How those nifty gun photos are taken

I posted a comment the blog of Guy Sagi, a veteran gun photographer and Editor-in-Chief of Shooting Illustrated, asking him how he took these fantastic gun photos using very nifty colored lighting.

Orange gel lighting applied to the LaRue OBR

Guy was kind enough to respond with a comment and then later a slideshow. His reply to my question …

If I tried to fully explain the technique in one response, when I was done Jimmy Stewart’s clone would be back in DC as Mr. Smith II!

Let me start with the gel question. A gel imparts artificial, forced color on the image. Yeah, I know everyone thinks gelatine or Jello, but in photospeak it’s different. It’s any artificial covering of a light source that tansmits palpable color (so all you real photographers, feel free to indict that statement and realize I’m trying to provide a Reader’s Digest version). I apologize if I led you to believe anything different.

In the case of my orange photo, I put an orange screen/filter/gel in front of the strobe/flash/speed light. Here’s a link to the exact filter set I used (obviouslly I selected orange). Photogs call that filter a gel and it’s pretty common parlance. If you go to a craft store and pick up tanslucent wrapping paper you’ll run into problems with curling, dispersion at bends, plus density (and believe me, I’ve tried to work the inexpensive route…let me know if you have better luck, though).

The overall approach is called strobist. All strobes/flashes are off the camera, remotely triggered, and balanced as you see fit. If you’re interested I’ll set it back up again and explain the balance. In the photo you like, there are four flashes involved, but it would be easy to do the same thing with two without near the expense.

Guy has created a slideshow, demonstrating the techniques used to create this style of photo. It is well worth watching.

Also from Guy: More photos of the LaRue Tactical OBR in .308 Win.. The rifle will be featured in the November issue of Shooting Illustrated.

[ Many thanks to Guy for taking so much time to answer my question. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Buster Charlie

    An Inexpensive, but not as flexible (can’t do moving objects) method is to shoot the same object multiple times with different lighting set-ups each time in a completely dark room.

    Each photo will act as a light source if you have a proper photo editing program that can overlay photos. So what you then do is treat each photo as an ‘artificial lamp’ and play with the color of that photo layer to create the illusion of a colored light source.

    Now, I’m sure the pro method is better, but if you’re not trying to make a living off it, I think the “Photoshop” method works well.

  • I’m actually working on a book on how to photograph firearms! But it won’t be ready for a long time.

  • Matt

    Forgive me for my ignorance but why all this about flashes and such?

    Can’t you just put a white light on the left side, a orange light on the right and take a picture? Why must the color be flashed. I don’t have much experience in photography but would like to get into it.

  • Zach

    The reason for this is that shooting in a dark room necessitates a longer exposure (or shutter speed, a.k.a. the amount of time the shutter is open, exposing the sensor to light). If you bathe it in white and orange light all you would get from the picture is an overexposed bright blur (for the lack of a better word). Using strobes or slave units for this type of shooting is a form of light painting, illuminating the subject for a split seconds allows you to (especially for something that’s moving, such as a bullet from the muzzle of a firearm) freeze the moment without sacrificing light of you tried accomplishing the same thing shooting with a really really fast shutter speed, which under light, freezes motion. This is how they get pictures of moving bullets. They leave the shutter open for a long time and flash light really fast right as said weapon is fired. A little lengthy but I hope it helps.

  • Matt: I guess its not that you have to flash the light but you need the light to be there.Of course you can set up lighting scenario like that with static lights but professional lighting equipments are usually multiple times more expensive than photography flash strobes. For photo shotting that takes place during an instance flash lights are more economic. When shotting films tho you may have to use continuous lighting.

  • Matt,

    The reason is basically convenience. Photographic strobes (flashes) are much more powerful than standard household lighting, for a brief instant of time. They output as much light in 1/2,000th of a second as a 100W incandescent bulb would put out in 1/2 a second or longer. This allows the camera to use a faster shutter speed. A fast shutter speed is always preferable in photography, as it diminishes the chances that you will get a blurry photo due to camera or subject movement. Of course, a decent tripod and proper tripod technique will eliminate camera movement, and we’re dealing with a stationary subject in this case; but again, if you’ve got the gear, it only makes sense to use it.

    But really, you are right, and normal light bulbs could be used to create the same effects. It would just require a slower shutter speed and good tripod technique. Also, there are design issues that have been solved with photographic strobes. For example, usually they have a sealed reflector design that projects all the light forward instead of radiating in all directions. There are also specialized lighting modifiers that are designed to fit standard photographic strobes. The “snoot” used above is one such modifier (it looks like a long tube that creates a narrow, highly directional beam of light) and other modifiers include gel holders, barn doors (which can block light in the same way that the books did in the example video), and grids (which look like a bunch of drinking straws taped together, and are similar in effect to a snoot).

    Gun Blobber

  • Ian

    Awesome. I use the strobist technique frequently…just recently on the beach with a blonde. 🙂 The light opposite the flash is actually the sunset (yellow light in the photo on my page).

  • m4shooter

    I never understood why this gel technique has become so common in gun photography. I’m not meaning to pick on this particular photo, because it’s just my opinion, but I don’t get the connection between the rifle and the unnatural orange light.

    It drives me crazy each time I see a fabulous photo of a new rifle, etc., and there is some crazy blue light hitting the top of the rifle and a green light coming from the left. I can’t think of any other product photography category that uses gels in this manner.

    My best guess is that originally a creative photographer did red and blue gels to suggest a patrolman’s cruiser lights in the distance and it has just evolved from there.