View Full Version : photos of hamon

Uesugi Kenshin
24th January 2004, 02:24
Hello all, i was just wondering about how to take a good pic of the hamon, like if there is a suitable lighting, angles of the sword and such everytime i try i come up with a bright flash over the blade, Any tips are appreciated thanks.


24th January 2004, 06:16
Hi Kevin,
I would suggest that you ask that question of Keith Larman. He takes some fantastic sword pictures! Don't know if he'd give you the answers you're looking for, but I've always admired his sword pictures. Here's a link to his web site ... http://www.summerchild.com/summer.html


Brian Owens
24th January 2004, 10:45
Here are a few quick tips:

Don't use flash. You can't preview the effect in your viewfinder.

Use photoflood lights or quartz lamps. Have them set to cast their light obliquely across the surface of the blade, rather than straight on and back along the lens axis. Even regular house lamps can be used in a pinch if you take off the lampshades.

If you have a SLR, use a polarizing filter on the lens. While looking through the viewfinder, rotate the filter until you see the maximum contrast between the hamon and the ji.

Experiment with the number and placement of lamps. For a starting point, try a backlight coming from slightly behind and to the side of the mune. This will set off the mune and seperate the blade from the background. It's the equivelent of a "hair light" in portraiture.

Set a second light on the ha side, and slightly in front of the blade. This is your main light. It will cast strong shadows in any hi or carvings on the blade, giving dimension to the photo.

Lastly, a fill light. This should be a large area light like a soft box or umbrella, placed in front of the blade at about 45 degrees off the lens axis. The fill light should be dimmer than the other lights; just enough to show some detail in the shadow areas.

Finally, once you get your lights, camera, and blade set up, turn off the main room lights. Use a dark background. If you're using the light meter in the camera zoom in close (or move in close if it's a fixed focal length lens), take a reading with the blade filling the viewfinder, then recompose the shot and shot at the metered setting.

It takes a lot of practice and experimentation to get good results. It used to be expensive and time consumming, but with digital cameras you no longer have to worry about film costs, processing chemicals, enlargers, etc. If you have a digital that accepts filters and accessory lenses just shoot away. If not, a point-and-shoot digital camera will limit your technique. Get a good entry level SLR film camera instead.

Good luck, and if you come up with any winners post some here for us to see.

Uesugi Kenshin
24th January 2004, 22:31
Thanks to both of you for the replies.

Brian, that was increadibly informative thanks.

Brian Owens
26th January 2004, 10:03
Originally posted by Uesugi Kenshin
Brian, that was increadibly informative thanks.
You're most certainly welcome.

BTW, the information above was really pretty high-end stuff. For examples of the kinds of photos you can get with such a setup see The Craft of the Japanese Sword by Kapp, Kapp, and Yoshihara, and The New Generation of Japanese Swordsmiths by Tamio Tsuchiko.

Both books contain a wealth of information of value to any Japanese-sword enthusiast, and the photos are wonderful.

However, you can get perfectly good pictures, albeit of a different character, without going to extremes. If you can see a nice hamon when looking at a sword, a camera can capture the same image if you take a picture under the same lighting at the same angle of view.

Use a fast film such as ISO 400 (or the equivalent digital setting) and don't use a flash. Because normal room lighting will neccesitate a slow shutter speed, even with fast film, a tripod is a useful accessory to avoid blur caused by camera shake. I always use a tripod, and trip the shutter with either a cable release or the camera's self-timer so I don't shake the camera by pressing the shutter button.

Slower films give higher quality pictures, but need more light. The three-light setup mentioned in my first post would be an example.

Hope this helps.

Brian Owens
1st February 2004, 10:17
Someone posted a video clip about the Home Shopping Network salesman that nearly commited accidental harakiri when he broke a cheap sword in an on-the-air "demo."

When I went to the source of that clip I found a very interesting article on sword photography. I learned some tricks of the trade that never would have occurred to me, and naturally I thought of this thread.

The page is here: Nihonto Photography (http://www.nkb.ca/articles/photography/index.html)

I thought it was very informative, and will be of great use to many people who have had trouble getting good results when taking photographs of their swords.

I did find one error on the page, however.

It says "Ideally you would like to shoot with the smallest possible aperture (the highest numbers), as this will give you the smallest depth of focus."

Actually, a large aperture (lower number, like f2.8 or f1.4) gives a shallower depth of field. Look at the depth-of-field scale found on many professional cameras and you will see this.

Small apertures, like f16 or f22, give large depth of field, which in this case would bring details on the backgound cloth into focus -- which is something we don't want.

The ultimate example of small apertures is the pinhole lens which, although it requires very long exposures even with fast films, gives virtually infinite depth of field. On an assignment I once was asked to take a picture of an assembly line at a manufacturing plant. No one else had been able to get the entire line into focus, but by using a laser-cut pinhole lens from Edmund Scientific on an old sheetfilm camera I was able to do it. I shot it after the line was shut down for the night, because the exposure took three hours!

Anyway, this post isn't about me, it's about this sword photography page. Other than that one minor error I found the site to be most informative.

Check it out. I think you'll be most pleased.

Brian Owens
1st February 2004, 18:38
Darcy Brockbank, who wrote the photography how-to referenced above, wrote me to say thanks for pointing out the error on his site, and that he would edit it -- so it might read correctly when you visit.

I also warned him that between the two links to his site posted here on E-Budo he might be getting a lot of visits in the near future. I hope we don't bring down his site! :)