Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Photographing Miniatures Part 5 - Backgrounds

Hi All,

I'm sorry this took me so long to put out. Just the usual, got busy/distracted etc. What I want to do today is continue our discussion of camera settings and using backdrops with your figure. For this experiment I used regular pieces of 8.5" x 11" paper (Letter size in the States) as it is the kind of thing most of us have on hand. I just used some cheap 20Lb. (75g/m.sq.) For the white background. Some Parchment colored specialty paper that I used to use for printing out belt rank certificates and then 110Lb. (198.9g/m.sq.) card stock to print out some backgrounds I downloaded.

Camera and Settings

I chose to use my Nikon D5100 for this experiment. The things that remained constant were 18-55mm lens set at 55mm, Auto focus mode, VR stabilization on, A (Aperture Priority) Setting f16, Remote shutter control, on a tripod.

Backgrounds Used

As mentioned above I used Plain White paper (Brightness 92), Parchment (not actual animal hide, but paper) and the Backgrounds from Wirelizard and Massive Voodoo. In fact it was at Massive Voodoo that I found another guide to photography that I, somehow, hadn't seen before. It seems that I could have saved myself a lot of work and just linked you guys to this series. Part 1, part 2. It looks like part 3, on post processing was never done, or at least I can't find it. Anyway more advice from some guys who appear to know their shit (as the saying goes). Perhaps a little contradictory of my findings in places, but interesting none the less.

Figures used

I mainly used our old friend Nar. For the white background I also used Mr. Ouch, a Bretonnian man at arms I painted up for the challenge. I wish I had figures with a little more technique on them to show you, but I shipped those off to Curt. Let's pretend that the figures are world class painted and full of stunning detail. This experiment is more about the effects of the backgrounds on the image. To a lesser extent it is also about the camera settings.

Enough yakking, on to the pictures.

HTC One X, WB: Incandescent, EV+1
Just a shot from the cellphone to detail the setup. Similar as the last time but with a smaller piece of paper. One issue to be aware of is getting the paper to curve but also allow the miniature to sit flat. I did this with mixed success. I chose the incandescent White Balance setting as the Fluorescent looked way to yellow to me.

First experiment: Setting the White balance.

All the same white piece of paper for background.
On the left and the middle the WB setting was Cool Fluorescent. The only difference was that the flash went off on the picture on the left. On the right I changed the WB to Incandescent. I think it looks much better. I sort of feel like Auto WB may be sufficient for me. One thing that jumps out at me is that these all seem way too dark. My usual complaint with figures photoed on a white background. So I will show how the Exposure Value (EV) setting will help with that.

Second: Exposure Value Test

EV 0, +1, +1.3, +1.7, +2.0
The EV 0 picture is the same as the one above from the white balance test. I then stepped it up incrementally, skipping 0.3 and 0.7, to show the effect. I ended up choosing +1.7 as the EV I would use. I think it's a judgement call.

Third: Comparison with brighter colors.

Again EV 0, +1, +1.3, +1.7, +2.0
I just wanted to see what something with a little brighter color might look like. I probably should have spent a little more time on the composition, as the shadows are bugging me. Again +1.7 looks pretty good although +2.0 could work too.

Fourth: Tan backgrounds

White Paper, Parchment, Wirelizard Tan Gradient
All form now on are shot with the same settings. The EV has been left at +1.7. I'm not sure which is best, but I'm leaning towards the one on the right.

Fifth: Blues

Wirelizard Sea Blue, Blue and Blue Grey
Just to see what effect the color has. For this figure I think the Sea Blue doesn't work at all. For me it's a toss up between the Blue and the Blue Grey.

Sixth: Greys

Wirelizard Light Grey, Grey, Dark Grey, Black to Grey
I was beginning to have some issues positioning the figure back in the same spot on these. Maybe i did before but I didn't notice. I'm leaning towards the darker shades.

Seventh: Massive Voodoo Backgrounds

Massive Voodoo Warm: Bright, Medium, Dark
Massive Voodoo Neutral: Bright, Medium, Dark
Massive Voodoo Cold: Bright, Medium, Dark
I put the "bright" spot on all of these beneath the miniature. I tend to like the Dark version for Warm and Neutral, while I like the Medium for the Cold backdrop for this figure.

I also played around with putting the "bright" spot behind the figure.

Massive Voodoo Warm Bright Background upside down.
I thought it worked about as well as the gradient backgrounds had.

Final Note: Post processing.

On all of these pictures I scaled the original down to 20% of its full size and stitched them together. The resolution was reduced from the native 300dpi to 72dpi to help display them on the web a little easier. The last photo was reduced to 20%, but left at 300dpi.

So, what do you think? Have I exhausted this topic for you? Are you keen to look into more staged/ diorama type shots? Post processing, interviews with other hobbyists who take good pictures? There is always more I could do, but I don't want to bore you or fill your head with so much info that you are worse off than before. Goodbye for now.


  1. I think this has been a great series so far and would like to see more - maybe about diorama and taking pictures of figures in a game context where you might have a busier backdrop. Either way, I've been taking notes and building a wish list on Amazon as a result.

    1. Thanks John. I will press on with those subjects as well, although I have a less clear idea in my mind as to the elements that make those good. I'm glad you're enjoying the posts.

  2. These are interesting articles. Thanks for posting.

    1. You're welcome Chris, glad you find them of interest.

  3. Hmm, food for thought indeed. I've all but given up using white backgrounds for my own pictures as I had noticed that the models always came out rather dark and shadowy.

    Here's an idea: what do professional portrait photographers use for backgrounds? I have vague memories that the people who came into schools to take the annual photo typically had some sort of dappled backdrop in a mid-range, neutral colour. Possibly blue/grey? For that matter, photo booths usually have 2 or 3 coloured curtains that can be used as background, but never white...

    1. Thanks Hugh, I'm still firmly in the camp against white backgrounds, but they can have their uses. For school pictures the kids are being offered dappled blue or dappled grey backgrounds. I think having it mottled or a gradient seems better than a flat color. Again this part becomes a little subjective

  4. I've thoroughly enjoyed these Sean, if you keep writing them then I'll keep reading them! :)

    1. Very good Michael, I'll keep pottering along then.

  5. I must agree with Michael above. This is very interesting Sean. I must admit to being a bit lazy with my DSLR and not fully utilizing it's potential, quite clearly I'm missing a few tricks which you are pointing out.

    1. Hi Mark. I have taken many, perhaps even the majority, of my shots without any prep or thought. Part of the reason for doing all this is to learn how to use this camera after owning it for several years. But always go back to the first rule. Take a lot of pictures, some will be good.

  6. I have enjoyed this set of articles too Sean! I too would read more.

  7. A hobby within a hobby. Very professionally done and informative. Thanks for sharing Sean, I will be back for more.

    1. Thank you very much Pat. I must say that when I think of good pictures of miniatures, your blog definitely comes to mind.

  8. Hey Sean, great series. The comparison of backgrounds and exposure values was really informative!

    1. Hi Ricardo, Thanks. I'm glad you liked it. I hope I can provide some more useful tips.

  9. Hi Sean, you should definitely cross-link all your posts to this topic. Had difficulties in finding the older ones which were not linked (I missed the first 4 parts).
    Nonetheless: Great work. And no, it does not get boring at all :)

    1. Hi Paradox0n, thanks for pointing that out. I'll go back and add in cross links to all the posts. I also intend to summarize my findings at some point. At least that's the plan. Oh! I also try to label all these posts photography.



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