Photographing airguns – Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Quick update
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.


It’s not easy to hand-hold a camera this steady, but almost anyone can learn to do it. Of course, the camera has to focus this close, too, but most of them do.


This is the camera I used to photograph the dime. It’s a 7.2 megapixel point-and-shoot camera that sells for $150 at Wal-Mart. There, on the bottom, is the tripod connection. I shot this picture with a Fuji Finepix S9100 that WAS mounted on a tripod.

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.

51 thoughts on “Photographing airguns – Part 1


  1. Hia BB
    Good topic. I am a news and sports photographer and I always carry a monopod (non photo guys think of it as a 1 leg of a tripod). I never arrive on an assignmet with out it. I am not a big fan of flash, on camera flash is the worst. Now if you have time setting up lights is a diffrent story.

    BB you are correct about shooting slow shutter speeds. One of my clients is the diocese of Paterson following the bishop at important masses, flash is the last thing I want to do. My camera lives to shoot 1/30 of sec. and below; lens wide open. I lot of “pros” wonder how this can be done. Its all in the rest.

    I also found that shooting photos is so similar to shooting guns. Its all about timing and proper hold.

    Joe G from Jersey


  2. Joe,

    I remember you are a photographer. So please feel free to help me with this report. I plan to just cover the basics – enough to get them taking detailed pictures they can use.

    I am no photographer, but after reading what people were saying on the airgun forums, I knew many people wanted to learn the basics.

    Maybe you can do a guest blog or two in this series?

    B.B.


  3. b.b.

    I would like as much info on this subject as you are willing to provide.

    Also on yesterdays question about my new talonss, it is not the noise coming from the barrel I am wondering about. It is the noise or at least it seems to be noise from the action. More of a clank like metal against metal?

    thanks again

    jw


  4. JW,

    You have a metallic clank in your Talon SS when you fire it? That’s not a normal sound from this rifle. There is a minimal spring noise when you dry-fire the gun and you can hear the striker hitting the bolt, but that doesn’t sound metallic. It sounds like something may be loose that shouldn’t be.

    I would call AirForce and ask their technical people. Your mainspring may have come loose from the power adjustment mechanism.

    B.B.


  5. Another trick is to take a string and tie a loop on one end . Loop it over the tri pod mount or a bolt placed in the tri pod mount of your camera . Hold the camera at eye level and cut the string at ground level . Tie a washer to that end of the string . Stand on the washer with your forward foot while holding the canera and draw the string tight . You are now very stable and you can swing from side to side to take action shots as well. It works on a rifle as well . The loop over the barrel close to scope pull up and the woble is gone . Marvin



  6. B.B.

    I hadnt dry fired it so I did (with air) and I am thinking its just me. Can you dry fire it without the tank?

    sorry for the bother

    jw


  7. BB, I’m not much of a photographer, but you seem to confirm for me a conclusion I came to some time back – once you get up to around the 3mp range, good resolution seems to be far less important than good optics. As the electronics technology and production methods improve we’re seeing the expected result – megapixels are getting super cheap. But I suspect the lenses are not getting as cheap as quickly, and as a result there are low-end 5mp cameras out there that won’t produce an image as clearly as my older 2mp Fuji.


  8. JW,

    If you dry-fire it, use the tank, even if it’s empty. Without the tank the bolt is unsupported and the striker will hammer it very hard. Also the striker will not be stopped where it normally should stop. So, use a tank.

    B.B.


  9. Vince,

    I suspcet you are right about the optics. Nothing beats a good lens.

    The other thing that really matters is software. Fuji and Cannon are two of the real imaging leaders right now – in the affordable camera range, anyway. When you spend $46,000 for a Hassleblad medium format, I supposed it takes a pretty good snapshot, too.

    B.B.


  10. Hi BB,

    I’m a professional photographer, although mostly retired now, living on Maui. What I’ve always wondered about is your lighting technique(s), so you might want to describe it/them in detail. I’ve always been impressed by the clarity of your photo illustrations.

    Joe B from Maui


  11. BB
    I was hoping you would finish up your walther falcon review or one of the other guns that could use a little further discription. No harm intended, just a request.


  12. BB,
    I have to agree about the Fuji’s. My 1.2MP Fuji (so old it doesn’t have USB or zoom) still works flawlessly and our newer one (way too many pixels + zoom) takes better pictures than some of the more expensive models friends and family have. I’m interested in your lighting technique, too. I’ve got a tripod (or 8), so I need to try it with the digital camera. Never used one much before, because until recently our son though capture the camera was his mission in life and any setup was at best temporary (you’ve got about 8 seconds before hiding the camera).


  13. Joe B.,

    Okay, professional. I offer the same invitation to you. If you want to do a couple guest blogs on photography (or airguns) you’re more than welcome.

    Joe, I think you will be unimpressed by my lighting. Digital helps me so much I don’t even think about the color values of different lights anymore.

    B.B.




  14. “Digital helps me so much I don’t even think about the color values of different lights anymore.”

    I agree…one of the great benefits of digital. No, what I meant was more like, how you position your lights, when you’re not using natural lighting that is. Such even lighting with no hotspots…I’ve often wondered if you do the old thing of bouncing light onto the subject, rather than direct lighting. That’s what I wanted to know.

    –Joe B.


  15. Just saw the Marushin that takes 8mm BBs. Are there other sizes besides 6 and 8mms in Airsoft? Besides the Marushin, how can I find other guns that use 8mm BBs? A search for 8mm on PA yields almost nothing new.

    –Joe B.


  16. I love my PPK/S .177 BB pistols. I just noticed the green gas model. Is there any know plan, or has there been in the past, a .177 or .22 pellet version?

    -Joe B.


  17. Vince,

    I can’t find it, but several years ago I showed a photo with the pellet in flight. It can be done with a sound-activated strobe in total darkness and the lens left wide open.

    B.B.


  18. Joe B.,

    Okay, now I understand.

    Yes, I’ll show several different light positioning methods, starting with “old easy” – photographing in the shade or on a cloudy day.

    B.B.



  19. Joe B.,

    There is a fundamental problem with pellets and semiautomatic operation. I mean TRUE semiautomatic, and not a revolver in disguise like the Walther pistols. Soft lead pellets do not like to feed through airguns semiautomatically.

    The Crosman 600 and 451 are true semis, as is the Drulov DU-10. But beyond that and a handful of five-shot target “sport” pistols, there isn’t much else.

    Stuffing a reliable feed mechanism into an envelope the size of the PPK/S is the problem. If you’ll notice, all the true semiautos are big.

    B.B.


  20. bb911 sorry in advanced for this off topic post
    I have a rws 34 panther that is pretty new with about 500 shots. Today as I was shooting, out of nowhere it became extremely hard to break open ( but not to cock). Two shots after this problem occured the sound produced by the gun was equivelint to a 22 lr. It was a 8.4 gr. Pellet and definately didn’t break the sound barrier. I think you would call this combustion but am not sure. I would like to know what the problem is and if them both occuring at the same time is a coincidence. Also the rifle stopped dieseling over 400 shots ago and I have not oiled any parts
    thanks as always,
    john


  21. B.B.,
    Great info. If you could also cover how to properly use the macro feature and maybe even how to size photos for the the web vs for printing.
    Thanks again,
    Pestbgone


  22. John,

    Your RWS Diana 34 suffered a detonation. Don’t worry, it isn’t damaged. The most common cause for a detonation in a gun that has stopped dieseling (smoking with every shot) is a failure to load a pellet. Or the pellet dropped out as you closed the breech. That happens sometimes.

    As for being hard to open, a crumb of lead can get into the breech locking detent and jam it, making the detent difficult to move. This will resolve itself in one or two shots. By focusing on that problem, you might have forgotten to load one time. I know that’s happened to me.

    Is the barrel still difficult to open, or has it gone back to normal?

    B.B.




  23. BB -
    Good idea for a series! Just another opinion, but I do like the flash – used properly. I have a SLR Canon XT that I can use bounce flash on, and get very good pictures. On point ‘n shoot cameras like you discuss above, a trick I have used is to tape a piece of toilet paper or kleenex on the flash to soften the light (make sure it’s white). A flash can be really nice to make the colors pop on a bright day when forced on and best if your camera has an autofill function. For example, freezing the wings of this hummingbird and highlighting the colors:

    http://i198.photobucket.com/albums/aa278/crudo20/bird.jpg

    Just my .02!
    Geoff


  24. thanks bb
    I did some more shooting and cleaned the ball detent with a cloth… All is better. Btw sorry for the usual brevity and spelling/ grammar errors on my posts- usually doing them from a portable device.
    thanks again,
    john


  25. Geoff,

    I can hardly argue with your success. The hummingbird is beautiful!

    And from what you have to say about the use of flash I can tell that my little series isn’t going to teach you much that you don’t already know.

    I may try the kleenex trick. It sounds interesting!

    B.B.



  26. Hello BB
    This one hits home. Recently tried to photograph my entire gun/ airgun collection. I’m an advanced amateur photographer, accomplished with film and digital. I find that lighting is the hardest part of the task. The other is perspective… trying to get the entire gun in the picture. Sure, I can take multiple shots of each, but one nice overall shot (with detail) would be great. Outside on a cloudy day on the picnic table gave great results, but getting that entire barrel in the shot was a stretch :) Got any suggestions?

    Here is a tip for you guys with guns stored in cases, pistol boxes, etc. It’s hard to remember which gun is in which case. Make yourself some luggage tags! A small picture, and gun description can be laminated and attached to each case. Office stores have precut stick together laminate tags, they work great.

    I really enjoy my Walther Lever, mounted a reddot sight on it. The accuracy amazes me. The reddot helps with accuracy, and doesn’t slow you dowm on rapid shots. I also leave mine charged all the time, holds co2 fine. It’s always ready to eliminate that unwelcome visitor to the bird feeder!

    Joe


  27. JDB,

    Well, you got the best lighting with the cloudy day routine. Now, how to get the whole rifle in the pic.

    The answer is either a wide angle lens or to get farther back from the gun so a normal lens will capture the entire rifle.

    Back in my film days I used a Nikon FM2 with a f1.2 50mm lens. While that was great for group photos, it was about the worst combo for taking rifle pix. Before I spent the money on a 24 mm lens that solved the problem, I got an eyepiece magnifier for the FM2. Whenever I would photograph the entire rifle, I’d put a film box next to it, then focus on the fine print with the magnifier. The rifle would be in the same film plane and always came out sharp.

    With digital, you no longer need to do that. First, you have a zoom mode to see your subject but more importantly you have auto-focus, which is better than most eyes can adjust the focus.

    B.B.


  28. Hi BB -
    Thanks for the kudos. I’ll still read up on the series – I’m always learning. If I see any tricks to offer, I’ll always throw my 2 cents in!

    Geoff
    ps – we had a break in last night while we were sleeping… geeze. Is a .38 still a good home defense choice?


  29. Ozark,

    The best home defense gun is the one you have ready and know how to use. A .38 is pretty light for addicts who are high, so you might want to get some Blaser/Glaser cartridges that have superior dropping power.

    My plan is to disorient them first with a tactical flashlight, which will give me a moment to determine whether they are armed. If they are, on goes the laser and I hold for the center of mass. No “talking them out of it” for me.

    You will probably encounter some kids during break-ins. That’s the tough part. You need to think that through before setting up to defend yourself.

    B.B.


  30. Thanks BB -
    Now I understand the flashlight… They run cnc classes at Bass Pro Shops 2 blocks from my house, so I’ll check into that if it becomes a reality. I did install a IR deer cam in the back yard, so it will be interesting to see what goes bump in the night. I’m leaving it on IR mode for now until the house is properly protected, then I’ll run the normal flash unit. I’d hate to have a crack head running in through the glass door to grab the camera with my kids at home.
    Geoff


  31. Ozark,

    Get the brightest flashlight you can find. Anything over 100 lumens will temporarily disable an attacker at night, and there is a level at which their become “compliant.” I guess that’s so blinded they can’t function, but after I shoot them they’ll probably be that anyway..

    I currently have two Crosman flashlights ($15) with 60 lumens that are my nightlights right now. I’m looking into a 225 lumens Fenix light that forces compliance.

    B.B.


  32. BB -
    Is that 100 lumen one gun mountable? As far as drugged out perps go, would you recommend more in the .40 range? I heard that 9mm is a little light also for the ‘dazed and confused’. I shot a Glock .40 a while back that was a pleasure to shoot. Any suggestions appreciated, thanks.
    Ozark


  33. Ozark,

    I’m not a person to ask, because I don’t have the experience to back it up, but the larger the caliber the better. In the home I have a .45 ACP, but on the road I have to go smaller – just so I’ll carry it.

    B.B.


  34. Hey B.B.,
    I have a question on my Camera. It seems to not be made anymore, so its not on the company’s site. Its an SVP model DC-12v. Can you find anything about it? Also is it better to have digital zoom, or regualer zoom? Thanks.
    Brody


  35. Broday,

    What company’s name is on your camera?

    Digital “zoom” isn’t really a zoom at all. It is a digital enlargement of the image the camera sees. Optical zoom is what you want.

    B.B.


  36. BB,

    I have a few questions I hope you can answer in your photography series.

    1) What lighting techniques do you use (type of lights, light positioning, light bounce, natural light, etc.)?
    2) How do you get an autofocus camera to focus at close range for non-flat subjects, especially small items (around 1/4″ to 2″, like springs, inside air valves, etc.)?
    3) What kind of backgrounds do you find work best (towels, cloth, wood, wall, carpet, etc.)?
    4) What background colors work best vs subject color?
    5) Do you modify your pictures with a paint program (other than just the size)? If so, what program do you use and what modifications do you typically do?

    For anyone interested, there can be a big difference in digital cameras. My wife has a Panasonic camera, while I have a Sanyo (both digital). The Panasonic takes nice pictures, has pretty good shutter response, 12x optical zoom and focuses quite well. My Sanyo has not-as-good color, slow shutter response, bad for action shots, 3x optical zoom and has difficulty focusing at times. Hers cost around $225, mine around $100 (but a year newer). Just be careful when buying a camera. We looked at reviews before buying hers, but bought mine while on vacation since we forgot and left her camera at home.

    Thanks,
    .22 multi-shot


  37. .22 multi-shot ,

    A lot of what you ask will be in my report.

    I use a background close in brightness to the subject, but lighter or (rarely) darker. Texture adds interest, but it can remove details unless you’re careful.

    I use incandescent lights bounced off the white ceiling, most of the time. Rarely do I light directly. I now use florescent lights sometime, now that digital software can color-correct them.

    I use PhotoShop CS2. It’s for serious photography and costs a bundle.

    Focusing in deep holes is a problem for everyone. Lighting is problematic, and so is depth of field. I use a tactical flashlight to “paint” the subject with light while the exposure is made. I will explain how to do that.

    B.B.


  38. Thanks BB,

    I’m looking forward to reading more. Are you going to mention in the blog what type of edits you typically do with PhotoShop?

    .22 multi-shot



  39. Hye B.B.,
    Its an SVP.
    I have a tripod, but its a little large, and my other is too small, so are you going to write about how to hold a camera steady? Thanks,
    Brody


  40. Brody,

    I’m not familiar with Silicon Valley Peripherals, so I can’t tell you anything about your camera.

    Yes, I am going to tell you how to hold a camera steady without using a tripod.

    B.B.


  41. BB,
    Seeing as they are now putting a gas piston in the Walther Falcon Hunter, do you see a gas piston in the future for a Benjamin Sheridan Super Streak .22? For hunters, it would be a great asset to be able to leave it cocked for periods of time. Also, I see gas pistons with and without seals. Would one with a seal benefit from a tune?


  42. Of course the Suoer Streak is a possibility for a gas spring. No gas spring operates without a seal. They all have to have some kind of piston seal to work.

    I’d say tuning a gas spring would be like adjusting a quartz watch – impossible. The spring is self-contained. You can adjust the design parameters like the fill pressure, but no simple tuning can do anything but ruin something that already works well.

    B.B.


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