HOW I PHOTOGRAPH KNIVES
By Philip La Barbera
I was going to call this How to Photograph Knives, but there are lots of ways to photograph knives, not just my way. The way I do it is so mind boggling simple that I know anyone
can duplicate what I do.
Why this tutorial? It's purely for selfish reasons, I'd prefer to look at pics of knives that are good rather than bad. I hate hearing that shooting photos of knives is hard, it's not. Taking good photos of knives is easy. Taking great photos is an Art. I'm not going to try to turn you into Jim Weyer or Jim Cooper, in fact you may end up appreciating what they do more than you do now. The goal is to show you how to take consistantly good photos of your knives. That I can show you.
All I ask is that you try the way I'm suggesting. Keep it simple, don't overcomplicate it. Shoot lots of pics, (with a digicam it's free) show only your best. Try different angles on each knife. Little changes can make huge improvements. Don't be afraid to show your work here, this is a learning thread. I can't help you if I don't see what you're doing.
Please don't ask me about props or different color backgrounds. If you can't take a good photo of a knife on a clean white backgound then you simply can't take a good photo of a knife. Everything else is fluff.
With that said, let's get started.
First the things you're going to need
#1 A Camera
#2 A window
#3 a table top, (mine is a 16" by 21" board)
#4 a couple of pieces of typing paper
#5 an image editing program
#6 a tripod is a huge plus
To be honest I could probably get by with just a camera and an image editing program, but you have to admit the list is pretty short.
The window is our light source, it's cheap, the color is easy to correct, it's bright and it's available to most of us.
I rest my table top on the edge of the window, I want to be as close as I can get. The other side of the table top is supported by a light stand, so I can control the angle of the table.
If you'll notice in the first photo the rear leg of my tripod is extended, this allows me to get my camera more up and over the table top. Be careful how far you extend that back leg you don't want your camera falling over.
A white piece of typing paper is my background. The subject knife gets placed flat on it. Since we're all used to a rectangular format for photos, start by placing your knife on a diagonal to use as much of the rectangle as possible.
The camera on the tripod is at about a 45º angle (I would guess). Compose the knife on your cameras viewing screen. Stay within the focus range of your camera
I'm using my camera's Auto Focus and Auto Exposure....TURN OFF THE ON CAMERA FLASH! The resolution that I shoot at is called FINE on my camera, shoot at the highest resolution you can set your camera to. This will help later if we need to crop in on the final photo.
Here's my first pic, it looks okay. It's in focus, the color is okay, I could stop here. The blade is mirror polished but it looks flat and lifeless. Maybe I can do better.
By changing the angle just a bit I get some brighter reflection in the blade, it's better, but I've got the bar of the window reflected in the bolster, maybe just another slight angle change.
That's better, nice even lighting over the whole knife, no bad reflections or hot spots. But is it good enough?
By just adding a couple of pieces of folded typing paper used as a reflector, I can open the shadows a little and also get some nice reflections in the bolsters. You can see the reflector in the lower left corner of this photo, you can move it out of the frame before you shoot your final pic.
These photos are the way they came out of my camera. You'll notice the white background isn't white in the photos. The camera is adjusting so that the highlights on the knife are white, they're much brighter than the white paper, but that's okay. There is no way that I would normally show any picture right from the camera. Every photo can be improved using an Image Editing Program. That's why it's included on the Must Have List.
I use Adobe Photoshop CS as my image editing program and if you have it also, that's great. If you don't have it there are several easy to use image editing programs that are either inexpensive or free. Find one that can handle the basics for you. The basics would allow you to crop, color correct, control contrast and help you sharpen the final photo.
That's it, that's how I photograph knives. I told you it was simple didn't I?