Pen Photography

I’ve taken photographs for many years but I’m no more than averagely competent. That’s not false modesty; I only have to look at some other people’s photographs, whether of pens or landscapes, and I can see how much better they are. That doesn’t matter a great deal. I don’t need studio-quality pen photographs. I need ones that show the pen and its condition clearly to illustrate my descriptions and I can manage that.

When I started taking pen photos, I discovered that neither of the cameras I had were really suitable for the type of close work I wanted to do. After asking around and checking out what was available, I settled on a Fujifilm Finepix S8100.

It has a good lens, a two-level macro capability, it takes an SDHC card and it’s light and easy to use. After 18 months of use it has fulfilled my requirements very well. I photograph between fifteen and twenty pens every week. That’s at least 90 photos. It takes a while and it’s surprisingly tiring. For the sake of speed I dispense with a tripod, which means returning to the same shooting position and holding still, time after time. Gets a little wearing by the end of the session…

Light is the most important thing. Wherever possible I use natural daylight, but in winter in the north of Scotland that’s not always easy. The sun is low in the sky, and the light’s either low-level or beating straight in the window, creating deep shadows, so I diffuse it as much as possible and fill in with white lights. I have a light box, and I do use that method on occasion, but it slows things down a lot. It’s not a practical solution for me.

Despite these restrictions, it works quite well, due to the forgiving nature of the camera and its light-gathering capability. If I can show a barrel imprint, the condition of the nib, plating loss on the clip or a scratch on the barrel, that will do for me.

Editing – cropping, resizing, colour correction – gets done in PhotoShop. PhotoShop’s overkill really. I could do what I need to in a less expensive – or even free – photo editor, but I’ve used the program for a long time and I have a routine that speeds the work along.

Though I do get quite a bit of satisfaction from seeing useful photos at the end of it all, I must admit that photographing and photo-editing the pens is more a chore than a pleasure. I’d much rather be restoring!

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