to minimize hotspots. This is a simply constructed device in which you place your shiny object. The light tent requires lighting from each side to light the object evently, but this is how it minimizes hot spots. There are many tutorials on how to build and use a light tent, as well as tutorials on photographing shiny objects. It can be frustrating, but the rewards are worth it. Also, I prefer sources of continuous light so I can see exactly how they are affecting my image before I even take a picture. Keep inmind though, these hot spots can be used to effectively add character to your image, as they really make rounded edges pop when they are not too large or intrusive.
 

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Right on. Great post brother! Always nice to see another photographer on board. I honestly cannot think of anything to add but I will stress as you did, NATURAL LIGHT IS YOUR FRIEND!

My gear

Nikon D4 x 2
SB910 x 3
Too many lenses to list
Misc gear- Remote's, triggers, etc
 

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GREAT writeup!

My favorite example of firearm photography is one that Stickman did with some lower end camera, I forget what, but it was to show that getting a good shot is all about how you prepare for the photo.
 

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Great presentation!
 

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Excellent tutorial. This should be a sticky.
 
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Thankfully I am a better shot than I am a photographer. I thank you for the help and ideas. I have no right side of my brain. Artistic is not who or what I am. I envy those with that artistic eye that can lay out a scene and make it come to life.
I have a D90 with a 18-55 lens out of a Costco kit I bought with the great automatic setting. The camera manual is bigger than my counties phone book. Currently I am trying to eliminate hot spots. The parkerized guns not so much a problem but the high polished blued guns I end up with two or three hot spots.

Any advice you have on hot spots would be appreciated. I am currently using an opaque piece of plastic I cut a hole in to fit tightly around the lens.

The great thing about digital it doesn't cost anything. I have taken three rolls of film and gotten one very good picture now with digital I can take hundreds of shots and experiment at no cost I just re-format if I don't like the outcome.

Thanks again for the help.

Bill
 

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Great write-up! I definitely second the suggestion for this to be a sticky.
I like the DIY infinity sweep. I have a link saved (on Pinterest, duh) for a DIY light box but I never got around to making it.
Also, take lots of photos! It might look fine on your little camera, but blown up on a computer screen it doesn't look so great anymore. At first it felt strange to take seemingly the same photo over and over, but it has always worked out well for me.
I typically shoot with a Olympus E-PL1 & Panasonic 20mm/1.7 m4/3 lens. For lighting I end up rigging random light sources up to supplement natural light: high CRI flashlights with diffusers, CFL floor lamps, etc. Then basic editing in iPhoto, usually.
Also, as a disclaimer, photography is very much a simple "hobby" for me, so some of my photos are embarrassingly bad. :)
 

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I have a Fujifilm $75 snapshot camera. But.. It's digital! Also, I have a couple of guns. What I do is take the picture and post it. If my hands aren't shaking too bad the picture won't be blurry (this tip is for OFWG's). Flash stinks, but kitchen lighting is OK if the sun isn't out. That's it. I'm thinking that with these professional tips, I should be collecting my pics to publish a coffee table book. Nothing like a true artist sharing his talent with all the little people.
 

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Thanks for the great positive response everyone, it was a lot of work but totally worth it to see everyone enjoying it. Also, I edited the post and included some info for you guys who like their shiny guns....
 

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I'm pretty good with my camera (primarily underwater with sharks being my favorite subject) but I need a sticky on how to attach them to posts. :image035: I'm going to see if there is a sticky about that.

Nice presentation, thanks!
 

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Wow! What a great tutorial! Thank you!

First, it should be clean and free of fingerprints, excess lubrication, dust, etc. Fingerprints will show up on almost any flat surface, so a good wipe down is very important. Alternative, you can photograph a gun dry, and use a lint free cloth to remove dust and such. Either works equally well. Once the gun is wiped down, it is best to minimize handling to prevent finger prints. If you are going to include any accessories such as holsters, ammo, magazines, etc. now is the time to wipe them down as well.
I have some old photos that prove your above point well. A dirty gun looks really dirty in a photo. :rofl:

Thanks again!
 

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Once upon a time (in a galaxy----ooops wrong story) There was a time I wanted to be a professional photographer. Very good write up .
 

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On the Sixto post awhile back i wanted to post some pics but i could not get them to my liking . So i think i will give it a go again and see if i can pull it off .

Thank You for the pointers .
 

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Great job Taurahe! There’s a wealth of information in that post to help get everyone on the right track and be able to take great pictures of their firearms. Hopefully what I add will be of benefit as well and is definitely geared more toward your common point and shoot cameras.

As a kid and to this day, I love getting gun magazines, catalogs or even calendars for nothing more than to drool over all the great pictures photographers would create. Then when I started visiting gun forums on the internet many years ago, I was impressed with the great shots regular “Joe’s” could take and wanted to mimic that with my guns.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any of the uber-cool DSLR cameras with a plethora of lenses; all I had was an 8.1 megapixel Sony DSC-H7 which I paid around $350 for and is nothing more than a fancy point and shoot. Initially starting out, I was pleased with my results and anything that didn’t come out as nice as I thought it should have, was blamed on the limitations of my camera. Here’s a link to the camera to see its specs for nothing more than to realize you’re results, as you will see, are not limited to your equipment:
Amazon.com: Sony Cybershot DSC-H7 8.1MP Digital Camera with 15x Optical Image Stabilization Zoom: Electronics

As fate would have it a couple of years ago, a gun shop opened in my town that built AR style rifles named Black Dawn. A friend did their initial website and found out they were looking for someone to do photography work of their guns and products. On a whim, I gave him a disc with some of the pictures I’d taken of my guns to show them and they were impressed enough to want to talk to me. I was very up front and honest, explaining how I had never done anything on this level especially photographing an entire rifle. More importantly, I was not a professional photographer…I mean for the love of God; all I had was a P&S camera with a few extra features! They still wanted me to give it a try and if it didn’t work out, so be it.

Well, it ended up working out but it was a major learning curve for me and a crash course in a very short amount of time. From backdrops and lighting to camera settings along with processing, I wringed every last bit of performance I could out of this little Sony camera. More importantly, I did it on the cheap with almost everything coming from your big box retailers or home improvement stores. I even did a gun catalog for them as well as had one of my pictures published in “American Rifleman” magazine; albeit a small picture that I received no credit for but I still know it’s mine LOL! Here’s a link to that:
Black Dawn 300 AAC Blackout BDR-15 - American Rifleman

The payoff? Not only did I learn how to take some really cool and professional looking pictures with cheap equipment, I was able to acquire a few things for my AR rifle as I did it all in trade. Hey, we’re gun guys and that’s what we do! The big bonus was the rifle I had them build for my son to commemorate his enlistment in the Navy and all it cost me was my time. The pictures below are of that gun and the results you can expect too with only minimal out of pocket expense.


 
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