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TUTORIAL: PHOTOGRAPHIC SETUP

TUTORIAL: PHOTOGRAPHIC SETUP

Taking nice looking pictures of painted miniatures might be a real pain in the ass. In many cases this is a very frustrating and time consuming thing to do. I myself struggle with this part of hobbying. My GALLERY is full of pictures – some of which are good, some of which are bad, but for each picture actually featured, I had to take at least three others, which were trashed afterwards. Last year I had a breakthrough, with a professional camera being replaced by a Samsung Galaxy A5 phone. This switch buffed my photographic results tenfold. Not that my pictures started to look really good – nah, they just stopped looking like utter failure. Am I an authority when it comes to taking pictures? Surely not, but if you like my pictures and struggle with photographing your miniatures – maybe I will be able to help you – just a bit.

So, instead of telling you what to do, I would show you how I do it and what I actually use. I would also give you couple hints of what to avoid, when featuring your miniatures.

I USED:

  • Samsung Galaxy A5
  • Tripod
  • Shadow Tent
  • Grey Background
  • Two strong, white light sources

THE CAMERA:

As mentioned before, I used a professional camera before I switched to Samsung Galaxy A5. My main problem with a pro-camera was a lot of crazy options, which I did not understood very well. The complexity of a real-deal camera was just beyond my grasp. Sure, I lowered ISO and tinkered with other settings but to no avail. All the while pictures I took looked really, reeeally bad, with colours going crazy. Upon obtaining a new phone I took some random pictures and to my surprise found out that they look amazing, when compared to what I used to get before. Phone camera options might be limited, but that does not necessarily mean a bad thing. Phones are designed to be user friendly and idiot-proof. That works for me 😉

The current camera setup I use is:

  • The highest possible resolution (13m pixels, 4:3)
  • Auto settings

As you can see – not much to brag about. The best thing about my beloved Samsung is how people react when I tell them all the pics were taken with a phone – priceless…

TRIPOD:

Sometimes I use a cheap (about 10€) tripod, other times I just stack some boxes on one another and hold the camera still on top of it with a “milliput”. Regardless of which method I choose – everything is about keeping my camera perfectly still, slightly above and centered on the miniatures. This helps me keep my pictures sharp and of the same quality. I preffer to keep the camera about 25-30cm from the miniature – this way I get the best results.

In my opinion there’s no need for a professional tripod – here’s how I do it:

SHADOW TENT:

This one is great for keeping the colours balanced and close to real-deal. Shadow tent is a cheap addition to the ‘allmighty photographer’s studio’. Totally underpriced for what it does. For me it eliminated any need to tinker with the pictures in graphic program. Except for adding my logo and frame off course…

BACKGROUND:

Modellers use a variety of different, interresting backgrounds to take pictures with. In my case grey seems to work best. Blue and white are difficult to take pictures with, sometimes turning colours to a juicy crazyness, or blurring white. Black in the other hand reflects light, unless the picture is made in deep shadow. Ever seen these pictures of miniatures, where base’s rant and deep shadows are swallen by the background? Seeing these I’m pretty sure that the real deal miniature looks totally different. So a piece of grey paper it is for me. Not best, but does it’s job and does not mess with colours too much, which for me is the top priority.

LIGHT SETUP:

Many times I had a great set up with camera being positioned perfectly, a shadow tent and trusted background in place – still everything went wrong due to bad light positioning.This one is not difficult, but have a great impact on the quality of the pictures.

I use two Velleman VTLAMP6, which provide a strong, white light on a vast area. There are no more light sources in the room, with windows being covered. The primary light source is located behind the camera and about 25-30cm above it. It is centered on the miniature so that everything, including recesses is clear to see. The secondary light source is located over the miniature and slightly before it. This way shadows are delicate, colours are kept sharp and natural and the camera isn’t blinded by the secondary light source. Why two light sources instead of just one? Mainly to show as much of the real paint job without areas covered in deep shadow, as possible.

Beware of the shadows! If I wanted to deceive you I would have faked additional highlights on all the areas by using only one light source positioned vertically over the miniature. Cheating with light might bring some great results in the picture, but these will be instantaneously dispelled upon seeing the miniature in real life.

BAD PICTURES:

What is a ‘bad picutre’? I would know – I took thousands of these over the years. White going off the scale. Black being too dark. Colours being juicy to a point of totally unreal. Colours going yellow. Shadows being too deep. Light being bounced off some colours. Colours being blurred. Backround being too dark and messing up the colours. All of these and more. Below are some examples of pictures I took, some of which I was even happy about at the time. Now – just can’t look at this crap, cause none of these shows the actual miniature, that I worked hard to paint.

And here’s the newest one, taken with setup mentioned in this tutorial. Overall this is the closest to the real-deal that I am able to produce. I would say that with my monitor setup this is a 95% match. Quite a difference when compared to the previous pictures isn’t it?

So – now you know all the photographic tricks up in my sleeves. A phone camera, tripod, shadow tent, simple grey background and two strong light sources in a dark room. I really know that feeling when you are proud of a paint job and want to share it, but the pictures look like crap, or totally unreal, or both. If this tutorial helps at least one hobbyist to feel good about his pictures – then it was worth it 🙂

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Nazroth
Nazroth

1 Comment so far

Mihalis “Cadaver” SkalkosPosted on  11:28 am - May 13, 2017

Really really interesting stuff! I am still struggling with taking good photos and I can relate to all your problems. I will put all these to the test. Thank you!

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