Photographing Miniatures for the Web
How Hard Can It Really Be?
So you have finally painted your masterpiece miniature, and you want to share it with millions of people on the internet. You might think that you would simply grab your camera, snap a couple of photos, and that'd be that. Sadly, most of have found that taking good photos of our miniatures isn't as easy as that. The good news is that it really isn't that hard. The initial learning curve might be a bit tough, but as soon as you learn the tricks, it is actually very easy.
First, probably need a camera. There are other ways of getting decent images of your figures, but a camera is probably best. So for the purposes of this tutorial, I'll assume you have access to a digital camera or will be getting one soon.
How To Choose A Digital
Ok, now you have a suitable digital camera, but you still aren't ready for miniature photography. Almost as important as the camera is having a proper area set up for photographing your miniatures, Luckily a reasonable area is easy to prepare and relatively inexpensive. All you need is good lighting, a tripod, and a neutral background or dropcloth.
I recommend a minimum of two and preferably a set of three swing-arm style desk lamps. These are the lamps that clamp to a table or desk edge, and they can be found at many places for only $6-8 each. Place two in front of the mini (one to either side) and one to the rear. All are positioned above and angled in towards the miniature. A configuration such as this provides good lighting all around, making sure the subject is well-illuminated while reducing the appearance of strongly contrasting shadows that a single light source introduces. If desired, the back light may be omitted, but the two front lights are important. The entire light set, even with light bulbs and an extension cord should run about $30 or less and is a good investment since the same lighting is ideal for painting as well.
In addition to the amount, care must be given to the color of the light. Normal indoor incandescent lighting is actually quite yellow. Typical convention hall lighting is even worse. Florescent lighting on the other hand is typically very cold and harsh. The solution is to use a daylight style bulb. One commonly available brand that is perfect for this use are the GE Reveal Bulbs. They are sold almost anywhere normal light bulbs are sold, and only cost a little bit more.
Backgrounds and Dropcloths
What you use as a background is up to your. Most people use either a sheet of paper or a cloth sheet. I use a pale blue bedsheet that I purchased just for this use. Cloth is durable, but also tends to show folds and wrinkles. The advantage of a paper background is that it will be much smoother unless you crease it. If you are photographing primarily at home, then you might want to consider paper. If your setup needs to be portable, then I recommend a dropcloth.
Taking The Photo
So now you have the camera and you have an area setup for photographing your miniatures. All that's left is taking the photo. Lucky for you this is the easy part. Just follow these easy steps...
First, mount your camera onto your tripod and turn it on. Set your camera into Macro Mode. This is normally a button with a little icon that vaguely resembles a flower (if you can't find your camera's Macro Mode control, refer to your camera's manual). Place your figure in the middle of your light setup and place the tripod mounted camera in front of the setup The distance you want to keep between your camera and the subject varies depending on your camera, but 8-14 inches (20-35cm) is fairly common. Rotate your figure, and adjust your camera angle to line up the shot you want.
Next, make sure your flash is turned off. Allow me to clarify... Do not use your flash! A camera's flash is designed for standard photography and is intended to illuminate a subject six to eight feet away. It is quite simply FAR too much light for your purposes here. If you use a flash, your photos will typically have the color washed doubt to some degree with all the lighter shades blasted out. This is why you invested in a set of lights. So do yourself a favor and make sure your flash is off.
Last, simply focus the camera on your figure, keep the camera still, and snap the photo. If you are having trouble keeping the camera steady even with the tripod, most cameras have a timer function that will take the photo 15-20 seconds after the the button is pressed. This function normally gives the photographer a chance to jump into their own photos, but you can use it to get your hands completely off of the camera when the photo is snapped so that the camera remains absolutely still.
That's it! You now have a photograph of your miniature. You might need to make slight adjustments to the directions above depending on the particulars of your camera, but the reality is that miniature photos are easy to take once you figure out the tricks. Just practice and familiarize yourself with your camera, and you will be taking top notch photos in no time.
After Image Care
Once you have transferred your images from the camera to your camera, you can clean and edit them to suit whatever final purpose you have for them. There are many image editing applications on the market, and many PC's come bundled with some form of trial software, but the most commonly used program is Photoshop.
The two most common adjustments you will want to make are to crop the excess background from your image and then to resize it to something appropriate for viewing on the internet. When you are picking a size for your image, there are two factors to consider. If you have a lot of detail and careful blending you want to show off, then a large photo will make those details visible. On the other hand, if your work is rougher, a large photograph will only magnify those flaws. A smaller image will make your work look better in that case - and when you think about it, a large photo is only showing your figure at a size larger than real life! I addition to detail level, the other thing to consider is file size. Large images will be much slower to download, especially for viewers on slower modem connections.
More advanced users of photo editing software can also make use of features that allow you to adjust the brightness, contrast, and even color balance of digital images. Of course, a well taken photograph makes such aftercare less necessary.