I love opening up my vintage camera packages from eBay when they arrive. The feeling of holding a classic 35mm beauty in your hands is matched by a few other experiences in the world of photography. Each of these cameras has a history behind them that makes them unique. Almost immediately after dusting and polishing them, I take photographs of these beauties. And when I go about taking these pictures, I consider the cameras as persons that have stories behind them. Think of it as a camera’s portrait. They need to be placed and lit correctly to tell that story. Because a thing of beauty is something that needs to be appropriately shared with the world.
Not everyone has access to the high spec lighting gear that camera manufacturers use when taking those stunning promo images of their upcoming and new releases. But that shouldn’t hinder anyone from snapping a pleasing picture of their favorite camera or lens. These tips can be applied to just about any gear, not just cameras alone. Here are a handful of tips and ideas for when you decide to try and take a photo of your favorite photography gear next.
Think of it as a Subject, not Just an Object
If I were doing a portrait photoshoot, I would first think of identifying the person’s visual strengths. What features of theirs would stand out in a portrait? What sort of poses would they look best in? And what sort of lighting would be flattering for their features?
I’m not a seasoned portrait photographer. I probably take more camera portraits than photos of people posing in front of my lens. But I’ve come to understand that demystifying lighting required to properly illuminate both of these subjects isn’t very different. The key difference is that only one of the two keeps asking me to see the shot right after clicking the shutter…
Environment and Background Matters
As stunning as a camera can be on its own, the surrounding it’s placed in and the background behind it play a large part in strengthening its visual appeal in the photo. Don’t place it just about anywhere; it’s essential to keep it on a surface that can add to the aesthetics of the camera’s exterior. I find that a wooden table with a lovely pattern helps in most cases. Often I’ve found myself using a black or white reflective acrylic square. Or even a bunch of camera magazines can help.
Long before I became a team member of The Phoblographer, I really liked seeing the images of cameras taken by our editor-in-chief Chris for his camera reviews. He’d often use a large black leather canvas to place his cameras on. Or a camera bag underneath the camera. There would always be something photography-related besides the camera in the frame, like a flash or spare lens. The focus of the image would undoubtedly be the camera, but the surrounding paraphernalia would significantly add to the photograph’s mood. The camera is the hero in your shot but don’t shy from adding supporting characters in the frame. I’d be more drawn to an image of a camera that has some foreground and background elements balancing the shot than of just a photo of an isolated camera in a pretty setting.
I asked Brittany Smith from our reviews team what tips she had for getting gear images that look different and appealing. “Style the neck strap and make sure the glass is clean,” she responded. “Look for leading lines, pops of color, and contrast that will take your eye through the image. If shooting in a different environment, let the light take you through the environment. Straight on angles are fun,” she further added.
Lighting it Like a Pro
If you’ve ever seen the work of my friend and pro-car photographer Tim Wallace, you’d understand why I like to take close-up images of cameras and their features. There’s something sensual and somewhat mysterious about highlighting just a portion of a camera, leaving the rest in shadow.
The science of good, soft lighting is pretty simple (for the most part). Use a light source that is relatively larger than the subject you’re photographing.
These images were taken using a single softbox slightly off-camera. You can do the same with a single continuous light source too, provided that there isn’t much ambient light spillage. I didn’t use a grid on them, but the light spillage was minimized because the softbox was placed close to the camera.
Reviews Editor Hillary K. Grigonis uses a bounce flash occasionally when taking images of cameras and lenses. “Where lighting is really key is shooting the front of a camera lens,” she states. “If this type of shot isn’t front-lit, it’s just a black nothing. If you add some light to the front, you can see the aperture blades and sometimes get some spots of color on the glass. This is like adding catchlights to a portrait, only the eye is the camera lens. “
Macro Shots can be Extremely Appealing
It’s not just the camera as a whole that’s worth capturing in a photo. Sometimes I like to get really close up with dials and buttons. Angle them and use a shallow depth of field to really isolate them.
Spotlight them if you can to make these features visually pop more. Don’t forget to thoroughly clean your cameras before doing these shots. Else you’ll be spending endless hours cloning our dust specks in post-processing.
Hillary had this to add – “I like to give readers a tour of a camera when I’m writing about them and I complement this with images whenever I can. Close-ups can be great to show texture or to just simplify the composition. What I love about macro is that you can take great shots anywhere, and you don’t have to worry about what’s around the camera as much.”
Toss Things up a bit. Literally
This isn’t something I’d do all the time, but just like during a portrait shoot with humans, it helps to do fun and funny things with cameras. A little levitation always looks cool, but don’t hold it against me if your camera takes a tumble as a result.
Or maybe add a toy figurine for some humorous elements in the scene. The possibilities are endless and limited only by how creatively you can imagine the frame to be
It’s Good to be Handy
You don’t even need to place the camera down to get a good portrait of it. A camera is best when it’s in the hands of a photographer. And what better place to take a portrait of a camera than in the hands of someone who loves using it.
I guess these kinds of photos could be considered as environmental portraits too. “I’m a huge fan of environmental portraiture,” says Brittany Smith, “and I think that carries forward to capturing images of cameras.”
There are many ways to make your cameras (and lenses) look good in a photograph. The key is not giving up when you don’t get it right the first few times. Once you get the hang of it, it’s hard to stop. Especially when you have a sizeable collection of cameras waiting to be photographed one after the other.