Which Photo is Better? You Decide.

One of the more interesting facets of outdoor photography—even product photos—is the fact that once you hatch a concept and capture an image you like, there are days when you start thinking the outtakes are much better than the image with soft boxes, snoots, Pocket Wizards and the setup headache. Here’s an example I’m still scratching my head over with a B. Merry Pocket Ulu Knife I was working on for my Fear and Loading channel on YouTube.com.

The photo is deliberately simple to highlight the striking knife made in Alaska, providing plenty of detail in the company logo and that gorgeous laminated handle. Strobes are to the right and left, triggered by Pocket Wizards from my Canon 5D MkII. One is working through a soft box (right) and the other is snooted to give something of a spotlight effect. The image was taken in my “studio” and works, but there’s so much separation that the knife almost looks like it was dropped onto the scene with Photoshop. It wasn’t, but I admit there was a lot of Photoshop work, mostly to get rid of some of the dust on that blade.

The next day I worked outdoors on a burned tree stump (below). I like the look of backlighting from the sun, but I needed to get enough light onto the knife that it showed well and prevent the highlights Mother Nature provided from burning parts until the image was ruined. It was to the right, below the camera, and shot through a small Pocketbox to minimize glare on the metal.

So I added a strobe, triggered by a PocketWizard, off the camera to minimize reflection and maximize detail. Thankfully, the magazines and companies I do work for like to have options—so both will be submitted.

I’m still not sure which one I like. I’d love to know what you think, so leave comments if you feel strongly about one or the other.

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News Blog at ShootingIllustrated.com

I worked in NRA Publications for a decade and still consider everyone there my extended family. Great and decent people, every of them.
That’s why I’m excited about starting a twice-a-week news column for ShootingIllustrated.com. I was editor in chief of the print magazine for many years, nursing along the fledgling website before Ed Friedman and Jay Grazio turned it pro. It’s awesome today, mostly because of their efforts and that of the staff surrounding them. If you’re into firearms, you’ll love what you see.
My first installment takes a look at the Czech Republic’s effort to enhance the ability for its citizens to carry firearms for self-defense. It’s raised a few eyebrows across the pond, obviously, but the people there have a history of taking to arms when needed.

Good Gun Photos Without Expensive Lighting

It’s the time of year when the gun industry’s media flocks to Las Vegas for the week-long marathon affectionately termed SHOT—the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show. Competition is fierce and manufacturers on the sprawling and hectic convention floor will vie for attention through a variety of creative means, hoping their latest and greatest will earn the kind of headlines that drive sales.

The pace is incredible, and complicating matters for reporters is the fact that companies are also taking orders from wholesalers and retailers during the event. Ethical journalists are careful not to encumber the commerce, but they still need decent images, fast, for their websites and blogs.

Setting up moderately complicated lighting systems sucks time from tight schedules, space is limited and even world-renowned Sherpas balk at towing bulky kit through thick crowds. About 10 years ago I lightened the load and the inexpensive (maybe $2.99) system is effective when leisurely creating photos to share with your friends, cataloging your firearm collection for insurance purposes or even at breakneck speed at an annual event—like SHOT.

No, the results won’t make the front cover of Shooting Illustrated, but the handgun’s details and serial number (if wanted) can be prominent in an image with just enough sex appeal to be noticed, even with a point-and-shoot or cell phone camera.

Instead of creating light, the approach simply reflects what’s available. Start by purchasing at least one sheet of reflective silver paper from a craft store. I use this foil version from Michaels ($1.99). Cut in half, then split one of them down the middle with scissors to create three lightweight and disposable “mirrors.”

To hold your reflectors upright and in position, scrounge some big black paper blinder clips (like these). Use two on each of your cut pieces to create the “feet.”

Now, place the handgun in the desired position. Prop it up if wanted (at home an empty casing does a good job with patience) and take note of the darkest side of the gun. Position the longest paper mirror near that side, and rotate to maximize light being bounced onto that dark surface.

Take a photo, and if you see black areas with no details add either or both of the other reflectors as needed. I took some solid photos of a black Springfield XD on a black surface to explain the technique in a YouTube video recently—using an Olympus point-and-shoot on full auto.

The results aren’t perfect, but they’re newsworthy solid, even without the cleaning, sharpening or color correction I usually take the time to do in Photoshop. Most cameras/phones do a good job in detecting color temperature, so the neon/tungsten lighting mix problem is minimized.

The photo you see above is how it came out of the small camera—dirt and all—using two of these reflectors. Below is a look at the setup. Springfield XD, gun photography, firearm photography, handgun photography, firearm photographic techniques, SHOT Show 2017, Guy Sagi, Guy J. Sagi, Fear and Loading, Fear & Loading, Raeford North Carolina, Hoke County North Carolina