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How to take Photos of your Minis PDF Print E-mail
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Written by SirAgravaine   
Saturday, 17 May 2008
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How to take Photos of your Minis
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It is extremely frustrating when after spending days labouring over a hot paintbrush or sculpting tool to produce that perfect mini or conversion you've been planning for ages, you can't quite seem to take photo's that do any justice to your work.  Anyone who's looked at a photo of themselves and recoiled in mild horror will know that the camera lens is a very harsh critic, and she is no more benevolent to miniatures!

As most of us don't actually have access to the studio lighting rigs and £1,000 cameras which they use in magazines to take our photos, we have to make do, and with a little bit of work you can get really good results without any fancy gear.  This tutorial follows the steps I used to take a photo of a Wood Elf Spellsinger I painted this week.

 

Things you will need

  • A digital camera;
  • A desk lamp or two;
  • A large sheet of paper;
  • An old box or stack of books;
  • Plus a painted mini of course!

 

Background

The first thing you need is a background to take the photos against, something plain and neutral which will not interfere with the details of your models, and make focussing the camera easier.  The simplest way to do this is with a sheet of white paper attached to a pile of books or and old box.

background.jpg

 

Lighting

Lighting is the hardest part of miniature photography, as it is the harshest critic to any imperfections on the model itself.  As a rule of thumb, the less complex your camera is, the more light you will need.  The best light to use obviously is natural light from a window, preferably in a north facing room where there is no direct sunlight which can cast harsh shadows on the model and confuse the focus of a camera.  Unfortunately this light is very rarely strong enough to take decent photos, so I would recommend using artificial lights.

Simple desk lamps are perfectly fine for lighting up your mini, and the ideal setup is to have two coming from different angles.  This stops any harsh shadows forming on the mini and means that all surfaces are visible.  The best type of desk lamp to use are the ones which have the long fluorescent tube in them, as these cast a soft area of light which reduces shadows on the model even more.  If you are going to take photos with only one light, this type of lamp with produce the best result.

light.jpg

This is the setup I used to take the photo of my Spellsinger.  It ain't pretty, but it is really simple and doesn't need any special rigs or backgrounds which I've read about on coolminiornot and other websites.

setup.jpg

In an ideal world, you could simply use the flash on the camera rather than have to set up all these lamps.  Unfortunately, a flash produces a single burst of really bright and harsh light which produces extremely hard edged shadows, and will often bleach the colours of a mini out completely, as you can see here:

flash.jpg



Last Updated ( Sunday, 18 May 2008 )
 
Discuss (10 posts)
How to take Photos of your Minis May 18 2008 11:27
This thread discusses the Content article: How to take Photos of your Minis

Your advise is really helpful ! Thanks a lot . I will try your advise on my paladin . We will see the result in some days!
Re:How to take Photos of your Minis May 18 2008 16:33
That looks very useful, and generally an awesome guide.

Too late now for me to use it on the models I've just photographed, but awesome nonetheless.
Re:How to take Photos of your Minis May 18 2008 17:26
I am so going to keep this in mind if and when I take pictures of my minis.
Re:How to take Photos of your Minis May 19 2008 06:01
I'm more or less happy with my single model pics, I'd be more interested in some details on taking photos of units. I've found that good cameras have tendency to focus on particulate row/model on the unit in macromode, so the rest are not getting the right sharpness. If I move away an use normal autofocus, I start to have problems with light...so I've found some ways, but I'm ready to learn
Re:How to take Photos of your Minis May 19 2008 06:17
The problem you mention,Barin, comes from a low aperture value. A high aperture creates more sharpness in depth, so that's what you want for units.
To do that, your camera needs a either a S (Shutter) or A (Aperture) mode. Many ultra-compact point-and-shoot ones lack that mode. If you have it, just set the aperture as high as you can (The shutter speed will adjust to a long opening, you you need a small tripod or similar). Alternatively, you can set the shutter speed for a long time, which should result in a higher aperture.
Re:How to take Photos of your Minis May 19 2008 09:05
I agree with Guillaume, macro is probably not gong to help for while units, unless you move the camera away from the unit and crop out lots of the photo and lose resolution. Depth of field is really low when you take photos close up.

The long shutter speed/high aperture will work.

You could also try the manual light exposure meter which even my really cheap camera has, that way you can point the light meter at the regiment instead of the camera taking a mean value for the whole shot (including the bright background) which will throw the values off.

Only other thing I can think of is to fool the focusing on the camera by putting something in front of the unit, focussing on that, then removing to take the photo.
Re:How to take Photos of your Minis May 19 2008 14:27
SirAgravaine,

I loved the article! Well done! I voted for it too.

Just looking at your finished product - seems that you missed one spot of background at the bottom of her gown.

Not being critical at all - just thought you'd like to know.

Harolde
Re:How to take Photos of your Minis May 19 2008 15:02
Nice article. A few things I would add:

When doing background removal in Photoshop, the 'magic wand' tool, which snaps to boundaries, is your friend.

If you have an adjustable flash level on your camera (top-end compact cameras and all DSLRs), you can adjust your flash down to give a slight
illumination from the front.

If your camera has a white balance setting, you may be able to use this to make sure that white is white when taking the photo, if not you'll probably want to do this in Photoshop (it looks like this was done, but I couldn't see it mentioned). I find the easiest way to do this is to choose the 'gray dropper' on the curves screen and click on an area that is supposed to be white (or neutral-coloured). If you click on an actual bright-white bit, you often end up with everything turning magenta, so it's better to go for a grey section. I find clicking around a bit until I find a good spot is often necessary.

Barin: if you camera has it, you may want to use spot-metering or centre-weighted metering for you light. Most cameras default to metering across the whole scene, but many allow you to change this default. You may be able to set your aperture (as Guillaume suggests) in Manual mode if your camera has it; but unfortunately some compact cameras, while claiming to set the aperture, actually just drop a neutral-density filter in the way! This gives the same light-levels as using a smaller aperture, but doesn't give the depth of field. If you do have aperture control, then you get more depth of field - a smaller aperture - with higher numbers (the number you set is actually the focal length divided by the size of the aperture, so bigger numbers means a smaller size aperture, which gives a bigger depth of field).

Robert de Giselles
Re:How to take Photos of your Minis May 19 2008 15:18
Curses! You have sharp eyes Harolde!

I did white balance my image in photoshop as I don't have a setting on my camera. Wanted to keep the tutorial nice and simple though, and I must admit that my understanding of the 'levels' tool in photoshop is not very comprehensive!

Even my super cheap camera has a spot metering option like Robert De Giselles suggests, so most digi cams should at least have that function.

I think I might write an 'advanced' version of the tutorial with all this included for people with better cameras and software like Photoshop.
Re:How to take Photos of your Minis May 20 2008 20:01
Really good and useful article, Sir Agravaine,

I use a small home studio set-up to take pics of my miniatures, which looks like this

The technical set-up I use is as follows:
Camera and settings:
  • FujiFilm E550 Digital camera
  • Shutter priority (S)
  • Depth of Field F2.8
  • Shutter Speed 1/40th sec
  • ISO Speed 200
  • 6 Megapixels
  • Macro focus
  • Camera to miniature distance 17cm
  • Camera mounted on tripod

Lighting:
  • Indirect (bounced) photoflood with white photo brolly to left of and approximately 45 degrees in front of miniature, placed as close to side of photo tent as possible and below level of miniature
  • Direct photoflood to right of and approximately 30 degrees in front of miniature, placed 17cm from side of photo tent and slightly higher than miniature
  • Photo tent and Black or Dark Blue back cloth
  • Base of miniature approximately 13cm above floor of photo tent


The mini photo studio equipment, photo-floods and photo light tent, I bought from this website http://www.stevesphotoshop.co.uk/

I took these pictures using the home studio set-up http://www.roundtable-bretonnia.org/index.php?option=com_ponygallery&Itemid=&Itemid=32&func=detail&id=2458
http://www.roundtable-bretonnia.org/index.php?option=com_ponygallery&Itemid=&Itemid=32&func=detail&id=2412
http://www.roundtable-bretonnia.org/index.php?option=com_ponygallery&Itemid=&Itemid=32&func=detail&id=2433
http://www.roundtable-bretonnia.org/index.php?option=com_ponygallery&Itemid=&Itemid=32&func=detail&id=2088

Sir Guy
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