Monday, June 1, 2015

TUTORIAL: Photographing your Miniatures

Model photography is something that takes some trial and error. There are plenty of guides out there, and they are all helpful, but unless you are a professional studio photographer you will probably have a bit of a learning curve. It's okay though, lets take a look at a bit of what I have learned.

Let's start off with looking at one of my older pictures and one of my newer.

This is an old Fire Hawk terminator I painted up when I was still deciding on which Badab War army I wanted to do. There are a few things that stand out right away to me looking at this picture. The colors are overly saturated, the whites are too blown out, the focus is off, and it's a little grainy. I most likely just took this picture against a white piece of paper using my daylight lamp that I paint with. A lot of the issues came from me trying to "correct" the photo in Photoshop. Due to improperly lighting the model from the get go I had to try and cover up my mistakes. Now let's look at a newer picture.

I took this picture only a few weeks ago and you can immediately see the improvement. The most obvious difference is the black background as opposed to the blank white of the older one. This is a little bit down to personal preference, but I find that black makes the colors pop more, plus it seems to be a favorite amongst other people as well. I have put two versions of the same model up on Cool Mini or Not, one with a black background and one with a white one. The black background has consistently outscored the white one by at least a full point each time. Keep in mind I'm talking about the same model. The other differences come down to better lighting as well as keeping my Photoshop manipulation down to a minimum. All I did on this one was lighten the exposure a bit and then play with the white balance.

This is my new photo set up. The light box is a huge help. You can see that I have a light on each side of the box as well as one of my daylight lamps from the front. This helps get even lighting all the way around. I elevated my side lamps a little bit so that they are shining at a downward angle, but also because I have elevated my models now too.

I try and put all of my models on some type of display plinth or box every time I take a picture now. This helps with shadows and also lets you light the model strongly without also lighting the backdrop.

When using a black backdrop it's important to have the settings on your camera's exposure correct. Your camera is going to want to set the exposure to have the black backdrop properly lit, not the model. To fix this I always set a piece of white paper behind my model, then adjust my exposure settings. Once I have them where I like I remove the paper. Your camera will tell you that the exposure is too low once it's just the black backdrop, but it's not, it will be just right. The model will be nice and bright, while the black will be suitably dark.

Here is a slightly older picture where I used a piece of white paper. It's still miles ahead of the Fire Hawk, and that has to do with properly lighting it like above, but also knowing other important factors. There is a ton of depth on this mini, so to make sure it was all in focus I set the F-Stop to the highest possible setting and set the camera as far back as I could and zoomed in all the way. The last important thing to remember is to have your ISO as low as possible, this will reduce the grain. A higher ISO will make it easier to photograph, but will add grain, so it's better just to make sure you are using the proper amount of lighting. I also use a tripod for all of my pictures and a time delay on the shutter. Due to the high F-Stop, my exposure times are usually several seconds long, which means if I touch the camera at all the picture will be blurry. The delayed shutter allows me to set it all up and then let it take the picture on its own.

When I'm posting pictures while I'm painting I generally just use my phone. With today's phones these pictures can end up being almost as nice ones with an actual camera. I don't worry to much about lighting with these and generally just hold the model close to a ceiling light if it's at night, or in front of a window during the day. I then use Instagram to adjust it a bit and get it to a level I am happy with.

I'm sure a year from now I will have learned even more and hopefully further improved my photography skills. Maybe I will have moved on from black backgrounds and back to white, or even a texture or another color. I hope that this helps you a little bit with taking pictures of your own models. 

My top suggestions for you are:

- Invest in a light box. They aren't too expensive and they will massively improve your photos. You can even make your own using paper or cloth sheets and some ingenuity.

- Invest in at least three lights. Lighting your model form multiple angles will help eliminate shadows as well as make sure all the time and effort you put into painting is visible for everyone to see.

- Get a tripod and a camera with a time delay on the shutter.

- Keep trying and changing things around if you aren't happy with how your pictures are turning out. It takes practice and patience.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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