Photographing Miniatures

One thing you notice about the hobby is that there is a real range of quality when it comes to photographs. GW does an excellent job, especially with the dioramas. Although, it makes me a little sad that it’s replacing a lot of the artwork that was such a big part of getting me into the hobby when I was 13. I still remember the names of artists like John Blanche and Mark Gibbons (my favorite). I can still clearly recall many of their pictures.

At the other end of the scale you have those photos of miniatures in someone’s hand, taken with a cell phone. The main problem with those pictures is that you can’t see the detail of the miniature well and the colors are often difficult to discern. When I was taking photos for an earlier post, I encountered the same problems. How do you capture good quality photos of your miniatures?

With those photos (reproduced above) I followed some half remembered advice from a YouTube tutorial. I tried to get as much light on them as possible, put them on a shiny black surface (an upside down oven tray) and used an image on a computer screen as a backdrop.

The results were not good, although I think the advice was sound. If I had experimented more I think I could have improved the quality. I wasn’t happy enough with the quality of the paint job to bother though. There were some good points though. In particular, the image on the computer screen worked really well. As did the black base, even if it was a little too shiny. Also, using a tripod and the shutter timer helped to avoid blur.

After completing my first Sauroter Tactical Squad, I wanted to take some better quality pictures, so I did a little research. I learned a few things:

In order to maximize the light for my picture, I used the flash on my phone. Turns out this was a mistake. This kind of light scatters and gives highlights that are too bright and also creates shadows around what you are photographing. This can be seem clearly in the photos above. Particularly with the Devastator Sergeant’s helmet.

Ideally you need three light sources: left right and center. Two is fine though. The important things to bear in mind are that the bulbs are daylight bulbs, otherwise the light will have a blue or yellow tinge (more on that later) and that the amount of light is even. I used three lamps. In the center was a cheap, clamp lamp I’ve had for ages with a daylight bulb in it. The others were two LED lamps I ordered from Amazon.jp.

For a background, white paper (black for white miniatures) is seamless, cheap and easy to store. I liked the idea of using a computer screen and images but it is much easier to achieve a consistent look with paper. I used a big piece of white paper I bought at the corner shop.

For a camera, a smartphone is fine. I don’t have a digital camera and it would be a big investment for something I don’t have much use for. It turns out that smartphone cameras have some limitations but there are apps that can really help. I use Camera+ for the iPhone. The main benefits of camera+ are to do with Macro mode, depth of field and white balance.

Digital photography still relies on a physical lens and smartphone hardware has certain limitations. Long story short, it’s difficult to photograph things that are very close to the lens. Like, for example, a miniature. The benefit of Camera+ is that it adds a Macro mode to the iPhone. This allows you to take a picture that is in focus without having a large amount of white space around the miniature. Or take a picture of a particular small detail on your miniature.

crozius-arcanum

Depth of field is about how much of an image is in focus. If only part of an image is in focus, it’s described as narrow. If a lot of the image is in focus, it’s described as deep. For miniatures we want a deep depth of field because we want to see as much of the detail as possible. Camera+ allows you to adjust the depth of field manually and see that in real time on the screen. This means you can have the whole miniature fully in focus.

1-tactical-squad

One of the main problems I noticed when taking the pictures of the Ultramarines was that the camera would not focus on the faces. I quickly realised that this is because Space Marine helmets don’t look like faces. Camera+ has manual focus, so I can get the face in focus and then lock the focus on that element of the miniature.

White balance is concerns with the color tone of light. Different kinds of light have different tones. Incandescent light is yellowish, LED light is blueish. You can also get ‘Daylight’ bulbs that are neutral. White balance is a setting that allows you to adjust the tone of your picture. This feature is not built into the iPhone, hence the app. This means that the colours of your miniature are more accurately captured.

5-flamer

I think these photos are an improvement but I think I can do better. A little more research is needed.

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