Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Miniature Photography: Tips and Tricks

If you enjoy painting models, and also take part in the online hobby community, then properly photographing your models is a pretty important skill to have. It may seem like an afterthought, but if you take the time to learn a few basics, you can vastly improve the pictures of the models you've poured a ton of time and effort into.

Posting pictures of the models we spend a ton of time painting is pretty important to those how take part in the online community. With smartphones being so advanced now, most of us have a pretty good camera right in our pocket, but you can also invest in a nicer camera if you're really serious about it. When I first started taking pictures of my models I definitely did a lot of stuff wrong. I had the ISO setting up to high, I didn't focus the camera right, and most importantly, I lit the models horribly. With camera phones the first two points are pretty much taken care of, but lighting your model is still hugely important.

I take pictures of my models in a few different settings. Some are just impromptu while I'm painting. I'm lucky that the lighting in the room where I paint is pretty decent, and if I hold the model at the right angle it'll be pretty evenly lit. My carpet is also a nice, boring beige, which works great as a backdrop. These are meant to be quick snapshots of your work before it's done, so it's not as important to have a nice backdrop. You'll still want to make sure the model is lit well though. If you don't have good lighting then you may want to use one of the lighting setups discussed later, or even just use some daylight from a window or outside. I also have a piece of white paper handy though for a bit more of a professional finish.

This is what I do for most of my tutorial photos. After I finish painting a particular step in the painting process, I'll stop and get out this piece of paper. I just kind of prop it up against something, usually my water cup for painting, and then angle my daylight lamp so that it's not creating any harsh shadows on the model.

Highly Technical Diagram

This usually means I have the light as close to where my camera is as possible so that it's all at the same angle. Then I just snap a picture with my phone and crop it later so that all you see is the white background.

For an even more professional look I have a more permanent setup in my basement. For pictures of a model on its own I have a light box with various backdrops, usually either black or white. A light box is just a box with an open front and translucent white sides along the sides and top. These help soften the light coming from the lamps you're using and more evenly shine it across the model. I then have two lamps, one on each side shining through the light box, and a day light lamp in front of the model level with my camera. For these I use my DSLR camera, which are the fancy ones that give you a ton of control. Mine is a Sony Alpha 200 and is about 10 years old at this point, so my phone is almost better. The camera does give me more control though, and I'm able to set the exposure to what I want, as well as control the focus and depth of field. For large models I sometimes need to take multiple photos of it with various parts of it in focus, and then combine them all in Photoshop to get the entire model in focus. There are some Apps you can download that give you some of these controls on your phone's camera.

Lastly, I have my scenic shots. These are done using one of my gaming boards, set up so that my camera can be level with the bottom lip of it if I need to. I recently bought two studio lights online for a good price that help me evenly light these. I definitely have to use my DSLR camera for this since I almost always have to combine various focal points in Photoshop to get the whole picture in focus. An important thing with pictures like this is composition. I will often place minis in a way I think looks good, then snap a picture and see how it turned out, before moving stuff to better fit in the frame. It may look good to your naked eye, but when you take the picture you may find that a certain model is half cut off, or not in frame at all, or just at an odd spot. It's important to be willing to go back and forth with this until you get the best composition you're happy with.

All of these pictures then get edited in some way. Some are just cropped, while other have the exposure tweaked with, or the saturation. Depending on the lighting and the camera you could end up with an over or under saturated picture, so small tweaks may be needed. In my scenic shots I usually do a lot more editing since these are about the scene and the mood more than showing off the model. I'll cut out backgrounds and add in skies, or add some fog around the bottom, tweak shadows, blur or sharpen certain points, or whatever is needed. This is a whole other article in itself and really requires some photo editing skills beforehand. I use Photoshop, but there are several free programs out there as well. For most of my W.I.P. pics I even just use Instagram to edit them. It's really up to you in the end and how far you want to take it.

The most important thing is lighting. If you don't already have good lighting it might be worthwhile investing in some. I guarantee this will improve your pictures by a large degree and you can also use some of the smaller lights for while you're painting. I find it very difficult to paint without a daylight lamp now. They're so bright and really show you the true value of all of the colors you're using. You also want to make sure your background isn't too busy. For single model pictures you ideally want a solid background or a gradient. As with all things, this just takes practice. Like I said, I had years of trial and practice shooting pictures of my own models.

What are some of the ways and methods you use to take pictures of your own models?

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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