Jump to content

Doug Sundseth

Miniatures Photography 101

Recommended Posts

Great post! I can't wait to see what you add in later comments.

 

I still need to get myself a set of two identical lamps. Are you planning to give a few budget suggestions for them?

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As long as the bulbs are the same, there's not much difference between lamps. The lamps I used here were battery-powered OTTlites, because I have a few and they were really easy to set up.

 

But cheap goose-neck desk lamps work about as well.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a great thread Doug! Thanks for sharing! Can't wait to see what's next!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm looking forward how this continues. I got a nice camera, three identical lights (and use two), background, etc... and still find some little issues here and there. I think I have covered the basics but sometimes, a little basic comment or remarks makes it evident you were missing a stupid little detail... so is learning!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I use my Samsung Galaxy S3 phone's camera. I made a simple light box a while back using a cardboard box and tracing paper. I took photos of all my currently painted minis and they looked great. There were slight differences from one session to another. One session what whiter, while the other was yellower. One session was brighter, the other darker. At one point, I took several pics with the exposure turned all the way up, which looked fine. The last set I took was a little washed out, with the edges blurry. Just the previous day, I snapped a simple pic on my desk that was sharper. I need to play around a bit with the box and my camera settings to figure out what the difference is. I realize after reading this that I had 2 lamps with the same "Reveal" bulbs, but my flourescent magnifying lamp was also turned on just above it. Maybe that's what did it. Also, my camera software app recently updated and that could have changed the way it works.

 

Also, I think I might stop using the light box, as it might not be necessary.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Fluorescent lights generally have a different color temperature than incandescents, even "daylight balanced" incandescents like Reveals. The yellowing is quite possibly a result of including more blue/green light in the mix. (Causing the camera to compensate by shifting the other direction.)

 

It's hard to know exactly how the camera is figuring exposures, since the algorithm the camera uses varies greatly by manufacture (and occasionally camera mode). Some cameras will weight the brightness of the center of the image field more than others. And some can pull exposure data from a very small area indeed. For the exposure changes, it's fairly likely that your camera is pulling exposure data from slightly different places, resulting in a different mix of subject and background.

 

The light box, by itself (assuming consistent placement of lights on the outside and subject on the inside), is unlikely to cause changes, but it tends to encourage side and top lighting rather than front lighting. This works well for shiny subjects like product photos of cell phones, but not so much for matt subjects like painted miniatures.

 

I think I'll address the issues with changing backgrounds for the next piece. Perhaps this weekend?

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Changing of backgrounds and what backgrounds are best to for being used would be a good topic within this thread. I know a lot of people use busy background rather than neutral ones and then get their cameras focusing everywhere but on the miniature.

Edited by ub3r_n3rd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am also interested in a discussion, or your impressions, of colored backgrounds and how that affects the algorithms for the white balance. We all know how different a pic can look from reality and how a background affects this, so any comments are appreciated.

 

I also noted something lately... a little setting that I never really cared about and was a revelation: Light Temperature. I don't really know what it does (affects exposure? White balance?) but when only using my fluo daylight lamps, setting that to Fluorescent actually made a lot of subtle changes that made focusing, and adjusting white balance, easier and more true to life.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Doug, I've tried several of your hints and got results similar to what you've posted for examples...but I consider them bad pictures. Too many shadows from the light sources obscuring painted shadows, and lots of glare obscuring painted detail and highlights.

 

I don't mean to be problematic about it, I honestly have been struggling to take good pictures with even lighting that showcase the paint job with a minimum of artifacts attributable to the lighting.

 

I do agree with a light box's tendency to encourage side and top lighting, but it doesn't preclude a good 45º diffuse source, in my case even closer to the subject than your example, without as many of the negative artifacts. I really prefer the diffusion and lighter shadows a light box provides. My setup is far from perfect; I need to make a new, longer box that does allow my lamps to be slightly further forward on all three axes (I recently added the top light back into the mix, again, I just prefer how the pics come out with it vs without), and I need to have a neutral interior color (vs the cardboard that requires a post process to tweak out the oranges).

 

I still get some shadows, especially from the top lamp in this example. On the front side, the underskirt is heavily in shadow from the lighting, but it's mostly dark and lacking detail. If I had freehand in there or something, I'd have to move the lights to highlight it more. Otherwise, the only other spots suffering obscuring shadow are the very inside of the shield and just under the flap of skirt on the model's left side (both also painted in dark shadows without detail).

 

But if you look at the back shot of this model, you're getting a lot more of the depth of the painted shadows with almost no obscuring due to the light sources.

 

In both shots, the glare is fairly minimal, shown by the effect on the hair and brown base coated regions.

 

Noreth_WIP_8.jpgNoreth_WIP_9.jpg

 

I don't have a current picture of my setup, but it's changed little from my original version:

 

Deskv2PhotoSetup.JPG

 

Two matched Reveals in the little metal reflectors; a mismatched flouro in the arm lamp (actually now I just hold that flouro in the big metal reflector angled over the top for control). Camera on tripod, wireless remote trigger.

 

Anyway, I respect your knowledge and helpfulness, Doug. I've really been trying over the last almost two years (wow, that long!) to integrate things you've said, and a lot of it has been very helpful (especially getting to know the camera and white balance stuff), and even the things I'm not directly integrating inform the techniques I am using. You're very good at explaining the concepts and helping us understand what the heck is going on :)

 

And as always, I'm open to any comments or questions about how I can improve my own pics!

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I also noted something lately... a little setting that I never really cared about and was a revelation: Light Temperature. I don't really know what it does (affects exposure? White balance?)...

 

White balance. The temperature it refers to is the color of the light radiated by a black body at that Kelvin temperature, so indoor incandescent light will typically be in the 2800 - 3500K range, direct sunlight in the 5000 - 6000 K range (largely depending on time of day), cloudy skies in the 7000 - 8000K range, and open shadow (lit primarily by the blue sky) somewhere near 10000K. All of this assumes a typical bell-curve distribution of emitted wavelengths, which is a pretty good approximation for the sun and incandescent light, but less accurate for other light.

 

In particular, fluorescent bulbs tend to have a poor CRI (color rendering index) which measures how closely their emitted light matches that ideal bell curve. Many of the less expensive fluorescents have a strong green component to their emitted light, that needs to be corrected for with a shift toward magenta.

 

So, setting your white balance by color temperature will tend to work well for most light, but for fluorescents, you'll want to use auto white balance (when it works correctly) or set to a preset white balance to match the ambient light.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I'm taking more serious pictures, I normally use diffused light as well. Commonly that would be using speedlights and umbrellas set in approximately the positions of the lamps in the photos in the first post here. They give a very diffuse light that I have complete control over. I also use manual control of everything (focus, exposure, white balance, flash strength).

 

But for the first post I wanted to do the minimum necessary for decent photos, using only the tools nearly everybody has available.

 

As I noted, the biggest problem in the example photos I took was that the light was too low. This resulted in shadows caused by the curved seamless that hit the background, and also (which I didn't note above) shadows cast on farther parts of the miniatures by nearer parts. Had the lights been at approximately the level of the camera, rather than several inches below, the results would have been better. (Battery-powered OTTlites laying on their sides aren't ideal.  ^_^ But I didn't have any desk lamps to hand.)

 

All that said, if you know how to use a lightbox, it can work quite well, as your photos attest. You have the figure set fairly far back into the box and you're lighting from close to the front of the box, which gives decent frontal light, and it's well diffused.

 

Those same bulbs at half their current distances and with no diffusion would have given much the same lighting on the figure (though much less on the background, because of inverse-square-law falloff). At the smaller distance the bulb itself would have subtended about the same angle as the diffusion material did in your shots, so the shadows would still have been very similar to what you got with the light box.

 

Second, "glare" can mean a couple of different things:

 

1) Specular reflection - Direct reflection off a shiny surface from the light into the lens. Not much of a problem with matt-surfaced figures, and even less if you use NMM. If you do have a shiny surface, the amount of diffusion doesn't have much effect, though the angle subtended by the light source does. To fis speculars, you'll need to move the lights around; think bank shots in pool.

 

2) Very rapid inverse-square falloff - This happens when some part of the figure is far closer to the light than the rest, resulting in much more light on the parts near the light. If you keep the lights more than about an inch away from the figure, (I typically use something like 4-6" when using gooseneck desk lamps), this won't be noticeable. This is because the nearest part of the figure will be receiving about 80% of the light that the farthest part is, and it takes about a 50% difference before it becomes noticeable to most people. If the lights are correctly placed, the brighter part will be the face, which is what you want people to look at anyway. Note that with larger figures or dioramas, rapid falloff is much more of a problem and you do need diffusion (large light sources farther away) to get soft shadows and even light.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

MODS -

 

I'd really like to see this thread pinned here in Shutterbug, there's a lot of great information already and people come into the forum all the time asking about how to take better pictures. This would be a great place to point them especially as Doug continues to add more to it.

  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I like the material presented here. I like the ideas to improve phone camera wip photos.  @cashwiley Hi cash. I have a simple recommendation for your clip on lamps. I clip mine to 2x4 blocks of scrap lumber. Helps me position the lights at just the right height IMHO.

What I use that I keep experimenting with and has helped. I used to use light blue construction paper. It helps to use a tripod and a timer. I use daylight compact fluorescents 60w. I also use clip on lights similar to what cash uses. I also use a shop light fluorescent for overhead lighting. I am getting good results zooming in.

 

I hope this helps and lends some food for thought. Thanks Zoot.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's true that moving the camera away from the mini lets you get a deeper field of focus as well as less of that weird fish-eye type distortion that occurs with wide-angle lenses.

Another trick that works for portraiture as well as mini photography is to move the background a bit further back and put a light shining on it to kill any remaining shadows.

 

As for stabilizing clamp-lamps, my cheapo solution involves one-gallon soup cans and something heavy like a brick or sand for ballast. If you want even more versatility, get a length of PVC pipe and secure it in the can by packing around it with sand or fastening it to the inside with duct tape. I actually learned that trick on a web site for people who want to make decent amateur movies on the extreme-cheap.

Edited by Spike
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×