The landmark blue onion dome with its stallion on top of Colt’s Manufacturing Company’s original buildings in Hartford is a reminder of the company’s long industrial history and connection to the city. My first spacious studio was in one of its former manufacturing floors. I had done work for Colt’s several years back, and was happy to be working with them again photographing their complete line of handguns and rifles for the new catalog.
The challenge in photographing a diverse mixture of finishes and textures was to have a coherent lighting style throughout the catalog. While developing a lighting system that would work for either the chrome pieces or the black matte finishes, I ended up by making my own lighting panels which allowed for much needed control.
Working primarily with two sets – one for the straight product shots and the other for angled three-dimensional beauty shots, it was just a matter of figuring out how to hold the guns to allow for easy silhouetting. Floating the handguns and rifles in the center of the set allowed the light to wrap around from all sides so that detail and definition could be brought out where needed. This set up created dimensionality while allowing a delicate balance controlling detail on surfaces and textures. When photographing metals, it is often more about the light reflected than the light on the product – which worked well generally, except for some matte finishes designed not to reflect light at all, and for those, some extra tweaks were necessary.
How do you suspend a gun in mid air gun without blocking any vital visible part? Well, the rifles were easy enough because slots in the surfaces allowed for three pointed suspension with hooked wires from the rear, but the handguns were a different puzzle. I was told that photographers often drilled holes in the magazines to hold it up, but I was determined to find a different non-destructive solution.
What would hold a gun from the bottom or rear? There was no easy way to clamp it, and I needed something that could be adjustable and flexible. I have a magnet on my desk with a bunch of steel balls stuck to it, and it suddenly dawned on me – a magnet! But not just any magnet would do, because holding the gun by the magazine at the bottom made it too front heavy and would tip over. What I needed was a “super magnet”!
With a little Googlin’ I found my super magnet and it worked perfectly. Made out of something called Neodymium and costing fifty bucks for a half-inch by 2 inch block, it came with all kinds of warnings about pinching fingers, pacemakers, keeping away from other electronic equipment and curiously enough, not to be inserted into any part of the body. Really?