Knife Photography A Review of Fundamentals
Posted 05 July 2012 - 09:45 AM
We are accustomed to seeing high quality knife photos with fantastic lighting and simple backgrounds that reveal the intricate detail of our work. The process for a great knife photo is not much different than making a great knife as both require an understanding and practice of fundamentals. Much like a master smith, however, experienced photographers develop a style to their methods and equipment choices that may contradict what I have presented. The following posts are meant to explain basics and present you with options to achieve better knife photos, regardless of your skill level as a photographer and the equipment that is available to you.
I was a professional newspaper photographer for more than ten years before going to graduate school where I taught basic photo classes while studying design. As I work toward my journeyman smith rating and document my work, I have been recalling the lessons I used to teach beginning photographers. Please feel free to ask questions and post photos of your own. I will be making mulitple posts to this thread as I continue to develop my outlined topics to share with you over the next couple of weeks.
Your two greatest concerns in buying a digital camera are the quality of the lens and the resolution of the image recorder. Do your research and buy the best quality camera you can afford with the highest megapixel rating. An 8.5x11 photo printed at 300 dpi (dots per inch) requires at least 8.4 mega pixels. Cameras with higher megapixel ratings allow you to crop and manipulate your image without reducing resolution.
Most cameras have the basic components of a lens with an adjustable iris, or aperture, a shutter that is opened and closed for specific time lengths and film speed settings. The combination of film speed (ISO), lens aperture (f-stop) and shutter speed are the ingredients for a balanced exposure.
Posted 05 July 2012 - 10:03 AM
Aperture refers to the size of an adjustable opening inside a lens. Apertures are referenced by numbers preceeded by the letter f, like f5.6 and f8. The larger the number, the smaller the aperture opening. Small apertures produce the greatest depth of field, the amount of an image that is in focus. When I take knife photos I put my camera on Aperture Priority Mode, often indicated by “Av”on a mode dial, and set my aperture to f11 or higher. The close up or macro mode, often indicated by a flower icon, may also be a good setting for knife photography but it may limit your aperture control for optimal depth of field.
Aperture Priority Mode indicated by AV. Macro, or close up, mode indicated by flower icon.
The shutter controls the length of time the image is recorded. Shutter speeds follow a sequence like 1/500, 1/250 and 1/125 of a second. Slow shutter speeds, like 1/8th of a second or slower, may be required when using small aperture openings for maximum depth of field. Tripods are necessary to keep an image crisp with slow shutter speeds. The self timer mode or a remote will reduce vibrations caused by pressing a button by hand.
Film Speed and Image Quality
Film speed is the ISO setting on most cameras and they follow a sequence like 100, 200 and 400. The slower the film speed, like ISO 100, the higher the resolution and the more light that is required for a good exposure. For knife images you want to use the highest quality settings and/or lowest film speed settings. Consult your camera’s manual to learn the settings for the best quality and highest resolution.
Posted 05 July 2012 - 10:18 AM
The meter evaluates a framed image and averages readings to render 18% gray, the standard measurement used for camera meters. To obtain the best exposure it is important to look at your image for bright areas, reflections, dark handles and bright backgrounds that can deceive your meter for poor exposures. A solid white background often causes poor exposures because the meter is seeing the bright white and determining an exposure to turn it into a mid-tone gray. If you do not compensate for the meter, you will get an image with a muddy looking background and a knife that is too dark. To correct this you will need to overexpose the image by using the +/- exposure compensation function on your camera. For a white background image you might choose a +2 to get a better exposure. For the reverse scenario of an ivory handled knife on a black background you might use a -2 exposure compensation. Some cameras have a bracketing mode that will set the camera to automatically take several under and over exposures. Eighteen percent gray cards can be purchased and used to determine exposures and help with the color balance adjustments in your camera or editing software. There are numerous online resources for the cards and articles explaining their use for metering and color balancing.
Click Here for More About 18% Grey Cards
18% gray card is placed in the photo to obtain proper exposure. White backgrounds can often deceive a meter.
Zoom in on the gray card and record the proper exposure settings.
Look for this universal +/- icon to enter the exposure compensation mode on your camera.
Posted 05 July 2012 - 02:51 PM
Light has several qualities that may be described as direct, diffused, cool and warm. Direct lighting would be full sun and spotlights. These lights create contrast with bright hot spots and dark shadows. Diffused lighting is best for knives because it reveals details and softly blends highlights and shadows. Windows, reflected light off of walls or poster board, diffusing tents and photo soft boxes can all create good diffused lighting.
This knife, made by Gregory Loftis during a Murray Carter class, was shot in direct sunlight.
The light creates contrast between the dark handle and bright background.
The background also fooled the meter to cause underexposure
The same Loftis knife was photographed in a photo tent in the same direct sunlight as the above image was taken.
Notice how there is more detail in both the handle and the blade.
This view is taken from the back of the photo tent. The tent is collapsable.
The zippered slit is for the camera lens to poke through; there is a similar slit in the top of the tent.
This tent comes with a white background that curls up to create a seamless background.
Other backgrounds can be used in the tent.
Further topics I post will cover lighting, both natural and artificial, composition, backgrounds and image editing.
Posted 05 July 2012 - 08:13 PM
Anvil Top Custom Knives
Posted 06 July 2012 - 10:07 AM
Lighting is also categorized by temperature and measured on the Kelvin scale. Daylight, or neutral light, falls in the 5,000-6,000 degrees Kelvin range. The adjectives cool and warm, are standard when describing the temperature of color but they can be misleading. Warm lighting has yellow to orange tones as found outside in late afternoon and produced by incandescent bulbs. In the the below chart, however,warm lighting is on the low end of the Kelvin scale. Cool lighting has blue to green tones and is found on the top end of the Kelvin scale. Many knife photos taken in shadow or on cloudy days will show cool blue tones because of the higher temperature of that type of light.
This unmanipulated photo was taken just after the earlier posted direct and diffused lighting images.
The cool blue tones are produced by the higher temperature of the shadowed light caused by a dark cloud.
Daylight balanced bulbs are engineered to be around 5500 degrees kelvin, the color temperature of sunlight. Standard flourescent and incandescent lights are less than 5500k, and before digital cameras, it was common to see these bulbs produce images with green and yellow tones.
More on Color Temperature: http://en.wikipedia....lor_temperature
Many cameras have auto white balancing features and the color tone, or temperature, of your lighting can also be somewhat corrected in most photo editing software. Eighteen percent gray cards are usually gray on one side and white on the reverse to assist in white balancing. I will further discuss color balancing in a post about image editing software.
I learned to take photographs before the digital era and I used to spend countless hours in a dark room printing color photos for publication. The best looking photographs were always produced by controlling the temperature of the light when the photo was taken rather than trying to compensate or create for color tone in the dark room. You should search for and/or create bright, diffused and neutral to warm toned light before the photo is taken. Additionally, for the best results you should use only one type of light source rather than mixing, for example, flourescent with tungsten or daylight with incandescent.
Posted 06 July 2012 - 08:59 PM
I started off in underwater photography and direction of the light source vs direction of the camera is very critical. The more light you have the less reliant on meters. You need not dump gobs and gobs of money into products because common ordinary objects around the house works wonders, i.e. printer paper makes very good backdrops, as do bedsheets, table cloths and tile/wood.
Photography is nothing more than painting with light. Once you view it that way various avenues of approach opens up for creative and cleaver ways to address problems.
Posted 08 July 2012 - 05:51 AM
Thanks for posting all of this information! I know that it takes a lot of time to put together one of these tutorial threads, with all of the images. It's nice to have a skilled at photographer adding tutorial information to the Forum.
Posted 09 July 2012 - 11:17 AM
As Ed pointed out, you don't have to spend a lot of money on gadgets, like diffusing tents, and artificial lights to get a good knife photo. Aside from the obvious need of a camera, you need good light which may only be as far as your backyard.
Available to all photographers free is the one light source given by a window which faces the north. It’s a painterly light that any face or still life comes alive in... - Garry Camp Burdick
Using your Surroundings
When I talk about traditional bow hunting to a non-hunter I usually tell them a half remembered quote by one of the Wensel brothers, “I don’t hunt a specific deer but rather I hunt for the one tree in an area that the most deer walk past.” This quote has resonated with me because as with bow hunting, searching for the perfect photo location is much the same and I don’t take the shot until the conditions are right for success.
Knife photography doesn’t take much room and, like me, I am sure that each day you walk and drive past great spots for knife photos. The requirements are simple, you need a 1x1 foot square spot with bright, diffused lighting and a simple background that does not distract from the knife. With practice you will begin to see these small places among a world of vast distraction and clutter. In essence, you will begin to see in macro mode and learn to really appreciate the smaller things in life and see them in a whole different light.
This image was taken one afternoon on my covered back porch.
Direct sunlight was hitting the tile floor all around this area near my charcoal barbecue pit.
At this moment the conditions were right with diffused and bright light with a simple textured background.
I just finished this stock removal knife for an upcoming show.
I found this concrete chunk near my shed and bright, warm light near the back of my boat.
I found another good spot of light in a bed of tall bushes.
Although they are not necessary, I have illustrated how diffusing tents can be used to create soft light and simple clean backgrounds in otherwise unfavorable locations. They can be used in direct sunlight and with lights that shine through the tent walls. Diffussion tents create light that is similar to softboxes, a popular accessory for studio lighting. In my next post I will describe artificial lighting and provide you with an inexpensive resource for creating a softbox.
Posted 16 July 2012 - 01:10 PM
In this Knifemaker Marketing thread Ed Caffrey wrote, "Taking photos of knives is unlike any other type of photography...but it's not all that difficult once you understand that 99% of it is lighting and background." Most of the professional knife photos are shot with studio lighting that can be divided into strobe and continuous lighting. Continuous lighting, sometimes called flood or video, is easier to use than strobes and do not require a separate hand held light meter for determining exposure. A downfall to some continuous lighting is the amount of heat the bulbs generate. Daylight balanced flourescent bulbs do not get as hot as other bulbs and allow you to use lights near diffusing panels without risk of fire.
I keep my artificial lighting as simple as possible with a single 16"x20" lightbox and reflectors.
The reflectors were made with inexpensive clear plastic photo holders with reflective silver
poster board cut to size.
My softbox holds five 45 watt flourescent photo bulbs which is the equivalent of 1,125 watts from conventional bulbs. These bulbs are not difficult to find and some people refer to them as "grow" lights because of their use for growing indoor plants.
Artificial lighting can be constructed for less than $100. Professional knife photographer James Cooper, Sharp by Coop, illustrated this in a BladeForums.com post. I would book mark this No Frills Light Box page because of the wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from the many pages of information.
The above Sharp by Coop photo is from the 'No Frills' $75.00 home studio tent/lightbox thread.
Using a single light source like a softbox or diffusing panel can create deep shadows and contast similar to direct lighting. Reflectors are a great way to add highlights and reveal detail in a shadow that would otherwise be dark and lifeless.
This Anthony Stovall knife was photographed with a large softbox above and behind the knife with two
reflectors placed around the bottom of knife.
Posted 17 July 2012 - 11:34 AM
I want to thank you for taking the time which I am certainly aware of to post this well written and annotated tutorial on knife photography. The sharing of information is what the American Bladesmith Society is all about. Our mission is education.
As Master Smith Joe Keeslar always says: "Pass it on."
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