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Miniatures Photography 101

Doug Sundseth

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I read your tutorial on photography of miniatures, and took your advice.

I purchased a miniature tripod that would hold my camera, went looking for a gray background

(gray paper is hard to find around here); but I found an old gray sweatshirt.

I proceeded to take four photographs for my WIP, and the resulting photos blew me out of the water !

Thanks so much for helping me out.

I can show what I am doing, and also have a record on my computer of the process that I used

to get a particular result.


Fantastic that folks share their expertise to those of us that are so inexperienced !

Thank you again.


Edited by Jasonator
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If you have a camera that won't let you manually focus and you're afraid the camera will pick up your backdrop and focus on it instead, there's a trick..but you have to almost have an extra hand.

When you're all set up and ready to focus, try holding an absolutely blank index card up just an inch or so behind the mini, then press the shutter button halfway. Hopefully the camera should choose your mini as the thing to focus on. Then, before pressing the button the rest of the way, remove the card.  This also works with most remote shutter cables and infrared remotes.  Not so sure if it'll work wtih your timer.


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I've done some playing around and I think I figured out what I was doing wrong. First, I turned off my flourescent lamp and only used the 2 incandescent lamps with Reveal bulbs. I think this cleared up the blurring I was getting. I used to have 3 lamps, but one broke. I might find a cheap one at a thrift store and see if I can get rid of the shadows. Second, I turned the Exposure Value all the way up on my camera, since it just wasn't bright enough (having more light might make this unnecessary). And finally, I set the white balance for Incandescent. Apparently, it wasn't doing this automatically anymore. Maybe there was a software update that changed this. This got rid of the yellowing of the recent images.


This is what I ended up with:




The only other thing I want to do to improve this photo is get more light to reduce or remove the shadows and get a gray background. This was just on my desk with some white paper behind it.

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Nice photo.



  1. More light won't change things. Your camera looks at how bright the scene is and adjusts accordingly. More light in the same places will result in the same exposure with a shorter shutter speed.
  2. The quick way to get rid of the shadows is to move the backdrop farther away. With a large light source (which includes normal lightbulbs when they're this close to the subject), the shadow diffuses rapidly. If that still isn't enough, put your backdrop lights behind the subject (and out of the field of view, above, below, or to the sides). Note that adding more light to the backdrop will tend to cause the camera to think that the scene is even brighter, so it will reduce the time the shutter is open, reducing the exposure on the subject.
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You are right about the camera focusing on the weave of the shirt, its just trying to find Gray paper is NOT an easy task for me.

I live in SOUTH Jersey (not the metropolis that everyone thinks it is).

I have seven horses two streets over from me (which is very pleasant);

however, the shopping experience (unless I wish to go to Philadelphia) has a sparseness about it.

I finally found a blue construction paper that looks like it has enhanced a few photos of my miniatures.

So I'll start using that, as I hunt down a suitable backdrop.

Still, this forum has improved the quality of my photos, and for that I am VERY grateful !

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Are you diffusing your lights?  This will further help remove shadow if you do not yet have a suitably large backdrop to let you move it further back while still letting it fill the frame.

I used to use waxed paper or very thin tracing paper. I've heard some folks get decent resutls with semi-transparent shower curtain liner too. You would have to get higher wattage lamps though.  Just be careful not to let your diffuser get too close to hot bulbs. It's not so much a problem with cool-running CFLs, but even those get a bit hot after a few hours of work.

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Are you diffusing your lights?  This will further help remove shadow if you do not yet have a suitably large backdrop to let you move it further back while still letting it fill the frame.


I used to use waxed paper or very thin tracing paper. I've heard some folks get decent resutls with semi-transparent shower curtain liner too. You would have to get higher wattage lamps though.  Just be careful not to let your diffuser get too close to hot bulbs. It's not so much a problem with cool-running CFLs, but even those get a bit hot after a few hours of work.


I have a light box with wax paper (didn't have tracing paper on hand), and it worked pretty well early on. Now that I have things figured out, I think I'll try it again, but I might not have enough wattage. Honestly, I'm not that worried about the shadows. These aren't for a museum- they're probably good enough for my purpose, but I'll keep tweaking it here & there if it isn't too much trouble.

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If you move the camera back and zoom in while moving the background back (in the other direction), you should be able to lose the shadows on the background without changing anything else.


If you don't have actual moving optical elements, though, you'll lose some image quality in the zoom.


As to less light, the biggest problem there is automatic ISO changes. That's only a problem if you're using a camera where that mode is set or if you can't explicitly control the ISO. Otherwise your camera should just increase the exposure time to compensate for the lowered light level. (If the time gets up into the multiple second range, that starts to break down.)

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Good to know. For this particuarly large mini, I'd need a larger background to cover it. I think I have a big piece of foam board somewhere. It's my phone's digital camera, and I think the zoom looks terrible.


I pulled out the light box again last night and snapped a few pics of newly painted smaller minis. I made sure that I only used the Reveal bulbs, and set the white balance for incandescent. I'll have to experiment with the ISO and see if that helps, but my latest pics turned out pretty good:






Thanks again!

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Nice results. For Wyrmgear, the greater distance has reduced the visual impact of the shadows pretty significantly and your colors look pretty true, too.


I'd consider moving the light on the left down a bit, so that you have more direct light on the underside of the camera-left wing. That would also pull the wing shadow mostly off of the starboard rear hip shield. (Though we're sort of down in the nitpicky realm where I have to live at work.  ^_^ )

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The recent mini I finished gave me a chance to share some of my thoughts on mini photos.  While I am nowhere near the expert Doug is, I have spent some effort to get what I consider good quality show off pictures. 


If you spend hours working on every detail of a miniature, it's totally worth the effort and time to experiment with your photo taking and find a way to make the camera an aid rather than a hinderance.  The difference between quality photos and fast photos can be quite dramatic.

To illustrate, take a look at these two pictures from my recently completed barbarian.  The first is my last WIP picture, and the second is my completed show-off picture:





The only real difference in the actual miniature in these photos is the snow and grass on the base, yet I feel the miniature looks far more impressive and dynamic in the second photo.


Since I do not have the luxury of a dedicated space to leave set up for photos, taking my show off photos requires some set up, and as such, never happens for WIP photos.  My WIP shots are meant to be fast, and are usually done as follows:

  1. Low quality cell phone camera (Samsung Galaxy Nexus), hand held.
  2. One desk lamp placed to the front left or right.
  3. Simple backdrop I have handy (usually my iPad cover).
  4. 'Point and shoot' settings on camera; i.e., auto white balance, aperture, etc.
  5. I take single photos, and just do a quick crop on my cell phone.

In contrast, my show off pictures are done as follows:

  1. Nikon DSLR with high quality prime lens, held steady by a 'tripod' (aka, a bag of rice on the table); photo taken with remote so I don't have to push the button and move the camera.
  2. Two desk lamps placed to the front left and front right.  I don't recall what kind of lights they are, but they emit a fairly warm light.
  3. Two white bounce cards  (i.e., folded white cardstock) placed to the back left/right side.  These help with fill light and removing shadows.
  4. Photo backdrop I downloaded somewhere from the internet.  This helps focus, and really does an amazing job of drawing the eye to the important part of the picture.
  5. I preset white balance using the same white cardstock I use for bounce cards.  I set camera to aperture priority mode so that I can get the depth of field correct.  Experiment!  Move it up and down until you get the right amount of focus.  In simple, non fancy camera terms: higher numbers = more depth in focus.
  6. I take photos from multiple angles, and find the best ones.  If you do a lot of shading/highlighting, it will look best from certain angles.  Find those!


Some other general thoughts:

  • You don't need to get super close to the figure.  My Nikon camera is either 6 or 8 megapixels, which is small by today's standards, and still provides far more than enough resolution.   I end up cropping at least 50% of the area out of my show off photos, and still resize the image down by another 35-50% to get to a reasonable size for web display.  In general, make sure to crop out as much dead space as possible; this is especially important if you've got a cluttered background.
  • You don't need expensive equipment (other than a decent lens).  My cell phone camera is notoriously bad, but some (iPhones in particular) are actually not too bad. My lights are just cheapy desk lamps; I don't use a light box, and my bounce cards/backdrop were essentially free, as was my rice bag tripod.
  • Experimenting with digital photography is basically free (other than time), so it's worth the effort.  Miniatures are also very patient photo subjects!  (Much harder to get quality photos of my daughter who won't sit still for longer than 2 seconds...)  You'll eventually find parameters that work well for your situation, such as light placement, distance between camera - figure, and figure - backdrop, aperture, etc.  As a result, future photo sessions will be quicker as you'll already know 80% of what you need to do.

Don't let quick poor photos hide all the effort you put into a detailed figure!

Edited by Slashhamster
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Please take a photo of your Show Off setup for us :)

Here you go:



The lights are different, but the bulbs in them are the same I believe.  As you can see, I sometimes get glare on the background (the laser printed ink is somewhat reflective).  At some point I should try spraying it with a matte sealant and see if it helps.  Usually I just end up cropping out the background glare.


Here's a sample that I took after snapping the above photo from my cell phone:



And to show how much I crop, here's the same picture (resized down from 3008x2000) before cropping:



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