Simple Strobist Lighting for Rifle Photography

Leupold VX5 2-10, Beretta ARX100, Guy J. Sagi, Strobist Rifle photography, gun porn

Most modern sporting rifles are black, which makes them a tough subject to pull out of the background in photos. A lot of details can disappear, even with a decent exposure (especially outdoors). Here’s a down and dirty way set up simple strobist lighting for rifle photography.


Two flashes with a power output that can be adjusted manually. Make/model doesn’t matter because they’ll be off the camera. In this case I used my Canon 580EXs.

Three PocketWizards to trigger the strobes remotely from the camera. I use the simpler PlusX versions, the older ones.

Some means of affixing everything in the direction desired. In this case I used a pair of Oben tabletop tripods to adjust and anchor flash direction.

Rifle. For my assignment I needed to photograph a Leupold VX5 on a Beretta ARX100.

Tripod. Not necessary, although nice if you want to drag the shutter long enough for ambient light to provide backlighting.

Camera. The one I used, my outside choice most of the time, is a Canon 5D MkII.


Pick a shady or semi-shady spot and stage the rifle between you and the sun. Sunlight is a “third” light source in this case.

Place the flashes on both sides of the rifle, and aim so they light the gun. Attach a PocketWizard to each and mount the third on your camera.

Now you’re ready to go, but before you turn on the radio transmitters (PocketWizards), take a few pix. The rifle will probably be dark and black. However, now’s the time to adjust until you like the ambient light captured. That’s all you’re doing with these photos, so temporarily ignore the rifle.

strobist rifle photography, gun porn, Guy J. Sagi, gun photography techniques

Here’s a look at the setup used for this image.

Adjusting Your Strobist Lighting for Rifle Photography

Turn everything on, compose the image and hit the shutter. Too dark? You can either open the aperture or turn up power on the strobes. Remember the former will reduce your depth of field.

Too bright on one side? Dial down the flash over there.

Not enough rim lighting provided by the sun? Change the height from which you’re taking the photo, or slow your shutter speed. That’s when the tripod starts to become handy, especially in the shade or on overcast days.

Now bracket, adjust and experiment until you get something you like.

This image was for an assignment, but not good enough to send to the editor at Here’s a link to another story I did for him. Take a close look at what would have been a boring boot photo, also taken strobist style. I’d like to think that shadow, with detail, emphasizes the tracks we all leave outdoors.

And it doesn’t take a ton of gear to capture good gun photos. Take a look at the blog I did using foam and other reflectors with a cheap point-and-shoot camera. They’re not perfect, but pretty good.

If you want to learn more about the strobist technique, here’s a link to the inventor/king/grand night. I lurk as often on his blog when I find a breather in my schedule. I suggest you do the same.

And there’s a lot of confusion in the general public on the laws regarding firearm ownership and precisely how they came about. One of the most detailed, accurate and informative articles I’ve encountered is’s “Federal Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major Gun Control Laws and Acts.” Take a look. Even if you’re a knowledgeable gun owner, how things evolved is interesting reading.