At some point in your painting life you will want to take a photo of your mini. This is a given. So you do the same thing that works for everything else you want to take an image of and pull out your mobile phone, whack it in front of your mini and snap off a pic. And result is, well, its not good.
I’d like to go over some of the basics of photography here and hopefully we can shed some light on the whole issue. There are some unreasonably complex issues, too, by the way.
For you to be able to take a photo, you need a few things. The first of these is, obviously, a subject. This is most likely to be your model. The second thing is a light source (have you ever tried taking a photo in the pitch dark?) And the third is a camera. Each one of these things can, and will, affect the way the photo turns out. I know this is all common sense at the moment, but bear with me.
Lets put the ‘subject’ aside for the moment. The subject interacts most strongly with the lighting etc, and I’d like to cover the stuff that’s easier first.
A modern camera is a highly nuanced and complex machine capable of digitally rendering a vast array of tone and hue. It is, however, far more limited than our eye. Accordingly a camera needs light, and lots of it. This generates a host of associated issues which Autumn Stone covered quite nicely here, so I won’t re-write his entire article. Suffice to say that your light determines both your subject and your photo. Or at least the way they appear when they’re finished. Lets look at some examples:
If you’re photographing your model outside in full sunlight then, chances are, the colours will be fairly accurate (assuming your painting under a white-ish light in the first place). The light source will be strong and unidirectional (probably coming from above the model) and your camera should be able to get a good photo.
In contrast, if you’re photographing your model inside at night, under the standard 60W globe that illuminates the rest of the room, we have some differences to consider. Your colours are going to be off, and probably tinted towards the yellow/orange end of the spectrum. Your model will be dim and poorly lit and probably highly shadowed. Depending on the quality of your camera you will end up with a photo that is either very grainy or very blurry. Possibly both.
If you’re photographing inside at night and you’re using the same light you use to paint your model (assuming you use a separate light to paint) then you’re on the right track. Your model will have colours showing the same as when you painted and the light is likely to be quite strong. It is also likely to be unidirectional, which means it’ll cast some corker shadows.
So how do you solve this issue with shadows? You use a lightbox! If you haven’t yet read that article of Autumn Stones that I linked before go back and do it now. It explains what a lightbox is very nicely, and will even show you how to make a couple! Here is the link again, to save you scrolling. Here is my lightbox.
So now we have a lightbox of some description, we have lighting of some description (outdoor in full sunlight with a lightbox also works a treat) and your photo still doesn’t look great. Lets have a look at cameras first. We will come back and discuss lighting again later.
There are a lot of different kinds of cameras out there. Unless you’re someone who needs cameras to perform their job at a fairly high level, or you’re a keen amateur, you probably know that you pull your camera out, point it at something and press the button. And then photos happen. What you’re not necessarily aware of is that, regardless of the type of camera (from SLR to mobile phone) there are a plethora of calculations being performed. Most of these calculations are, obviously, to do with light.
I’m going to delve in to a bit of theory here, so bear with me – its kind of important. The main functioning part of those calculations mentioned before rests on the light meter. This is the part of the camera that analyses the light coming through the lens and hitting the sensor, and then adjusting the settings accordingly to capture a suitable photograph. The average light meter will meter for 18% grey. This number can be important later on, and I’ll explain why this is. At the moment, just know that in an average scene 18% of the colour hues will meter as grey, whether this is accurate or not.
These settings will mainly adjust one of two different aspects of the camera – the aperture or shutter speed (and, again, this is true for everything from a cellphone through to a high end SLR). The aperture is the hole through which light passes and the shutter speed is the length of time the shutter is open for. The other setting that may be adjusted is the ISO, which is the sensitivity of the sensor to light. The higher this is, the more light is captured by each pixel. This does increase the chance of “artefacts”, though. These appear as specks of blue, red or green and make an overall picture look grainy.
Obviously, our goal when photographing a miniature, is to end up with a picture in which the most shadowy parts of the model appear coloured and natural, and the most exposed parts of the miniatures are not washed out and white.
I’m only going to touch on one more thing today, as most articles on photography seem to focus on lightboxes and don’t seem to educate enough on the camera settings that can be manipulated. I’d like to spend a bit more time on that and this is already an article which is getting a bit long.
The focal range refers to the minimum distance the camera needs to be at in order to focus on a given object. On a cellphone or point-and-shoot this is something that you will need to play around with to work out. On a good DSLR it will actually be written on the lens you’re using. Don’t be surprised if its as much as a meter (3ft) or more away. Perhaps the largest reason you’ll be having trouble getting your model rather than the background in focus is because you’re too close for the image to physically resolve. Move further away and try it out again.
Its worth noting that the majority of cameras have a “macro mode” (macro is close-up photography). This does not affect the minimal focal distance of your camera. This mode mostly just plays around with the aperture settings. In order to be able to get real close to a model and even magnify you’ll need to spend big dollars on a macro lens. A good macro lens can set you back thousands.
I’m going to leave it there for today and we’ll do some more camera theory and explore how each of the abovementioned settings can affect your miniature photography. I do, however, have some examples. The captions describe how the below photos have been taken. There has been no cropping of these images! These images have been resized (down from 8-14MP) to fit better with the blog, but that is all. I’ll go over image editing and cropping etc in a future update!
You can see in all these images that I really did meter the light wrong, but that happens! 😛