Photographing Cartridges


Okay, photographing cartridges…

Firstly, if you haven’t already done so have a read through the guide entitled ‘Scanning Cartridge Images’ on the home page. Although this is aimed at scanning rather than photographing the principles are largely the same.

This is my set-up and as you can see it’s nothing too elaborate but it works a treat;

My camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50. It’s not a particularly expensive camera nor is it a basic ‘point & shoot’. It’s somewhere in between and a good alround compromise. It doesn’t have interchangeable lenses - although I think the newer version probably does - nor do I use a close-up filter. The camera has a superb macro ability which allows me to take a picture from less than two inches. Any closer and you won’t get the whole cartridge in the shot.
A little table-top tripod is essential to keep the camera steady and a cable release is a big help too.

I believe the secret is in the lighting. Flash is worse than useless when you’re this close to the subject and mine is switched off. The lighting is provided by two very cheap and basic desk lamps and it’s the bulbs which make all the difference. You need a special ‘daylight’ bulb with a rating of about 6500K. These are generally used for craft purposes (needlework, fine drawing, intricate electronics) as the replicate bright daylight and enhance the natural colouring. They’re readily available on E-bay.

For the seamless background I use a piece of white acryllic sheet (again from E-bay for a few pence). Acryllic can be easily bent if placed in boiling water for a couple of minutes. You can probably see in the picture that I’ve bent a couple of inches at the end of the acryllic to about 45 degrees. This forms a shelf for the cartridges to stand on and allows the rest of the sheet to point back towards the horizon and disappear from view. I’ve glued a supporting leg to the back of the sheet so it will always sit at the correct angle. A piece of white paper or card is just as effective however over time it’ll get creased and marked - the acryllic just wipes clean. Paper will also need fixing in position everytime you need to use it.

I use Picasa 3 for editing my photos. Very easy to use and produces excellent results. It has a very precise staightening tool to get your image perfectly upright. A good cropping tool cuts away all that background. The lighting can be easily adjusted to give a nice bright image and then it’s finally ‘sharpened’ to make the picture really crisp.

I’m going to post a couple of pictures on the current thread on the .577 Snider blanks which I have just taken using the above method and these are good examples of how clear pictures can become with a bit of extra effort.




I am getting tired of going out to the garage every time I need a photo. So, I am very interested in making an indoor setup. Can you recommend a light bulb that can be bought in a regular hardware store? A friend told me to get blue light bulbs but I’m not sure he knows whereof he speaks. I recall that I used blue bulbs back in the days of color film but would they be appropriate for digital, and would they be bright enough? Any help would be appreciated. Your photos are great and I would like to get some that are half that good.




I spent a lot of time trawling around my local shops and could not find suitable bulbs anywhere with the exception of a specialist photographic shop where they wanted about £25 per bulb. Then I had a look on E-bay and there are loads of suppliers. I bought two for £7 however this particular supplier will not ship outside Europe.
I’m sure if you go onto E-bay and search under ‘Daylight Energy Saving Bulb / Photo / SAD’ you will find a supplier. I’m expect you’re aware but the ‘SAD’ stands for Seasonal Affected Disorder and these daylight bulbs are a remedy for this. You also need to check for a colour temperature rating on the bulb of at least 6400K.




Thanks for that additional info. SAD rang a bell. I have seen bulbs so marked, I believe in Ace Hardware. As I remember, they were flourescent. But maybe they had others.




A couple of weeks ago my 3-way bulb in my gun room lamp burnt up so I replaced it with a 100 watt equivalent fluorescent bulb. It puts out a real nice white light. I looked at the package it came in after reading the posts in this thread and guess what; it says “DAYLIGHT 6500K Cool natural light”. I haven’t used it to take a picture yet but it sure puts out some nice light. I got them at Walgreens. They are made by GE and come 2 in a package. I don’t remember the cost but it wasn’t that much.




I know that Jim is using a Macro setting on his compact camera, and to me at least, this is producing far better photo’s than I can get using a DSLR and it’s normal lens, I think that I need a Macro lens. I’m going to try Jim’s lighting set up and see if that helps.

I wonder if in the new year, that some sort of IAA album could be set up and all the photo’s taken of ammunition etc placed in it, so that it can use be used to ID rd’s etc. The album could be added to by forum members as and when new photo’s are taken.

I’d volunteer to help in any way I could if the IAA were to think this idea was worth pursuing.


When my good expensive camera quit working not long ago I went to WallyWorld to see about a replacement. I noticed that huge improvements had been made since I bought my $600 Fuji just 2 years prior. I was able to buy a new camera with most of the bells and whistles, including Macro, for less than $90. If it lasts only as long as my good one did, I’ll be happy. Good cameras haven’t quite reached the “disposable” stage yet, but they are getting close.



If you have a digital camera that has a custom white balance option, that can be very helpful in getting excellent color accuracy even if you don’t have access to good lighting.

I have a Canon dSLR as well as a Canon point-and-shoot. With both of those cameras, you can photograph something with a neutral color and then tell the camera to use that photo to adjust the color temperature of your subsequent photos. An 18% neutral gray card is ideal, while a plain white sheet of paper is almost as good for the neutral target.

Other cameras should have a similar feature - just look for custom white balance in your manual.


This is a good thread on it’s own. Cheers to you for noticing that!!
I can’t wait to get me something set up. I have been wanting to sell stuff over the net and will need a good place to take good pictures. This is a great start.


I used a set-up similar to Jim’s, but had a large sheet of paper instead of acryllic. Also, not wanting to bother with artificial lighting or light boxes, I just used indirect sunlight, or direct sunlight filtered by white drapes. In the “World’s Best Assault Rifle Cartridge” at are some examples of my cartridge and bullet photos taken using indirect sunlight. Everyone can decide for themselves if this method gives results acceptable for their needs.


I use a customized setup, similar like Rick. The basis is a $40 - $50 light tent with a couple of lamps on tripods. Since the lamps didn’t supply the required light for bigger objects (guns) and I managed to drop one lamp, putting it out of commission, I rebuilt them a bit. The tripods now take ordinary bulbs, with daylight bulbs fitted. This works pretty well. As a background I use a white laminated MDF board (the stuff used to make cheap furniture).

The camera I use is a Fujicolor S2000HD 10 Megapixel camera.

For objects that really need excessive lighting, I use a couple of cheap building lights, the light being diffused by the light tent. The building lights will develop a yellow discoloration, but this can easily be filtered out using the right software.

For photography without too much drop shadows, I use a converted picture frame. The back of the frame has become the bottom, 4 carrier posts on each corner that carry a glass plate on which the subject is placed.

Neutral backgrounds help to isolate the object from its background, which is helpful for publication.



For taking photos I use a white plastic table with a sheet of glass laid on it. The great advantage of the sheet of glass is that the built in “auto focus” cannot find it, so the camera can’t choose but focus on the cartridge. The background is the white wall of the room, that is at least 2 meters far from the table, so it will be blurry enough.


How do you crop and paste the view of the cartridge head alongside it’s cartridge? However you do it it certainly looks impressive.


I use a similar set-up to Jim’s except that I use only one desk lamp, because mine has a long strip-type bulb which provides virtually shadow-free lighting (it also seems to be very close to daylight in quality). I also just curve a sheet of white A3 paper in front of my computer screen, and use masking tape to stick the top to the screen frame.

Combining photos, such as adding the headstamp to the cartridge pic, is something any image processing programme should do. You just create a new blank image and import the two separate images into it. You can juggle their respective sizes to get the result you want.

Incidentally, for photographing big cannon cartridges I hang an old projection screen so that the bottom rests on a table, providing a curved white background. I used to use separate lights to give shadow-free lighting but these days I just tend to use the camera flash - it’s a lot simpler and looks OK for most purposes.


I like that, it gives a suspended or floating on water appearance!


Having bought some lighting, read my camera’s manual and used the software that came with it and some photo trickery in a phot editing program I’ve managed this, which is getting there…


Lifelongnra, thank you.

Jim, I inserted the headstamp in the picture with Photoshop 7.0 CE programme.

Best regards,



Better than pictures of the cartridges on this really useful thread, would be pictures of your photographic set ups. I know that would probably entail a second camera, but perhaps a friend’s…?

I am getting ready to take a slew of cartridge and headstamp pictures and was thinking of just scanning them, although I don’t have the beautiful set up for a scanner like Mel showed in his article - wish I did because my problem would be over. I have to have professional quality photos in the end. My Nikon 80D and 60mm Nikkor Micro Lens is up to that, but my skills so far are not, and it is all in lighting. Some of you guys are wizards! And, not necessarily working with real professional set ups. That’s why I would love to see more pictures of the set ups themselves, although of course, pictures of the kind of quality they give are nice as well.

I already have learned a lot of of this thread. Hope it continues to build, as not all of us have the same equipment readily available, nor can go out and buy just anything we need.

thanks to all who already have posted here. You guys are great!

John Moss


Here’s my setup:

The side shots of the cartridges on my web site ( were photographed using this setup.

I’m using cheap halogen work lights from Home Depot for the lighting. On the left I’m using a collapsible reflector to bounce the light in order to diffuse it and soften the shadows. On the right I’m using a translucent reflector for the same reason. I’m using two different reflectors simply because that is what I had on hand.

You could get similar results using a big piece of cardboard covered with crinkled aluminum foil, or by hanging up a white bed sheet and shining the lights through it.

I think an even better lighting solution would be to hang up a white sheet in bright sunlight and take photos under it. However, my free time is typically at night after the kids go to bed!

I use white poster board and a piece of black felt for the background.

In the near future I’m going to start photographing the bulk of my collection. I plan on making a copy stand for my camera out of PVC pipe so that I can keep the camera at a consistent angle/height. Other than that change, I will be using this same setup.