These are only suggestions based on my personal experiences and methods, offered in the event a user has difficulty obtaining a good photo of a subject. I have seen many folks in the IAA post better quality material than I, so this is by no means gospel.

If you have any other suggestions, insights or experience in this realm, please feel free to add your comments!!!

** Metallic cartridges and jackets will reflect any direct light and virtually all considerations of the process stem from this fact. **

A. Using a flash is almost certainly going to prevent a good shot absent professional equipment.

B. Fluorescent lights will give a strong yellowish cast (particularly with lighter elements within the frame), which is almost impossible to filter, even with adjustments to the white balance.
. . (1) So if artificial light must be used, indirect incandescent or halogen is the best choice.

C. Absent professional light sources, soft, indirect natural light works best.
… (1) For inside work, morning light from a north facing window seems best.
… (2) Working outside, use a translucent white cloth to shade both camera and subject (thanks, Alex!).
… (3) Inside or out, if the camera offers the option, “cloudy” works best as a setting.

D. Regardless of the light source, the object should not be directly lighted!
… (1) Inside, a distance of roughly 4 to 7 feet (1.5 to 2.5 meters) - if possible - from a window is optimum.
… (2) With artificial light, use multiple sources as far removed from the specimen as possible.
… (3) Outside, be sure the subject and camera are uniformly masked from direct sunlight.

E. Eliminate shadows / uneven lighting.
… (1) Inside, the natural light can be regulated with thin white curtains, Venetian blinds or the like.
… (2) With artificial light, the sources (or the location of the subject) may need to be moved.
… (3) Sometimes, placing objects to create a uniform shadow or block a source of dominant light is helpful.

F. If so equipped, the camera’s “close-up” or “macro” settings / lenses should be used.

G. The resulting “low light” conditions necessitate a slower shutter speed; my best results personally (inside) come at 1/4 second.
… (1) But 1/8 and 1/2 second speeds still produce good results.

H. Because of the slow shutter speed, the camera must be very steady.
… (1) A short tripod such that the lens is four to ten inches (10 to 25 cm) - from the subject (inside shots) is very useful.
… (2) Outside, Alex recommends a distance of 50 cm.
… (3) If the specimen is laid flat, a bit of ribbed cardboard will keep it from rolling about.
. . . . (a) A bit of carpet or a plastic scouring pad also work.
. . . . (b) Unless over a firm surface, fabric tends to form wrinkles which can complicate lighting issues.
… (4) Absent a tripod, place the camera on a flat surface and STAND the subject on props so it is at the same level as the lens.

I. You need to strike a balance on contrast.
… (1) Too little and it can blur the distinction between object and background in the photo.
. . . . (a) It can also cause the auto focus mechanism to target something other than the specimen.
… (2) Too much and the auto focus may target the background to the loss of detail on the specimen.

J. Inside, under these light conditions / at these distances / with my equipment, the practical apertures range from f 2.8 to f 4.0.
… (1) At f 2.5 and lower, detail is frequently lost
… (2) At 4.1 and higher, often it is not possible to focus accurately.
… (3) YOUR results may - and almost certainly WILL - vary! You will need to experiment.

K. Ensure the entire area around and near the subject is utterly devoid of reflective surfaces of any kind.
… (1) Further, because the subject itself is reflective, it will tend to take on hues of any strong colors in the vicinity.
… (2) Use a fabric or similar surfaced material for background and to cover any reflective surfaces.
… (3) For the immediate background, a mildly contrasting color, dark cream for steel, light gray with brass / copper, usually works best for me.
. . . . (a) However, any reasonably neutral color will suffice.

L. When photographing headstamps, it is often helpful to emphasize the the markings.
… (1) White chalk can be rubbed into the impressions for excellent contrast.
… (2) Soft children’s play chalk in various hues will help with nickeled cases.
… (3) Shallow / worn / fine line headstamps are particularly difficult to capture or highlight; “white-out” sometimes will save the day.
… (4) Both these substances can be removed with a soft brush and - if necessary - water without harm to the specimen.
… (5) Permanent markers in various colors can work with the “problem children.”
. . . . (a) Usually, this can be removed with rubbing alcohol, but test the marker / removal on something of no value to be sure this is true of the one you intend to use.
. . . . (b) This is NOT recommended for rounds with colored primer sealant, but it works if one is VERY careful.
. . . . © Stay with the water-based substances if there are original color markings on the bases themselves (e.g. many proof types).
. . . . (d) If alcohol doesn’t work, acetone usually will.

M. Using the camera’s shutter delay feature with these slow speeds is . . HIGHLY . . desirable so the camera movement caused by pressing the shutter release is not a factor.

Finally, careful use of photo editing software, such as Adobe’s “PhotoShop,” Ulead’s “PhotoImpact” or a similar application (see note below), to adjust the lighting, orient / crop the photo and control the pixels per inch is very useful. Typically 150 pixels per inch is entirely adequate although for fine details 300 or even 600 may be desirable. Manipulation of light, contrast and color saturation will often bring out details not visible in the original and unaltered exposure or may correct color issues.
… (1) The very last step before the final “save” operation should be to set the pixels / inch and dimensions of the image.
. . . . (a) Altering one will usually alter the other.
. . . . (b) The practical size limit for photos to be displayed on this site is approximately 1000 pixels wide.
. . . . . . (1) Some photo hosting sites automatically resize photos to a width of 600 - 800 pixels.
. . . . [color=blue]b Images greater than 1000 pixels wide should NOT be used if at all possible. [/b][/color]
. . . . . . b They make the entire thread far harder to read, requiring sideways scrolling for both text and photo display.[/b]
. . . . . . b For users with dial-up service, the download times are greatly increased.[/b]
. . . . . . b It consumes much more space (“bandwidth”) on the server; these resources are not infinite.[/b]
. . . . [color=blue]b Basically, use the smallest size which will serve your needs, which will benefit all users. [/b][/color]

[color=blue]Be sure to save a copy of the original photo in another file / folder before beginning the edit process to avoid finding yourself in some ugly cul de sac of modifications with no retreat![/color] Periodic saves with different file names is also a good procedure until you have refined the techniques you will use in the edit process.

These tips, particularly those concerning the editing software, are largely generalized suggestions to give you some basic starting points. There are so many possible variations between cameras, camera settings, photo session conditions and the software that realistically the permutations cannot be addressed in any single place. You will need to experiment with what you have!

Note: ZDnet -


  • has literally hundreds available for download, some of them free, many inexpensive. Few people will have much use for vast array of options and tools which come with the expensive products such as PhotoShop.



My experience is, that the easiest way to make sharp and clear pictures about cartridges is by using a flatbed scanner. This way, you can achive very good resolution (at 600dpi, the finest scratches are clearly visible)

A sample picture:



I have found the Quadra-Pod to be an excellent copy stand for photographing cartridge boxes and cartridges. It very popular in the forensics/lab community.
The downside is lighting can be tricky. I use two photo floods, one on the left and one on the right, both screened with homemade diffusers.

Quadra-Pod Copy Stand: http://home.earthlink.net/~quadrapod99/