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Doug Sundseth

Miniatures Photography 101

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Slashhamster..that's a dang nice photo...not to mention a good looking mini.

I love that style of backdrop because it creates an artificial bokeh.  A prime lens is also a nice thing to have if you're using DSLR because if your mini does not require a particularly deep field of focus, you can actually get nice shots of it on the game table "in action" without even having to bring in extra lighting. 

Most folks will tell anybody who's just bought a DSLR to strongly consider getting that 50mm prime as your second lens. It's typically only around $110 USD and takes beautiful portraits.

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Most folks will tell anybody who's just bought a DSLR to strongly consider getting that 50mm prime as your second lens. It's typically only around $110 USD and takes beautiful portraits.

I agree; a fast midrange prime lens is a huge upgrade for a DSLR.  My lens is the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX.  It's a great lens; fast and very sharp.  I love it; it's wonderful for taking indoor photos without having to resort to using a flash.

Edited by Slashhamster

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On the subject of lenses, as people are talking about them, I was recently browsing the B and H site as my father wanted a better zoom lens for his Nikon D5000.  He's going out to visit some of the state parks out west.  As I was browsing I happened upon a dedicated Nikon Macro lens for about $280 US, which as those of you who have done some shopping will know, is kind of a steal.  It's a 40mm f/2.8, and AF-S, so it will auto-focus with the newer Nikon cameras, like the D5000.  Additionally on B and H, you can pick up an IR shutter release for about $7 US.  I have an older version of it when it was made by Pearstone, but this one looks exactly the same, just different company name printed on it.

 

As to the quality of the photos, here's a photograph I just took today, it's of a miniature I painted quite a long time ago, so I wouldn't call it one of my best works.  However, I took the photograph with ambient light on the dining room table, the chandellier was turned on, wall sconces were turned on and there was some light streaming in from a window.  No backdrop or anything special like that.  I imagine if I did all that other stuff, the picture would come out much better, but without those things, it still came out nice.  Yes, I did use a tripod.

 

Farseer

Edited by Qwyksilver
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If I were getting a macro lens, I wouldn't get a 40mm. To get anywhere near a 1:1 ratio, you need to be so close to the subject that you need expensive macro-specific lighting. If you don't need to get to 1:1, there are many less expensive choices (starting with that 50/1.8 previously mentioned).

 

I'll also note that I don't find macro lenses very useful for miniatures photography. They're often tricky to focus other than manually, at macro ranges, they commonly have sub-mm depth of field, and unless you're planning to make a print of the face of a figure at 8x10, you don't really need that close a focus anyway.

 

(I'll note that I both have and regularly use macro lenses, but not for minis.)

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Mr. Sundseth,

I wanted to thank you for this tutorial, it changed the way I photographed my miniatures.

Edited by Arc 724
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One of the drawbacks to the 50mm f/1.8 for mini photography is that you have to give yourself a little distance between the miniature and the camera.  Ordinarily this ought not be a problem, but for in-action gametable shooting, sometimes there's just not room enough to position the camera without disturbing other things on the table.

In those cases, I usually fall back on my 18-55 kit lens. It may not be true macro, but I can get it about 3 inches from the mini and still get a good focus. 

I'm also completely not too proud to truck out my little point-n-shoot and use its macro...especially on those occasions where the on-table action is inside a building or a tight copse of trees.

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Is there any way to get a camera with manual settings without going to a DSLR?  ie, form factor and lens of point and shoot, but with manual controls?  bonus points for remote shutter

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Is there any way to get a camera with manual settings without going to a DSLR?  ie, form factor and lens of point and shoot, but with manual controls?  bonus points for remote shutter

 

Is it the form factor of the DSLR you object to, or the price? If the latter, you can get much cheaper options with an excellent range of capabilities in the so-called "bridge" cameras, which look like DSLRs, but don't have interchangeable lenses, or (usually) external flash mounts. I use a Fuji FinePix S6500fd, which is getting pretty elderly now, but it lets me shoot fully manual if I want to, and shoots to RAW format if need be.

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My first p&s was an Olympus C series..bought it about 10 years ago. ...so they're out there, but generally priced closer what one might pay for an older DSLR with kit lens.

The Coolpix P310 seems to be a modern favorite, with the capability to shoot with a wide aperture and with 1080p HD video too. ... but..it's a Nikon, so we Canon people aren't supposed to say such cool things about it.

Canon makes the Powershot SX160...not capable of quite as large an aperture, and video is only 720p, but it has a 16X optical zoom and is on average priced around 60% of what one would pay for the Nkion...... and it's a Canon. ;)

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Is there any way to get a camera with manual settings without going to a DSLR?

Is it the form factor of the DSLR you object to, or the price?

 

It's more about the price for me.  I can't get consistent results out of my point-and-shoot because it chooses seemingly random settings for every photo session, and the main thing I use my camera for is miniatures, so I don't really need interchangeable lenses.

 

What are the correct terms to search for to find these "bridge" cameras?

Edited by fanguad

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Before you buy something new, have you hunted around your PnS?  Many of them actually have ways to control stuff, but it is sometimes buried, since most people just want to, well, point and shoot.

 

There isn't really that much you need to set manually.  White balance is important, and I think most point and shoot cameras support preset white balance.  While on fancy cameras, you can manually select aperture/shutter speed, unless you really know what you're doing, it usually results in a recognition that the camera is smarter than you. :;):   Does your photo type select dial have a "P" option?   That's generally what I use.  It gives you some control, but the camera still enforces proper metering.  I don't know if this is a Nikon only thing.

 

Also, looking over some of your pictures, you seem to be getting pretty solid results.  Maybe if you have some examples of what isn't working or you're not happy with, others can offer suggestions?

Edited by Slashhamster

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On most p&s cameras, there's a controller that lets you set exposure, and it seems to usually do so by adjusting shutter speed.

Then, on some higher-end p&s cameras like my Olympus, you could choose between shutter priority and aperture priority, both of which would let you pick either shutter or aperture AND your exposure level and then adjust the other (either aperture or shutter) to achieve desired exposure. This same feature can be found on all DSLRs as well.

However, it is pretty rare to find a lower priced p&s that lets you have full manual control.  Such control is something most people find overwhealming or fiddly. It's a great option to have for very specialized shooting like studio portraits or night sky shooting, whereas your average p&s is designed with the snap-shooter in mind.

But if you're really serious about getting more specialized with your mini photography or photography in general, search Amazon for some good deals on older model or secondhand DSLRs. I just found a Canon EOS T3 12 MP DSLR with 18-55mm lens included on Anazon for $380 new or $269 used....not shabby at all and a step up from what I'm using at the moment. (Hmmmm.. :) )

Also if you want a real bargain, check out the Olympus C5000 Zoom. (It's the camera I had before with full manual controls). You can get one  on Amazon used for under $60...but the intriguing factor is that there is an available underwater housing for it. I loved that old camera and it held up well and let me learn a lot about photography.  I never got around to getting the underwater housing though.  The only real "down-side" is that the battery life is short by today's standards. The good news, however, is that it can be used with an AC adapter.

 
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Is there any way to get a camera with manual settings without going to a DSLR?  ie, form factor and lens of point and shoot, but with manual controls?  bonus points for remote shutter

 

You might look at the high-end bridge cameras; see this article at DP Review for a reasonably up-to-date comparison.

 

Does your photo type select dial have a "P" option?   That's generally what I use.  It gives you some control, but the camera still enforces proper metering.  I don't know if this is a Nikon only thing.

 

"P" is normally "Program Auto" or something similar, and I know both Canon and Nikon have that as an option. (The joke among photographers is that it's "P for Professional".  ^_^ )

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My camera does have a P option, which is what I usually use.  My big issue is that every single time it takes a picture it recalculates all the settings (minus the few that I can control with Program Auto), which results in different settings for every picture.  So I take 4-6 pictures from each angle, which come out with a mix of exposures, focuses, etc.  Some need to be thrown out, and some just don't match between angles (for example, the color).  I want to figure out what the correct settings are, then never change anything ever again.  A remote shutter would help out a bit, but I think I have to head into bridge camera territory to get that anyway.

 

Another thing I'd love to get is a link to my computer - the tiny screen on my P&S makes it hard to see if the mini is actually in focus.  That's definitely in the "nice to have" category though.

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