Photographing airguns - Part 1
by B.B. Pelletier
Lots of interest in the Walther Lever Action rifle! I'm glad I decided to do something about it. Too much wind outside for longer-range shooting has forced me to revise my schedule of reports somewhat. For those awaiting another Condor segment, it's coming. AirForce is out of 24" .177 barrels at present. I was going to test one with a Micro Meter valve for Andreas, and that's still in the works. When I test it, I'll also test a setting of 4 on the power wheel, to see if my velocity climbs as others have noted.
Today I'll start a report on photographing airguns for everyone who wants and needs to have detailed photos of their guns for whatever reason. There will be two angles to this report - film and digital. Digital has replaced film for about 95 percent of the picture-taking, but there are still a few diehards who, like me, have a huge investment in camera equipment and cannot let go entirely. But they should, in my opinion. Not only is digital photography here to stay, but it offers so many huge advantages over film that it isn't worth hanging on to a dying technology.
I used to take photographs for newsstand magazines, where resolution is everything. I used a medium-format Mamiya RB 67 and several Nikon 35mm cameras for those photographs that magazine art directors then examined with powerful jewelers' loupes for flaws. Then I got a Nikon Coolpix 995 digital camera and replaced them all. The resolution of that first digital camera? 3.3 megapixels! Yes, I took two-page spread color magazine photographs with a 3.3 megapixel camera that today would be a nice phone camera! Before you dig out your old copies of the magazine and start critiquing the poor images, know this. Most of the bad stuff was taken with film! Nearly all the better shots were taken with my digital Nikon.
So, no excuses about your equipment. Unless you're struggling along with a 10-year-old digital camera, you probably have better equipment than I used for most of Airgun Illustrated magazine. It's not about the camera - it's who's behind the camera that makes it work.
Ever watch a major sporting event and see thousands of flashes from the stands? Those are thousands of people who haven't got a clue how their camera works. No flash, and certainly not one from a point-and-shoot digital camera, will illuminate a sports field 200 feet away. The people taking those pictures don't know how their camera works and many aren't even aware their flash is firing!
Lesson 1 - TURN OFF YOUR FLASH
Find the owner's manual for your camera and figure out how to turn off the flash. This applies to both digital and film cameras. All flash does is burn a hot spot on your image and throw a dark shadow behind it. It screams "High School Yearbook," and you don't want that. If you can't find the owner's manual, Google your model and find the manual online. That's one of the benefits of the internet.
Having pried the flash from your cold fingers, many of you are noticing an icon in your viewfinder that you've never seen before. Your manual will tell you it's the warning that you must use a tripod, because the shutter (the thingy that lets the light through to hit the CCD for digital and the film for film users) has to stay open too long. Your pictures will be blurry if you shoot now without a tripod or some kind of a steady rest. Well, there's a bright future for you on gunbroker.com, because half the pictures there look like that.
Lesson 2 - GET A TRIPOD
Your camera has a metal screw boss on the underside. As cheap as your camera may have been and as small as it is, the hole with threads is probably there. It's there to accept a tripod, so get one and use it. For now, since you don't have one, learn to hold the camera steady. In the future I will talk about ISO speeds and what they can do for you in this respect, but forget them for now.
While you await your tripod (and some of you will wait forever, I know) there are many things you can do to steady the camera. You can learn how to hand-hold a camera for exposures up to 1/4 second. Take a look at the dime below. I took that photo holding by hand, and the camera selected a 1/4 second exposure. While the photo isn't good enough to go into a magazine, it's plenty good for the internet. For our foreign readers, this coin is 17.91mm wide. If you can get detail like this from your guns, you'll be doing very well, indeed.
You can also rest the camera on a chair back, a car or other solid object. Or you can hold onto a vertical column and press the camera against the column. Holding this way, I've gotten half-second exposures that got into magazines.
Please ask questions and let me know what you want to learn, so I can get to the point with this series.