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Baugi

Lens/camera for mini photos?

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So I've noticed that damn near everyone on these boards takes better pictures of their minis than I do. I've got an iphone 4, a nikon coolpix, and a nikon d5000 at my disposal. I've been using my d5000 for the most part so far. My biggest problem appears to be the focal range of my lenses when working at very short range. If I get my mini's face in focus, his weapon and feet are blurry, etc.

 

Should I be switching to one of the other options until I can get a macro lens?

 

What are you folks using?

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My biggest problem appears to be the focal range of my lenses when working at very short range. If I get my mini's face in focus, his weapon and feet are blurry

Heres what I do and it works reasonably well:

Put camera in aperture priority mode, and set it to somewhere between f/9 and f13, depending on how big/deep the model is. Try to get the camera to focus about midway through the depth of the model (often chest area). Adjust exposure compensation until its properly exposed. Unless you've got really good lighting, you probably won't be able to hand hold the camera.

 

I don't have a macro lens, and I can't really get the camera any closer than 12 inches or so. However, assuming you've got a reasonably good lens, you should be able to just crop the resulting picture so that your mini fills the entire area without much noticeable loss in detail.

 

I take my photos with a Nikon D40 using either the standard 18-55 kit lens, or a 50mm prime lens.

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1) A macro lens will not help get more of the figure in focus. Even at a very small aperture, when you're very close to a mini, part of the figure will be out of focus. This is a restriction caused by the physics of light. For more information on depth of field, see Dofmaster.

 

2) For more depth of field, you get some advantage out of using a smaller sensor. You pay for that to some extent by getting pixels with more noise. Working in very bright light mitigates the noise issue somewhat.

 

3) I've used a D5000 with the kit (18-55) lens for miniatures photography; it works fine. If you're shooting for large print, you want to use as much of the image field as possible for the subject. But if you're shooting for online use, you don't really need more than about 1 MPx (1000 x 1000 pixels), because anything larger can't be shown at full resolution on a single monitor anyway. Don't try to fill too much of the frame, and just crop the unused image space out in post.

 

The upshot is that miniatures are very easy to shoot. They don't move, they don't spoil or melt, and you have complete control of the light and background.

 

Simple recipe on the D5000: Aperture priority, f/16, native ISO (200 for that camera), medium gray background 6" or more behind the subject, lights close to the subject at 45° off the camera-subject axis and level with the figure (desk lamps are fine, no further diffusion is really necessary), auto white balance, let the camera pick a shutter speed. A tripod, sandbag, or bag of rice is a good idea to keep the camera stable if the exposure is shorter than about 1/125 second.

 

The gray background solves most white balance issues and simplifies exposure calculation for the camera and the lights are very simple.

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Yeah, I have those same 2 lenses. I'll give that a shot. Need to find a tripod somewhere I reckon.

 

A bag of rice really does work pretty well for miniatures photography until you get a tripod. Make sure you get one that is robust enough and the right height when you do get one. Bad tripods are a complete waste of money.

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I use a Nikon D50. Most of my pics are taken with either the 18-70mm or I have an old manual Vivitar Macro lens. The two biggest improvements I've ever made were a tripod and a shutter release (remote in my case).

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When I need to get super close-up detail, I tend to use extender rings on my existing lens.

 

Generally for miniature photography I tend to shoot aperture priority, and my aperture is set fairly small, f-18 or so. That makes sure everything is in detail for most figures. For some I have to go smaller, f-22, but that doesn't blow out the background as well.

 

And a tripod with a cable remote shutter is a must when working with such small apertures. Your shutter will stay open for quite a while to get a proper exposure.

 

Don't underestimate the importance of good lighting. An inexpensive diffuser box will do wonders for your presentation If you're serious about it.

 

I'm going to suggest 2000px for online use, opposed to Doug's 1000. As more of the world moves to higher resolution screen, having the extra pixels compressed into the 1000px area will dramatically improve inline viewing.

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For most DSLRs (specifically APS-C sized sensors), let's look at depth of field:

 

At 12" (all measurements are from the focal plane to the subject, not from the front of the lens), which is close to the minimum focusing distance for the Nikon 18-55mm kit lens set to 55mm, and f/16, you have a depth of field* of 0.63". At that distance, you're probably looking in the general range of 1–1.2 kPx high from feet to head of a common mini. If you were to use the Nikon 60mm micro (a very similar focal length) to get in to 6" and increase the size of the image, your DoF drops to 0.05".

 

0.63" is usually adequate, as long as the figure doesn't have a sword pointing toward the camera. 0.05" is seldom enough. Your macro lens gets you closer, but it doesn't necessarily get you a better shot.

 

Going to f/22 gives you 0.17" DoF at 6" (enough if the figure isn't deep), but then you start getting significant diffraction softness — noticeable softness even at the precise focal plane. There is diffraction softening at every aperture, but when the aperture is larger, it is overwhelmed by the light coming through the middle of the lens. As you go to a smaller aperture, light diffracted from the edges of the aperture becomes a higher percentage of the total light, and it softens the image. Most professional photographers are very hesitant to go above f/16 for studio shots, using focus stacking if they need greater DoF.

 

* In all cases, there is a plane of infinitesimal thickness where the focus is perfect. DoF is based on the depth of "acceptable" sharpness. The definition is a standard one, though.

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I'd definitely avoid going over f16 on a d5000. Even that is pushing into fairly heavy diffraction issues. F11 is ideally the smallest you'd want with that camera sensor.

 

If you don't have a cable release you can just use the timer.

 

Since you're probably shooting indoors you can get away with a cheap tripod as long as you can attach a weight to it.

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Everyone, I just wanted to say thanks again. I'm working away at this and my next mini should have much better photos than the last few. It's wonderful to have such founts of knowledge around here.

 

I notice that no real mention is made here of lightboxes. I've got a homemade one now that I've used on my last few photos, but I still notice intense white shine spots in the pics. Should I continue to use it?

Edited by Baugi

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Baugi, I looked at your Ogre in show-off, and my guess on the intense white is your exposure compensation isn't quite right. The photo (especially the frontal view) looks a little overexposed. It may be because your background is too dark? Try adjusting your exposure compensation down a bit until it looks a little less washed out.

 

Looks like you probably have some sort of front light source? You may also want some sort of diffuser over that. My guess is your frontal light is far stronger than any of your other light sources.

 

I have a makeshift light box, but honestly, I don't use it at the moment, mostly because my lamps suck, and don't make very good light sources on the sides. Instead I've just been using a front light source pointed at them from the front, slightly above the head, with a light reflector/diffuser on the other side (aka a piece of white paper). I make sure the room has general good ambient lighting. This works quite well as long as I take the photos before sealing. I've tried to take some photos of already sealed minis this way and they're horrible; way too much glare.

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Thanks for the tip. Part of the overexposure issue is coming from Gimp's auto white balance. I'll play with the lighting and maybe use a gray background instead of the black (at this point I'm just using 11x13 sheets of felt from Michael's). I work in a room with virtually no ambient lighting, just a well lit work desk, so I'll have to fiddle a bit. Thanks for the suggestions! If I can get some better results, I may ninja-edit the thread with some better pics.

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Light boxes are useful to control specular reflections (that is, direct reflections off of shiny surfaces). They aren't especially useful when photographing matte surfaces. If you're going to use one, make sure that you don't end up with nicely lite sides and too little light on the side facing the camera.

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