Saturday, September 4, 1999
Cheap and Easy phototaking...
Down and Dirty CHEAP and EASY Photo Taking!
I have a half assed degree/background in videography from a long time ago. But no experience taking product shots. Thus all my gun part pics sucked.
This article is for those of you that want to share your gunbuilding prowess or just want to share pics of great ak parts finds you've made in forums or in blogs.
So I researched the hell out of taking studio shots. And with much trial and error. Found the cheapest easiest way to take photos of parts kit or rifle size photos on down. I didn't want anything permanent set up. And I wanted whatever I bought to be cheap and usable elsewhere in my shop/garage. (With the exception of the camera.) I also didn't want to spend a lifetime learning studio type photography. They're AK parts for christsake. LOL! Not fine jewelry.
This is how I take pics. In a dark garage with no outside light. I tried the light box thing. And could not get enough light in to make it work. I also tried using my 7 mega pixel (?) Canon Digital Elph (like a pocket camera). But could not get enough light/clarity. I didn't mind spending for a camera. But I didn't want to spend alot on a home studio set up. I tried the little silver scoop lights. I think for small parts - that and the Digital Elph might have worked in a macro close up mode. But I needed to take pics of kits and rifles - larger objects - on down. I found that the bottom line for me was a larger area - with alot of CHEAP light.
Here's where I spent more than some but alot less than others. You could easily get away with a $200-$300 DSLR. I use a Canon Rebel Xsi 12mp DSLR with a 18-55 lens (just the one that came with the camera). This is last years model camera - top consumer model - not pro model. Think it cost $750 from Costco with two lenses. Cheaper with just the one I'm using which would have been fine. Like I said I didn't mind spending money on a camera. And it has been worth it to take these pics. But more so as a family camera. It takes GREAT pics ALL the time.
Lights - CHEAP!!!
After much trial and error I bought 4 double shop lights with extend-able stands from Kmart online. Which comes out to 8 square shop lights with 500 watt bulbs. Each one also has two settings so they can be 250 or 500. Which is cool cause you can adjust the light some with that. They come with the bulbs. If this link stops working just search for "craftsman tripod light". They were $40 for each double light. And I use them in my shop/garage for everyday use as well. They can be tall or short and totally kick ass in the shop for taking pics or just lighting stuff up to work on.
CHEAP Table Set Up!
I bought a sturdy wood kitchen table from Ikea's bargain bin and put their inexpensive lockable wheels on it. So I could move it easily. It's about 4x5. And I use it as a shop table too. But any shop table will do. Wheels are essential.
I circled the lights around the table. One in back, one to the side and two on the front two corners of the table. To the left and right of the tripod/camera.
I put a box on the table (tilting it with another smaller box under its backside) and covered it with a white sheet. (I tried green and grew army blankets and sleeping pads but the white sheet works the best IMO.) Set the parts up on the sheet covered box/table. Use a wide box and a large sheet to cover the entire table and box. So you have enough background. It's helpful to use a couple boxes under the table. You'll see why once you set up the shot. It helps fill the entire shot with white background.
EASY Camera Settings!
I then played with the manual settings - mainly just white balance and exposure to get the right amount of light on the parts and white sheet. Setting white balance is easy. Just read your manual. Your basically taking a close up picture of something white with all the lights on that your using. So the camera knows what white is supposed to be and can record all the other colors correctly. So you don't end up with a blue or orange tinge to your photos.
Then I tested several settings up and down on the exposure. Which basically means how bright of a picture you want the camera to take. After about 20 to 30 test photos using different levels of exposure (it's just a dial click type setting on my camera - so one pic one click up on the exposure, then one pic two clicks up etc.) Once I had the exposure setting I wanted. I saved those settings in the camera - white balance and exposure. So that each time I want to take a pic I simply choose the manual setting on the cameras dial and those settings are all ready to go. I just leave it and forget it. (I can even let my 18 yr old nephew take the pics - which is saying something! It's idiot proof. LOL!) Like others have said turn off the flash too. Flash photos turn out terribly. (QUICK TIP - Right click any photo saved on your computer and properties will show the exact settings used in the camera to take the photo.)
I use a cheap tall tripod ($30 ebay?) so that I can get almost straight on or at least a good angle between the high tripod looking down and the tilted box facing up.
Google's free Picasa!
They usually turn out so well (or good enough for our purposes) that I don't need to play with the image after the fact at all. But I have found Googles free Picasa to be an incredible tool. It finds all your photos, catalogs them in an easy to use/see thumbnail file system, you can edit your photos with a minimum of settings that aren't confusing but enough to do whatever you need. Cropping, fill light, sharpening etc. (I don't need to spend weeks learning another program like Photoshop or the free Gimp. Although they kick ass and have far greater purposes.) You can also VERY easily email in Picasa (it adjusts the size of the image file automatically so it's not to big). Or you can upload the photos from Picasa to a free photo album on Google Albums (which is great for family - all your vacation photos - and you send one link to everyone and they can view them online - rather than emailing 200 photos!).
But with forums you have to use www.photobucket.com to save your photos. And paste the image link into your posts. So once I load them on my computer from the cameras sd card and save them to a folder (rename them in the process so you know what is in each photo). I go to photobucket and upload them. You click the upload button and it opens up a window showing your computers files. You simply select the ones you want and hit open. You can also hold down the Ctrl button and select multiple files in a folder. To upload as many as you want at a time. And whichever ones you choose to. You can adjust the upload size of the image in photobucket. But I think the standard size is fine. Again, no manual resizing required - it does it all for you.
Once your photos are loaded to photobucket you hover your cursor over the photo and select and copy the bottom url or code (the fourth box). Then paste that where you want the photo to appear in your ad or private message.
(It's to bad you can't go straight from Picasa to Google Photo Albums to a forum post here. It would be much faster. But I have not used the photobucket toolbar software either. Perhaps it's easier than using Picasa. But I've found Picasa to be invaluable for all my photo needs.)
So get yourself the best DSLR you can afford. Many are far cheaper than the one I bought. Even Canon has an entry level DSLR that is far cheaper - maybe just a few hundred bucks. And is pretty much the same camera with just a few fancy features missing. (BTW DSLR is basically a digital camera that takes traditional removable SLR lenses. They look like the ones you find on 35mm cameras.) Buy shop lights on adjustable stands so you can move them around. Easily store them. And you can use them in your shop when your not taking pictures. Any shop table with a white sheet and a tilted box under it. I use real wide but flatter plastic storage boxes from Walmart that I keep parts in anyway. And read your cameras manual about manually turning off the flash, white balance and exposure.
I think outside at the right time of day and at the right angle you could do very well. Many on this forum have. But it's nice to be able to shoot pics whenever you need to. Like at night when I'm in the garage or on crappy weather days. And everything in this setup is usable for other useful purposes in your shop and life.
My photos (like the one above) have issues. They aren't perfect. The highlights could be adjusted out. The depth of field could be a little better. The cosmoline and little black marks of crap on the white sheet could be taken out. But I don't want to crack my mind having to learn a whole bunch of other stuff or perform those tasks. Good enough is all that I need. And for AK and gun stuff they look plenty good to me. As most importantly you want someone to see the most honest depiction of what your selling or what your posting to show someone.
I hope this helps someone avoid the mind numbing exercises I had to go through to just take a good picture. CHEAPLY and EASILY! :)