Taking Audio Gear Pictures - Cameras, Tricks & Techniques


#1

Since it was brought up in another, product specific, thread, I thought a dedicated topic on the subject of taking pictures of audio gear, and the cameras, lenses, tricks and techniques used to do it would be a good idea … so … here you go …


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#2

In answering @ryan’s question, quoted in the original post, the first thing to say is that, as a photorgrapher (another hobby with mutliple rabbit holes one can go down) I generally feel that good images are less the product of the camera and have more to do with the way they are approached and executed.

It’s perfectly possible to capture excellent images with a cellphone camera, as long as you pay attention to a few specifics. More advanced cameras and lenses make the job easier and, in a few cases, allow you to pull of shots that are hard/impossible without a dedicated tool, but they’re not essential in most cases.

So, to answer the original question …

I shoot most of the images I post here with a Sony A7r3, which is a full-frame, mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera. On that I usually have mounted a 55mm f/1.8 lens fitted with a circular polarizer.

I’ll talk about some specific photographic techniques in subsequent posts (hopefully so will others), but for now it’s worth noting that I find composition is most of the battle. This includes considering everything from what is in the picture and how it is arranged as well as paying attention to the whole image - including the background. Like most things, that comes with practice - and the application of a few simple guidelines.

Proper photographic backgrounds make such work much easier. Ones that are high enough resolution to use for up-close product shots are expensive ($200 or so). A cheap hack to get around that is to buy 20"x30" foam-core boards (about $2.50 each), and apply self-stick, textured, fake-brick/wood wallpaper to it (~$20 for 18+ feet or so, and it’s usually right at 20" or so wide).

This shot, for example, looks like it was taken against a stone floor/counter, but it’s not - it’s using the above trick:


I mentioned a circular-polarizer. I cannot overstate how useful this is for product photography. You adjust it to minimize reflections/glare - which are massive problems with audio gear - which tends to a) be black or silver b) is often reflective and c) frequently includes some kind of display. Without one you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to find an angle to shoot from that doesn’t have all of the above issues. With one, you just turn it until they’re gone/minimized.


The other big factor is post-processing the images. My pictures are rarely taken straight out of the camera. I always shoot in “RAW” mode, which preserves 6-7x the dynamic range (difference between the lightest and the darkest points in the image) in a simple JPEG image straight out of the camera. The default JPG processing in a camera will either tend to blow the highlights or crush the shadows/darker details … which is a common issue when photographic darkly colored objects. Shooting RAW allows me to apply a specific tone-curve to preserve what I want preserved not just the defaults.

I’ll post some specific examples of each of these issues, and others, over time … including some before/after stuff that’ll illustrate how big a difference there is between what comes straight out of the camera (including all the stuff that gets cropped out of the final image) and what I wind up posting.


#3

I’m just using a Pixel2 XL…I’ve been gleaning wisdom/tips/know-how from @torq, eventually I may get into more traditional style cameras…but we will see lol


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#4

Nice post, @Torq. I used to consider myself a photographer, and still have a few camera bodies, lenses and filters around, including a polarizer or two. I haven’t done any product photography though.

What are you doing for lighting? It’s either quite diffuse, or you’ve done a lot of shadow de-emphasis in Photoshop or Gimp, or whatever you use. Or both.

It was pretty clear that it’s not a natural stone background - you’d need to spend hours to get it that clean. Have you considered using vinyl flooring squares or samples instead of wallpaper? Good wallpaper is getting hard to find.

I assume you are also using some tripod or holder for your camera. I don’t see too many good platforms to properly position a cellphone used as a camera. I did do a fair number of nature close-ups, and there is no substitute for properly positioning your equipment and taking time to compose.

The best thing about the film days is that it cost some money to take a shot. Even if you bought your film in bulk, there were chemicals, time and effort to even see the results, so it did force you to think and not just snap. It’s been years since I’ve had to focus on ground glass, but that training will never go away.


#5

Whenever possible, and I think for >90% of the shots I’ve posted here to date, it’s all natural light, with a few white reflectors to help manage shadows and so on. Closing the blinds, in my location, results in a nicely diffuse light anyway. Most of the remainder are done with a ShotBox.

And in extreme cases I’ll break out the studio lighting, diffusers, umbrellas/reflectors, speedlights/off-camera flash heads and so on. Not needed that for my posts here so far though!

Mostly Photoshop … and occasionally Affinity Photo when on the go (iPad Pro).

Yep! For smaller shots at least (tiles, either vinyl or real, fit well in the ShotBox). Once I’m dealing with full-size components, or wider/taller compositions either the actual backdrops in my place or the artificial backgrounds come into play.

Generally … at least when I can. The usual heavy-duty tripod/ball head combination (Manfrotto in this case) with a quick release plate. Though with the built in stabilization of the Sony A7r3 a lot of shots in reasonably light don’t need it. It’s only when the light is poorer and I have to shoot at lower ISOs and longer exposure times that the tripod becomes mandatory anymore.

That said, if I’m doing a sequence of shots (bracketing aperture for example) then I’ll do it off a tripod for simplicity, consistency and repeatability anyway.

Absolutely!


#6

For myself and @andrew, we use a Sony A6300 with a 50mm Macro lens for close-up product photography. We also shoot in RAW all the time. You can get some pretty decent shots without doing anything too technical like the one below taken in a Starbucks for coffee break.

Vancouver is a great area for natural lighting during the summer time. However, once it gets gloomy we do have lights with umbrellas that we will set up for the more professional photos.

I like to keep the lifestyle photos like the one above a little more casual though. When it comes to photoshop for the lifestyle photos, I generally leave everything as natural as possible while playing around with the RAW camera filters a little bit like in this one

Sometimes the photos come out great and other times it requires a bit more work. And at the end of the day, it has to pass @andrew’s inspection which is always a high bar to pass.

There are also some great photo apps out there if you are shooting with something like the iphone. For photos, Moment - Pro is pretty fantastic (I believe they also have an Android app). If you are looking for flexibility for video taking, I would highly recommend Filmic Pro


#7

I had a Canon 70D system before but I recently “downgraded” to a micro-4/3 mirrorless Panasonic system. I am really loving it’s portability and lens selection. For product photography like this, I am loving the use of manual prime lenses with low depth of field and fast lenses. I’m currently using a super cheapie 7Artisans 25mm f1.8 lens and it’s taken some really great product shots with good bokeh. I also have a 60mm Macro lens I use for ultra detail, though I haven’t used it too much on audio – mostly bugs and creatures.


#8

I’ve been heavily researching this since writing my Mobius review, and getting very frustrated using just my Pixel phone for pictures…I think I’ll be picking up a Sony a6300, based on budget and usage it seems to be the best fit for me. I’ll also have to subscribe to photoshop, and maybe pick up Luminar as a fun plugin. I really didn’t want to go down the camera rabbit hole…but it seems it is a necessity at this point. Now to find a deal on a Sony a6300!


#9

The Sony A6300 is super popular but it is still cropped, unlike the A7 series. The APS-C system should be universal since Canon and Nikon (who dont make mirrorless cropped cameras anymore) use it, but it’s not since each company has some special version of APS-C crop sensor. So there is some limitation is camera lenses available and Sony tends to price lenses a bit high. Just something to consider.

I picked M43 – specifically the Panasonic GX85. The M43 system has been around longest and has support from both Panasonic, Olympus, Leica and others. It’s very popular with the video folks too. I ended up going this path because the cameras are smaller, lenses are smaller and cheaper, and there’s more available lenses out there, and overall the camera image quality is good enough. The one downside is because the M43 sensor is slightly smaller than APS-C lenses, it’s low-light performance isn’t quite as good. I haven’t had too many issues with this since I do tend to use fast prime lenses and low light performance isn’t a huge problem.

I believe the Optical Stablization features in both Panasonic and Olympus are the best which is why they are heavily used in video. But I could be talking out of my …

Either way though, you cant go wrong. I also like the new Canon systems that just came out. They are very small but lenses are bit pricey. They do have a EF mount adapter which is nice, since I had a Canon DSLR system previously, but using EF/EF-S lenses with a tiny camera loses all the advantages of using a portable mirrorless camera to begin with.

Oh if you do end up getting one, check out Kenmore Camera or Glazer Camera locally. They have pretty good deals on used cameras – a lot of times better than than internet places. I also just like going to them because they’re local and both offer great service.


#10

I’ll look into both of those stores! Another factor is I like the form factor of the Sony’s. I’ll do some more research on the cameras you mentioned.


#11

I just corrected my previous post. I have the Panasonic GX85. Not G85, which is the same camera but has full weatherproofing and more ergonomic design, though larger.


#12

Jeez. I use a tripod. Physical stabilization. And sometimes a shutter release. You can control depth of field. I was planning on posting something snarky, and my internal editor got in the way. Especially since it’s hard to buy an 8 x 10 Deardorff except on Ebay these days.

Snarky because the largest format I ever really used was 2¼ inch square, except for getting to play with a 5x7 Sinar a few times. If I were a photog, I’d get me one of them.


#13

Hah I use a tripod, monopod and desktop tripod thingy, but sometimes you just dont have those available with you. The body stablization feature is great though. I can use a telezoom lens without a tripod and get sharp photos. That was crazy-talk for me on my Canon 70D before.


#14

Yes, I have the monopod somewhere, and the desktop tripod thingy packs right in the camera case - don’t even need a camera bag. And yes, these days I take snaps with my iPhone.

But I learned in the film era, and my favorite way to take serious pictures is to be able to focus on a ground glass screen. I have a few inexpensive digital cameras, and a few working camera bodies from the 70’s that I don’t use any more. If I ever go back into the hobby, which depends on my income, I will be getting something like a 6x6 format digital camera. Until then, I’ll fake it.


#15

We never had any serious cameras growing up. We had a 35mm Contax film camera which I only played with a few times. I basically grew up towards the end of the film era and by the time I was old enough to purchase my own camera, the digital revolution had already just started – granted they were awful back then, and more of just convenience than quality.

I was a hold out for mirrorless cameras until this year, and while I miss some things like a proper optical viewfinder, everything else about it is quite nice and lighter/smaller.

I’ve never used a medium-format/large-format camera. Definitely would like to mess around with one someday.


#16

Hey, I’ve used the Contax. Not a bad camera at all. You should try shooting a few rolls if you still have access to it. Film makes you think. “I only have 24/36 shots” “Each time I press the shutter it costs me money” “Each time I use this thing, it costs me time - even if I develop my own film” Creates a different mindset. You really start to look at detail - what’s in the frame. Ansel Adams used to carry a saw or axe with him. Sometimes it’s easier to clean up the picture in front of the lens BEFORE you take the photo. Darkroom trickery takes more time than Photoshop (but Photoshop requires the same level of skill to use well).


#17

@antdroid GX85 purchased, thanks for the heads up… If I get into photography outside of gear pictures I’ll look into upgrading, but this seems great for my usage at this time.


#18

Yea that’s a very good tip. It’s easy to just take a million photos and overlook some of the stuff that makes photography fun and rewarding, which is staging the photo, setting the variables, and taking the photo.

Wow, that was a quick decision. Well, if you do decide you like it and keep it, let me know and I’ll give you a black (faux) leather half-case for it. I bought one in brown and black and am using the brown one. The black one is just sitting in my drawer collecting dust.


#19

Sounds good, just let me know how much.


#20

free99! Next time we meet up, I’ll bring it with me.