Photographing airguns – Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

How about if I give you gun photographers something you can put to immediate use? Today, I’ll talk about the use of light. You already know to turn off the flash on your camera, but let’s see what you can do to light the subject.

Using available light
With film cameras, using available light was complex, because you not only had to know how long to expose the subject, you also had to know how the film you were using performed with a longer exposure. Every film was different, but as an example, the Ektachrome 64 I used had reciprocity failure. The longer it was exposed, the more the colors changed. To offset it, I had to use filters. But I also used filters for different types of light falling on the subject, and different variations of Ektachrome 64. It was very complex, so once I committed it to memory, I stopped looking for different films that could do the same thing. It’s kind of like finding the one right pellet for your gun, except that there was far more complexity.

Digital does away with all of that. The computer in the camera sorts out the type of light you use, so I find myself doing unforgivable things, like using florescent and incandescent lights for the same photo. Incandescent shifts colors toward the red and florescent shifts them to the green, but I no longer think about it.

I also no longer worry about having enough light. Back in my film days I could take up to an 8-second exposure, or I could hold the shutter open manually and count off however many seconds were needed. Today, the chip in my digital camera does that, and all I have to do is tell it how light or dark I want the picture to be.

Light tricks
I use house lights for most of my internet photos. If they put a hot spot on the subject, I will make a shadow fall on the subject to eliminate the bright spot. If I’m shooting a long gun for a magazine, where lots of sharp detail is needed, I shine two 500-watt quartz lamps at the white ceiling and let the reflected white light fall on the subject. My lamps are photo-grade lamps called Tota lights, and they adjust for height on tall stands that I run all the way up to 8 feet. That makes the reflected light as bright as it can be.

Get rid of shadowss
Before I had the Tota lights, I used to take most of my long gun shots outdoors. An overcast day is perfect, as it casts no shadows, but you can take wonderful shots on a bright sunny day, too. Just photograph in the shade. That tip, alone, is enough to change the way you photograph guns, if you haven’t been doing it. But wait – there’s more!

Choose the right background
Invariably, the classic mistake all new gun photographers make is to lay their guns on a white sheet. Because they can see the gun best that way, they assume the camera can, as well, but it can’t. It turns out you have a far more sophisticated imaging laboratory in your head than the finest cameras made. Lay your guns on a background that’s lighter or darker than then, but not by much. I’ll show you what I mean.


White isn’t a good background for a dark gun because it overwhelms the camera’s “brain,” making it think the picture is brighter than you want it to be. It’s like staring at a snowfield on a bright sunny day. It makes you squint and there goes the fine detail.


A medium blue background allows more detail to come through, but this picture is overexposed (intentionally) to show the damaging effects of direct lighting. It’s only marginally better than the first photo. I exposed both this shot and the first shot at the same manual setting. Although this background looks grey, it’s the same one used in the photo below.


By allowing the camera to select the right exposure, you get a far better shot, even with direct lighting. Hard to believe all three photos are the same gun with the same lighting – florescent room lighting! Notice the shadow beneath the gun, indicating the light was not directly above the subject.

Now, let me show you what the image can look like when it is taken in indirect (reflected) light. This was taken with a single 500-watt Tota light bounced off the ceiling.


No hard shadow, more details pop and there’s not as much detail loss in the dark areas. Notice this is the only photo to clearly show the front sight pins.

47 thoughts on “Photographing airguns – Part 2

  1. B.B.

    Sorry about the link. I was not trying to solicit business for this tiny outfit. Just thought you and the other hard-core types would like to see the product line they offer. Also, I wanted to dispel the myth that guns ordered outside the USA are always low power versions.
    You can even order directly from Germany, you simply select one of the 3 or 4 springs offered with the air rifle. None of this should be a threat to PA. Usually the starting prices are similar, but shipping is triple, and actually delivery time requires the ultimate test of patience.
    Not to mention about half the German site translates to English, the rest is still in German.
    Once you own everything available in the States you want, it just gets a little tougher to scratch your itch.


  2. I think I’ll take some snaps this week. My previous attempts all fell prey to the pitfalls described. I’d like good photos to be available for prospective buyers.

    I have to remove a few guns I’m not keen on from the house. I can fil teh basement with bikes but if the gun count (still low IMO)gets too high I get an eye roll from the lovely Mrs. M.

    Campagnolo fans from a few days ago might get a kick out of this:http://www.campyonly.com/

    (not commercial)


  3. Hey B.B.,
    I usually try to get the shadows out, or put it in the shadow completely. It always seems like my pics are going to be dark, but the always turn out okay. Also whenever i take pics of my guns. i have to get really far away to get the whole gun in the pic. is this okay. I have to get 5-6 feet away. Thanks,
    Brody


  4. I am being tempted to learn to use the Sony camera my wife has.

    I hate Sony, but my Benjamin 392SE is begging for some nice photographs.

    That way I will be ready when the IZH 60/61 arrives.

    Maybe you already have it in mind. But could you tell us how to photograph pellets? They are so small that the last time I tried to get a good picture it was a disaster. But at that time didn’t had the flash, illumination, etc. tips you have given us.


  5. I’m trying to join the party by learning how to extract still frames from video on my Panasonic miniDV. The first photo is of my Dad shooting his epic bullseye. All of yesterday was consumed by incredible hassles. I had to find the right kind of DVD (-R) and figure out that I was putting it in upside down. Then when I got to Kinko’s to print out the image, they said that my DVD was blank. My image showed up later on a Mac but not when I put the DVD into a PC. Maybe someday.

    B.B., the other night I measured the length of pull on my IZH 61 and got 14 inches (with the internal stock screw set on maximum). Isn’t this adult-sized? Length of pull is from the middle of the trigger to the middle of the buttpad, right?

    Also, the stock on my sniper rifle is a bit low for my 6-25X50 Leapers scope and the high mounts it requires. Aren’t there cheekpads you can buy to build up the stock? Are there any good names or considerations to know before I go knocking around the internet?

    Matt61


  6. B.B.

    If you were to leave some oil in the bore of a firearm as one is constantly warned not to do, do you get the equivalent of dieseling? I’m guessing it would be more robust. Would it damage the gun or shooter?

    To those working with incommunicado dealers, that was the first step on my road to near-disaster with the sniper rifle. I wouldn’t give the time of day to such people.

    Wayne, so you have lost a gun to a bogus character. You have my sympathy. I do think the B30 is worth having, but I think B.B. is going to blog it at some point if you want to wait for the definitive word.

    Sam, thanks for your advice about brushes. I was actually going to use Hoppe’s #9 as a bore cleaner and Sweet’s 7.62 for copper fouling. Are they redundant?

    Matt61


  7. Rimugu,
    My camera, has a setting, for focus. you can focus on either far away items, or really close items. thats how i take pics of pellets Just focus on the pellet, and as you zoom in(if yo have to,) slowly
    back away from the pellet, that way you get close-ups, and still focus on the pellet.


  8. B.B.,
    Very great tips! I have to take a fair number of digital pics at work for process documentation when we build new products. I knew about turning the flash off, but the other tips for eliminating hot spots will reduce the Photo Shop time I now spend trying to eliminate them after its too late.

    Also, not using a too-bright background is one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?”, things once its explained.

    I hope you plan more installments to cover close-ups and photo editing.

    This is very helpful!
    Thanks again,
    Lloyd


  9. Whoever posted the link,

    I’m not trying to be a Nazi about this, but it is PA’s website, so I try to keep all possible competition off. Sometimes it’s a close call, and I agree this one was.

    No harm done.

    B.B.


  10. Il Bruce,

    I’d like to hear if any of these pointers helped you.

    I neglected to mention all photos were take with the camera on a tripod, but you can use the back of a chair in a pinch.

    B.B.


  11. Brody,

    Yu either use a film camera or an older digital. The newer digital cameras have wide angle lenses that let you get just three feet from a long gun.

    I used to take pix from 5 feet back and they turned out okay. It all comes down to focusing. Use autofocus, if you have it.

    B.B.



  12. Matt61,

    14 inches is close to adult-sized. 14.5 is the norm.

    Look for a lace-on M1 Garand cheek rest. Every good sporting goods retailer like Midway and Cabelas has them. They lace up like shoes, so they can be installed anywhere.

    I used a common kneepad and duct-taped it to my Harrier stock 8 years ago. It’s still there.

    B.B.


  13. Matt61,
    Unless you have a real major copper problem I would stick with Hoppes #9. The Sweets is very strong and you must get every bit of it out before you put the gun away. I like to get all the Hoppes out too, but its not nearly as much of a problem. I have brushed with Hoppes and then let the gun sit for a day to let it work, never do that with Sweets. I have gone to using Ballistol to clean powder, plastic and lead out and only use solvents for copper cleaning.


  14. BSA,

    Why use any oil at all? Is your rifle squeaking? We oil spring guns too much.

    But when the time comes, use a high-flashpoint silicone chamber oil, and nothing else.

    PA sells Crosman silicone oil for this.

    B.B.


  15. Matt61,

    Oil in the bore does no harm to a firearm, except throw off the first shot.

    I use Sweets and Hoppes in rifles with rough bores. Sweets first and finish with Hoppes.

    If the bore is smooth, I use Hoppes alone. Hoppes is a mild cleaner. Sweets is very aggressive.

    B.B.


  16. Lloyd,

    Thanks for that feedback. I had to learn these tips from someone, too, so I know how handy they can be. I’m only too happy to help others the same as I was helped.

    My best friend is Earl “Mac” McDonald. He is the lead photographer at the National Archives, and the best photographer I know. A lot of what I will show you comes from him.

    Close-ups (macros) will be next.

    B.B.


  17. B.B. and all, thanks for the advice about solvents. I’ll keep the Sweet’s in reserve.

    And thanks, B.B., for the info on cheek rests. I’ve seen pictures of the Garand cheekrest so I know what to look for and how convenient that I have a Garand on the way.

    Troubles will never cease. While fussing around last night, I noticed that the finish is wearing badly on the stock of my B30. Small spots are flaked down to the inner wood which is very light, almost white. Other parts are wrinkled and rough. Oddly enough, the damage is confined to three inches or so on the inside (left side) of the butt pad and a little bit on top. What has caused this, I have no idea unless it is rubbing against me when I shoulder the gun. But the pistol grip and fore-end of the stock where I grip it as well as the rest of the stock is in perfect shape.

    Anyway, it looks like now is the time to learn a bit about refinishing stocks. How does one go about this? All I know is a vaguely described process that involved spraying coats of urethane. It sounded complicated.

    On this subject, I was kind of freaked by yesterday’s post about the Chinese using inferior steel in their products. I’m hoping that the odds are with me and that I won’t be the first who has a Chinese airgun blow up in his face if this is a real problem.

    I do suppose, speaking very objectively, that this is just part of the Chinese culture that one has to be aware of. I read that there was some massive typhoid epidemic in their recent history, costing millions of lives, that was begun by peasants injecting ditch water into their melons to make them look better at the market. If I were a Chinese peasant, I might have done the same thing, but the buyer will want to be careful.

    Matt61



  18. Matt61,

    Just because a reader posts that the Chinese use inferior steel doesn’t make it true. Maybe they do build counterfeit airplane parts, but airguns are not the same level of technology. You must have been able to see the hidden agenda in that comment.

    The steel they use is most likely the same grade as is used by Europeans, because, face it, airguns are not subject to great stresses. Now in some things, they do use inferior materials. They springs and seals are not up to world standards yet. But their barrels are challenging European barrels and their metal finishes have progressed to the same point.

    Blow up in your face? Matt, that would take quite a failure cascade for that to happen. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it’s highly unlikely.

    Now 20 years ago and Chinese spring gun would cut yourt fingers off if you didn’t restrain the coking lever when loading. But every airgunner knows to hold the lever today, don’t they/ I hope so, because a European gun can amputate just as fast as a Chinese gun.

    B.B.


  19. Brody,

    Not too bad. Here are some tips. 1. shade the overhead light to cut the glare on the floor (or do you plan to cut it off in PhotoShop?).

    2. Run the rifle diagonally in the image, then rotate it and cut it out in PhotoShop. That way you get a larger image in the native file.

    B.B.


  20. B.B.

    Between the bull barrel on the B30, the lower power of airguns compared to firearms, and the total absence of any reports of exploding airguns, I figured that I would be okay, but thanks for the reassurance.

    Oh and success! I managed to extract a still frame from video and print it out. I should be able to post a few pictures myself once I figure out how and where to download them to the Web.

    Matt61


  21. A friend of mine just showed up with an air rifle. It is a marksman model 56. What can you tell me about this gun?


  22. B.B.

    Great info as usual….super timing for me too, ..since I will be attempting a guest blog on “Glued barrel vs. not glued to the air tank” on the discovery……I am going to need all the help I can get…a little scary…

    amazing how the back ground cloth changed so much…

    Is that a special type of cloth, or is any light blue cloth ok?

    Matt61,

    Yeah, I am a trusting soul in general….until someone proves otherwise, (my mom is just the opposite, go figure)………sometimes it costs a little to find out about someone you plan a long term partnership with…….a $150 rifle is small price to pay ( and don’t forget Karma)………my favorite phrase in this case is “By Gone s” (fish on the Alley McBeal show)

    I would think that Beeman and the others making guns in China would have some control over the manufacturing process….at least in not buying if the quality is not what they ordered……..

    Any way I am not seeing any more lack of quality in the guns from the China Beeman line, than say Turkey, Spain or Mexico……of course I am still new to the testing game…….

    My concern, that I am not acting on, (since I still buy guns from China) is more the way the workers, water and the land are treated…..sometimes it is hard to live up to our values, at least for me…

    And it is a hard call, to figure out if the people are better off now or not…( I am sure the land and water are not)

    Wayne,
    Ashland Air Rifle Range


  23. Evening B.B. Thanks for the picture taking. You’re right I’d forgotten, almost, the joys of Kodachrome II. Indirect light I try to do, but the blue background so simple why didn’t I??? To anonymous with the DVD__had same problem, until my 16 year old son said that I was trying to run it on a CD only player. B.B. how do you control depth of field with digital? Thanks much.


  24. Matt,

    You know that Japanese cars were once made out of beer cans, right? That was the “truth” in the 70′s, back when good old US-made beer cans were steel and our domestic cars gave us a couple of years trouble-free service with regular maintenance. You’d be a fool to buy one of those (Honda|Toyota|etc)’s when you could get a long-lasting, good looking Ford Maverick or Chevy Vega lovingly crafted by an American worker (perhaps your neighbor) whose passion and lifelong career was making the finest car possible!


  25. B.B. & All

    Forget about me sending back the falcon because it “beat me up testing it”. It was laid out on the way into the shipping box… and our millwrght member walks in and says “WHATS THAT”? Its the new Walter Falcon, says I, shoots .22 hobbys avg. high 900s… OH YEAH he says, I got a stupid felony when I was 20 and I can’t own a fire arm, so that is as close as I can come for the price. He shot it a few times and…sorry folks, no need to watch PA for a great used falcon in .22

    Which leads to my question B.B. or who ever;
    Now that I have found the joy of no recoil with the discovery or say the super little HW30… as in not knocking me off scoped target… and a loose or firm grip not so important to my accuracy..

    Try as I may, and I gave the falcon 6 hrs of steady break-in (but I got broken), 1 hr. over the crony (performs as advertised), 1hr putting the leapers 6-24×50 ( eye relief insisted on the largest I had), then 4hrs of arm breaking cocking and recoil I had newer seen in an air gun before)….

    Trying to STAY on the 3/4″ dot at 60′ indoors… I say “stay” because she tuned in quickly, (for as long as the scope stayed put)… but the firm hold which would keep me on the dot for 2 or 3 shots would then produce one TWO” up & right, then back on the dot for one, then low and left TWO”…. come to think of it that’s a straight line… but what does that mean? It’s not the falcon, I am sure it is my grip. It is really hard to get it right with a gun like the falcon… for me any way….so….

    Shouldn’t the average light weight (5’10″ – 149) like me, stay away from big kickers if they want to shoot straight? Especially when a discovery does almost the same job, (just get a little closer) with no abuse to ones body…

    Wayne,
    Ashland Air Rifle Range


  26. B.B.

    The rest of the question is;

    Can a light weight person, (does it take weight behind the rifle?) learn to shoot a big springer accurately? If they are willing to pay the physical price, because the dollar price is low….

    Because, then maybe, I should stock some someday… I could always sell them to x-felons.. I guess.

    Wayne,



  27. Bruce,

    Depth of field with a digital is controlled the same as with a film camera, but I find it harder to execute, as you probably do. That’s because the digitals want to autofocus, and depth of field relies so much on a critical focus.

    The solution is to set the f-stop as high as it will go. On both my digitals, that’s f8 – a far cry from the f32 I’m used to with a film lens. Then set the focus 1/3 of the way into the subject – so 2/3 are farther back than the focal spot and only 1/3 is closer.

    B.B.


  28. Wayne,

    Regarding your wandering scope, you are describing a classic case of wandering parallax.

    But since you have sworn off heavy-recoiling air rifles, and since you already know the joys of a PCP, allow me to introduce you to a wonderful rifle.

    Please locate and buy an HW 55. Do it because you trust me – okay. They are no longer made, but a used one will be perfect.

    One week after you get one I will have to start rejecting your comments to this blog, because you won’t be able to contain yourself, and the other readers will complain – until they get their HW 55.

    And Wayne, just for me, go to this website and research the HW 55:

    http://www.network54.com/Forum/405945/

    Over there, I’m known as Flatulant.

    B.B.



  29. BB, Yes the Marksman 56 is a brake barrel. It has an adjustable butt and cheeck piece . says that it’s made in W. Germany on one side other sides say’s Huntington Beach, Ca. It is a very nice gun.



  30. B.B.

    Great point about the steak house………..
    but they got your money once didn’t they, once is enough for some business……..



  31. B.B.

    YEA!!!…..in todays world, “word of mouth” is the filter that rises the cream…always has been…but now with the internet the process explodes in all directions at once…..

    They made a bad choice in their products and service……

    Our online company made a choice to make quality cedar products and answer the phone, (no “press one” type customer service from us)…
    we have a 26% reorder rate to prove it…. Lucky for us we are tasting “word of mouth” the good way.

    Wayne,



  32. B.B.

    Well, PA is a perfect example, from my point of view…
    As someone starting a “hobby business” with some sort of air rifle range, sales and rentals…
    I have really researched the different air gun sites and there customer service departments….PA is the best, hands down..

    and they are so big that a lot of the other sites, buy from them, (that is how I got the last 4 – hw30′s, I saw that PA had shipped the other dealers order)

    And this forum is a big contributor to its top billing, I would guess….so

    Thanks:
    for your part in making this air rifle hobby so available and fun….
    and all the advise on old guns you give for us for free, to help find the best guns for us and maybe collect them for future profits or at least holding their value…Beyond the call of duty for a busy guy like you…

    also your part in developing the discovery that I love so much…

    and the condor that I am starting to dream of…

    and helping there to be more industry here in America, both manufacturing and retailing…

    really, it is important, if we are to save some of our American economy, in my opinion. THANK YOU!!

    don’t be shy, post it, it is the truth.
    Wayne


  33. BB -
    Thought I would post a couple days back to not clutter up your current topics. I had a suggestion for a 9mm taurus for home protection, but I think taurus 1911 was one of the rants you had about lousy quality control. Am I remembering correctly?
    Thanks
    Geoff


  34. Geoff,

    I had quality problems with mine, but I’ve heard from other owners. They are split 50/50 on the quality.

    My wife just got a Kel-Tek 9mm with a built-in laser for defense and concealed carry. For under 400, it’s not much larger than a .32 auto. I’ve shot them and they are quite nice.

    B.B.


  35. I’ll take a look at those also. I was reading about the Makarov pistols.. but I would take it to the range and.. well.. they aren’t that pretty, but sound like the Eastern block equivalent of the 1911. The kel-tek looks like a nice piece of work.

    All the best,
    Geoff


  36. Geoff,

    I LOVE the Makarov! It’s accurate, dead-nuts reliable and has a nice grip to control the low recoil. The single-action pull is light and crisp and the double action pull is also light. What a gun!

    Except the 9X19 is more powerful than the 9X18 Mak.

    B.B.



  37. Geoff,

    It’s the cartridge dimensions in millimeters, as in 7.62X51 (.308 Winchester), 7.62X39, 7.62X63 (30.06 Springfield). 9X19 is 9mm Luger. 9X18 is 9mm Makarov. 9X17 is .380 or 9mm kurtz (short).

    Never shot the pistol but I hear good things about it.

    B.B.



  38. Geoff,

    You can make that assumption, but it doesn’t hold in all cases. Sometimes the powders used are slower-burning (more powerful) and sometimes the cases are fatter. But in general, that assumption holds true.

    B.B.


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