Product Photography With A Bang: Photographing The BAR Machine Gun

Product Photography With A Bang: Photographing The BAR Machine Gun

A few weeks ago, the South Carolina Military Museum offered me the chance photograph some of their massive collection of World War II firearms, shooting for the excellent Curio and Relic Firearms website C&Rsenal, and I jumped at the chance. I've always been fascinated by antique firearms not because of their destructive capabilities, but because they are incredibly elegant machines that are very, very simple. So needless to say I was very excited to get the opportunity to "shoot" them.

They're also, as you would expect, very rugged. Throughout the shoot, I was carrying these guns from their storage area to where I was photographing them and I guess I looked like I was being overly careful, considering that afterall, the BAR is worth in excess of $50,000, because the curator had to remind me that they were guns and could take a few light knocks.

The lighting set up for these was actually quite simple, I started with a medium softbox boomed over the gun to give it a nice contrasty top light.

BAR Walkthrough 1

Following this I used a very large rectangular softbox at a 45 degree angle below and in front of the gun. this filled in all of the dark places (such as the dark wood) on the gun while still allowing for some contrast. BAR Walkthrough 2

I also added a small backlight to separate the gun from the background. The gun would be completely separated from the background in photoshop, but it makes my life a lot easier when there's a clean line of separation.
BAR Walkthrough 3

Finally I added a fill light on the far left hand side to give just a bit more fill in the shadows. This was actually a bit of a mistake because it created some weird color casts that I had to deal with in post, but it all worked in the end.
BAR Walkthrough 4

This is the final image, color wise it hasn't really been touched with the exception of the odd magenta highlights that the final light added but it was separated from the background in photoshop and the contrast was bumped up just a little. BAR Walkthrough 5

Also, not pictured was a big white reflector on the right hand side. Here's a few pictures of the entire set up.



So, if you want to recreate this shot, all you need is 4 lights a big white reflector and 50 grand in guns. That's easy to redo right? Check out some of the other images from this shoot below.

Grease Gun Left Lanchester Left MP40 Left Bolt Down Svandau Left The 96 1 Thompson Left

If you'd like to see more of my work, you can see my facebook page HERE and my website at If you're at all interested in the history of this gun or dozens of other curio and relic firearms, check out the excellent website www.C&

Just as a little note though, I know that recently there remains a lot of controversy about guns and their place in society. While this is a fully automatic machine gun, it's sitting in a museum as a historical artifact and outside of any political arguments that might be happening at this time. So, that being said, I'd really like to keep all discussion photography based. Outside of that, let me know what you think! If you guys are interested I'm planning on doing a post on how I do composite POV shots down the sites of these beautiful guns, so let me know what you think and if you want to see more!

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I've done gun photography and I think these are nice, but I'd recommend adding bit of drop shadow on the muzzle stands to give the images depth and a realistic feel.  Also, I find that if I need to separate from the background, a colored backdrop saves even more post time. However, there are a lot of straight edges on these items so not really a worry here. Nice work!

I've gotten that suggestion before, but honestly, I think that the drop shadow makes it a little cheesy. That's just my opinion though. Thanks for the insights. 

I hear you, it needs to be done carefully.  

 He's been lectured on it before.  C&Rsenal uses a simple drop shadow just to pop flat images as most of the content comes from slim pistols and rifles.  The LMGs introduced a new problem as their depth makes drop shadows look silly.

The alternative route we have taken is to select something in the middle of the light-grey spectrum on the background and color replace it with pure white.  By adjusting the sensitivity we can leave the bulk of the item's shadow while still getting the lightbox effect. 

We just haven't gotten around to writing articles on these particular machines and so the retouches haven't been done.

He shot on cloth, too many wrinkles for him to use the drop shadow. Even if he had shot on paper he still rotated the images in post, so any shadow wouldn't line up as the gun lies at a slight angle.

Looks great. Nice work.

photo idea: super high shutter speed and firing of all these weapons = epic

Actually if you want to capture a gun firing and you have a controlled environment, it's best to use a long exposure and a strobe that is triggered by sound. It's how they shoot those pictures with bullets stopped in mid air. 

Beautiful shots but ugly guns!

 Ugly guns?  Those guns helped change the world...Grease gun, BAR, Thompson.

I'm guessing you find all guns "ugly". Just hope you never need one… and don't call the police. they have them too.

I did some guns as well, Best thing I could add is that I made perspex stands witch fitted in the barrel, and a backstand for the stock for a white background, the mostly disappear when flashing.

Lovely work on these, especially the Type 99 lmg!

 C&Rsenal has a lightbox setup since we specialize in rifles and pistols.  We use a heat-shaped sheet of acrylic to consistently tilt the rifles for 3/4 angle shots.  We also have a smaller box for pistols and different diameter dowels mounted to bases to get POV shots on hanguns.  Rifle shapes are so varied that the POVs are done case by case down the length of the lightbox with simple stands and patience.

If you want to see some truly awesome images of firearms, do a Google search on Stickman.  I have no idea where is website is, where he is based, but this person is truly an artist when it comes to this genre.  He does a lot of work with Rainier Arms.

Enjoyed the article, impressive shots! 

How dare you post pictures of these violent weapons for all to see? Have you no shame? Just the sight of them should be banned under executive order! not.

Great article.  More product photography blogs, please.  

I'm going to do another post next week about how the Point of View shots were composited. It'll be more of a photoshop tutorial, but still in the product photography realm. 

Awesome shots Nicholas. How did you stand up the guns that didn't have the built on bi-pod? 

I actually used wooden blocks, but it wasn't an ideal set up. I had to be very careful about reflections. I was given about 24 hours notice for this shoot so it was kind of a rush to get everything prepped. 

Ah ok. Well they came out pretty fantastic considering you had such short notice. Great work. 

Maybe for future articles you can post a mini PS tutorial at the end? I unfortunately have more trouble with Post than the actual picture taking/lighting process.

I'm going to have an in depth PS tutorial on the site next week! so you're in luck.

learn to use light, dude.

Shut up, dipshit.  I had a look at the photos on your facebook page.  Why don't you learn how to fucking color-correct?

Great article!

The transferable machine gun market must have dropped, cause I see 50 grand just in that Thompson, BAR and MP40.  And that's a low ball number.

 Yeah the photographer didn't use the facts he quoted accurately.  The photographer is reminded by the curator that the BAR is worth upwards of $50K alone yet he writes and says if you have 4 white reflectors and $50K in guns you can replicate this.  Uh...?!

Nice shots Nicholas. Check out my Zoomify image I did of a Henry Rifle for The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA. Be sure to hit the full screen view when you get into the Zoomify window. It is HTML5 Zoomify, so iPhone and iPad users are good to go. Alan

What did the photo look like before photoshop?  Wondering if you could have blown out the background more to make post work easier...

The image directly above the final shot is straight out of the camera. The background was white enough so that it only took a few seconds of the magic wand tool to make it all white. Each image took about 30 seconds. 

The lighting is a bit flat having the large bottom fill, even just a top light + side light @ 45 degree would give a bit more shape.

Also a better set up could eliminate the time for post processing to get the white background, light background separate to the item, place item on a large piece of glass with paper backdrop or whatever under and away at an angle and have one light to get it just at the edge of 255, perfect white background straight out of camera.

Oh agree that the set up could have been tweaked to make post easier, but really I wasn't trying to get it perfect in camera. Each image took me about 30 seconds to auto select the white background and get rid of it. If the client had wanted a reflection I would have worked with the glass, but since they didn't I thought that a simple set up would be easier to deal with. 

Great final results, how do you manage to select the gun out of the background?

The photos are evenly lit, unpretentious in presentation, and clear in their depiction of the subject matter. Nicholas did a great job.

Except the background in the original files are blown and that's causing a "milky" low contrast look. It's a common mistake. For anybody that's interested, the best place to find out about proper ratios when shooting on white is the Lighting Academy online.

The images are nice. I would of lit them a bit differently, to each our own. I would of used light panels and created hot spots. This hot spot helps the light to fall off and model the subjects through a term called specular edge transfer.  On dark and shiny things you are basally taking pictures of reflections.  If you have an even light source such as a soft box, the fall off just is not there to render the objects 3D form. 

To do this on white you would need a much bigger setup, as you would light the BG separately from the subject. Try lighting one of the guns with a light panel with a strobe close creating a hot spot  The shoot one with a soft box, you will see a world of difference.

All in all you made nice pictures, for this I say good job. 

Very good shot!

Very good article.

Really useful article. Huge thanks as I had to photograph an antique gun this week. Used your lighting set up (less the backlight). Perfect results.

Not a fan of these images, but thanks for the article!

Great article, good photography and interesting subjects. $50K may be light on the BAR. Much American history in both the Thompson and BAR. A bunch of America's enemy's had a very short history with both. Have you ever tried that setup with a nice rifle or shotgun? Nice meaning pretty wood and smooth blue finish on the metal. It gets a more than a little tricky!!! Thank you for publishing this,