Ken Lunde's Photography Tips
Last updated on February 21, 2010.
People sometimes ask me the techniques that I use to take my firearm and knife photos. I have tried to encapsulate the techniques in the following bulleted items:
- Never, ever, use a direct flash. Doing so destroys the photo. I suggest natural light, preferably on an overcast day to minimize the strong contrast that can result from direct sunlight, but when that's not available, such as at night, I suggest fluorescent. My cameras (Nikon D200 and D300) have nine white balance settings: auto, incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, choose color temperature, and white balance preset. I need to set this correctly, according to the light source, otherwise the photo may turn out with a undesirable hue (either too reddish or too blueish). Summer 2003 UPDATE: I have been using a set of Lowell professional lighting, consisting of two Omnis and one Tota, and they have benefits in that it's a set of three lights, and their temperature rating is fixed and known (3200 degrees Kelvin) meaning that I can precisely set the same white balance value in my Nikon D200 and D300. Early 2007 UPDATE: Instead of setting white balance using a fixed temperature value, I am now using an ExpoDisc to set white balance, and am getting excellent results. I highly recommend it.
- Careful focus. I always manually focus my cameras when taking these photos. When manually focusing, one of my previous cameras automatically zoomed to the maximum setting, and beyond maximum when the zoom was already set to the maximum setting. Zooming, if your lens supports this feature, lets you more easily confirm correct focus. For digital SLR owners, I strongly suggest a decicated macro lens. A true macro lens has three benefits: 1) close focus capability, measured from the focal plane, not from the front of the lens; 2) correct perspective, so that straight lines do not appear curved; and 3) the ability to use a smaller aperture, such as f/32 or smaller, depending on the focus setting.
- Zoom to the maximum focal length, but do not use the digital zoom feature, if available. The default focal length may produce ever so slight fisheye effects, and to minimize this, and to maintain proper perspective, you should zoom to the maximum focal length setting. If you use a digital SLR, I again recommend purchasing a dedicated macro lens. To repeat from the previous bullet item, macro lenses not only provide closer focusing distances (which, by the way, are measured from the focal plane, which is where the film or CCD is located behind the lens, not from the front of the lens), but also provide the ability to use a smaller aperture (for greater depth of field, when it is necessary) and provide correct perspective. I use the Nikkor 60mm Micro lens for my Nikon D200 and D80 (I used the same lens with my Nikon D100), and started using a different lens, specifically the Nikkor 105mm AF-S VR Micro, in May of 2006, but ended up going back to the Nikkor 60mm Micro lens due to the more comfortable working distance made possible by its focal length.
- Use a tripod and a remote release. My first digital camera came with a wireless remote release. If you don't have a remote release, you can use a delay timer, which almost all digital cameras have. UPDATE: for my Nikon D200 and D300, I connect them to my computer via a USB cable, and use Nikon's Camera Control Pro (Version 2) software to adjust the exposure settings, and to take the photo itself. The images completely bypass the onboard memory card, and instead go directly to the computer. I used the same method for my Nikon D100. Although I have wireless remote releases for these digital SLRs, and they all have an adjustable (for time) delay timer, I prefer to use Nikon's Camera Control Pro. Another useful feature, which my Nikon digital SLRs support, is Exposure Delay Mode, which activates the CCD a fraction of a second after the shutter is released, which has the benefit of minimizing camera shake due to the mechanical nature of the shutter.
- Use a smaller aperture (that is, a higher "f" number, such as "f/11"). This allows less light through the lens, but it increases the depth of field. The greater the depth of field, the greater the range of distances that can be in focus at the same time. This doesn't help when taking side views, but when one end of the object is significantly closer to the camera than the other end, it allows the entire object to be in focus. Also, because less light is coming through the lens, you need to increase the exposure time, often to more than a second. Steadiness is thus critical (see #4). Don't get into the habit of automatically using the smallest aperture. If the composition of the photo does not require a lot of depth of field, there is no need to use the smallest possible aperture. Some experimentation (and experience) is necessary to know when a larger aperture is appropriate.
- Post-process in an image-manipulation application. I currently use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, but used Adobe Photoshop CS3 prior to that (note that 95 percent of the people who think they need Photoshop actually benefit more from buying Photoshop Elements, which is not a chopped-down version of Photoshop; these applications are on separate development tracks, and some new functionality is developed first in Photoshop Elements then adopted by Photoshop, such as the "Heal" tool), and I originally used a combination of "Auto Levels," "Auto Contrast," and "Auto Color" to enhance the photos, and improve the color. Sometimes I used all three, but sometimes only one or two of these functions. It depended on the photo. If the color was really bad, I typically desaturated, which essentially takes away all color, resulting in grayscale. I feel that desaturating is better than poor color. UPDATE: I now carefully use the "Levels..." function, specifically its sliders. For the full-resolution images, I use the "Sharpen" or "Smart Sharpen..." filters. For lower resolutions, I once used "Unsharp Mask..." (set to 500% with a radius of 0.9 pixels) before scaling, but now apply the "Blur" filter before scaling, followed by the "Sharpen" or "Smart Sharpen..." filter. (The "Smart Sharpen..." filter was introduced in Photoshop CS2.) Early 2007 UPDATE: I highly recommend using Adobe Systems' latest application, Photoshop Lightroom, which is specifically tailored for digital photography use.
- For posting to the web, I resized the images to be ten inches wide (720 pixels). Their file sizes ended up being about 100K, which is reasonable. The photos that I use for posting to forums are all set to 720x540, 720x479, or 720x482 pixels (taken with the Olympus C-3030 Zoom, Nikon D100, and Nikon D200/D300, respectively). Starting in March of 2006, I began using 1000x669 pixels for the web-size photos. The images began at 2048x1536, 3008x2000, or 3872x2592 pixels from the camera, taken with the Olympus C-3030 Zoom, Nikon D100, and Nikon D200/D300, respectively. Adobe Photoshop lets one freely resize images. I resize after I post-process them (see #6). I also have full-size (2048x1536, 3008x2000, or 3000x2008 pixels; taken with the Olympus C-3030 Zoom, Nikon D100, and Nikon D200/D300, respectively) versions for use as computer desktops, which is what these pages provide.
Below is a photo of my Lowel lighting setup, showing a Busse Combat "Custom Shop" ASH1 (Anniversary Steel Heart 1) knife as the subject:
Note how the Tota light uses an umbrella to reflect and diffuse the 750 watts that it generates. The combined 1000 watts of the two Omnis provide what I think of as directional ambient lighting, because their barndoors are adjusted to prevent direct lighting of the subject.
By the way, my first digital camera was an Olympus C-3030 Zoom, and some of the early photos on this page were taken with it. I then started using the Nikon D100 digital SLR with the Nikkor 60mm Micro (macro) lens. I upgraded to the the Nikon D200 at the very end of 2005, and continued using the excellent Nikkor 60mm Micro lens. Any photos taken in 2006 and beyond were with my Nikon D200, until I then upgraded to the Nikon D300 at the end of 2007. Some of the photos were taken with the Nikkor 105mm VR Micro lens, but I found that I prefer the Nikkor 60mm Micro lens due to the working distance made possible by its focal length.
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