Tutorial - Common Knife Photography Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Discussion in 'Himalayan Imports' started by Daniel Koster, Sep 13, 2002.

  1. Daniel Koster

    Daniel Koster www.kosterknives.com Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 18, 2001
    ***WARNING*** This is a long tutorial and has 547 Kb of images. If you have a 56K modem, set this to load and go get a nice drink...;) It will be worth it! :D

    NOTE: none of these images are attached. They are hosted on my website - it's eating my bandwidth, not that of bladeforums.


    OK. Whew!

    Now that you've waited, let's see what's to learn from a number of my mistakes in trying to get 2 good photographs of my favorite knife - the 12.5" Pen-Knife Khukuri.

    I've heard many people, collectors and knifemakers alike, complain about not being able to take good photographs of their knives. So, I asked them to show me their photos...and they contain (mostly) the same errors.

    So, I've written a Tutorial on how to avoid common mistakes and pitfalls in trying to get that "perfect shot" of your knife using only a point and shoot camera.

    A few things to think about:

    - Good Composition is more than just putting a nice background behind your knife, or sticking it tip-first into a log...
    - Knives are oftentimes shiny and twist light in all sorts of directions
    - It is ALWAYS better to photograph outdoors (best - in a light shade)
    - Direct sunlight and/or flash is the WORST lighting for knives
    - You don't have to be a whiz to take good pictures
    - You don't have to have a fancy camera to take good pictures
    - Plan on taking 5-10 bad pictures for every good one

    Now, let's get to the pics!

    When you first see this picture, you think "Hey, that doesn't look too bad!". However, there are several very basic things wrong with this picture. I'm not going to illustrate at this point in the Tutorial. Just go through to the end and when you're finished, come back and look at this photo and see if you can point out what's wrong with it - then you'll know you've learned something.


    Here is a photo similar to the one above. At first, it seems ok, but notice the coloring on the blade. This was shot outdoors and the blade is reflecting the colors of the trees around me. You may think "Cool, man", but it's actually quite distracting if you're seeing this knife for the first time and trying to determine it's quality, etc.


    Again, another blade mistake. This time on the tip. It's quite difficult to photograph mirror-polished blades, but we'll find a way by the end of this Tutorial. You can see a reflection of the brick wall in the tip of the blade that causes this knife to look blemished.


    Ok, I've moved around a little to get rid of the trees and brick wall. However, now you can see my reflection in the edge grind of the blade. Arghh......


    In all the above photographs, the composition was ok, but overall, the pictures were very mediocre. The deer cloth background was a nice idea, but wasn't working because it is too busy - it distracts from the knife and makes you look at it as well.

    Just for kicks, I decide to try a new background and use a flash. Result: greasy looking blade, harsh lighting, warped colors and the image is too "contrasty".

  2. Daniel Koster

    Daniel Koster www.kosterknives.com Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 18, 2001
    At this point, I'm still photographing outdoors and am having a hard time controlling the reflections. So, we'll bend the rules a little bit and try to take some pictures indoors with a different background - plain ole carpet.

    One problem with photographing indoors is that you usually have to use a flash. Flash photography is very harsh on knives if not controlled properly. Since we have a point-and-shoot, that is our main concern (lack of control).

    Here I've photographed the knife indoors with the flash. You can see it makes the knife look greasy and you can see every single fingerprint and speck of dust and lint.


    How can I get the camera to not make the image so harsh? I turn off the flash to give it a try and come up with these 2 images:



    Now it's getting frustrating because now I'm not sure where I'm supposed to take this photograph.

    **Note: for those with photo-editing software, the last picture is not that bad of a problem. Here is a copy of the image I made, correcting the light and colors:


    Well, the solution is finally arriving to me. I need to add some light. I can't get the light I need indoors without a harsh flash, so I head back outside to try to get a better shot.

    I put the knife back on the monochrome background, make sure I'm in the shade, hold the camera real steady, No Flash, compose the knives...*SNAP*

    Got it.


    Well, now I've got my "posed" shot and want an "action" shot to go with it. So, let's bury the knife into a beat up 2x4 and try it out.

    First problem shows up immediately. I'm in the shade, but the background is all lit up, meaning my subject is now backlit and I can't see anything at all.


    Ok, the composition on that last picture was AWFUL! Let's try again, changing the angle of the knife, the board, and the place from where I shot the picture. Also, I'm going to try using the Flash again to see if it helps.

    This actually looks pretty good, but the blade is too dark and you can't tell it has a mirror polish.


    So, I try again. However, point-and-shoot (and many digital) cameras have a real drawback that they sometimes try to focus the whole area instead of the subject. So, I got this instead:


    Not a problem. We'll just keep trying.

    I decide to turn the knife around and have another go at it. This time, I'm using the Flash, but since I'm almost exactly perpendicular to the blade, I get a real nasty reflection near the handle that is very distracting and makes it hard to get a good look at the knife overall. But, I think I'm on to something in terms of composition...


    One last final change in composition...I wanted to try it without the flash to see if I could get a good image.

  3. Daniel Koster

    Daniel Koster www.kosterknives.com Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 18, 2001
    Well, that won't do, even if I tweak the lighting...Since we're no longer perpendicular to the blade, I'm going to use the flash again.


    Very nice!

    I'll just move around a little bit to get the exact angle I want and...*SNAP*

    Got it...


    Not too bad for a days work. The focus is on the blade (the background is blurry, so it's not distracting). It is a flattering angle for the knife, highlighting one of it's nice features: a strong and thick spine. You get a good sense of the mirror finish with the reflection of the 2x4 in the blade.

    Overall, a good picture, and didn't have to use any of those fancy photo techniques to get it!

    I got 2 good pictures, taking a full hour to do everything, and using a simple camera setup.

    For anyone that has spent hundreds on a knife, or many long hours making one...it sure doesn't take much to make it look good!
  4. ddean


    Mar 26, 2002
    And once you get a setup figured out

    you can do the same thing next time

    a whole lot faster.
  5. Daniel Koster

    Daniel Koster www.kosterknives.com Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 18, 2001
    dean - point taken.

    However, I actually prefer to change setups, and even with the same knife. I feel that each blade has it's own arena and should be photographed there...

    ...getting there is the tough part.

    Here are a few images to illustrate:




  6. Pragitam


    May 22, 2002
    Excuse me for asking...
    that is a sweet looking folder, and the pics are great too!
    Who makes it? custom or mfg? size?

  7. Bill Martino

    Bill Martino

    Mar 5, 1999
    Thanks but nothing helps me. I take five pix and they are all bad so I just take the best of the worst. Sometimes my camera will work, sometimes not and it quit transfering pix to the computer for no apparent reason. Same with the card reader -- sometimes it works, sometimes not. I use a ten year old Corel program to doctor the pix. It has severe limitations. I'm lucky to get even poor photos posted. And my scanner paints a big yellow streak down the page.
  8. Daniel Koster

    Daniel Koster www.kosterknives.com Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 18, 2001
    It is a custom-made ATS-34 folder by Tin, from Thailand. He makes a lot of these and they range in price depending on materials and availability. I took liberties with the design and had Phil Tham add some filework to the backside.

    It is an easy one-hander and is by far the sharpest blade in my collection. I've been wondering why I don't have more ATS-34...?!?

    The handle is a native hardwood to Thailand. Even though it's only about 6.5" OAL, it's pretty hefty. Not for the faint-hearted. :D
  9. Sylvrfalcn


    Jun 4, 2002
    Great pics of a great little khuk Pen.:D
    Here's a chuckle for you. I had my Pen Knife packed in a footlocker that I'm getting ready to ship home, but it absolutely refused to stay there. I kept digging it out to cut this and that, to the point that I finally surrendered. The footlocker's packed and sealed shut, the Pen Knife is hanging on my belt.;)

    mPisi likes this.
  10. SharpBits


    Apr 26, 2002
    Another excellent tutorial!
    Great work, Pen!

  11. philthygeezer


    Aug 6, 2002
    Very thoughtful of you to provide this article!

    Some further advice: keep in mind that often the best light you can get is outside on an overcast day. There are no dark blocky shadows and no burnt out highlights, and colors come out much more saturated. A sunny day at noon can be the harshest light to attempt photography in.

    The first photo was taken in direct sunlight. Notice how the shadows block up and the highlights burn out. This one isn't bad: it is often a lot worse. The second was taken the following day in overcast light. Notice the improvement in colour and detail.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Remember that shadows often tend to have a blue color cast. If you are using an SLR, an 81a warming filter will cancel this out.

    Excellent advice on general photography is at www.photo.net, if you would like to know more.
    :rolleyes: (My photos are at http://www.photo.net/shared/community-member?user_id=366980):rolleyes:
  12. Roadrunner


    Jun 9, 1999
    Thanks for the very well-written tutorial Pen. I've got lots of new toys, one of them being a digital camera, and this is just what I needed to help me use it a little better. Now I just wish I had some khuks here to photograph! I've got some new little neck knives coming though, and I plan to do some reviews, so this will really come in handy. You should contact Spark, see if he'll add it to the tutorials section. I've never seen anything like it here on the forums before, it's very helpful.
  13. SharpByCoop

    SharpByCoop Enjoying the discussions Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 8, 2001

    Thanks for taking the time to educate and share your experience. You offer a TON of good advice here.

    I can't stress enough the importance of a white reflective background on ANY blade--especially a high-polished one. Most of us that care for the quality of the knife pics we take use some sort of reflective measure, or, as you know, an overcast sky.

    I spend quite a bit of time learning this and more on the CKD Photography Forums, and I encourage you and anyone else to take a look. The information about knife photography is very specific and FUN!

    Thanks again!

  14. Daniel Koster

    Daniel Koster www.kosterknives.com Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 18, 2001
    You are all very welcome. Hopefully this thread will circulate enough and we'll see some better knife pictures.

    To be honest, there are many forums to get this information from. However, most knife owners/dealers/makers/etc. don't have time to get that involved. So, I figured posting it here would be the best way to condense all the relevant information into a small tutorial - hopefully saving hours of searching and question-asking...
  15. Buzzbait


    Feb 25, 2001
    I'll add to this great thread. If you're having lots of problems, try going indoors with your knife and camera. Find a window with those white plastic blinds, and wait for the time of day where the light shines in on them. Those blinds are nicely reflective, and you can use the open and close mechanism to meter the amount of light, and direct the angle at which the line shines in. Place a table or chair in front of the window, and snap some good pics. I've done this successfully many times with the flash turned off. You can only take your best shots at certain times of the day, but youÂ’re virtually guaranteed to get some good ones.

  16. Daniel Koster

    Daniel Koster www.kosterknives.com Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 18, 2001
    good tip, Buzz.
  17. Buzzbait


    Feb 25, 2001
    Living in the NorthEast, you have to get creative during the winter months. It's just too darn cold for outdoor pictures. I guess I just got lucky in a moment of February desperation, and came up with the horizontal blind technique.
  18. Ferrous Wheel

    Ferrous Wheel

    May 16, 2002
    Very elucidating and illluminating.

    I wuz wundrin':

    Is photography of the naked blade considered pornography, if you love knives?

  19. ixpfah


    Oct 8, 2001
    Wow, that's a very good tutorial, Pen! :) If I would ever think about sell my balis (God forbid!) and need a good picture, I'll be sure to follow your steps to a successful picture.

    Thanks for sharing! :D
  20. braundc


    Jan 25, 2002
    Thanks for the free lesson Pen! I needed that bigtime...:D

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