Yes, I know this looks like "it can't be this simple"...
Where are the cameras, batteries, backdrops, tripods, camera mounts, focus techniques, expensive lights, reflectors, diffusers, big boxes, long construction times, cost and swear words trying to get things to work right??
Can you say, "iconoclast"? I hasten to add I KNOW others are MUCH more knowledgeable on these things than I am...but I do have a knack for looking like I know what I am doing at a deep time discount. Then there is that pesky truism..."If it works - you're done".
Greetings. Here is my first instructable. I am Mark from Monterey, CA, USA and I take a LOT of macro pictures of the miniature "guns" I make and sell which are actually a class of curio called a "2mm gun", "Watch fob gun", Austiran gun" and "Berloque gun". They fire a blank pinfire "bullet" that is about 2mm in size (and still made) and they are shockingly about as loud as a large firecracker.These have been made and collected for a 100 years now and a few people still make them. More information and videos can be found at my web site miniaturesofmonterey.com.
My problem was that I started knowing nothing about digital photography, macro photography, photography and editing software. This combination of total ignorance, low budget and "wanting to just get on with it" has led me to take a bit of an unconventional route to getting what I wanted. I admire what others have made but for macro photography it seemed too much of a good thing.
Besides a low price, my goals were to NOT use a hand held camera ( using a webcam instead wired direct to the computer), NOT using a tripod, taking pictures without adjusting exposure time adjustments ( which requires thought), automatic color corrected light, auto focus, a seamless curved white background and a photo setup that was quickly built in 2 hours , upgradeable and easy to move and plug-and-play setup. I don't ask for much, huh?
I built this unit in about 2 hours and (not counting the webcam ( webcam about $60 5 years ago) and it cost me $30 which was the cost of 6 light bulbs and some second hand light fixtures from a track light; 6 at $.50 each and a few other 2nd hand items.
It initially bothered be a LOT that everyone else seemed to be doing their pictures just the opposite to what I had in mind....but the promise of the simplicity was so great and my simplicity on the subject was so great I thought...a perfect match...why not?
Sooo....Not knowing any better before the build I must say this works wonderfully. I give it a 9.5 for my purposes.It takes crystal clear pictures without me touching a camera and I can import them directly into the computer, then to the editing software and then to a file for upload. It still takes time to do this all but greatly reduces the steps.
Step 1: List of Supplies
The above sprinkling of "bucket pics" will give you an idea of what you can do.
1. Plastic white 5 gallon bucket or a taller bucket to suit your items. As long as the bucket is white, colored lettering on the outside won't show in the pictures since in my design the lights are inside the unit. If you want a different color background get a piece of colored paper. Unit operates cool enough not to set it on fire.
2. Soft Scrub or a slightly abrasive cleaner to take the shine off the inside surface of the bucket. Prevents glare or as many light "hot spots". There is very little unevenness in the overall light. Basically omnidirectional and almost no shadow even next to the subject. If it is raised off the stage there may be a slight shadow and I keep most of this for depth effect.
3. 6 light sockets. In my case I used some old track lighting sockets (disassembled) from a recycle store for $.50 each. Also available at the hardware store new for $3.50 each. Note: Yes, you do need 6 if you do not want to use a slower exposure. Mount the rear near the top. The socket/bulb is so long that it is about perfect mounted this way with the bulb about 5" above the stage. Not critical.
4. Light bulbs. I am using 6- $3.00 23 watt 5000K (daylight color) 100 WATT EQUIVELANT compact fluorescent lights. If you do not use at least 5000K bulbs they will color everything yellow or blue in the pictures. Your brain corrects for this in life but the camera sees it as it is. Suggestion: I am using these because I had them and I am cheap and in a hurry. I recommend you use the new LCD 100w equivalent bulbs available for about $9.00 each if you can afford it. Cooler, cheaper to run AND if you want to add a dimmer (or dimmers) to the project you can adjust the light "on the fly" and even wire the dimmers to make light zones such as left, right front, back...etc. .
Ambient light from the top of the bucket is not apparent.
Remember fluorescent bulbs ARE NOT generally dimmable. Having said this, these are what I had to hand and the bulbs I am using are very doable and if you want to zone a bit you can put a sheet of paper in front of any of them, unscrew some - or just adjust it in the software. I have tried smaller bulbs and floods...they don't work nearly as well. "Banding" with this method in the background is possible, especially if the light is too small but this is easily fixed in the Photoshop Elements editing software in about 5 seconds.The operating temperature of the 6 bulbs is not a problem and with the bucket top left off, any heat leaves the area immediately. Many kinds of lights can be made to work if you want to experiment. I don't. THIS WORKS.
5. An old electric lamp cord, preferably with a on/off switch. Size is not too important since 6 - 23 watt bulbs are only 138 watts. Of course 6 LCD bulbs are much smaller wattage....about 114 watts. REMEBER TO GET 5000K LIGHTS (or larger K), NOT "COOL WHITE" OR ANYTHING ELSE. 5000K is close to daylight and the best. "Daylight" classification is what you want.
6. A gooseneck. Anything you have. I used an old flex handle from a flashlight. Works but is a bit bouncy for a few seconds. I may add another beside it in a V shape...someday. More rigid goosenecks are good but remember you want to be able to adjust this immediately and not fight an angry boa constrictor ever time you need to raise or lower the camera a bit. I may eventually mount the webcam on a vertical stick hooked to the lid with a steel angle and some magnets...someday. An electric lift would be great....waaaay someday. The camera comes with a hinge that makes it go from horizontal to vertical which is handy. I mounted the camera with double-sided foam tape and this is quick and effective.
7. A stage at the bottom. Not necessary. I have used paper attached to the back of the bucket for a seamless bottom...but the software erases any line in about 2 seconds so it really is not necessary. Most of the time I am taking pictures from above with the miniature guns on their side so there is no floor line. Works well for necklaces. If you want a shot more from the front, this works fine and if you angle the camera front and down toward your work there is no floor line either. Paper is cheap and as it is soiled quickly replaced. Taped in place.
In my case I have added an EXTREMELY handy slightly movable stage made from a paddle from a child's game like a ping pong paddle only larger. Depends on what size items you photograph. Should be smaller than the bucket so you can move it around. I use printer paper for the surface - cheap and replaceable. The handle is a way to quickly center things left/right forward/backwards...SOOOOO handy.
8.Webcam: mine is an old version Logitech C910 that is years old but works great. Comes with software for videos and stills and the software allows you to electronically move in and out, left/right, auto focus, adjust the brightness, contrast, record sound and more. I use the software to make quick general light adjustments before I save the file. I did get a USP extension cable so I could move the bucket to a convenient position by my monitor. About $2 on line.
9. Video editing software. Available for free on the web like GIMP but I use an older version of Photoshop Elements 6 ( a smaller less featured version of Photoshop that cost $60 years ago). I can't tell you how nice this is to use with more editing tools than you will ever use and it allows you to save and export the files resized to meet uploading requirements for Ebay, Instructables etc. Many good instructions on Youtube. A good minimum general size for web use is 500 px on the longest side and set for proportional reduction. This is what you are seeing on my pictures on this Instructable. Larger files are fine but are "throwing perfume on the rose". Big enough is big enough. I used to use some picture editing software that came with my printer. Mistake. I didn't know what I was missing.
10. 8 1/4" bolts and wing nuts to attach the light sockets....can also use screws, double side tape or Velcro.
11. Screw studs and an angle bracket for the gooseneck. I drilled a hole on both ends and embedded a 1/4" bolt with glue and then bolted one end to the bucket and the other to the bracket. Camera sticks to bracket with double side foam tape. More than adequate.
Step 2: 2 the End From the Beginning
Here you see the cutout I made with the paddle stage in place with my gun centered and a LOT of wonderful color corrected light. The miniature watch fob guns are only about 2.5". Scale here is correct. This is also the height you will jump off the ground when you fire one for the first time...
Step 3: 3. Attachment of the Sockets.
Depends on what you buy. Just remember to make it stand off from the side to allow room for the bulb. Bulbs need to point down to allow room for the camera and gooseneck. 1/4" bolt with a wing nut on the back.
I know at this point your inner tinkerer wants to cut holes in the side to mount the bulbs and add a diffuser. Before you do this look again at the gun pictures. If It is not loading correctly on your computer I can send you some email jpgs.
Wiring. Standard parallel circuit. All whites together and all blacks together. Make a white single wire to reach the other whites on the other side of the bucket and the same for black. Wire your 2 wire lamp extension cord with the white to all the whites and the black to all the blacks on one side. I cut a hole through the bucket to lead out the power cable. Mine has a switch on the cable outside the bucket.
By the way, don't guess if this is not clear and you do not understand a parallel circuit. Have someone check it for you unless you like sparks and fire, Scarecrow!
Step 4: 4. Gooseneck
As I mentioned you just need something not too bouncy but quickly adjustable without a fight. This old flexible end to a flashlight moves easily in any direction and stops shaking in about 3 seconds. Good enough. The first picture shows the camera pulled up out of the center of the bucket. I normally never do this. It just sits in the center ready to be used...No setup!
Step 5: 5. the Paddle Stage
Child's game paddle from a second hand shop. I hot glued 2 wood blocks on the bottom so the handle would clear the cut-out ledge I accidentally left a little high. If you cut your opening the width of your paddle at least at the bottom you can insert it from outside on the bottom like a pizza.
The handle allows for instant centering adjustment without having to constantly put your hand in the stage area and hit the camera. Paper is printer paper held on with double side tape (not foam - the flat kind) . As it gets dirty I just peel it off and replace it in 2 seconds. I do roughly cut it to the size of the paddle so it won't hit the sides as I move it around. As I mentioned, taking pics from above is VERY convenient and mostly eliminates all of the background issues such as seeing the floor line or using a background paper...and no leaning over the subject focusing... All eliminated!. If you must take shots from the front you can add a wire holder to the stage to drape a piece of paper in a vertical arc. I never do this...I just lean the subject against something and adjust the background in the software.
If you use this for items like jewelry necklaces, gravity holds things in place with no pins and the paddle allows you to rotate the image and move it generally. Things like felt or special paper are not required if a white background will do. If you want to change this later, Photoshop Elements will allow you to change the background color to anything you want.. White works best for me since it is so quick to do. I get some shadow around the guns that are not perfectly flat on the floor of the stage. I usually this leave to add depth. There is no right or wrong on this.
Step 6: 6. the View From Above With the Gooseneck/camera Pulled Out of the Way
Fiat lux! (Let there be light!)
Step 7: 7. Logitech Webcam Software ...what You See
Logitech webcam capture software screen. NOT Photoshop Elements.
Hopefully you can see how nice the pictures are before I even start to work on them. Top right (partially covered) is the directional controls for zoom and left/right/up down. With the use of the paddle stage most of this is done before you start with the software.
Bottom right are the general brightness/contrast controls. The pictures are so nearly perfect as they come in I usually only adjust the brightness a bit up or down. A BIT too bright will help to wash out all the background and it is easier to darken things later...never takes much.
Controls are in windows and can be moved around.
I save my pictures as a medium fie /1.2mp and this will be reduced later to web size in the Photoshop Elements program to web size .
I would rather solve /eliminate problems in advance than to try and use my (nearly nonexistent) editing skills later.
This setup also works for videos. I just hold the guns in the bucket through the front window and watch the computer screen to stay centered. Focus is automatic. A slightly larger cut-out would be better.
Step 8: 8. the Photoshop Elements Software I Use
This is version 6 which is a very old version but is still wonderful and contains more things than I will master in one normal lifetime. It even allows the use of layers, which I am just learning after years ( since I never tried...) and so many other wonderful things to crop and clean up the image, resize it and save/export it to anywhere.
I mention again that 500px on the longest side ( and set to proportional size) will serve you for 99% of things you need. Loads super fast, looks great. Just go to file and do "save as" then "for web" and you can enter your parameters and tell it where to save it. So simple even I mastered it quickly.
See Youtube or maybe Instructables for tutorials from people who actually are skilled at this.
Until you are highly skilled, this will help you look like you are!
Thanks, for looking.
MOMGUNS / Miniatures Of Monterey Videos on my website or Youtube search MOMGUNS or 2mm guns.