A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words

By Joe Patrick
From page 47 of the January, 1996 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © January, 1996 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved

With the arrival of this month's Lost Treasure, many detector users are unable to detect because of cold, winter weather. It is at this time of year that many of us sort, clean, identify and package or build displays of our past year's discoveries - it's a good way to beat the winter blahs.

In my very first "Weekend Prospector" column nearly a year-and-a-half ago, I answered a question about cleaning finds. As a prerequisite to this month's column, subscribers might want to check out the November 1994 edition of Lost Treasure to gain some insight on how to best clean their finds so they will look their best and be in a camera-ready state.

To most, the correct way to photograph finds is to point and click. Others merely look into the camera while holding their finds, waiting for the photographer to snap the shot. These photos turn out well enough, but usually leave much to be desired. These photos can be either too light or dark, with little contrast or detail showing. While the overall shape of the object is clear, little else is. Often there are distracting items in the photo, which tend to distract the eye away from the main subject of the photo. Composition, lighting, focus, film type and speed, and depth of field are but a few things you need to know about taking good photos of your finds.

Which camera?

There is little doubt that if you desire quality photos, you must use at least a 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) camera. The 35mm format allows for a wide variety of film types and speeds, as well as a host of accessories and lenses that enable a photographer to create the exact type of photograph he or she desires. The 110 and instant cameras do not come anywhere near the versatility or quality of the 35mm cameras and they should not be used for this type of photo work.

The SLR camera features a through-the-lens viewing feature, which means you see, in the viewfinder, the exact photo you are taking. This not only enables accurate framing of the scene, item or subject being photographed, but it also facilitates dead-on focusing, which is extremely important when shooting close-up, low depth-of-field shots.

Most 35mm SLRs use a standard lens of about 50mm-55mm focal length. This is a fine general-purpose lens, but its minimum focus distance is only about three feet - too far away for most close-up work. At a distance of three feet, it will focus on a coin or other small item just fine, but little detail will be visible and the find looks way too small in the developed photo.

A close-up ring is one way to enable the camera to focus at less than three feet. These rings are nothing more than threaded lenses that screw into the front of the main camera lens and permit the camera to move closer to the subject, thus resulting in very close close-ups.

Perhaps a better alternative is to use an accessory known as extension tubes. These tube-like devices are placed between the camera body and lens and enable very precise, full-frame close-up work. They are more expensive than close-up rings, but are often required when photographing very small items, or trying to do more than 1:1 scale photography.

A macro lens is also a good way to shoot close-ups, but they are expensive and vary in their close-up abilities.

Always remember that the objective in close-up photography is detail and sharp focus. When framing a close-up shot, try to get as much of the subject into the full frame of the photo as possible.

Usually, dark-colored items are best shot while resting on light-colored backgrounds and light-colored items on dark backgrounds. This provides good contrast to the outline of the find, but if too much of the background shows up in the photo, the automated film-processing equipment might have difficulty knowing which exposure level to adjust to and will try to average the reading, which might result in a flat or washed-out photo.

I usually use a film speed of 100 ASA, which has low grain for good sharpness and reproduces color quite well.

By using the same brand, speed and type of film each time, and by keeping an exposure log of each shot, you will eventually know which camera settings and flash or lighting set-ups produce the desired result.

Do not use high-speed films such as ASA 400 or higher for close-up photography. They are too grainy and do not produce fine detail or color as well as slower-speed films do.

All close-up photos should be taken while using a tripod and remote cable shutter release, or by using the camera's self-timer function. This way, camera movement and vibration is reduced to a minimum, thus producing better detail.

There are two kinds of light - the glow that illumines and the glare that obscures.- James Thurber

Perhaps nothing is more critical to good photography than light itself. Sometimes it's low light that makes a good photo, other times it is brilliant light that does it. The correct usage of light is one of the most complex yet creative aspects of capturing just the right mood.

Here are some basic pointers on the use of light in the photographing of detecting finds.

Close-up photography requires a substantial amount of light. One effective lighting setup is to use a small, high-intensity halogen desk-lamp - these can be purchased at an office supply store. This type of lamp gives a brilliant white light that can produce good pictures if a few guidelines are followed.

It is usually best to illuminate items to be photographed from the side and from an angle of about 45 degrees. This side lighting produces better contrast and will usually show-up more detail in the final photo. You will have to experiment with various exposures and light-to-object distances to obtain the desired end result, again, this is where the exposure logbook will help to determine the correct setup for best results.

There is much, much more to photography, but I hope I have provided enough information to get you started. I find that photographing, identifying and displaying my detecting finds is almost as enjoyable as finding them. I believe you will, too.