I figured that I would start where most of us start and look up “photographing miniatures” on the old Google machine. I'll provide a link and a short synopsis of the points I find useful.
[Sorry, this post is super dense verbiage without any pictures. Funny, since it's about photography. If you want to skip to the end, I would read #5 and #6 and the synopsis for the executive summary of what to take away from all this.]
1. LIGHT EM' UP! Tips for Photographing Minis Like a Pro
This article from Bell of Lost Souls is pretty straight forward. What I come away with from this is use lighting on your minis. Three lamps seems to be the magic number. Use “daylight” bulbs. I have some daylight fluorescents, I'm now seeing daylight LED bulbs as well. I'm not sure if one needs to go out and buy a daylight lamp, but if you've got one you should use it. You should also notice that none of the lights in the working example are shining directly on the figure. See my example from the other day that direct light is problematic. Other advice, like use a backdrop etc. are a no brainer. For a competition shot you want no distraction, even for an ebay shot I bet a good picture leads to a better sale. The only thing I don't totally agree with is the white background makes for brighter/better color. To me most figures photographed against a white background don't look as vibrant. Perhaps they look more true in color, but I prefer a dark background.
2. Debunking the Myths of Miniature Photography
From Dakka Dakka we have this one. Having just read it again I think I appreciate it more now. I think there is a lot of good advice. The first thing I generally come away with is that thhe camera, in and of itself, is not necessarily going to give you great pictures if you don't take some time to take out the variables. Just like expensive golf clubs will not make me Tiger Woods. Backdrop, lighting, and stability of the camera are all very important. I think the point of the section on diffusion gels just goes back to indirect/ diffuse light. I did not look at his links, but the point is well taken. Shop around and find the best camera in your price range. As for post processing, I don't really know whats out there. For my money the best free image editor is GIMP, but it has a bit of a learning curve. Lastly the White Balance topic is a good one. I'll have to see if I have settings for this on my D5100. I'm sure that this will greatly improve pictures taken on a white background.
3. Photographing Miniatures
I think this may be the first article I ever read on photographing miniatures. He has broken it down into pages with individual sections.
- Setting the scene: You don't necessarily need a fancy “studio” just appropriate lighting and background.
- Show Time: Not really useful for our purposes other than to point out Sean's first rule of photography, take a lot of pictures. Some will turn out good.
- Camera Settings: When you don't have time use auto settings. When you have time you should manually adjust settings. (I use a lot of the presets on my camera, play around with yours and find what works best for you.) Larger aperture means larger depth of field and needs a longer exposure time. I do not believe it is humanly possible to take these long exposures without a tripod. This goes back to right tools for the job and expectations that the camera does it all, you play a signifcant role. I haven't tried f32, maybe I should. He also talks about flash (again no direct lighting) and about getting better closeups with extension tubes. Not a subject I'm overly familiar with, so I'll have to revisit it later. He does make the point that you want the best lens you can get, even on a compact. I will point out here that he is using a DSLR. The extension tubes for macro photography is not something I had considered before. May be worth looking into.
- Editing: He points out what Hugh mentioned the other day, take a wider shot and then crop down to where tyou want it. Or taken another way, don't worry about getting too tight to the subject. Give yourself some padding. It's always easier to cut something down from the photo.
- Photography Equipment: He talks about his gear. I followed the link from the settings page so I touched on it there. He uses good gear, another point of departure for your own search.
- Computer Equipment: Outline of his hardware and software. I can't really comment. Use what you have and look for free, in-exspensive software when possible.
4. Photographing Miniatures for the Web
Pretty good tips. Don't confuse bananaking with banana hammock ;). His advice for choosing a digital camera is good and still relevant. I don't know if digital zoom is still touted, but optical zoom is what you really need. He mentions you want a macro setting, check. Lighting with three lights, check. Use a tripod, check. I think the advice on Backgrounds and Drop cloths is well taken. Use one or the other to take away distractions from the figure. He suggests that cloths are more portable. An even, neutral color is also easier to edit out later. Think green screen. His tip on long exposures and color is interesting. Basically that bright colors tend to wash out with longer exposure time. I'll have to check this. Anyway you might want to check out his gallery here, the pictures are pretty good.
5. Photographing Minis and Figures by Giovanni Azzara
I had never seen this one until today. If you only read one article about taking pictures of a single miniature for competition, read this one. Great tips and diagrams. He uses 4 lights in an interesting way and recommends white balance and macro as two must have capabilities. He also recommends using a setting of f18 or higher. Interesting as I have only ever set for f16. Although you will see the two main lights are shining straight down on the figure, he uses what he calls oven paper over them to diffuse the light. Since I already have baking parchment for making a wet palette, I think I'm covered there. Anyway just read it, worth doing.
6. Challenge Photography
Dave D's post on his set up for the 4th Annual Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge (whew!). After reading this post I tried to emulate his style and my pictures got better.
Alright, if you made it this far thanks for sticking with it.
- Buy the best camera you can afford, or that at least doesn't make you feel bad one way orthe other.
- Make sure it has a white balance feature, macro and don't be bamboozled by digital zoom. Optical is where it's at.
- Invest in a tripod and possibly a remote or use the self timer. Unless you like blurry pictures.
- Use diffuse light sources, at least three seems to be universal.
- Play around with, and write down, your settings. So you can reproduce them if you like them.
- Take a lot of pictures, if possible look at them on a big screen before you tear down your shot.
Hope this helps. If you have any links or tips you wish to share, don't be shy.
Next I'll try to dig out a figure I'm not embarrassed by and try out different techniques and cameras for you to judge the difference.