I have to start with saying that this is mainly for people using SLR cameras. I hope there is something that those of you using pocket cameras and mobile phones will find useful too though.
By reading a book about photography or asking a pro you would probably learn something completely different than what I am writing here, I am just telling what works for me!
1. USEFUL GEAR
The professional photographer would take this kind of pictures in a studio using expensive flash units. We modellers are spending our money on miniatures, models and acrylic colors so we have to use what we have in our home. This we can do in two ways: using the daylight that are streaming through our windows or by using whatever kind of electrical light sources that we have. Using the daylight can make beautiful pictures, but relying on the sun for taking pictures isn’t the best so I won’t cover that in this tutorial.
I do use all kind of lights that we have in our house to take my pictures, sometimes I use the halogen spots above our kitchen work bench, other times I just use the architect lamp on my work desk or the pendant lamp above our dining table – they all work great as long as the shutter on the camera are open long enough. When the shutter is open for more than a split second the picture will be shaken if you hold the camera in your hand. That is why I use a tripod.
Tripods can be bought quite cheap and if you are not using it several times everyday I think it is overkill to buy an expensive one. If you don’t have the money or can’t wait to get along with your pictures and starts tonight already then it is also possible to fix the camera with other stuff such as books and boxes or whatever you find that can be useful, but I recommend using a tripod as this makes the session so much easier.
Even if using a tripod, then the time the camera needs to take good pictures is quite long, and just by pressing the trigger can be enough to make the picture shaken. There is two way to fix this: the cheapest is to just use the timer in the camera, but to most cameras it is possible to buy a little neat remote trigger, they will probably not cost you that much but gives you the possibility to direct your architect lamp by hand if needed, or holding backgrounds behind the models – things that would be problematic standing behind the camera.
2. LIGHTING THE MODEL
There is typical three kind of situations when I want to take pictures of my models:
- Making “studio” pictures on white background for presentations
- Dioramas to give the impression of the model being a real full size vehicle (or miniature) in its enviroment
- Taking pictures for Battle reports.
This we do to let the audience see the model and all its details without distraction, preferable on a white background. Usually I let the model stand on a piece of pvc sheet, this gives a blurry reflection of the model that looks quite nice. A piece of paper will work great too, but will not reflect the model.
As background I use a piece of card board or whatever I have that is white. The lighting of the model doesn’t have to follow the rules of the real world with the sun as the only light source. You can place the lamp where ever you want to lid the model, typically you get the best result by put the light source in front of the model to one of the sides, a bit above the model. If you think that one of the sides don’t get light enough you can either use a light source more, or just put up a piece of white paper on the other side of the model and let the light reflect into the paper and down on the model – by looking through the view finder or the monitor (if your camera has one), you will be able to move the paper around to find the best spot for it.
A very simple studio. All picture in this article has been shot with this setup – using only the architect lamp on my work desk as light source.
A piece of paper is enough to lighten the dark side of the truck.
If you want to make pictures of your model that looks like it is in terrain then you get the best effect by trying to light the model as if the sun is the light source. It is important to only use one light source, or at least let one of the lamps be very dominant. If the intention is to mix your picture with a real life image of some environment, then it is important that you use the same strength and direction of the light source as in the image you will mix with, else it will look weird. If the sun is clear in the sky the shadows will be sharp and dark, if it is cloudy the shadows will be blurry and quite light. Don’t be afraid to use strong light that make the highlights very bright and the sides turning away from the light source very dark – this gives a nice effect!
Well, here it is important to make the picture very clear so that it is easy to understand what is happening on the terrain board. If you feel that the camera flash does give you the best result then this is okay, but if you want more realistic lighting I would make sure that the entire board is lighten up with one light direction more dominant than the others.
3. CAMERA SETTINGS
There are some settings you will have to do on your camera to be able to get good quality shots. Every camera has its own menu display and if you can’t find where to change the settings by your self then you have to look it up in the manual.
Turn it off.
Iso adds grain to the picture and the higher the number the more grains do you get. A very strong light allows you to take a picture without grain, but if the light is bad and the pictures getting dark then you can add grain and make the pictures lighter. A grainy picture can be very cool and used by many to get a special effect. Experiment to find the right amount for your own pictures. All pictures in this article is taken with Iso 100, the lowest possible setting.
A very high iso has destroyed this image.
Pictures taken inside is often very yellowish. To make sure this isn’t happening you have to fiddle with the white balance of the camera. There are probably pre-installed options called something like: Incandescent, Fluorescent, Direct sunlight, Flash, Cloudy, Shade.
If you don’t set the white balance right your image will probably look like the first one.
I prefer to set the white balance my self. You will need to find how to do this in your manual. The process will be to take a “test shot” on a piece of grey or white paper that you are holding in front of the lens, and then let the camera do the measurement. If you are going to do retouch in the computer you can easily fix the yellow light later.
On the top of the camera, left side, there’s the wheel where you set your exposure mode, on most cameras those are: Auto, Manually, Aperture priority and Shutter priority – we go with the Aperture priority (marked with an A on a Nikon and Av on a Canon). This means that we set the aperture and the camera find the shutter speed for us. The reason to why we want to be able to set the aperture, instead of letting the camera do this for us, is to be able to choose what to be in focus. In Auto mode there will probably be areas on the model that is not in focus, in front and or in the back. But we want the whole model to be in focus and therefore set a higher aperture value. I often use an aperture of f18, you don’t want to go too high cause then the result will be that the overall picture is getting a bit blurry. The higher the aperture is, the longer the shutter time has to be – we use a very high aperture setting and that is why our camera has to be fixed or else the picture will be shaken.
If some part of the model still gets blurry after you have set the aperture, there is only one thing to do, move the camera backwards and zoom in.
If your pictures are to dark when using the Aperture priority (I have this problem with my old Nikon D80), it is quite easy to take a picture, notice what the shutter speed is and then change the exposure mode to Manually settings, keep the aperture as it is and just decrease the shutter speed until you are happy with the result. When only using the light from one architect lamp my shutter speed usually are 1.6 or 2 seconds.
First picture taken with exposure mode Auto. Both the gun and the rear of the model is blurry. Compared to picture two, that is shot with exposure mode Aperture priority (f22), the first picture present itself very bad. But a very high aperture comes at a price, the overall sharpness goes down a bit.
Cameras saves your picture as either JPEG (same as JPG) or RAW. JPEG pictures will be smaller and in lower quality than RAW. I alway use RAW as it gives me the possibility to, later on in my computer, zoom in on certain details.
4. TAKE THE SHOT
If you have done all the above then the only thing left is to shot the picture… or is it? The cameras position in relation to the model will make a difference on the end result, see picture below:
The models in the two pictures above are placed exactly the same place, notice how the second tank looks much bigger in picture two – the only difference is that in the first image the camera is close to the models (wide-angle) and in the second image (telephoto) the camera has been pulled backward (and zoomed in). The knowledge on how to position the camera can be quite useful. It is possible to make more drama in a picture with a high wide-angle.
But if you have the camera too close to the model then you will not be able to get the model in focus – move the camera further back and if you want the model to fill the picture then zoom in.
I hope that some of this can help you to make better pictures of your models. If I forgot something or some of it is badly explained then feel free to write a comment.
Maybe I later on will write a photoshop tutorial to go with this one.