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Old Dec 20, 2002, 11:04 AM   #1
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Default Digital Photo's Of Neon Illuminated Artwork

Well hello all. I guess it's time to enter the digital age. Here's my dilema:
I own a Neon Manufacturing Company and in the past the only way I could get decent photo's of my neon lighting was by using a 35mm camera with ASA 50 film or slides. I recently pulled out the old camera and it needs repair and as old as it is I was told it probably couldn't be fixed. I have a JVC DVL 9800 digital video camera, but I am unable to make the proper adjustments to the camera to get quality photo's of my Neon.
Question:
What digital camera would you recomend that would be able to take quality photo's of Neon lights and artwork, and how would you do it? I would like to take multiple exposures at different settings so I would be able to get the true colors of the neon AND the background as it would be seen with the naked eye. Also it would be nice to get software that was available to do editing or be able to combine 2 images into one. I'm in real need here as I've done hundreds of beautiful neon art pieces and neon lighting and have NO decent pictures of them, and I've tried proffesional photographer's to no avail. Neon lights are a light source and this is the problem with photographing them. I hope someone out there can steer me inthe right direction or has personal knowledge or skill on how to do this. I'm at your mercy.....:-)
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Old Dec 20, 2002, 12:11 PM   #2
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I'm not an expert, I don't think exposure/speed is a problem since digicams have wide ranges but you may need to resort to Neutral Density filters. The shutter speed needs to be slow enough to capture 2 or 3 cycles of lamp discharge, try the larger f stop settings first, but the ND filter may be needed to reduce light.

I can see you might have a problem with electronic cams frame rate and processing interfering with the discharge frequency of 50/60 cycles. Now an old 8mm film cam might be better!

The problem I see, is whether the ccd sensor can deliver a faithful rendition of the colour wavelengths of your neon lights. I.e that's colour balance and colorimetry. I'm sorry but I don't have typical ccd wavelength/sensitivity curves handy - but we know Xenon is ok, but you could try searching Google. Some digicams allow you to preset colour temperature of light sources to something other than daylight or tungsten. I also suspect, being discharge lamps, there's probably a lot of UV output and you might need to use a UV filter as well.

If it is just lighting displays without any identifiable background, e.g against white, neutral, or black backgrounds, then photo-editing would allow you to adjust the colour match for a single colour and save that for repeat pics on similar lamp colours. Mix lamp colours in the same pic and it probably gets tricky.

As I said, I'm no expert, but these ideas might be helpful
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Old Dec 20, 2002, 4:00 PM   #3
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I think you should try to find someone with a digicam to try out shooting a few neon sign shots... I'll try it here to see what happens. One big advantage to using digital is that you can tweak any picture with software to make the pictures look better (or perhaps even better than the original subject!)
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Old Dec 20, 2002, 7:25 PM   #4
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Back in the early 1960's I took 8 mm film shots of neon signs using a old spring wind Kodak Brownie movie camera at 16 FPS, they came out good.
I will have to try that with my digital camera sometime.
Bill
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Old Dec 21, 2002, 8:55 AM   #5
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Difficult problem that I have never tried to solve. As you mentioned, it is likely that you will have to combine a few shots to get what you want so you will want a tripod and a good photo editor in addition to a camera.

So I suggest that you start by shopping for a tripod. Don't cheap out - keep in mind that a good tripod will outlast several cameras while a cheap one will gather dust at the back of a closet. One way to keep the price down is to get a heavy tripod - weight is good unless you have to carry it long distances.

Any photo editor you get should support layers. PhotoShop is the top end photo editor, with a price to match. Likely PaintShop Pro will server your purpose, as will most editors that have a full retail price about $100 - often on sale for about half that.

A feature you will want in the camera is a remote shutter release - an electronic cable release. voxmagna is right about wanting to slow the shutter speed to capture a few dischage cycles, so you want the camera to be able to accept filters - neutral density in this case. Manual white balance is likely to be another feature you will want. Depending on your set-up, being able to run the camera tethered to a computer could be a big advantage so you can inspect your attempts quickly on a screen bigger than the the little LCD on the camera.
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Old Dec 21, 2002, 10:24 AM   #6
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Wouldn't get the digicam and media too close to those neon discharge lamps either, plastic cam bodies and all that. If a metal cam, I'd earth the body and leave media in it if shooting close!
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Old Dec 21, 2002, 2:14 PM   #7
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That is a good point - electric discharge and electronis can be a bad mix. So a metal tripod mount wouldn't hurt - grounding your tripod would stand a better chance of grounding the electronics in the camera than if it has a plastic tripod socket.
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Old Dec 21, 2002, 3:50 PM   #8
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If in doubt, ground at the d.c in connector. But since we're talking emc/es, it's grounded shielding that's important. It's probably OK a couple of metres away, but aluminium foil and an earthed croc clip would be OK, even with plastic cams. A problem could be acquiring and transfering any electrostatic charge, particularly working on a carpet and then touching pins of cam media - so avoid removing it in the vicinity.
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