Photographing long objects


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Mar 11, 2012
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I'm in the process of documenting the firearms collection of a museum. I use my Canon EOS Rebel T1i and the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens for the smaller weapons, such as pistols. I'm shooting all pictures from a computer and it works great.

I'm having a bit more trouble with the antique longarms, such as flintlock muskets with bayonets. These are long and thin objects, from 60 to 80" long. What lens and set-up would you have uses on a task like that in order to get the picture sharp from butt to muzzle?

Here is an example of what I'm trying to accomplish. Only better, of course! ;)
Use the longest focal length you can. Shoot at f/8 or so for the sharpest results.
You could try a wide angle lens or possibly photo stiching.
If you have a great many to do, I might suggest making a wooden platform to hold the gun that can be indexed down a channel.
The camera would be on a tripod in a fixed position and you could index the gun to photograph sections of the gun. Then either stitch low res reductions for an all over look and maintain the hi-res individual shots or stitch the hi-res separate images to produce one long viewable image.
Thanks for all the replies. In addition to the Canon 60mm macro I have the Tamron 17-50mm F2.8 and Sigma 30mm F1.4 EX DC HSM. I'll try one of those on the longer pieces. If that doesn't work I'll look for a wide angle lens.
Thanks for all the replies. In addition to the Canon 60mm macro I have the Tamron 17-50mm F2.8 and Sigma 30mm F1.4 EX DC HSM. I'll try one of those on the longer pieces. If that doesn't work I'll look for a wide angle lens.

Shooting close with a WA will result in lots of distortion.
If you can boom your camera to shoot directly overhead you can fire it remotely via remote or tethering. Any wide angle distortion can be correction in photoshop but I'd keep it around 35-50mm or so. Shooting directly down on some thrifty white board from Lowes or Home Depot will make post much easier if you're going to clip it out or just blow out the white in photoshop. That stuff is the same size as a sheet of plywood 4'x8' - so it'll handle most any size rifle. Shooting an object flat like that, anywhere f5.6-8 will be sufficient.
long prime, 300mm or longer,, shoot from a long distance -> no distortion.

A wide angle will lead to terrible distortion. While you can correct for the global distortion with software (resulting in possibly poor results at the outer parts of the image though), you cannot correct for the different perspective on details close to the optical axis and away from the optical axis. For this kind of image you need the light to come in almost parallel, and for that you need to be far away from the subject.
I think I will hang the old muskets in a fishing line as shown in this article and remove clip the background in Photoshop. Laying them on a flat surface makes it difficult to control shadows.

I'll have to experiment with lighting though as they will have to be shot indoors with flash or continuous light. Preferably the latter as flash and bright steel might be challenging.

It looks like he's using portrait lenses and results looks quite ok too. Perhaps I'll try that.
I've shot quite a lot of long guns for an antiques auction house, and I've never stitched images. I shoot full frame, so my lens choice is a bit different. I shoot them on foamcore, angled up just a little bit, with my camera parallel to the gun. I have two softboxes next to each other above the gun, and a long reflector below it. I use either my 35mm or 50mm lens.
Hanging them with fishing wire, if you have the time and patience to do it, is definitely a good solution, and it gives you the option of using your 60mm macro on all of them. With any sort of object photography, I try to shoot with an 85mm or longer.
I don't take pictures of guns, though I do take pictures of lots of shiny metal and wood objects (knives, axes, woodworking and outdoor tools etc), including some long ones. Alex's recommendation of a long-ish lens is a good one, though a 300 mm might be a little long for many studios. I usually use something between 85 mm and 100 mm full-frame equivalent if I want to keep proportions looking natural for long objects. Light comes from a single big softbox, with reflectors and flags where necessary to emphasise the shapes and surfaces. Reflectors and flags can be made from silver and black cards cut to different sizes. They are easier to use with strobe than separate extra sources because they are perfectly proportional (assuming that the main light has a modelling light) so you can finesse your lighting easily and quickly. The softbox could be replaced by an open-face light and either a big diffuser or a white reflector. You could make your own from a simple wood frame and diffusion material.

The large source means that the face of the source itself isn't very bright, so a direct reflection of it doesn't get blown out.

If nothing is moving I prefer to use continuous light - it doesn't have to be bright. There are four 100 W plain household lamps in the softbox for modelling, and that is all I use most of the time (there's also 9600 Ws of strobe if I need it...). My usual exposure is around 1 second at f/11 and ISO 100.

In a situation like yours I would spend time getting the lighting for the first one just right, then make small adjustments for each similar object.

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