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Miniature Photography

Guide written by Colin

There are a few guidelines you should adhere to when shooting models:

1) Immobilise the camera - a tabletop tripod is usually sufficient for your average digicam.

2) Make sure it's in focus - This Space Marine is out of focus, just slightly. Using AF, it helps to have more light on the model, and if that doesn't work, acquaint yourself with manual focusing if your camera is capable of it. Remember that your camera is limited as to how close it can focus, AF or manually.

3) Lighting - you can either use:

  • Daylight (Outside on a cloudy day is ideal), make sure the face you are shooting is not in shadow.
  • On-board flash Try to diffuse or bounce it to avoid harsh bright-spots and shadows using a white bag or translucent carton - take a look on eBay for 'flash (diffuser,soft box)' for some of the products designed for this purpose.
  • Desk lamps Set two up either side of the model (see point 5. White balance if you use this option). To improve things, buy or build a light tent or box - the simplest construction is a cardboard box lined with white paper, which allows the light sources to be bounced off the white walls rather than directly onto the model. If you cut 'windows' in the box and cover those with the paper, you can shine the light through the walls.
  • Off-camera flash - Much the same principal as the lamps, but requires more expensive gear. There are digital flash 'slaves' on the market now that can (learn to) work with a digicam.

4) Exposure - Ideally, get it right in-camera. It helps not to place the model against a bright white background, as this may fool the camera into under-exposure. It can also be improved afterwards:

Using Levels in GIMP

You will notice I've moved the white and black points (the sliders on the horizontal axis of the graph) to match the extreme edges of the histogram (which represents the range of pixel brightness in the image). I've also moved the middle slider to boost the gamma - this has the effect of brightening the mid-tones. See that 'Auto' button? It works pretty well too!

5) White balance - To avoid colour-casts, learn how your camera's white balance works. Use the setting that most reflects your working conditions (daylight, fluorescent or incandescent lamps etc.) or set it manually by using a neutral gray target. Again, this can be fixed afterwards (GIMP has a Colour Balance feature in the Colours menu), but it saves time and hassle to get it right first time.

6) Sharpening - To improve the apparent detail present in the image, get to know the Unsharp Mask (aka. USM) tool. For websize pictures, typically 640-1024 pixels on one edge, keep the radius small, near the minimum value.

7) Use the Crop tool - I've seen more than one miniature on ebay which is a tiny speck in the middle of a photo of someone's dinner table or duvet. If it's not relevant, it shouldn't be in the picture.

Last update: July 30, 2011