The .44 Mag. Desert Eagle is an awesome looking handgun, but photos that reflect its good looks can be a challenge. Don’t get me wrong. It’s fit and finish are first-class, but it’s tactical black throughout and that makes it somewhat shy about sharing its curves with a camera.
The image above is one of the outtakes from one of my upcoming gun reviews. The flat lighting toward the viewer stinks, so it's probably going nowhere.
It is a good chance for an inside look at how much work goes into seemingly simple firearm photos, however. It’s not what the average enthusiast thinks. This image is really 10, blended, and not that well in this case—unfortunately.
Rim Lighting First
A black background with a black gun means you need to establish the firearm’s borders somehow and the easiest way is to highlight the edges. Without it, the rail atop the .44 Mag Desert Eagle would disappear. The triggerguard could just vanish into the darkness as well. Readers deserve a good look at the gun from the comfort of home, even when the graphic approach is black on black.
There's a lot of imagination involved and more hours than I care to admit. It starts with cleaning the gun then lighting from a single direction.
The image to the left is really four photos combined. Each was taken with the flash in a slightly different position, above and behind the handgun. Four flashes can accomplish the same look in a single, but by taking multiple images I can pick and choose which ones are used in Photoshop. There they are stacked in layers and automatically combined using the "lighten" blend mode. I can turn on or off any of them with this technique to change the look...something you can't do with a single image. The other disadvantage to multiple light sources is an inevitable army of escaping photons muddying the look.
The second photo harnesses the same approach, but from the handgun's bottom. We're up to eight images, not including the one's I ditched during processing.
.44 Mag. Desert Eagle Outline
You get a nice, pretty much black-and-white outline of the gun when this pair of photos are combined the same way. The profile is well defined but the rest of the details are missing.
The side of the gun facing the reader requires yet another photo. I take a lot of them so I can pick and choose. Toss it on top of the layers, use the lighten blend mode yet again and it's still not done. That dowel in the muzzle holding the handgun for photos has occluded the ports near the muzzle. Out it comes, re-anchor the pistol, take another photo or it, layer/mask and then the real work begins.
No matter how much you clean a gun, dust collects in seconds. I swear it's the oil, or my dogs who groupie up when the camera comes out. The mend brush in Photoshop works wonders, but it's slow and tedious work.
I'd love to share the image the magazine will receive, but I cannot until the article is published. I directed light on the viewer side of the .44 Mag. Desert Eagle. I think it's striking in comparison to this flatly lit outtake. And the option to put a different look on top was only made possible by building a solid, rim-lit foundation upon which I could build, or more accurately blend.
Let me know what you think about the image. Please withhold comments on how much time I blow on photos—my wife reminds me every day good gun photos don't require software wizardry.