Taking Pictures of Miniatures

My first attempts at taking pictures of my miniatures failed miserably. This was due to the fact that I was an extreme novice at photography. This is not an attempt to teach one the finer points of photography by any means, but is simply a quick guide on considerations when it comes to photographing miniatures that you may not have encountered when taking pictures of people of outside scenes.

Light

The amount and quality of light used to take pictures of miniatures is probably the most important factor. You will want to have sufficient light from multiple sources for your miniature to be seen at its best. You will probably be taking your pictures indoors. Lighting that is sufficient for reading is not necessarily good for taking pictures of miniatures.

First of all, my advise is to turn off your flash. Pictures taken of miniatures with a traditional flash tend to have too much contrast and to leave portions of the miniature in extreme light and others in shadow. Especially if you have sealed your miniature with a sealer that is a bit shiny, you will find that these areas will be much too bright, and will make for poor photos.

The lighting that I use is a pair of twin-head halogen shoplights. That gives me four separate bulbs pointing at the miniature from different angles. If the lighting is not even (from multiple sources), the contrast to the miniature may be too high. Between these bulbs and the miniature, I suspend a bed sheet. Make sure that the sheet is far enough away from the light, since the halogen bulbs get hot enough to burn the sheet.

The photos that I initially took with the halogen bulbs seemed like they were lacking in blue, so I use light blue sheets in front of the miniatures. The purpose that the sheets serve is to diffuse, or soften the light, making for less harsh shadows. Since the light is actually shining from the sheet, rather than directly from the bulb, this, in essence makes for multiple light sources, since the light is shining from many points on the sheet.

Camera

The camera that I use is a Fuji digital. I prefer digital cameras because I can view the results of the picture almost instantly through the viewscreen on the back of the camera. Also, the costs of taking pictures the traditional way, paying for film and developing becomes very high. If you want to photograph your miniatures collection, you may find as I did that a major photo shoot pays for the price of a digital camera in short order.

If you are purchasing a digital camera and intend to use it for photographing miniatures, be sure that the camera has a macro feature. The macro option lets you take pictures from very close to the object. If your camera requires you to be several feet from the target, getting closer will result in blurred pictures. Taking pictures from a distance means that less of the picture will be taken up by the object itself. This is especially important for digital cameras, since you only have so many pixels (dots of information) available, so the smaller the object on the picture, the less resolution. This can trip you up if you want to enlarge the picture or print it to a color printer later, since enlargement of a low-resolution picture will result in a grainy or blocky look.

Scanner

If you are using a traditional film camera, you will need to be able to scan the picture later if you are going to send it digitally or put it on a web page. For Web-quality pictures (normally 72dpi), any scanner will do fine for this. Even low-end scanners scan to 300dpi, more than four times the resolution that one would typically need for Web-based viewing. In short, borrow one if you don't have one or pick on up at a computer store for cheap. CompUSA™ typically has a scanner on special that you can pick up for $50-$100.

Backdrop

For a backdrop for you miniatures, a simple piece of plain-colored construction paper or cardstock will do the trick. For my backdrops, I create an 8x10" picture in PhotoShop® and use the cloud filter to produce white clouds on a blue background. If you want a moody, gothic mood, use the difference filter to make brown clouds on black. Using a backdrop will make your miniature stand out and will center attention in your end images on the miniature and not the things behind it.

Photoshop, Photoshop, Photoshop!

I am a Web developer, and can tell you that in my experience, like many would say about Porsche, "there is no substitute". While I have tried everything from Corel products to the Gimp to Paint Shop Pro, for my money, none of them compare to Photoshop. If you don't have access to a copy, Photoshop LE sells for as little as $70 and will do about all that you will need for much less than the $600 selling price of Photoshop.

Specifically, the things that you will need to do is to color-correct your photos in digital format. Using flourescent lighting tends to make your photos come out green, while some incandescent bulbs tend towards yellow or other colors. Photoshop has the ability to correct for these lighting challenges automatically. To do so in Photoshop, click on image->adjust->auto levels. The next thing that you need to do is to sharpen up areas with the sharpening tool that you want to emphasise. Most cameras that are in my price range do not take as sharp of pictures as I would like, so this works well for my purposes.

To summarize, using a digital editor to color correct your pictures can really help to make up for a lack of photography experience. While I am sold on Photoshop, there are many other products that do a wonderful job doing the cropping and color adjustments that you may need to do to post your miniatures to the Web.

In Conclusion

I hope that these tips have helped. I am sure that the preceding information has omissions, so if your forte is photography, feel free to correct me where I am wrong and I would be glad to make changes to this page as necessary. These tips are the result of trial and error. The photographs on this site were made using these tips, so if you want similar results, perhaps this guide will be of help.

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