Etymology: From the Greek words phos (“light”), and graphis (“stylus”, “paintbrush”) or graphí, together meaning “drawing with light”
There are many things I don’t know and am not good at in the world of miniatures. Photography is one. The photos of my minis never look as good as the painted pieces of pewter I hold in my hand. I’d like to get better, so I read, I try different things, I experiment, and if I think I’ve figured something out I’ve got another fun tutorial to write for handcannon. In today’s article, I’m just going to look at the simplest part of the photographic setup – our paint set – in this case – light.
The raw science goes something along the lines of …
- Light of one or more wavelengths – or possibly of varying energy photons – come from one or more sources
- When it reaches the amazing paint job on our little piece of pewter, something bizarre and quantum happens
- Some is reflected off in one or more directions – Dependent on the colour of the paint, and the amount and variety of incoming wavelengths (colours)
- Some is absorbed and heats up the mini – Dependent on the colour of the paint, and the amount and variety of incoming wavelengths (colours)
- Some undergoes some weird lensing effect within the acrylic medium of the paint or varnish and really strange stuff happens
- Heisenberg’s cat has an untimely demise and small quantum universes are created – Some guy in a wheelchair who sounds like a darlek gets rich by selling Pop-Sci books
- But eventually some light of new wavelengths (colours) comes back in the right direction to be received by a light sensitive device – be it your eye, or a camera
For we mere mortals, what matters is
- The colour of the light will change the colour our camera sees – daylight bulbs and warm light bulbs will produce very different photos
- The direction the light comes from, then reflects at, and enters our sensor will have a significant effect – a small source will produce a small, bright reflection. A diffuse light source will distribute the light evenly across a surface and decrease this localised bright reflection
- When light comes from one direction there will be a shadow. This shadow may be filled by another light source. This may or may not be a good thing, but will change the photo.
- When you change the direction the light is coming from or the direction the camera is pointing you will change the photograph even though the miniature you are photographing remains unchanged.
- The camera is not as good a sensor as the eye for all sorts of reasons, so your picture will never look quite like the mini you hold in your hand
Let me demonstrate:
When we light a mini from directly above with a single localised light source, we get localised bright reflections and shadows
Both methods have their merits – depending on the effect you want. The first has greater dramatic impact, the second demonstrates the nuances of the painting (shades, highlights, contrasts of colour and hue etc) better.
Using a local, warm light source
Again – the first has greater dramatic impact, the second better demonstrates the nuances of the paint job.
(in fact, the second is done with two daylight light sources and a single weaker warm light source to better fill the yellows and greens on this troll)
Which brings us neatly to the topic of how you will project light onto your mini
A Light box has three main functions
- To produce enough light – of the right colour
- To diffuse the light as required
- To provide light from as many directions as required to fill in shadows
It may also give you such conveniences as back drop, and a decent range of angles to take photos from.
I’m going to talk about three types of light boxes. There are many variations on these themes, and I leave it as an exercise for the reader to change them to suit space, budget and personal taste. I’m going to try and standardize the process by using
- The same mini
- The same camera settings. (ISO 100, smallest aperture for maximum depth of field, shutter time determined by onboard chip, same whiteset, tripod stabilized, and taken on a 2 second timer to remove shake from the trigger)
- Where I vary the background it will be because the variation is important to the demonstration
It’s really hard to research lightboxes online because of some piece of photo software that keeps on googling up. You get some of the best info from articles on food photography. They tend to use a reflector and natural daylight.
The principal is that light will be coming from one direction. This will lead to your target casting shadows, creating increased contrast and colour variance on the shadowed side. To get around this you can place a piece of white or mirrored board on the opposite side to reflect this light and fill in this shadow.
For our light box this means…
If we place a filter or light diffuser (described below) in the way
If we exchange the reflector for two light sources from opposite sides
So ideally we’d like to surround our mini in a diffuser, then bathe that diffuser in light from two directions
You will need
- An empty, washed out milkjug
The colour of the background makes a big difference to the photo in the milk jug – more so than in the other lightboxes I show here. I think this is due to the need for a closer light source, which is diffused so much and decreased in intensity so much, that the added fill from underneath by reflection from white paper has a much greater impact.
To best show off your painting, I think you will want multiple sources of light, and a good diffuser, a great background, and good access for your camera.
You will need
- Space (I’ve now dedicated a shelf on my bookshelf)
- Two wire coathangers
- Baking paper
- Two light sources (I use two $6 lamps from bunnings with 18 watt CF daylight bulbs)
- Sticky tape
Twist the coathangers into one another and tape in place
You can find some nice backdrops here
That’s all for today, happy snapping…