Monday, 28 January 2013

Photographing miniatures part 1 - starting at the end

I confess that I'm usually pretty lazy about this - point the iPhone at the figures, cross fingers, click. The problems with this approach are many:  the iPhone's a pretty awesome camera, but it is fixed aperture and autofocus, which means you do have to rely on its own idea of what constitutes a good photo and good lighting. It's surprising what you can pull off doing this, but there are better ways, especially given a basic understanding of a few core principles of photography, even a fairly basic camera, and a small outlay in extras.

Hohum. You know, I've got to here, and realised this is another series in the offing, since I do actually have a pretty decent grasp of the theory of photography. Oh well, it was probably inevitable, since at least one of my series is about to finish. (Really, it is. What do you mean you don't believe me? :D)

Ah well. Never mind, It's not like I was short on posts.

So. By way of an introduction, here's what I used to take the photo in yesterday's post. Essentially, it was a cheap and cheerful light box tent from Amazon, along with a Canon DSLR (although for this approach a decent compact with flash would have done). The whole thing folds up (with a little effort and remembering how) into a bag the size of a tea plate, and unfolds to a white cube about 50cm on a side.

The inside of the cube has Velcro fixers for attaching various colour backgrounds, which also come with the kit, and a front panel with a slit in it through which you can poke the camera lens. You might think, "why bother, when I can just leave the front open?"

Ah, well...

The nice thing about the box is it lets light in, and also diffuses it: the trick I pulled for the Judge Dredd figures was to poke the front of the lens through the slot, but leave the flash outside so the translucent material diffuses it and makes it less harsh.

Standard of painting notwithstanding (hey, I don't claim to be any good at THAT!), I think you'll agree that the photo's an improvement on the 'iPhone on the kitchen table' approach. Of course, the bad news is that it shows up everything you missed, and that's compounded by the fact that the flash is still strong enough, even though it's diffused, to blast through thinner (and thus not completely opaque) layers of paint and generate slight reflections off the underlying metal. Even if they look opaque under normal light, it's surprising what a strong flash or bright daylight work lamp shows up.

Next time (here we go again! told you it would be a series!) we'll discuss light, and how you can make sure the camera gets enough.

[And no, this wasn't the announcement either :D]


  1. I have a collapsible light box as well and its really a great piece of kit. I swing my painting lamp (which has a daylight tube in it) over the box for general diffused lighting and then shoot with a diffused flash on my DSLR. The end result is a very well lit subject with diffused and virtually non-existent shadows.

  2. I have been thinking about a light tent, may well have a look


  3. I use a milky plastic waste bin from Ikea with a lens hole cut in the front :)

    It works very well, - my main problem is that my work lamps are still too bright as you describe above and i get some odd results sometimes with the thinner translucent layers, casing my shots to differ from my minis actual appearance.


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