- Written by Matt James
Hello across the Tasman to all of you in Australia. I thought I’d put pen to paper ( or fingers to the keyboard ) on the subject of Knife photography. It is something that I struggled with over a period of time and I get the impression that people get some fairly varied results – usually not good – when embarking on the process.
I am not coming in from the direction of being an expert, that I am definitely not and if you are happy with the results you are getting then I may not be able to add to your information on the subject. If however you feel an improvement is on the cards then maybe this will help, so read on.
The greatest assistance I found to improve my photography was an article on the making of a light box by Jim Cooper on the knife network forum.
Jim Cooper some of you will know is a very “ up there “ professional photographer who does a lot of knife photography and was good enough to post an article that he entitled a “ No Frills “ $75 home studio tent/lightbox.
The article was done several years ago but is still there as a “sticky” meaning it is permanent. If you wish to view that article go to this link
It will take you straight to the page.
For those of you who are interested but don’t have a computer or whatever I’ll show you my example of the light box and describe what you need.
I have made this box from more permanent materials than Jim Coopers simply because I had the MDF and want
ed it to be permanently assembled. His is of posterboard and the advantage with that is it can be assembled or disassembled very quickly and easily.
The dimensions of mine are 400mm x 800mm floor area. The front is 400mm high and the back is 130mm high.
I have built mine on a set of castors that came off an office chair to make moving easier and the tripod tray in the front is hinged so it folds up if you want to wheel it through a door way.
The original ( Jims ) sat on the bench and had a frame of PVC piping for the lights to clamp to. You will see here I have attached a steel frame to the box to mount the lights from, so it is all one piece. The frame can swivel above the box to change the angle of the lights. There is a row of holes in the box and a very close tolerance lock pin ( 3” nail ) to allow this to happen. To be fair, because the clamp on lights have so much movement themselves I have hardly ever had to move the frame and it could probably have been fixed at the angle you see it there.
The plastic diffuser is a garbage bag, the type you might use in a small waste bin in your kitchen. Cut down the seam and opened up it is enough to cover the back of the box and is just cello taped to the box.
The recommended bulbs are 75 watt daylight fluorescents. These are normal looking bulbs with the exception that they are blue in colour. I could not get 75 watt and had to settle for 100watt bulbs which might explain why at times I only find a need to use 2 of the 3 lights.
The background that the knife sits on is simply the light weight cardboard that any stationary store will stock and is available in a large range of colours. This is layed across the floor of the box and up the back to give a seamless background for your knife.
A reasonably neutral background colour is usually better to show off the knife, don’t use Grandads old tiger skin! I would suggest staying away from placing other bits and pieces in with the background like leaves or drift wood. I know you may feel you are being more creative in putting other objects in the frame but it does tend to pull the viewers eyes away from the main reason you took the photo, the knife.
If you have David Daroms books such as the ones on fixed blade knives and the folding knife book – his first two I think, then look a the way he has done his backgrounds. The colours are very strong, but plain. I suspect he has chosen the background colours to show off the colours in the knife as much as possible. He has only put a little bit of graduation in the colour on some pages and there is nothing to detract from the subject.
One off the main dificulties we face in photographing our works of art is reflection. I can’t give a specific formula here to avoid that as each knife is different. What I do is place the knife where I want it in the box and look at how it is framed in the viewfinder. Once it is framed the way I want it and the lights are on if there is too much reflection then I try moving each light around or switching one or the other off. Each light has its own switch on the cord so this is not a chore. Sometimes a small change in the way the knife is placed can make big differences in the reflective quality of the
Metal parts. When I’m happy with the lighting department and focus I set the camera on time delay for the shutter and shoot that frame. The whole setup of the box on the castors is not rigid and I overcome this by using the time delay and simply standing still behind the camera until the shutter activates. My camera is set on auto……. Now I know this will raise a shudder from the experts or purists, but I am mentioning this simply because you don’t have to be knowlegable on F stops and shutter speeds to take reasonable photos. Reasonable is what we are talking about here. There is no doubt the more you know about your camera and the better your ability to drive it then the better quality photo you will produce.
The camera I use is a Fuji Finepix 5500. It’s getting a bit out dated by today’s technology being only 4 mega pixel and it’s about 6 years old now. I find if I frame the shot so that what I see in the viewfinder is what I want and I don’t have to crop it afterwards and likewise don’t try to take a part of the photo and enlarge it, then the camera is adequate. If you wanted to take your photos and then leap into a program such as Photoshop and cut out and enlarge a bolster area to show some engraving then you would find the need to have a camera that would give you better resolution.
Some of you may ask the question, Why a light box, why not just use natural lighting? Natural light can be fine if you have the right daylight conditions. If there is a high overcast and the sun is filtered by the cloud to the right extent then it is possible to get some good shots…… and how often will that happen….yeah right!! So in short the light box gives you the ability to control the lighting conditions and take your photos when you want to. Night time is no problem and I find on bright days I actually pull the curtains in the room I use.
What I have described above should give you a reasonable result. Those of you who are more up with their cameras can use aperture priority and get a better depth of field. The great thing these days with the digital cameras that we have is the ability to instantly see the result of our efforts and if necessary have another go. We can experiment as much as we want with no cost but our time.
I have included a photo here taken using the above method so you be the judge. Unfortunately for those of you still getting the Newsletter by standard mail this photo will probably not look much at all due to low resolution in the printing of the letter but in the email version it should come through clearly.
All the best to all of you in the Guild.