Jump to content
Doug Sundseth

Miniatures Photography 101

Recommended Posts

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.

Please stop putting words in my mouth.

I was not recommending them I was warning of a potential fire hazard since he made no indication of what type of halogen light he was using.

They are only useful if you already have them since most good photography lamps are expensive, especially if you want more than one.

 

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.

These use 500+ Watt Bulbs, they do get hot enough at close range (up to about a foot) after they have been on a few hours.

They have to warm up and dry out the parchement paper first but once it starts browning it is able to catch fire.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The lights I'm using are a lot smaller than that, they actually came with a semi-pro lightbox made for photographing small items (jewelry and such, I think).

 

I've been fooling around a bit and getting some improved results.

 

King.jpg

 

Queen.jpg

 

HorusEliteCmd.jpg

 

These were taken with ISO 1000 and manual focus from about six inches distance. Focus looks much better... could work on the lighting a bit, I think. ISO 100, you say?

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

ISO 1000 will let in more light, so yeah, I'd lower that and see how your results are. Maybe try a bracket of ISOs: 800, 400, 200, 100, and see which one is best.

 

Normally the larger the number, the less light you need. I can see an ISO of about 400 doing well here. Your background will get a bit darker, though. I guess you don't have a third light you can use to direct at the backdrop to clear out the shadows and lighten it?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Okay. Re-erected the lightbox, moved the lamps closer, and tried to add a third (LED) light source at the top, although the latter doesn't seem to have made much difference.

 

Different figures since I left the Wargods stuff at work.

 

Junker.jpg

 

Zeus.jpg

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hmmm.

This one's at ISO 200. I think I still need to work on position of the lighting.

 

 

Before fidgeting with the ISO I would suggest using some filters on the lights, mainly to prevent those harsh shadows and have softer lights. Muslin is the usual suggestion, you can either put it close to the lights or if using a lightbox, on 'walls'

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

different lenses require one to be different distances from the subject (normally about a couple feet in macro setting) ... mess around and find out where your particular lense is in focus ... I mean who can tell if it's really in focus until it's blown up on the computer to ten times or more it's real size?

 

I highly recommend taking several pictures (got to love free digital photos) at different distances (set on macro if you have it).  You'll be surprised when you compare them that six inches or less can be the difference between in focus and blurry.

 

Try different lighting (natural and flash). 

 

Try setting the auto focus at the base of the figure.  Putting it dead center often causes the camera to meter the background.  Meter the base with by holding button halfway down (for many cameras) and then, still holding that focus, reframe the picture. 

 

Trying to frame miniatures is difficult.  They are small and, thus, don't take up much of the frame.  It's better to get the thing in focus and use a free paint program to quickly crop the photo. 

 

You can zoom in to fill more of the frame with the figure.  Digital zoom will likely distort the photo more than just cropping.  The camera photo processing computer just isn't that good.  Optical zoom is great.  That's the lense being allowed to do it's thing and focus the light.

 

Try different angles too.  Sometimes the miniature looks completely different when shot looking up and looking down.

 

Just like the studios at the mall, varying the background can add to your picture.

 

I'm a film guy, but I love that I can take a bunch of photo with my cheap digital camera and pick the one that's in focus.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Try setting the auto focus at the base of the figure.  Putting it dead center often causes the camera to meter the background.  Meter the base with by holding button halfway down (for many cameras) and then, still holding that focus, reframe the picture.

It is far better to get a camera with a manual focus mode for this type of photography.

They are far cheaper than they used to be so if you are going to do a lot of miniature photography it is worth it to get one.

A manual exposure mode is also good to have because as you said automatic exposure modes often have trouble picking good settings on subjects this small.

 

I highly recommend taking several pictures (got to love free digital photos) at different distances (set on macro if you have it). You'll be surprised when you compare them that six inches or less can be the difference between in focus and blurry.

 

Trying to frame miniatures is difficult. They are small and, thus, don't take up much of the frame. It's better to get the thing in focus and use a free paint program to quickly crop the photo.

 

Try different angles too. Sometimes the miniature looks completely different when shot looking up and looking down.

A tripod makes this easier especially if your lighting in not very bright.

If you are using consumer to prosumer (yes that is a real class of digital camera) types of cameras the cheap kind you can get at Wal-Mart type stores will work fine.

 

A more expensive option but one very very nice to have is to put a focusing rail on a tripod so you can move the camera closer or farther away from the subject to focus more easily when near the minimum focal distance of your lens.

Edited by arclance

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Try setting the auto focus at the base of the figure.  Putting it dead center often causes the camera to meter the background.  Meter the base with by holding button halfway down (for many cameras) and then, still holding that focus, reframe the picture.

It is far better to get a camera with a manual focus mode for this type of photography.

They are far cheaper than they used to be so if you are going to do a lot of miniature photography it is worth it to get one.

A manual exposure mode is also good to have because as you said automatic exposure modes often have trouble picking good settings on subjects this small.

 

I highly recommend taking several pictures (got to love free digital photos) at different distances (set on macro if you have it). You'll be surprised when you compare them that six inches or less can be the difference between in focus and blurry.

 

Trying to frame miniatures is difficult. They are small and, thus, don't take up much of the frame. It's better to get the thing in focus and use a free paint program to quickly crop the photo.

 

Try different angles too. Sometimes the miniature looks completely different when shot looking up and looking down.

A tripod makes this easier especially if your lighting in not very bright.

If you are using consumer to prosumer (yes that is a real class of digital camera) types of cameras the cheap kind you can get at Wal-Mart type stores will work fine.

 

A more expensive option but one very very nice to have is to put a focusing rail on a tripod so you can move the camera closer or farther away from the subject to focus more easily when near the minimum focal distance of your lens.

 

 

Agree.  Lots of the stuff here is right on.  Still life photography is a unique beast.  I don't even own a focusing rail and a bellow lens.

 

I have studio lights and a nice digital cameras and tripods and such, but I really prefer to just whip out my 15+ year old 6 megapixel Sony Cyber-shot.  It's no Hasselblad, but it's simple.  Sure, if not for the Zeiss lens it'd be worse than the phone cameras out today, but I like the point and shoot.  Truthfully, I still think in film and haven't shifted my brain to digital. 

 

All my comments were directed at the simple, digital, consumer level camera.  I guess I should have pointed that out.  After noting all the blurry pictures I see posted, I was just hoping to help get a few more in focus.  I do that by taking several pictures from different distances  and sort through them to find the one that is in focus, because half aren't.  Honestly, one finds the range through trial and error, and my first shot is normally from the right distance now.  It surprised me how small this cameras actual range of macro focus distance is and how far away I had to get for the image to be in focus ( a couple feet ). 

 

Oh, and my good cameras auto focus about as well as my eyes manual focus.  Modern cameras are amazing.  ... expensive, but amazing.  Maybe I need one of those huge cameras with a large view screen for my poor, old eyes. 

lawrence.jpg

 

 ... tripod for longer exposures, lower ISO, manual focus, focusing rail and bellow lens, good macro lenses, diffused lighting of correct color temperature pulled back five or ten feet and shoot RAW.  And, of course, you have to push everything through Photoshop now-a-days.  This guy has hours on macro shooting.  https://youtu.be/mzVD95-9YOU?t=11m48s I'll have to watch some.

 

I will still point and shoot, but maybe I'll learn a few more tricks to the trade over the next year.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is my DeviantArt Gallery which mostly shows my photography work if you want to see some photos I have taken.

 

Agree. Lots of the stuff here is right on. Still life photography is a unique beast. I don't even own a focusing rail and a bellow lens.

I mostly do macro and landscape photography myself so I already had the equipment I needed except studio lighting because I would not use it much since I only do portraits as favors for family.

 

I don't own bellows because they are serious overkill for subjects this size and digital compatible bellows are very expensive (~1000$ | Novoflex Auto Bellows for Canon EOS).

A low end digital SLR with a true macro lens, extension tubes, and front mounted macro lens filters all together can be bought for less than that now.

The front mounted lens filters in particular are very usable freehand because they don't affect exposure time as much as other options.

 

I have studio lights and a nice digital cameras and tripods and such, but I really prefer to just whip out my 15+ year old 6 megapixel Sony Cyber-shot. It's no Hasselblad, but it's simple. Sure, if not for the Zeiss lens it'd be worse than the phone cameras out today, but I like the point and shoot. Truthfully, I still think in film and haven't shifted my brain to digital.

I setup some cheap macro lighting recently (~10$ table lamps with ~20$ bulbs in them) because they can double as work lights when I assemble miniatures as well.

I made diffusers for them out of wire and parchment paper to cut down on glare (and so I am not looking directly into them as I work) but they do look very cheap.

The table lamps are so light I had to weight them with large rocks to keep the lamps from tipping them over.

 

For serious macro work it is best to have a tripod with an articulated center column like a "Giottos Pro Series with Transverse Center Column" (very nice but somewhat to very expensive depending on material) or a "Benbo 2" (good price, heavy, large, not as adjustable, ridiculous max height [101 inches or 8.41 feet]) there is a "Benbo Mk.3" but I have not heard anything about it myself.

For reference I have a "Benbo 2" because it was affordable, the max height is not a lie, I had to use a ladder.

 

All my comments were directed at the simple, digital, consumer level camera. I guess I should have pointed that out. After noting all the blurry pictures I see posted, I was just hoping to help get a few more in focus. I do that by taking several pictures from different distances and sort through them to find the one that is in focus, because half aren't. Honestly, one finds the range through trial and error, and my first shot is normally from the right distance now. It surprised me how small this cameras actual range of macro focus distance is and how far away I had to get for the image to be in focus ( a couple feet ).

If you still have the manual the focal distance information is probably in the back in the technical specs section.

 

Oh, and my good cameras auto focus about as well as my eyes manual focus. Modern cameras are amazing. ... expensive, but amazing. Maybe I need one of those huge cameras with a large view screen for my poor, old eyes.

Manual focus is a skill that takes practice to get used to but once you learn it is usually faster and more accurate than autofocus.

It is much easier on a SLR though since the focus ring on a lens is a more fine control than the lever or button on most consumer cameras that offer the option.

I also personally find manual focus to be easier through a optical view finder than through a digital viewfinder or using a cameras rear screen.

 

A good book to learn about macro photography is "Close-Up & Macro, A Photographer's Guide" by "Robert Thompson".

I learned a lot from that book myself.

Edited by arclance
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Been a long time since I've looked at this thread, so a few comments on some posts from the last few months.

 

A general comment first: It mostly doesn't matter how bright your lights are. Cameras can handle anything you can see easily. You don't need to buy brighter lights if you're shooting from a tripod.
 

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.


Exactly wrong. Moving lights closer means they subtend larger angles, which means they give softer light. On large subjects, you need to worry about inverse-square-law intensity falloff across the subject. This is not an issue with typical miniatures photos.

Move the lights as close as you can without seeing them in the frame or melting the subject.
 

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.


Brightness can vary hugely with window light. Typically, light from windows is quite bright.

The big problem with window light is the color temperature.

Direct sunlight is close to daylight-balanced lights, but both very bright and very hard (because the source is so far away). Indirect light is typically very blue, which is extraordinarily hard to combine with artificial lights. FWIW, when Hollywood needs to combine window light with artificial, they will put orange filters over all the windows in the area. This is unreasonable for most miniatures photographers.
 

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.


RAW is great when you know what you're doing. I shoot almost exclusively in RAW. If you don't know what you're doing, use a mid-gray background and auto white balance.
 

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


Often a good choice, in part because you can often zoom way in to get critical focus on the part you care most about (usually the eyes. But autofocus, if you don't have a busy background, typically works very well.
 

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


Again a great choice if you know what you're doing. I shoot minis in a fully manual mode for that very reason. If you find yourself having difficulties, though, use a gray background and shoot in an automatic exposure mode, possibly with some exposure compensation.
 

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.


Yes.
 

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.


This depends on how you're filling the frame with the mini and how you intend to use the resulting photo. If you need to use a long or macro lens to fill the frame, you can have serious problems with depth of field. Since most online photos are 1 megapixel or less, though, you can often just throw away pixels without losing anything important and get better DoF.
 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Continued:

 

 

Ugh, would never use or recommend those [hot halogen lights] for photographing miniatures. <snip>

 

There's nothing inherently wrong with hot lights other than the heat. Among other things, you see pretty well exactly what you're going to get from the camera. But as noted above, you don't need really bright lights for miniatures photography; a couple of 60W Reveals* will give you all the light you need.

 

If you have very bright lights, you can get good results by shining them at the wall (or a big sheet of white cardstock or foamcore) rather than directly at your miniature and using the bounce as your light source.
 

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.

 

A single large light source (or two smaller sources at 45° off axis) is all you need. And lightboxes typically put light on the wrong part of a miniature (the top and sides).
 

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.

 

Pretty true. Also true of theatrical gels, if you need to change light colors.

 

Fires are possible, but as long as you exercise reasonable care you should be fine.
 

These were taken with ISO 1000 and manual focus from about six inches distance. Focus looks much better... could work on the lighting a bit, I think. ISO 100, you say?

 
If you're using a tripod, there's no reason to raise your ISO above the base value (usually in the 100-200 range). High ISO just means that the camera is digitally amplifying the signals and noise from each photosite; if shutter speed isn't an issue (and unless your minis are way more frisky than mine, it won't be), there's no reason not to just use a longer exposure. With any reasonable light quantity, you'll not get to exposure times that will cause sensor heating and extra noise.

 

ETA: Reveals are not a good choice (though I've recommended them in the past). Low CRI and not especially high color temp.

Edited by Doug Sundseth
  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A general comment first: It mostly doesn't matter how bright your lights are. Cameras can handle anything you can see easily. You don't need to buy brighter lights if you're shooting from a tripod.

There is one caveat I would put on that statement.

The lights need to be bright enough for your camera or you to be able to focus on the subject.

It they are not bright enough that can be difficult even though you can get a good exposure otherwise.

 

You also might need to use a remote trigger device or timer mode to get a exposure that is not ruined by vibrations if you have a long exposure time due to dim lighting.

If you are using a SLR using mirror lockup mode helps with vibration problems on a tripod as well.

 

 

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.

Exactly wrong. Moving lights closer means they subtend larger angles, which means they give softer light. On large subjects, you need to worry about inverse-square-law intensity falloff across the subject. This is not an issue with typical miniatures photos.

 

Move the lights as close as you can without seeing them in the frame or melting the subject.

 

My recommendation had more to do with having the lights that close with a basic digital camera will make it harder for the auto exposure modes to get a exposure that will not burn out the highlights.

 

This is how close I have my lights which works fine with a SLR with full manual exposures but I know this kind of lighting would likely produce overexposed images from any of the consumer grade digital cameras I have used in the past.

img_1243_corrections_resized_650x650_56_

It has been a long time since I used anything but my SLRs so the lower end cameras may have improved since then.

 

 

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.

This depends on how you're filling the frame with the mini and how you intend to use the resulting photo. If you need to use a long or macro lens to fill the frame, you can have serious problems with depth of field. Since most online photos are 1 megapixel or less, though, you can often just throw away pixels without losing anything important and get better DoF.

 

If you are taking pictures to evaluate the work you are doing on the mini cropping a postage stamp out of your full photo for posting one the web won't help you much.

In my experience extreme crops like that come out very poorly because most people are using low end cameras with low quality image sensors so cropping like that just highlights problems with the image making them more obvious.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You also might need to use a remote trigger device or timer mode to get a exposure that is not ruined by vibrations if you have a long exposure time due to dim lighting.

If you are using a SLR using mirror lockup mode helps with vibration problems on a tripod as well.

Mirror-slap vibration is mostly an issue between about 1/40 and 1/2 second exposures. Shorter or longer and it's insignificant. But in that range, mirror lock up is a good idea.

 

Button-press softness is more technique driven, but is typically a problem for slightly longer exposure times.

 

If you're in those ranges (say 1 sec to 1/40 sec), taking measures to control vibration or shorten or lengthen exposure times is probably a good idea.

 

My recommendation had more to do with having the lights that close with a basic digital camera will make it harder for the auto exposure modes to get a exposure that will not burn out the highlights.

It's pretty unlikely that any lighting you're using will be brighter than direct sunlight. I won't argue your experience, but I will say that I've not had a camera that would systematically overexpose in direct sunlight in any automatic exposure mode.

 

That said, a dark background like the one in your pic would tend to cause overexposure of highlights in cameras with simple auto-exposure algorithms regardless of how much light there is. And adding more light will not change the total exposure in an automatic mode until you hit the shutter-speed limit (1/4000 second-ish, depending on the camera).

 

If you are taking pictures to evaluate the work you are doing on the mini cropping a postage stamp out of your full photo for posting one the web won't help you much.

In my experience extreme crops like that come out very poorly because most people are using low end cameras with low quality image sensors so cropping like that just highlights problems with the image making them more obvious.

I don't recall suggesting "postage stamp" sized cropping, but if that's the way you read it, don't do that.  ^_^

 

Common consumer-grade cameras these days typically have 12 MPx or larger sensors. A 1MPx image will be more than 10" on a side at 96dpi (common screen resolution), which I've always found to be plenty to cause depression for nearly anyone.  ::D:  And that's cropping more than 90% of the image away. You want to fill the frame with the image at the size you display it, but you don't need to fill the entire sensor to get that image.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...