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Jazzbass 10-18-2017 05:10 PM

A couple Swiss Army Knives
In case you were wondering what a picture of 477 Swiss Army Knives looks like, wonder no more. This was a little art project I undertook a couple week ago after reading a Wired article about a photographer named Jim Golden.

There was a lot of technical aspects of this to figure out, which was fun and I learned a shitload about photography in the process.

VaSteve 10-18-2017 05:56 PM

Wild. Can you share the technical aspects of how you did it. Where you did it, etc?

Jazzbass 10-18-2017 06:36 PM

Ask and you shall receive (more info than you probably want).

When I started this project, I didnít really understand how much of a pain it would be. I am an amateur photographer to say the least Ė I really know embarrassingly little about photography. Fortunately, my sister is a professional photographer and she helped figure a lot of things out.

Starting off, my goal was to get as many knives in the shot as possible. The goal was 300+ (final number was 477, so better than I hoped for). To maximize the number of knives in the shot, I figured Iíd lay them out in an area the same dimensions as the image sensor in the camera. I took this shot with a Nikon D610 full frame DSLR which has a 36x24mm sensor. Since 6x4 was my target ratio, the easiest thing to do was grab a full sheet of plywood (4 ft x 8 ft), use the full width and 6 of 8 ft of length, and use that as the base:

I covered the plywood in white Kraft paper (that conveniently comes in 4 ft wide rolls). I knew lining up the knives without any guide would be a challenge, so I measured off and marked 1Ē increments along the side of the plywood and stuck thumbtacks in each line Ė 244 thumbtacks total.

Then I took some white polyester thread and strung it between all the tacks making a grid:

Then I tackled the layout. Started with the logo in the center and just build out from around that. I had a few goals in mind:

1. Create an interesting pattern that didnít have too much repetition in knife direction and style
2. Show a lot of the different tools
3. Represent all the different scale types and have a decent variation in color
4. Include very important and historic models
5. Show the basic evolution of the officerís knife from 1890 Ė present. This is the purpose of the row of at the top.

This took longer than I thought it was going to. Like A LOT longer. Like an amount of time Iím embarrassed to quantify so I just say ďa lotĒ.

With the layout mostly finished, I moved the plywood to the floor on top of a couple furniture dollies. This allowed me to roll the entire layout around to adjust it in frame, set up lights, fix the camera, etc.

Now time for the first test shots. At first I tried to use the 50mm prime lens I usually keep on my Nikon for general photography. To completely frame a 6 ft x 4 ft area with a 50mm lens I need about 10 ft of distance between the camera and subject. Lucky for me the ceiling in my garage is 10.5 ft high, and there is a hole in it to allow access to the attic space above. So, I mounted the camera in the attic access hole (red arrow in the pictures above and below).

I took some test shots. Thatís when I ran into my first problem Ė distortion:

The focal length on the 50mm lens is too short to shoot something this big without distorting it. You can see here how the edges of the shot arenít even remotely square and are being bent in via barrel distortion. It most obvious on the long edges and in the corners:

I called my sister and she said a longer focal length lens would help lessen the distortion. After debating several options, I decided to try an 85mm prime lens. For the same size subject this would allow me to move the camera back further, get the same area in frame but with a lot less distortion. I could have used a zoom lens (e.g. 70-200) but I was really concerned with preserving as much fine detail in the full res shot as possible. To get that sort of sharpness with a zoom lens would mean buying/renting a $2000+ professional quality lens. Not really in the budget. A pro quality prime lens, however, can be had for a little less than a consumer quality zoom, so thatís the route I went. With the 85mm lens I needed 14 ft of distance between camera and subject, so I set up my tripod in the attic:

One of the most important factors to getting this shot to work is shown here: the remote tethering setup. I can power the camera from A/C power instead of a battery (blue arrow) and connect the camera to my PC via USB (red arrow). So the camera can stay on for hours while I set up the shot, and I can control the camera completely from software called CameraRC on my laptop:

Live preview, shutter speed, aperture settings, ISO, focus point, and shutter release can all be remotely controlled from the software. I can take a shot, download from the camera that's 14 ft up in the attic, open the shot in Photoshop and check my settings and alignment. Straighten some knives out, tweak a few things in the layout (rearrange things that look odd, tighten up some spacing, etc), adjust the lighting, and do it again. Lather, rinse, repeat until Iím satisfied with the shot.

Speaking of lights, this was the other fun part of the shoot Ė lighting over 450 shiny metal and plastic objects and taking a photo of them without pro levels of lighting gear is a challenge. A fellow Dorki here has a photography business and suggested I get a lot of LED work lights and point them all up, bouncing the light off the ceiling and wall to light the shot indirectly. So thatís what I did:

And that worked great. There could have been more light, but with the camera on a tripod it wasnít a huge deal Ė just slow the shutter speed down. I was able to get the shot fairly evenly lit with not a lot of heavy shadows on the knives. It left the background paper a bit greyish, which turns out I liked Ė it made the tools and the lighter knives stand out more. At the end it just needed a little color correction and clean up work in Photoshop - taking out dust specs, stray eyelashes, stuff like that. And done!

Really the key to all this was my garage layout. I just got extremely lucky here. The height of the ceiling was perfect. Setting up the camera in the attic and shooting through the access hole worked perfectly. The fact that I painted my garage bright white (mainly to reflect as much light as possible when working on cars) worked out perfectly when lighting the shot.

trytryagain 10-18-2017 07:22 PM

Jazz, you should copyright that image. It’s really cool.

trytryagain 10-18-2017 07:27 PM

More questions come to mind..

Are they all different? If so, how the heck do you find 477 different types of Swiss Army knives? This seems like it would be difficult. How many types exist?

roundel 10-18-2017 07:29 PM

472 seems so random a number. This does not seem like you.

Jazzbass 10-18-2017 07:42 PM


Originally Posted by roundel (Post 594942)
472 seems so random a number. This does not seem like you.

477, not 472. Much less random. Has to do with the Illuminati and the Rothschilds and whatnot. I mean, it's pretty obvious when you think about it.

Jazzbass 10-18-2017 07:51 PM

1 Attachment(s)

Originally Posted by trytryagain (Post 594941)
More questions come to mind..

Are they all different? If so, how the heck do you find 477 different types of Swiss Army knives? This seems like it would be difficult. How many types exist?

Well, there are about 200 different models (i.e. different sets of tools) from the model lines represented in this picture. Most of the differences in this picture, however, are age related. Same model, but from different eras. Kind of like how Porsche dweebs like us differentiate between a SWB longhood, LWB longhood, mid year, SC and Carrera 911s, while 99% of the regular population looks at them and says "those are all the same car".

A lot of the knives in this shot are very old. Now if I had Seinfeld money, I'd be taking a picture like this with Porsches instead of knives. Unfortunately I decided to write software instead of creating one of the most popular sitcoms ever, so I have to get my antique collection fix from SAKs instead of cars. For example, the knife that is center left with the tools open in this shot:

Attachment 56340

is the same as the "Hunstman" model you can buy right now on Amazon for $35:

Main blade, small blade, scissors, saw, can opener, corkscrew, large screwdriver, awl. Difference being the one in my photo was made in 1905 (hence no bottle opener - apparently there were no bottles to open in 1905). But still essentially the same knife over 110yrs later. And you thought Porsche were the kings of "evolution, not revolution". They don't have anything on Victorinox.

Dandelion 10-18-2017 07:52 PM

I'm guessing you learned all about the lens corrections in Camera Raw (or the equivalent). ;-)


Jazzbass 10-18-2017 08:02 PM


Originally Posted by Varejao17 (Post 594946)
I'm guessing you learned all about the lens corrections in Camera Raw (or the equivalent). ;-)


Oh yeah. I definitely knew to shoot everything in RAW for this project - mainly so I could fix more stuff after the shoot was over. Something like this, once you put everything away there's no "setting it back up real quick" for a reshoot.

First thing my sister told me to do when she saw the distortion in the 50mm shots was "go correct them in photoshop". It worked, but lost a lot of the fine details I wanted to keep around the edges. With the 85mm lens I didn't need to make distortion corrections in the final image. I did use the lens correction to fix some of the vignetting in the final image though.

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