Photographing Headstamps

Can anyone give me any advice for photographing cartridges and headstamps. Whenever I try to capture the headstamp I generally get to much light reflection.



Do it outside if indirect lighting is not an option. There are some fairly inexpensive “photobooth” setups out there, but sunlight is free. Crafting a setup with halogen lamps with either deflected or diffused light shouldn’t be too difficult. I opted to buy a fairly cheap booth with lamps that works great for that and totally eliminates the glare.
Here’s a link to my setup. … &CatId=517

Thanks Rick. Being a kiwi means I am compeled to make rather than buy something. I think NZ law requires it to contain no. 8 wire as well!! I’m thinking LED’s. Any ideas anyone?

A photo stand with lights in daylight temperature are the best I think.

The best method I have found is a computer scanner. If I want a white background I put two of the undercabinet kitchen lorescent lights braced over the cartridges. Works fine on the HP scanners I have owned and very simple & cheap.

Go to this article on the IAA Homepage for a very good tutorial on scanning cartridges and headstamps.

  • @ falcon5nz: Taking pictures to cartridges and headstamps I’ve always used the outside natural light. Sice I like to take comparison pictures, I made myself years ago a special device which can be rotated at any angle I want in order to get the sunlight at the best angle. I like to take a picture at 2 headstamps at once and using my device I can fix in the position 2 rounds [or fired shell cases or a fired case with a live round] with their heads up, it doesn’t matter the size and caliber of the round but both heads MUST be on the same perfect level at a precise distance between them. My device also has a method which gives a white background with no shadow. According with the shell case material [brass, lacquered steel or aluminum], it’s very important to use the best light. The filtrated natural light is the best when you take a photo at a headstamp of a lacquered shell case, the brass case needs a more direct sun light. Using a German made camera with 35mm film and rings fitted between the camera and the 50mm lenses, I can get extremely close to the subject [headstamps] and I can frame very well both headstamps. My method seems to be obsolete compared with the new technology of today but I don’t have a digital camera [and I avoid to buy one] and during the last 39 years of photo experience I had no complains against the old fashion film cameras. Once you have a good system of taking close pictures to headstamps you get some experience and it becomes very easy and it is a lot of fun. Liviu 07/09/09 P.S. Any adjustable device to keep in position shell cases with the heads up, to adjust them to the right angle, etc., can be made with a little imagination using only ordinary parts you can buy at any hardware store. Using fired shell cases or another simple methods, it’s possible to fix in the right position the heads of the shell cases and to take very good headstamp pictures.

Hey Falcon, you sent me here, remember??? :-)

I have been using the scanner with good results. I have not been able to figure out how to make my backgrounds white, however, so I just leave them black. Someday I’ll figure it out.

Here is what I get from my scanner, set at 300 dpi and after cropping.

I agree with Lew, headstamps are best scanned with a Scanner, and not photographed with a camera.

To get a light (not perfectly white) background, simply place a sheet of xerox paper over the cartridge. However, this gets more difficult the longer the cartridge is …
To get a perfectly white background, you will have to edit the picture with Adobe Photoshop.


  • @ russianammo: Let’s not forge that not all the people have today computers and scanners or the knowledge and the skill to use them. If the power is OFF the computers and scanners are worthless [not to mention “viruses” and other problems] but using a film camera and the natural light I don’t need electricity. Let’s not forget also that for many decades the headstamp pictures were taken using a film camera. The technology of taday is very advanced but at the same time is very vulnerable, not like a normal film camera. Liviu 07/10/09

Liviu–You say your film camera is not vulnerable. I think the end is coming for the availability of film. Kodak announced earlier this month that it will no longer make Kodachrome Slide film. Are the other types of film far behind?

I may disagree with many. In digital times no analog camera is needed except for very few applications, not to mention the cost. Besides that images taken in the macro range may easily become spoiled due to the extreme short focus range in macro photography, so with a digital camera you can take 20 more back up images and still pick the most brilliant.
Walking out to daylight is also only an emergency measure, noone has the time to wait for the right weather when he is going to take photos.

I absence of qualified camera equipment, lenses and lighting equipment scanners make a good substitute but never will reach real photo cameras.

Here a real photo illuminated with lamps in daylight temperature (click on the image):

EOD - your picture is beautiful and incredibly sharp. However, it has a grievous fault, one shared with most everything I have done on scanners. It has turned an impressed headstamp into a raised headstamp, visually. There must be some way in lighting these that would allow depiction of the true nature of the way the cartridge is stamped!?

You will note that as it appears on my screen, anyway, the otherwise beautifully scanned headstamp by theothertexasrich also appears as a raised headstamp, when in truth, it is impressed.

I agree with your comments about taking rounds outside. It is o.k. when you want to do a few headstamps for a brief or superficial article. However, when doing an in-depth study, or the photographs for a book, where you might need to photograph 200 or so headstamps, the idea has little merit.

I used a film camera for 50 years, and regret their passing out of sentimentality. The news about Kodachrome was devastating. However, in the real world, they have little use anymore. If the power goes out, how does one print high quality pictures from the negatives? Enlargers rely on power. Photo Lab equipment relies on power. The possibility of a power outage right at the moment you want to do pictures is not a cogent argument against digital cameras. Film processing is just as interrupted as would be transfer of digital pictures to the computer, or your use of the computer. Their incredible complexity if you want to know every feature of your fine Nikon, Canon or other make is something against them if you are a 19th Century idiot like I am. I find after playing with my nice Nikon D80 for almost a year now, I don’t know how to use even 1/50th of its features. Of course, that is not a criticism of the system, but rather the user.

  • @ Ron Merchant: Yes, one day before long the film for camera is going to be not available and this is very sad. For the moment another brands of film are available when Kodak is gone. This kind of “progress” is like any kid of today has a pocket calculator but cannot use his/her own brain to retract 10 from 20. —> IMPORTANT NOTE: For those who have the excellent book named “Soviet Cannon” [author Christian Koll from Austria], please take a good look at the bottom of the page 86 where there are photos showing 4 raised headstamps. The 3 photos from left are mine, the photo from right isn’t. Look at my 3 pictures [taken with film camera and using natural light] and please note the clarity and the very good light. The headstamps from my pictures are for 12.7X108 shell cases made of brown lacquered steel cases. Make a comparison between my 3 headstamp pictures and the other headstamp pictures [from the book mentioned above] and see the clear difference and I want to know if better headstamp pictures than my 3 pictures are printed in that book. —> I do NOT trust the new technology with sophisticated computers. Many times going to banks or shops nothing can be done because the “computers are down”. A high price to be paid for being “so smart in the 21st century”. Liviu 07/10/09

[quote=“JohnMoss”]EOD - your picture is beautiful and incredibly sharp. However, it has a grievous fault, one shared with most everything I have done on scanners. It has turned an impressed headstamp into a raised headstamp, visually. There must be some way in lighting these that would allow depiction of the true nature of the way the cartridge is stamped!?

You will note that as it appears on my screen, anyway, the otherwise beautifully scanned headstamp by theothertexasrich also appears as a raised headstamp, when in truth, it is impressed.


When I first glanced at the beautiful headstamp picture it looked fine to me. After reading your comments I went back for another look. After a second or so it suddenly jumped to raised lettering! So, I believe that this problem is one of human perception, an optical illusion if you like. I think that it depends on the direction of the light. We expect things to be lit from above so we interpret shadows accordingly. Try spinning your cartridge around, scanning it, and then inverting it on your computer.


There is indeed an optical illusion at work in at least some cases–I’ve seen headstamps that looked like raised designs (and I was pretty sure they weren’t), so I looked away from the screen and then tried again. Sure enough, they now were impressed designs. Pictures can lie, or least mislead. JG

I agree with Lew that for most work a flat bed scanner works well. If I want the best pictures use my 35mm camera with a ring flash. The ring flash or the new double flash units attached to the lens you see in all the crime programs will “fill in” impressed headstamps. Before getting the ring flash used natural California sunshine. In the central valley we do not have completely pure sunshine like top of the world Ray but have much less smog than southern California! Before getting the ring flash I used a piece of opaque plastic sheet formed into an 8 inch tube to defuse the light. I realize many collectors do not have fancy camera equipment but most postings on the forum have been good enough to identify.



I’m one of those people who cannot adjust to photographs where the shadows are not what my brain is expecting. No matter how much I look at EOD’s photo it is a raised headstamp. If I turn it 180 degrees it becomes impressed. I also cannot resolve other “shadow” photos, such as pictures from the moon.

On the other hand I know people who can adjust their eyes and brains to see things from different perspectives. I’ve known people who can read sterographic photographs without a stereoscope. Now that is really unique.


As far as I know, FUJI decided to go on with their Fujicolor negative colour film production.

I use both kind of cameras, plus the scanner, and I think that the numeric is a very big progress, but that the best and actually crisp pictures are made with the old methods.
Anyway, you may obtain extremely good results when using Photoshop to correct the irregularities. Of course, you wil never have to use all the possibilities of this program, but it will help in many cases.
I use Photoshop 7 since several years, and it is now replaced by more recent versions, but this common with all the informatics : they always want to better their possibilities, in order to sell you more and more programs!

If you think Photoshop is too heavy or too expensive, a good thing is to replace it with Photoshop Elements. This program is often furnished free when you buy a new scanner and is quite sufficient.

A very good thing with Photoshop is the simple way to get white backgrounds and to clear out parasite parts of the picture, like, for instance, the beautiful fingers of the guy holding the cartridge.

Another interesting thing with Photoshop is the possibility to correct perspective : I personnally do not appreciate to have the benefit of a distorted box or packet, even if it may look more “artistic” to some people. You may also easily correct an ovalised hstp to an actually circular one.

It is also extremely simple when using Photoshop to rotate the headstamp to get it with a correct orientation, not reverse or oblique.

Sometimes, you will also get in troubles with the badly impressed figures or letter. A simple way is to use chalk or white corrector fluid to fill in this characters, then to remove it later on with a piece of tissue or a cotton swab.

I agree to the fact that the natural light is the best, especially when the sky is clear, and there is no direct sun. Except if you work at home, and in the evening, the flah or strobe lights are almost useless… This goes especially for numeric cameras, in which the macro setting is usually giving overexposition with flaslight at short distances between the subject and the front of the len.


PS= please note that I have absolutely NO INTEREST in the Adobe Company!

I use a very old Epson scanner for making instant images. This works with Photoshop Elements and will give me acceptable images in a couple of minutes. Given that the thing is designed to scan flat items it handles depth surprisingly well;

To avoid heavy shadows when scanning three dimensional items I lay them on the screen at 45 degrees from the vertical and correct using Photoshop. I’ve tried more modern scanners but none of them manage depth perception quite as well.

I was a professional photographer for over 20 years and saw my business disappear almost overnight with the advent of ‘cheap’ digital cameras. Nobody wants to pay to have it done properly when they can do it themselves for free. I still use 9x12 sheet film in a view camera but I do feel like a dinosaur ever time I use it.

Happy collecting, Peter