Photographing miniatures is composed of two major elements. First is the setup, including things like backdrop and lighting. The second is camera settings, including things like exposure, depth of field and white balance. These are not complicated topics but they do each deserve some discussion and examples, so this photography series will be spread over multiple posts. Part 1 will cover the general physical setup o the scene. No Quarter #35 also had a short article covering this if you would like further information.
The first step is the backdrop. To really make our model the center of attention we’ll want to avoid any distractions in the background. I like using a simple white background achieved by draping a clean white sheet of paper from a vertical surface and allowing it to form a J-shape. This eliminates any horizon lines that would otherwise break up the background, allowing your model to be the center of attention. Not only will this smooth, even background help people focus on your model, it will also help the camera focus on your model. The auto-focus on the camera will have a very hard time focusing in on this background, making it much more likely to focus correctly on your model. In the photo below I’ve used a rather large sheet of paper (w” x h”), this larger background make taking photographs of multiple models much easier by allowing the camera to move back further while still keeping the full frame filled with the white background. It’s also possible to use a standard letter (8.5″x11″) sheet of paper, but you’ll want to always ensure that the full frame is filled with the background. You’ll also want a heavy enough paper that it’s not going to be fully opaque. My sheet of paper is a heavy grade sketch paper that works great. Sketch paper also has a slightly rougher texture ensuring no extra glare as you get from some shinier papers.
Now that our backdrop is set, we need to light the scene. You do not want to use the camera’s built-in flash. The flash on a typical camera is meant to illuminate subjects anywhere from four to twenty feet away. Our models will be mere inches from the lens meaning the flash will be so bright it will blow out not just the colors but the finer details on the model. Without the flash we are going to need a lot of extra light to illuminate the model. Below are examples of photos using just standard overhead room lighting with and without a flash.
While it looks well-lit to our eyes, to the camera it’s much too dark. The best way to add illumination is using two lamps place at 45-degrees in front of the model. Why two lamps? To really show off the model we want an even illumination across the entire model. By using two angled lighting sources it will eliminate any shadows on the front of the model, giving a clear view of the details. Below is an example of one lamp illumination and two lamp illumination to show the differences. With one lamp (positioned on the right of the camera), Stryker’s left side is in pretty heavy shadow. While this photo is interesting, it is not showing off our entire model. Switching on the second lamp eliminates those shadows giving both sides a healthy illumination.
Now we have a backdrop with two lamps lighting the model from 45-degree angles. It’s worth mentioning at this point that there are portable photo studios that can be purchased that replicate what we have just constructed. They are typically composed of a fabric box with colored backdrops and two lamps. If you’re going to be taking a lot of model photos it’s definitely something worth considering. Our home-made version will look something like this:
You may notice in the two lamp illumination photo above that Stryker is casting two distinct shadows, one from each lamp. There are also some sharper glare/reflection points on the model. This is caused by having our light sources very close to the model. The reflections of the lights is even worse on models such as warjacks with their larger smooth surfaces. These reflection can also conflict with any intended light source your painted on your model (typically imagined above the model). So now you can the highlights you painted on your model from above, but your light sources are each adding their own side highlights. This is where diffusion comes into play. The pre-built photo studios typically have a light diffusing material on the sides of the box to filter the light through. Diffusers still provide ample light, but smooths it out, removing the shadows and reflections. An easy improvised solution is place a sheet of clean white paper (such as standard printer paper) in front of each light. I use paint pots to hold the paper in place. Important Note: I have the paper leaning directly against the lamps. I’m using CFL bulbs which are very low-temperature bulbs. If you are not using CFL bulbs, I highly recommend not leaning anything flammable against your lamps. Below is a photo using the diffusers. Notice the both the shadows on the background and the glare on the model have been significantly reduced. Whether you need any type of diffusion or not is personal preference and I often take photos both ways to see what I like the look of better. When photographing the Black 13th I went without the diffusers, but for some of the ‘jacks I prefer to diffuse the light.
Since we cannot use the built-in flash we know we had to add more light to the scene, but there is an additional side-effect. A standard flash puts out so much light that the camera can capture an image in a 1/60th of a second or less. This is good because the faster the image is captured the less the photographer needs to worry about shakiness. Without the flash, even with the extra lamps, it could easily take 10 times longer to capture an image. Now a shaking camera is a real issue. There are two excellent ways to abate this. The first way is to use a tripod to eliminate the shaking of our own hands. Your hands may be steady enough to paint eyebrows on your warcaster, but holding a camera perfectly still for even a fraction of second is almost impossible. Even a little shakiness will result in a blurry photo. For the above setup, we don’t even need a tripod, we can just set the camera on the table, since the model will also be on that same plane. If you need to slightly elevate your camera stacking up some books will work perfectly. The second way to eliminate any camera shake is to use the timer, the same function you use to put yourself in a photo. Using the timer will allow you to depress the shutter button and let go before the image is captured, that the image won’t contain any blur from the disturbance of the button being pushed and released. One of the convenient features of my Canon S2 IS is the flip out, rotating screen, which allows me to set the camera flat on the table and angle the screen so that I can compose the shot without trying to lay my head on the table to look through the viewfinder. Our completed setup, with diffusers, is shown below.
Next time we’ll start looking at camera functions and what settings will get us the best model shots in our homemade photo studio.
Photographing WARMACHINE Miniatures