Photograping Your Blades

Cheap and Simple Knife Photography

Photographs allow potential customers, friends, and other smiths to see your work. They're not as good as personally handling the knife, but obviously this is the next best thing. The only problem is the vast majority of photographs are very bad quality; both make the knife look bad and obscure the details, really degrading the look of what the actual piece is. Whether you're trying to sell, ask for critique and opinions, or just want to show off (because when we get down to it, bladesmithing is honestly pretty cool), good photos are essential. 

Note: I'm not an expert photographer; this is my personal findings, advice I've been given, and what my research has turned up


By and large, unless you're doing this professionally, the camera doesn't really matter. Due to my huge use of Instagram, I in fact use a good smartphone for most of my pictures. Photographs turn out better with higher quality camera of course, but what really matters is the lighting. This article is written assuming it's a basic camera or a smartphone with a high definition camera. 


Lighting is the key to a good photo. What you want is the full spectrum of light, but scattered. Outdoor pictures on a sunny tend not to be very good; for the following reason: light, of the full spectrum, comes from the sun, through the atmosphere, and onto any object in the ray's path. If it's shining directly onto the knife, the light is a little too much; certain areas with the sun shining directly on it will appear too bright, or darker areas and shade will come out just plain black. Or both. 

A detail shot in direct sunlight showing a closeup of the guard and handle. Way too bright in some areas, way too dark in others. Ew

Shooting in the shade, on the other hand, eliminates some of the light spectrum: the light is not coming directly from the sun, rather, it's reflected by the molecules in the atmosphere (which absorb all wavelengths save the blue spectrum), and then hits the knife (from there some more wavelengths are absorbed, creating the colors you see, and the rest is reflected into the lens of your camera). This results in photos that don't have the full color of your knife. 


Boring handle color and weirdly blue blade. Once again, ew

So, you need two elements for lighting. The full spectrum, and brightness balance. 

Sunny Day Shooting

This requires building a "lightbox". A frame of some sort (wood, PVC, metal, whatever) with tissue paper covering the sides. The tissue paper moderates the amount of light getting through, yet lets in the full spectrum. The larger it is, the easiest to work with. 

Indoor Lightbox

Once again, a lightbox, which moderates the amount of light getting through. There are many guides online which cover the different aspects of a lightbox, but the basics are a dark room, a soccer net-like frame, with tissue paper covering the sides and back. Full-spectrum lights in the back, positioned just right all around the box, so as to throw no shadows and get even lighting overall. This is what the pros use, and done right, will give you the best photos. The tough part however, is getting the right lights for it, and not all that easy to throw together in an afternoon. 

Outdoor Boxless Shooting

This is what I usually do. I wait until just before sunrise (I've usually got about a 20 minute window to snap the pictures), when the angle of the light gives a full spectrum without eliminating all but the blue. It's also not too bright (earlier it is, the darker of course, so as time goes on the lighting gets better and better). Complete overcast, yet not too dark of clouds, is just as good, and allows you plenty of time. The clouds act like tissue paper, scattering the light, keeping from being too bright, yet keeping the full spectrum. Of course, there are time constraints to both of these, but the lack of a lightbox enables you to take photos anywhere outside, so you can use bigger props (abandoned cars for instance) or any nature scene you like.

Backgrounds and props

This is where it gets fun to experiment and play around. The right props and background lend to the viewer associating a particular use to the knife: a leafy outdoor shot with a camouflage hat or jacket and a rifle would be best suited to a hunting or skinning knife. A tactical vest with a few shells and a pistol for a tactical knife, or wood shavings/sawdust and a clean 2x4 for a utility knife. 


A rasp and a wood plane serve as props for a utility knife

Art knives are better off with no props; just a single-color background, to draw more attention to the knife itself. "Using" knives (utility, hunting, tactical, skinning, etc.) are more permissible for props, to make the viewer associate the blade with the task it's designed for. 

Of course, don't overplay the props, either by drawing too much attention to them (is the rifle a prop for the knife, or the knife a prop for the rifle?) or by crowding too many objects in the photo. 

As for backgrounds, the ideal is something in similar brightness, or a little darker, than the knife's handle. The camera will get the perfect lighting for the knife, resulting in a photo where the brightness is wrong for the background, or vice versa. Tan colors have worked well for me (interestingly, a straw broom so far has made among the best backgrounds). The color and tone of the background should match the tone and mood of the knife. Pretty simple. 

So there are the basics for you, like a lot of knifemaking, it's a lot of playing around to see what gives the best results. High tech cameras aren't really all that important; as long as you have high enough definition, the important part is the lighting. Like I mentioned, I like taking photographs quickly and easily, and without expense. This way I can upload them quickly to media, (my favorite being Instagram) and move them around online easily without worrying about file size.