A Tutorial On Photographing Miniatures

In this post I'll be taking a brief look at how I go about photographing miniatures. I'm not claiming to be an expert, and not saying after reading this you'll win any awards, but the basic principles should help  you take better photos of your minis with very little effort.

So, why take good photos of minis?

Well, why not take a good photo? if your taking one, you've taken it for a reason, whether its just for you as a reference, or whether your gonna post it on the internet for other people to see, you'll want it to be the best image you can take, so it does both you, and the mini justice.

What you'll need:

A miniature to photograph, and a camera! thats the most basic requirements for this tutorial, but like anything the more you want to get from it, the more you'll need to put in. for an advanced set up (like mine) you'll need two/three light sources, a camera with a macro feature and a backdrop to put behind your images.

What makes a good photo?

What makes a good photo of a miniature rather than a bad one? well, a few things. Firstly, a good photograph will have as much of the mini in focus as possible. "in focus" means sharp and clear, or "not fuzzy and blurred", if the image is blurred and fuzzy then you cant see the subject, so whats the point? Secondly, lighting, good lighting can really make a photo, if you have a killer paint job on your mini, but then most of it is obscured by shadow, then again, whats the point? you might as well not have bothered. thirdly, only take a photo of the intended subject! iv included a picture of my "set up" for taking pics, and its purposefully a bad photo, why? because its overcrowded (and i can't move everything off my desk to take the picture!). If your taking photos of miniatures for example, on a desk full of brushes, pots of paint etc it detracts from the actual subject. also, it confuses your camera, make the image as simple as possible, that way the camera can take a better picture and the overall result will look infinitely better as the viewer cant help but look at your mini, rather than work out whats in the background.

Basic tips for a basic set up

So, if all you have is a camera, or a camera phone and you want to take some pics, then there are a few pointers that can help to improve your images. If you do want to take photos of your models, and you only have a "point and shoot" camera or a camera phone, then natural light is going to be the best bet, so doing it outside will be easiest. Try to stick to quite bright, but cloudy days, clouds act as a giant defuser for the light, which is what you'll want, also avoid anywhere that causes shadows on your models or you wont get a clear picture. Always put your camera in "macro" mode (if your camera has visual icons for the shooting modes, macro will be the flower icon) that way your camera knows your taking pictures of close up/small things. Also, getting your camera as close to the object as possible ISN'T a good idea, try moving back from it and using the zoom function, that way barrel distortion from the lens is minimised (makes your models look wonky or disproportional) and the camera can focus easier. You can put a big piece of blank paper/card/cloth behind the model that usually helps too, and can make it look like a more professional photo, bed sheets work best for this, as they are big, try to stick to a one colour bed sheet. White, or black work well depending on the colour of the mini, no one wants to see a flowery print though! one colour all the time!

A more advanced approach

Here is a photo of my set up, like i mentioned earlier, this is a rubbish photo. because its overcrowded, and the lighting isn't very good. How many action figures can you count? Can you see the Playstation? Is that windows 7 on the laptop or vista? OH! there's a tank in the middle... he probably wants me to look at that... As you can see I have quite a bit going on here, but simply put here is what you need:
Camera Setup

Camera Setup for photographing miniatures

diagram for taking photos

diagram for taking photos

 
  • defuser + backdrop
  • two/three lightsources
  • camera (preferably a tripod too)
  • miniature to photograph
So the set up goes like this, place your object where you want to photograph it, this should be on a flat surface, ideally table height (so you can move above and below it for different shots), you'll need to place a light source on either side of the object, this means that shadows are eliminated. as if you only use one light, it'll cast a shadow potentially over parts of your model, which wont look good. so use one on either side. Your light source can be anything from a camera flash like mine, or a simple table lamp, which you'll probably already have at least one if your into miniature painting (ikea is a good place to start, they aways have a range of lights in stock perfect of this kind of thing, if you need it for painting, or plan to take lots of images then two of these can be a worthwhile investment). Try not to use standard bulbs, as these come out very yellow, which can make your mini come out a different colour in the photograph to what it actually is. You an pick up daylight bulbs pretty cheaply, which will give your images a much more realistic look at the end. This goes for painting too, using a more natural light will make choosing colours easier, and hurt your eyes less. Daylight bulbs have a more "white" look, while normal bulbs look more yellow/orange. They tend to be called "warm white" or something similar. In front of each light, place a defuser (the box that I use which has both defusers and a reversible back drop only cost me £9.99 from maplins, bargain!) in front of each light source, tracing paper works really well for this. The reason for this is that the light source produces a light which is far too concentrated and harsh to just be directed straight at the model, by putting a defuser in front of the light it spreads it out lots, meaning you get a nice even coating of light over your model, a bit like watering down your paint! Now you need to choose a backdrop for your image, the best thing is to use something big so you can sit your model on it, and also have it act like a backdrop, a large sheet of card or a single colour bed sheet is perfect for this, if you can make a curve behind your model, so you cant tell where the ground ends and the backdrop begins, this will give you a much better final result, as it's less to look at in the image. If your light sources aren't very strong, or your images don't come out too well, you might want to add a third light source, place this next to your camera (or use your cameras built in flash) sometimes you need it, sometimes you don't, just depends on your mini! Once all this is set up your ready to start taking pictures. use your camera in macro mode if it has one, as it'll pick up detail much better, and it tells your camera that your taking pictures of something small. Try to stay as far back from the model as you can, and zoom in, but don't let the edges of the backdrop/ground be seen in the photo (it'll ruin the illusion, and you'll end up looking at the edge of the photo rather than the mini) By using your zoom, it'll put as much of the photo in focus as possible, as having the camera very close to the mini will create a very small "depth of field" which can mean that the body is in focus but the flowing cloak or outstretched weapons are blurry)Also, using your zoom minimises distortion caused by the camera, which can make your model look funny. Try to use some common sense when using the zoom feature of your camera and experiment to get the best results. The closer you get to the model, the harder time your camera has to focus, but the further away you are, the more you have to zoom in (and with digital zoom, the quality of the image will drop), strike a balance between zoom and distance that gives the best result. If you have an SLR, or even a compact that lets you change the aperture and shutter speed, then you'll want a really small aperture like f20, then match the shutter speed for best effect (if your using a flash youll still be able to get fast speeds like 1/160 a small aperture of around f20 will give you a much greater depth of field than if you use a larger one, so more of the model will be in focus. ^^^^^don't worry if you don't get that last bit, it might not mean much to many people 😛 ^^^^^^^ Composition is also  important when photographing models, it might seem like common sense to put the model directly in front of the camera which is set on a level table, but you might end up missing some of the detail, or having a tiny mini sitting in the middle of nothing, just cos you wanted to fit it all in. Don't be afraid to move your model around, or move your camera, to get an image which looks better, its all about the end result. heres a few examples of some minis taken using my set up and applying these principles: hope you like them and this tutorial has made sense! and hopefully inspired some people to take more photos.
Hydra Flak Tank

Hydra Flak Tank

Imperial Valkyrie

Imperial Valkyrie

Landspeeder Storm

Landspeeder Storm

These are just basic pictures, half those models aren't even painted, but the idea behind them is all the same. The Photo is of the mini, thats all thats in the photo, because that is all we care about seeing. No paint pots, no brushes, no dogs, no TV's, nothing, just the intended subject. The model is also in focus, which means we can see it properly, shadows are in the right places, and the model is sufficiently lit. Now thats the basics, but its also the hardest part to get right. Once you have that, then try being a bit more creative, see where it leads. Here are a couple of photos of an Inquisitor model, using the same principles as above, only now I'm being a bit more creative with my composition.
Inquisitor Scale Guardsman

Inquisitor Scale Guardsman

Inquisitor Scale Guardsman

Inquisitor Scale Guardsman

Inquisitor Scale Guardsman

Inquisitor Scale Guardsman

Thanks for looking at my article on photographing miniatures. If you've enjoyed it, please share it on your favourite social platform if you think your friends might like it too!  

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