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Doug Sundseth

Miniatures Photography 101

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Man... I have a Nikon D5100, a nice light box, Hangar 18 backdrops, tripod:  the whole shebang; yet, Cash and Slash (great names for a morning radio duo, btw) still have much better pictures than mine.  Obviously, I don't know what the heck I'm doing.  I need to get practicing!  Thanks for the advice.

Edited by Lt. Coldfire

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Man... I have a Nikon D5100, a nice light box, Hangar 18 backdrops, tripod:  the whole shebang; yet, Cash and Slash (great names for a morning radio duo, btw) still have much better pictures than mine.  Obviously, I don't know what the heck I'm doing.  I need to get practicing!  Thanks for the advice.

 

I took a look at your blog, and your photos look good!  I'm not sure you need to change much of anything.

 

For example, with this picture:

DSC_0082.jpg

 

You've cropped it well; lighting looks even; white balance seems correct; it's in focus; etc.  Is there something in particular you think isn't working?

 

Edited to add: Looking at a few more in that same blog post, they all look good.  The only thing I notice is that in a few of them, the depth is field is perhaps a bit too short (although even that is arguable; it's more of an artistic choice).  For larger figures (or shots where something is sticking out from or behind the figure) I'll usually set my aperture to f/14 or so.

Edited by Slashhamster
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I've been trying to make a light box to photograph minis and Lego stuff, but I've been having a hell of time figuring out all the variables of box, lighting, and camera. After a lot of trial and error, here is the current best I can do. I can't get the white background to really be white, despite attempting to set the white balance, but using the smart fix in Photoshop Elements helps a little with that.

 

 

UFgY6nd.jpg

 

Thoughts? Good enough for government work? I just want to document what I'm painting, which I'm just starting thanks to the LTPK.

Edited by lithicbee
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Yes, good enough for government work. Your photography problem is that you need to provide more light directly from the front, the entire front of the mini is still in shadow. One more light coming directly from the front will fill in everything nicely.

 

Edited to fix my poor sentence structures. I should avoid responding from my phone.

Edited by Heisler
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Yes, good enough for government work. You photography problem is that you need to provide more light directly from the front is still in shadow, one more light coming directly from the front will fill in everything nicely.

 

Thanks for the advice. I need to hit Home Depot for another clamp light. :)

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You'd probably also get better results using a grey background rather than pure white.  Cameras have a hard time with really high contrast, and making the background a midtone grey will help it get a proper exposure, rather than either blowing out the background or leaving your figure too dark.

Edited by Slashhamster
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I added the light in front and a gray background. It's now good enough for me (maybe too good; I can see my mistakes now...) Thanks for the help, Slashhamster and Heisler.

 

FH194Kw.jpg

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Sigh. So, trying to get some pictures to show off a few things I've been working on, and I just can't seem to take a goddamn picture.

 

Using a Canon Powershot S90, on a tripod, with a timer so as to avoid motion jags. Located about 3 feet from the target, with two halogens in front and an incandescent chandelier overhead.

 

This is what I end up with:

 

minis-shot.jpg

 

What am I doing wrong?

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Sigh. So, trying to get some pictures to show off a few things I've been working on, and I just can't seem to take a goddamn picture.

 

Using a Canon Powershot S90, on a tripod, with a timer so as to avoid motion jags. Located about 3 feet from the target, with two halogens in front and an incandescent chandelier overhead.

 

This is what I end up with:

 

minis-shot.jpg

 

What am I doing wrong?

 

You are wasting some pixels. (Bottom and sides contain lots of pixels that are background color)

You have a very harsh lighting setup. (Sharp shadows, nearly point source lights)

 

 

edit: Why is the camera 3 feet away? 1 foot away would be better, but it will depend on whether the camera can focus when it is that close. I know next to nothing about the specific camera. Macro mode, if the camera has it,  is your friend.

Edited by TGP
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Sigh. So, trying to get some pictures to show off a few things I've been working on, and I just can't seem to take a goddamn picture.

 

Using a Canon Powershot S90, on a tripod, with a timer so as to avoid motion jags. Located about 3 feet from the target, with two halogens in front and an incandescent chandelier overhead.

 

This is what I end up with:

 

minis-shot.jpg

 

What am I doing wrong?

 

First of all, you're mixing your light sources. You can't really tell, but the camera can, and different bulbs have a different color to them. Incandescent and florescent are the worst for color correction. You want something with more natural coloring, like the Reveal bulbs or Ott-lights. I know sometimes you can't dedicate a specific place for mini photography, so...

 

First... ugh, halogen. They're harsh, but you can tone them down. Get some wire (old wire hangers are excellent for this) and parchment paper like you use for cooking. The white kind (Reynolds makes an excellent one), found in the grocery aisle with the aluminum foil and plastic wrap. It's cheap and will last you a bit. You'll also need some transparent scotch tape. Not the shiny kind.

 

Make a loop in the wire that is larger than the light and fasten by twisting (might need pliers for this if it's really strong wire). Make sure you leave enough trailing wire so you can attach your homemade diffuser to your light. Measure out enough Parchment Paper to cover the loop with enough around the edges to fold over and tape. Make a second one for the other light. Attach one to each light so the diffuser is between the light source and your subject (the minis).

 

This will cut out the harsh shadows.

 

Now for the color of the image. That you're going to have to fix in post-work. You'll need a program like Photoshop, Paint Shop, or GIMP. Some other programs will work, but these are generally going to be your best bet for adjusting the color of a picture.

 

If the overall color of a picture is Red, Add Cyan (kind of teal-blue color).

If the overall color of a picture is Yellow, Add Blue.

If the overall color of a picture is Green, Add Magenta.

 

For Incandescent lighting, this is a Yellow/Red light. You'll need to add varying stages of Blue and Cyan in order to get the color correct.

Florescent lighting is a greenish tinge, so you need to add Magenta. HOWEVER, some florescent has a weird cast and you also need to end up adding Cyan. It can be tricky.

 

The above image has an overall red cast to it, so I would add Cyan with a bit of yellow. It's also a bit overexposed, so you can adjust the Gamma in order to fix the exposure. If you use the homemade diffuser trick, you should cut down on the harsh, over-exposed elements of the highlights (called "blow-outs" in photographyland) and shouldn't need to worry about that.

 

If you have your camera manual, read it. If you don't, find it online and read it. I cannot stress this enough. You want to look specifically for things like controlling your exposure, f-stop, depth of field, macro, and focal length.

 

Focal Length is how close you can get with your camera to an object and still focus. For cameras with a macro function, this can sometimes be counted in millimeters. In cameras without such functions, it can be inches or feet.

 

Exposure, f-stop, and depth of field are all related. I have, somewhere, a much longer and concise post detailing how they relate to each other. Basically it boils down to the larger the f-stop number, the smaller the aperture of the lens and the greater the depth of field (yes it can be confusing). Sometimes you can control one in order to fudge the others if you don't have complete control. You want to control this because, especially in macro photography (which mini photography is) you want to make sure your details are in focus. With dynamic minis such as a figure with a thrusting sword, you want to make sure the whole mini is in focus, and not just the main body with the sword fuzzy and possibly a flailing cloak in the back also fuzzy and blending into the background.

 

Macro is a function that allows you to get really close pictures. The good, you can get close enough that you get a clear picture. The bad, camera shake is amplified so a tripod is necessary. You have one AND use the timer, so these are Good Things. The problem with being three feet away and trimming photographs down, especially with digital images, is that you lose a lot. On film you have a grain from the silver content. The lower the ASA/Film Speed, the smaller the grain content and the clearer the picture. On digital photography, this is measured in Megapixels. The more megapixels you have, the clearer the picture. However, they can also be Very Large Files. When you crop down a digital image, the pixels remain the same size. Your image will appear to get fuzzy or blurry, and using the Sharpen tool will not really improve things and may, in fact, make some things worse. It is best if you can fill the frame with the mini and take the picture you want rather than standing further back and cropping away all the dead space. You'll end up with a much better picture.

 

Hope that helps. :)

 

Edit: Grammar. I was half asleep. Needed coffee.

Edited by Kheprera
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First... ugh, halogen. They're harsh, but you can tone them down. Get some wire (old wire hangers are excellent for this) and parchment paper like you use for cooking. The white kind (Reynolds makes an excellent one), found in the grocery aisle with the aluminum foil and plastic wrap. It's cheap and will last you a bit. You'll also need some transparent scotch tape. Not the shiny kind.

 

Make a loop in the wire that is larger than the light and fasten by twisting (might need pliers for this if it's really strong wire). Make sure you leave enough trailing wire so you can attach your homemade diffuser to your light. Measure out enough Parchment Paper to cover the loop with enough around the edges to fold over and tape. Make a second one for the other light. Attach one to each light so the diffuser is between the light source and your subject (the minis).

Depending on what type of halogen lights you use this can be a very bad idea.

Halogen bulbs run very hot and if their housing is not well insulated larger ones could easily set the parchement paper on fire.

 

Large essentially uninsulated halogen lights like construction stand lights get hot enough to do this as well as melt plastic minatures at about 5ft. away if you leave them there for an hour or more.

 

@ecs05norway

As far as recomendations for improving the picture goes you would probably benefit from moving the lights farther away from the minatures since that will make the light less harsh as well.

Covering your windows (if any) and turning off the room lights is recommended when using "found" or "improvised" lighting since they usually are not bright enough to overwhelm other light sources effect on the image.

The Canon Powershot S90 seems to support shooting in Canons RAW format which gives you a lot more flexibility when proccessing the photo afterwards but might be confusing to use if you have not done this type of processing before.

You have to use Canons Digital Photo Professional software (has good distortion correction settings for many Cannon lenses and cameras), Photoshop, or something else that supports this format to process these files though.

 

If your camera has a manual focus mode make use of it since autofocus tends to work very poorly at such close distances.

If your camera supports it using a manual exposure mode to set the aperature (and possibly shutter speed) manually helps alot.

If you have turned the ISO Speed up while hand holding the camera set it back to ISO 100 (or lower if your camera supports it) when using a tripod since you get less noise in the image this way.

It is easier to compare the result of changing settings like this when using a tripod.

Make sure the miniature fills as much of the image frame as possible when you take it since unless you have a very high resolution camera (and you don't) you will loose a noticable amount of detail cropping the image later.

Edited by arclance

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First... ugh, halogen. They're harsh, but you can tone them down. Get some wire (old wire hangers are excellent for this) and parchment paper like you use for cooking. The white kind (Reynolds makes an excellent one), found in the grocery aisle with the aluminum foil and plastic wrap. It's cheap and will last you a bit. You'll also need some transparent scotch tape. Not the shiny kind.

 

Make a loop in the wire that is larger than the light and fasten by twisting (might need pliers for this if it's really strong wire). Make sure you leave enough trailing wire so you can attach your homemade diffuser to your light. Measure out enough Parchment Paper to cover the loop with enough around the edges to fold over and tape. Make a second one for the other light. Attach one to each light so the diffuser is between the light source and your subject (the minis).

Depending on what type of halogen lights you use this can be a very bad idea.

Halogen bulbs run very hot and if their housing is not well insulated larger ones could easily set the parchement paper on fire.

 

Large essentially uninsulated halogen lights like construction stand lights get hot enough to do this as well as melt plastic minatures at about 5ft. away if you leave them there for an hour or more.

 

@ecs05norway

As far as recomendations for improving the picture goes you would probably benefit from moving the lights farther away from the minatures since that will make the light less harsh as well.

Covering your windows (if any) and turning off the room lights is recommended when using "found" or "improvised" lighting since they usually are not bright enough to overwhelm other light sources effect on the image.

The Canon Powershot S90 seems to support shooting in Canons RAW format which gives you a lot more flexibility when proccessing the photo afterwards but might be confusing to use if you have not done this type of processing before.

You have to use Canons Digital Photo Professional software (has good distortion correction settings for many Cannon lenses and cameras), Photoshop, or something else that supports this format to process these files though.

 

If your camera has a manual focus mode make use of it since autofocus tends to work very poorly at such close distances.

If your camera supports it using a manual exposure mode to set the aperature (and possibly shutter speed) manually helps alot.

If you have turned the ISO Speed up while hand holding the camera set it back to ISO 100 (or lower if your camera supports it) when using a tripod since you get less noise in the image this way.

It is easier to compare the result of changing settings like this when using a tripod.

Which is why the parchment paper isn't attached to the light housing. Using halogen indoors one would hope they are the smaller and less harsh variety. Some types of halogen are used in studio photography, though these are much older than current tech.

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Which is why the parchment paper isn't attached to the light housing. Using halogen indoors one would hope they are the smaller and less harsh variety. Some types of halogen are used in studio photography, though these are much older than current tech.

You were describing a wire frame to support the paper and hang it in front of the lamp and I never implied otherwise.

I never said they were attached directly so I don't know why you think I do?

 

The construction stand lights I mentioned would easily light the parchement paper suspeneded in front of them by the wire hangers you describe.

This sort of thing is the reason they are covered in fire and burn warning stickers.

be94fe1a-1c2f-4310-8439-656c2e41f954_400

They are designed for indoor use as long as you keep them a safe distance from anything the heat can damage (~2-3ft., more for things that are very heat sensitive).

 

I have seen halogen floor lights that got hot like this as well (my dad had one) but they are far less common, especially since LED is replacing halogen in many places.

 

The halogen construction lamps actually make great indirect lighting sources since you can bounce them off the wall behind the camera to fill the whole room with bright diffuse light.

It will make the room uncomfortably warm after a while though.

Edited by arclance

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Ugh, would never use or recommend those for photographing miniatures. Too harsh and trying to get the setup correct in order to get the lighting right would be too hard. I wouldn't even use those in portrait photography... you don't want the models sweating.  :huh:  It is most likely he is using the multifaceted reflector style (which are used in photography and which we used for our printer), which will not burn that hot. The worst is possibly burning of fingers if trying to switch it out before letting it cool down or using a hotpad to grab it with.

 

Miniature photography is a combination of close-up and portrait photography. You really need a three-point lighting system (though two can work if you do it correctly) with one light on the background to clean up shadows and diffusers to reduce glare. This is what makes the lightboxes so nice in that they provide instant diffusion without a lot of fuss.

 

Also, parchment paper is made to go into ovens for cooking. I've used it without it catching fire at 500° while cooking fish. At that temp it did brown a bit, but your average light doesn't get that hot. This is one of the reasons I recommend it over other types of paper, like printer paper, which WILL catch fire quite easily. This paper will not burn from the multifaceted reflector style halogens.

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