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Doug Sundseth

Miniatures Photography 101

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Right now I'm down to either a film camera or my phone.

 

I've been using my phone for WIPs. Some fully auto digital P&Ss have decent macro (I had a Nikon with a 1/2" focal length).

 

It will always be better to fill your frame as much as possible than to crop down, especially with digital. Digital will pixelate and if you crop too much your images come out fuzzy (and no focusing fluid for digital!)...

 

Old photolab joke ;)

 

I have a set of closeup filters for my film cameras, so hoping to get a DSLR that will allow me to use them eventually. When doing closeup work I always used a two-point lighting system using close-up filters and a bellows (I filled a frame with the candled over One Thumb's head and could have gone smaller):

 

 

 

AsprinThievesWorldVelezCover.jpg

 

 

 

You can get depth of field in close-up mini photography if you have control over the aperture, and if you have an aperture range large enough. A problem I've seen in looking at newer DSLRs is a limited aperture (f-stop) range. I love fiddling with depth of field and exposure values, so having that control with an aperture range of 2.8 to 22 is important to me.

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I ordered some Golden interference paint along with a few other colors to get free shipping from Dick Blick while they had a sale and they came today.

img_0279_corrections_cropped_resized_800

You can see the interference effect inside the bottles in the larger image linked to this one.

I forgot that I have a circular polarizer for this lens so I want to see if using it to reduce the reflections on the bottles has any effect on the appearance of the interference paint at some point.

 

This is how I setup my lights to get the interference effect to show up in the image.

img_0282_corrections_cropped_resized_650

A cheap walmart tripod I got as an emergency replacement for one that broke is standing in for my camera and tripod so you can see their position as well.

 

I have a set of closeup filters for my film cameras, so hoping to get a DSLR that will allow me to use them eventually. When doing closeup work I always used a two-point lighting system using close-up filters and a bellows (I filled a frame with the candled over One Thumb's head and could have gone smaller):

...

You can get depth of field in close-up mini photography if you have control over the aperture, and if you have an aperture range large enough. A problem I've seen in looking at newer DSLRs is a limited aperture (f-stop) range. I love fiddling with depth of field and exposure values, so having that control with an aperture range of 2.8 to 22 is important to me.

Is your film camera an SLR? What brand is it?

I know most Nikon and Canon DSLRs are compatible with their respective electronic film lenses though.

I believe that they may have introduced a cheaper line that only works with the non-fullframe lenses though.

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Right now I'm down to either a film camera or my phone.

 

I've been using my phone for WIPs. Some fully auto digital P&Ss have decent macro (I had a Nikon with a 1/2" focal length).

 

It will always be better to fill your frame as much as possible than to crop down, especially with digital. Digital will pixelate and if you crop too much your images come out fuzzy (and no focusing fluid for digital!)...

Not necessarily. There is certainly a limit to how far you can crop. But there are practical limits to how close you can move your camera to the subject or how far you can zoom in.

 

You can get depth of field in close-up mini photography if you have control over the aperture, and if you have an aperture range large enough. A problem I've seen in looking at newer DSLRs is a limited aperture (f-stop) range. I love fiddling with depth of field and exposure values, so having that control with an aperture range of 2.8 to 22 is important to me.

There are significant limits to increasing DoF with aperture:

  • You get significant diffraction softening start around f/16. This is a physical limit, not a hardware-based limit that can be overcome by spending more money. (Optical physics: it's not just a good idea, it's the law.)
  • Even at f/64, you don't actually get all that much DoF if you're using a long lens. For example, let's say you're using a Nikon D810 with a 105mm macro lens at f/32 and 8" from the subject (around $4000 in camera gear, and a remarkably good camera and lens combination that I use all the time.) This will give you 0.07" DoF in front and 0.07" behind the focal point. And you'll get softness throughout the frame because of diffraction. (See Dofmaster for specific details.for most combinations of camera and lens.)  It will also give you a 36MPx image that is far more than is practical to use online (or in person if it comes to that.

If, instead, you use a modern cell-phone camera, typically something like 2.4mm at f/2, with a 12MPx sensor, you can shoot at 4", crop to about 20% of the frame, still get a 2.4MPx image and get better than a 1" DoF.

 

Macro lenses with DSLRs at macro distances are a bad choice for shooting miniatures photos. They're pretty good if you want a full screen image of a single eye of the miniature, though I must confess that I've not generally found that useful.

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Macro lenses with DSLRs at macro distances are a bad choice for shooting miniatures photos. They're pretty good if you want a full screen image of a single eye of the miniature, though I must confess that I've not generally found that useful.

I sometimes go that close to evaluate conversion work.

It is really good for spotting gaps in a join or partial re-sculpt that need filled before they become obvious when painted.

img_0245_corrections_cropped_resized_341

 

I have done focus stacks before to get a larger depth of field and you could do that with miniatures since they are very cooperative subjects.

It is not really worth the trouble unless you have a focusing rail though.

 

This is one I did of a dish of some grains for a brewery using a "Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM" on a "Canon EOS 5D MkII"

Single Photo

img_1022_resized_650x433_333_lanczos_q90

Final Focus Stack Composite from 8 photos

grains_crop_correc_resized_650x439_091_l

Here is a guide on making the focus stack composite image using "align_image_stack" and "Enfuse" from the Hugin open source panorama stitching software.

 

Canon makes a 65mm Macro lens (MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro) that might give better depth of field but it is a really weird specialized lens that includes a internal optical magnification component for use when shooting extremely small subjects.

I don't know what effect that has on the depth of field that lens produces since I have never used one.

Edited by arclance
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My painting won't stand up under that sort of magnification, but, yeah, it's interesting what you see.

 

image.jpg1_zpsem58sgxb.jpg

 

Took this shot this morning, and found that I had never noticed the stray filament on her left shoulder; possibly a flying bit of loose grass from the basing. ::P:

 

Just for interest, here was the set up:

 

image.jpg1_zpsawws2eo7.jpg

 

I've got the lights and light stands from a previous bout of serious hobby photography. I had a 250 watt flood to the left, and a 500 watt bounced off the white ceiling for general lighting. Manually focused 50mm lens with a +2 diopter supplemental lens, about 1/25 and f16 at ISO400.

Edited by Rob Dean
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Hey guys. I'm an experienced photographer but I'm not at all used to photographing things the size of minis, especially in a studio environment. I'm pretty sure I can get the lighting right (this hobby is a good excuse for me to finally get the studio lights I've always wanted). I need a decent background too, but that shouldn't be an problem. The problem is figuring out the photography part. Maybe I'm over-thinking it, and should just use my cell phone, but I've got a couple great cameras and a whole bunch of nice lenses, and I feel like I should really be able to use those and get better results. Plus I don't have a tripod for my phone, and I'm a lot more confident in getting the white balance right with one of my "real" cameras. I prefer to shoot RAW, too.

 

Well it didn't take me long to figure out a macro lens up close is not the answer. The depth of field is just way too narrow. I didn't really feel like swapping a lot of lenses and experimenting too much at the time, so all I did was move my camera back, but the amount of cropping necessary wasn't too fun. I'm not sure if I pulled too far back, or if I should be using a longer lens. Thinking about it now there's a half a dozen other things I could've done wrong with camera settings. Bottom line is, I'm not really sure what I should be aiming for here. I'm also concerned about flattening the subject too much if I use a longer lens.

 

So, for those of you using interchangeable lens cameras, what sort of focal lengths are you using, and how far away are you shooting from to get all these great pictures I'm seeing? It doesn't seem like there's a big consensus here.

Edited by mrxak

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Plus I don't have a tripod for my camera

Get a tripod it makes this much easier and you can use longer exposure times allowing you to use a smaller aperture so you have a wider depth of field.

Getting a tripod with a articulated center column like the "Giottos Pro Series" is a lot more adjustable for small subjects like this.

 

So, for those of you using interchangeable lens cameras, what sort of focal lengths are you using, and how far away are you shooting from to get all these great pictures I'm seeing? It doesn't seem like there's a big consensus here.

I use my 100mm macro (Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM) for most work but I don't have a detailed background I am trying to include.

I mostly take pictures to evaluate my conversion work so I don't need to be as concerned with complete depth of field coverage but it has not been a problem yet.

I also use my 16-35mm (Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM) for larger things (dragons if I had any) or shots of my whole work area.

I would probably use it for single minis if I wanted the background in focus as well and did not want to do a focus stack with the macro lens.

It has a surprisingly short minimum focus distance for its focal length of 11.2" so I would not need to crop as much as with other lenses.

 

A ~50mm lens would probably work for getting enough depth of field to include a background and have the mini completely in focus but I have not tried shooting like that yet.

Maybe someone else can comment on that focal length.

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Heh, oops, meant to type I don't have a tripod for my phone. I definitely have a tripod for my cameras, quite a nice one (and a good head). I'll edit my post above to fix that.

Edited by mrxak
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Well it didn't take me long to figure out a macro lens up close is not the answer. The depth of field is just way too narrow. I didn't really feel like swapping a lot of lenses and experimenting too much at the time, so all I did was move my camera back, but the amount of cropping necessary wasn't too fun. I'm not sure if I pulled too far back, or if I should be using a longer lens. Thinking about it now there's a half a dozen other things I could've done wrong with camera settings. Bottom line is, I'm not really sure what I should be aiming for here. I'm also concerned about flattening the subject too much if I use a longer lens.

 

So, for those of you using interchangeable lens cameras, what sort of focal lengths are you using, and how far away are you shooting from to get all these great pictures I'm seeing? It doesn't seem like there's a big consensus here.

 

In the two threads I put up in Show Off yesterday, the photos were shot with an 85mm f/1.8 lens (though I was shooting at f/11). I had to crop very hard to get the tight shots I showed. (I'm using a Nikon D7200, so I start with lots of pixels; this wasn't a problem). In fact, I had to further reduce several of the images (and go to medium quality JPG) to get to the 150KB file-size limit that the Show-Off rules require. Shots were taken from very close to the minimu focusing distance for that lens, so about 0.5 - 0.7 meters away.

 

Next time I shoot  minis, I'll probably use a 35mm lens, for better DoF and shorter minimum focusing distance, but I had most recently been shooting portraits and the 85 is very, very nice for that.

 

Frankly, the 18-55 kit lens that comes with most APS-C cameras works fine.

 

If you use two different focal lengths, shoot the same subject from the same place, and crop to the same field of view, you'll get the same photo (other than DoF). The light that hits the front element is the same regardless of focal length, and the camera just records what it sees. The only "flattening" you get with a long lens is the lack of perspective aberration, and that's caused by how far back you are from the subject, not the lens itself. 

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Well it didn't take me long to figure out a macro lens up close is not the answer. The depth of field is just way too narrow. I didn't really feel like swapping a lot of lenses and experimenting too much at the time, so all I did was move my camera back, but the amount of cropping necessary wasn't too fun. I'm not sure if I pulled too far back, or if I should be using a longer lens. Thinking about it now there's a half a dozen other things I could've done wrong with camera settings. Bottom line is, I'm not really sure what I should be aiming for here. I'm also concerned about flattening the subject too much if I use a longer lens.

 

So, for those of you using interchangeable lens cameras, what sort of focal lengths are you using, and how far away are you shooting from to get all these great pictures I'm seeing? It doesn't seem like there's a big consensus here.

 

If you use two different focal lengths, shoot the same subject from the same place, and crop to the same field of view, you'll get the same photo (other than DoF). The light that hits the front element is the same regardless of focal length, and the camera just records what it sees. The only "flattening" you get with a long lens is the lack of perspective aberration, and that's caused by how far back you are from the subject, not the lens itself. 

 

 

Right, well if I use the longer lens I have I'll have to be back about 7-8 feet to get it in focus :;):

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Not everyone does it, but I see a lot of people elevate their minis off the backdrop/floor when they're photographing. I figure they stick a little adhesive putty under there. I kind of like the idea, differentiating the mini from the backdrop better, and making sure the mini won't topple over. I imagine it helps pose the mini better too if you want to get a little under it or just closer to level with the camera.

 

I was hoping I might find a nice rounded black matte paperweight or something I could use for that, but I haven't had much luck. I was also looking at those felt-bottom furniture leg things, but those tend to have nails poking out the top of them or are too flat (defeating the purpose of elevation). Anyone think of something I could use? Ideally it'd be unobtrusive, and not too big, but have some weight to it too. If it really came down to it I suppose I could just spray paint a river stone black, but I'm hoping to avoid that.

Edited by mrxak

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Talk to a place that does trophies. They typically have bases in stock and you might be able to pick something up at a reasonable price. Failing that, go to a hardwood store (not the usual lumberyard; they have a different clientele). You might be able to find offcuts cheap or else get pieces cut to order.

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2 hours ago, Xherman1964 said:

 

Mostly decent advice. Exceptions:

  • I'd recommend not going above f/16, and frankly f/11 is usually better. Very high aperture numbers (very small apertures) will give you a deeper depth of field, but you'll get diffraction softening throughout the photo.
  • Don't bother with a lightbox unless you know exactly what they're better at than bare lights. "I heard somebody on the internet say that you should get a lightbox" does not constitute knowing what a lightbox is for. (See the first post in the thread for more explanation.)
  • Unless you're comfortable shooting in full manual mode or understand how to manage exposure compensation, don't use a white background. It will cause underexposure in most automatic exposure modes. (Black will cause overexposure similarly.)

But the setup they show (two lights and the mini in front of a continuous sweep of paper) is pretty good other than using a white backdrop.

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Really great post, and reading through the first part about “paints and half full Mountain Dew cans in the background,” I realize that I really gotta step up my game here. Thanks a lot for the tips!

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