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Taking GREAT Shots of Militaria, TIPS, Technical Details, etc. Sticky?

Article about: I'd like to start a thread, or a sticky, on getting fantastic shots of your militaria. It's not always easy, but it's worth it! First of all, you probably need a real camera, it's virtually

  1. #1

    Default Taking GREAT Shots of Militaria, TIPS, Technical Details, etc.

    I'd like to start a thread, or a sticky, on getting fantastic shots of your militaria. It's not always easy, but it's worth it!

    First of all, you probably need a real camera, it's virtually impossible to take really decent pics that hold up well to magnification with a cell phone. And even if you have the latest phone (iPhone 6, etc), you still have virtually zero control over your shots.

    Cameras ranging from simple "point and shoot" - by far the easiest to use and the most affordable - to DSLR cameras with their interchangeable lenses, the macro lens in particular is invaluable and often as expensive as a decent point and shoot, or sometimes much more expensive.

    Getting some helpful tips on composition, the "rule of thirds", is usually a good thing. Some people have a born artistic eye, and their "vision" makes for great photographs, the rest of us, I included can benefit from a few helpful tips. I noticed looking back at old photos of mine that before I learned these simple rules and accepted norms of composition that my pictures had problems...

    Most of this info should be readily available on the net, and although I could share what I know, we all have a bit different sense of style, and vision... so what appeals to me in pictures may not be the way you want to see things or portray them.

    Next up, lighting. The biggie. Lighting is everything, it can make or break a photograph. But what kind of photograph is it? The optimal lighting for portraiture is not the optimal lighting for product photography. This is something you can experiment with endlessly. There are many tricks to lighting, as well as accepted methods, from the very easy to very sophisticated studio lighting.

    Most of us won't be using sophisticated studio lighting, we just want to use available light and make it look good. I know a fair amount about lighting and can discuss this with whoever is interested, as it applies to their situation.

    There are many little tricks for getting the best out your camera, not letting it get the best of you. When I went to school for this, it was film, and it might be a couple days or hours at least before you could print and would know if you blew it or nailed it. Usually you get some of both. You only need one "keeper" when shooting a subject, at least of that angle, etc.

    Nowadays, with the advent of digital, instant gratification as I call it, you have the unique opportunity to know instantly if it's good or should you keep trying, which is amazing. I'm still amazed by it. But it's so easy, sometimes we really don't try hard enough?

    By all means, do not look a pics in the back of your camera to determine if they have problems or not, you need to have the shots up on a computer screen to really see what's going on. Many pics that look great in the camera are actually blurry, or have other issues.

    I won't discuss Photoshop, I don't use it. Not a big believer in it. It has its place, but I'm a firm believer in reshooting, shoot it right, make a tiny adjustment here and there, crop if you want to, resize for the web, and voila. You should be able to upload a pic that you are proud of.

    It's our stuff, we're proud of it, it deserves to be shot properly so it looks as good as it does in real life, or better

    Some of you are obviously fine photographers, we even have at least one pro on board, douglas2946, so this is aimed at members who would like to improve their photo skills, and are looking forward to the rewards.

    Every item is different, and I am by no means an expert but I can try to help. For instance, shooting helmets. Some members here will know infinitely more about shooting helmets than I do, because they have perfected this already, and I hope they can help with this thread when called upon.

    This should be about working your way to better photographs, understanding photography, lighting, depth of field, composition. All of the things that add up to a spectacular shot of your treasured item.

    I hope to see this thread take off

    I'm here to help.
    Last edited by Larboard; 01-02-2016 at 02:27 AM.

  2. #2


    In my case, my wife is a professional photographer so I can access her backdrops, tripods and expertise when necessary. The only trouble is she detests my collection!

    As a hint when shooting helmets I prefer a shallow depth of field in order to blur any background detail. (A white sheet makes a nifty backdrop too)

  3. #3


    Sorry I'm lazy and just use the macro on my old canon G10

  4. #4


    Ha, it's funny how a G10 is old already I used a G5 up until the day I bought the Lumix I shoot 99% of everything with. I gave it to a friend because it wasn't worth anything resale wise, been on a couple motorcycle trips, back screen was pretty beat up but it still worked fine. The funny thing about "being lazy and just using the macro setting on your G10" is that in a comparison test I did a year or so ago, my PS (point and shoot) macro shots were actually superior to a Canon DSLR/Macro lens shots. I had just got the Canon and a G10 as hand me downs and sold both. The G10 was a tank and I always trouble with colors in difficult situations with the G5, as well as contrast issues.

    I think this would be a great thread to discuss KAMERAS as well! I've been a camera nut since I was 8 years old, my mom gave me a Kodak Instamatic and I was hooked. 1st real camera (in 1972) was a black Pentax Spotmatic, wow... I was in heaven! Next I had a darkroom in a converted closet. Dang... I still miss film.

  5. #5


    A couple of the posts from this morning made me realize that a couple very important things to discuss about shooting in general and especially with Digital is color temperature and contrast!

    Contrast is a killer with digital, the sensor (or maybe the cheap sensor in most lower end cameras) cannot handle much contrast at all. If you have an item close to a window, or any light source can be "Blown out", i.e; there is a complete loss of detail in that area. Controlling lighting, of course, is the way to deal with this. This is easier said than done.

    Shooting film, "they" use to say there was a 5 stop (f stops) range - also called latitude - that the film could hold (sometimes called EV's, for exposure values, Ansel Adams or Minor White may have coined this term), especially black and white. "Chromes" or slides had a narrower range, maybe 3 stops. In digital, I don't there is that wide a range, so the trick is to have the flattest lighting possible from one side of the subject to the other. In other words, the light intensity is exactly the same all the way across the subject. Of course in real life, this is usually not the case, or never the case. But you can try through light attenuation to bring the disparity of light under control.

    For instance, take a sheet of white paper (the simplest) and prop it up on the other side (the darker side) of the subject, reflecting - and thereby equalizing - the light. makes a huge difference. Using a reflector that is of a yellower material can also "warm" up the light and make the result much more pleasing.

    The best way to control your light source is to use a "scrim" to diffuse and control the incoming light so it is gentler.

    Light temperature is a totally different subject, but crucial. A photographer becomes very sensitive to "light". Ansel Adams use to wait for hours if not days in one spot, waiting "for the light". But of course he was shooting in black and white, so he was not dealing with color temperature, just "the light". His pics of Yosemite bear that out.

    Color temperature changes throughout the day because of the way our planet revolves around the sun. Very red in morning and evening (our eyes can't always see this but the camera certainly does!), very blue in open shade and after the sun goes down. This sort of "cold" color temperature can make for awful photographs (especially in skin tones when shooting people, friends, family, seniors, weddings, etc), and does indeed even change colors. It will take a Feldgrau helmet and makes it look much more bluish than it really is or even blackish.

    You can try to chase this in Photoshop but IMO it will never be right. Better to "shoot it right" by shooting at the correct times of day.

    Always best to shoot on overcast days.

    Popular misconception among people taking outdoor or vacation pics is that they won't turn out "because the sun isn't out".

    Wrong, wrong, wrong!!!

    Overcast days are very good for photography, crucial for any kind of product photography!

    Bright sunlight creates an incredible amount of contrast that the camera can't deal with. Our eyes don't see it that way but unfortunately the camera does (and I won't even go into "lens flare" for this discussion). It does "warm" things up, so partially sunny days are better color temperature wise than very gray days, but still, overcast makes for ideal shooting situations. Again, the time of day has a lot to do with it. Late-ish afternoon can be a very nice time to shoot.

    Also to keep in mind, the light from every window is different. If memory serves correctly, north facing windows make the bast windows to get pleasing light from.

    Also dealing with bright sunshine and window lighting is backlighting. This fools camera light meters into "underexposing", closing down the lens and /or speeding up shutter speed to compensate for the excess light, leading to dark pictures. Again, virtually impossible to deal with in Photoshop.

    There are a few tricks for dealing with backlighting. Better to have your back to the light when shooting (this may not be practical). As rules go, it is not always "better", depends what you are trying to achieve, but most often it is.

    This brings us into "sidelighting" another technique, EXCELLENT for seeing detail, inscriptions, stampings in leather, etc.

    Well, enough for now.

    Color, contrast, learning to see and control light.

  6. #6


    If using a desk lamp as a makeshift light source for instance, I've had results with taping tissue paper from the lamp shade in order to diffuse the light. Further, when shooting digital, I often change the white balance in 'manual' mode (I know, that scary 'M' button ) and set it to 'flourescent' in order to account for the artificial light and the color cast that such lighting tends to introduce.

    Again from my wife's studio I have access to sheets of white styrene which make for a good 'bounce' of diffused light back onto the subject if flash is used. I try to steer clear of flash as the 'blown out' effect comprised with awkward shadows makes shooting difficult. Forget flash if the subject is reflective (SA dagger, minty EK etc).

  7. #7


    Here's a few shots I took (G10) years back of a US Hawaiian pro at my place taking pics of my junk pile for some sort book cover? that I never saw in the end. I did get in return some pro shots for my efforts
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    Last edited by reneblacky; 12-14-2015 at 07:22 AM. Reason: added pics

  8. #8


    Thx Glenn, good tips! ;-)

    Sometimes I cycle through every single color setting in the camera, and try to remember what the all were when looking at the test shots. Some of the settings like Fluorescent (use to come out a horrible green on film) or flash (supposed to make up for bluish flash light) can be in fact surprisingly good settings to counteract weird lighting (this will undoubtedly differ from camera to camera).

    The most common indoor light, or was here before the energy saving compact fluorescent was the old fashioned light bulbs we called "tungsten" light, which makes everything a pretty sickly yellow...

    The IA (Intelligent Automatic) setting on my Lumix actually does a ridiculously good job of eliminating weird color cast from indoor pics with whatever the lighting is, but sometimes the pics are actually a little boring, still better than orangish yellow tones ;-)

    Flash really is a last resort, but... by using a piece of medium weight white paper in front of the flash to diffuse it, you can actually pull it off sometimes (try to bounce the flash off the ceiling too, as you would with an accessory flash). Another trick with flash if too powerful (it usually is even when turned down a couple stops in the camera), zoom in and back up so the the flash is much further away from the subject. That will help tame flash to a degree also. I shot this with flash the other night for a book discussion we were having on the forum. The pic is actually quite usable, but it was the only one of a dozen that had major glare in the middle of the book. The room itself was virtually pitch black, nighttime and no light on in the room.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  9. #9


    Wow, Rene, this is amazing. Thx for showing!

    I remember that shot of the Leica a while back when you showed it. Sounds like a fun time!

  10. #10


    In case anyone is wondering, the big square light thing in Rene's 3rd and 4th shots is called a 'soft box' and is basically a fancy light diffuser. As I mentioned above, a similar cheap alternative is the tissue paper (or paper towel or even a white t-shirt) taped over a standard lamp. It's all about experimentation and fortunately with digital, you can make a hundred mistakes and simply delete them without that old annoying week long wait for the photo lab to return your crappy prints.

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