One of the things that crops up regularly on various miniature painting related sites and mailing lists, is the issue of photographing the little buggers. I am certainly no Duncan Macfarlane (editor of Wargames Illustrator, and professional miniatures photographer), but this entry explains how I take the pictures you see in the sidebar — perhaps someone will find it useful. While typing up this entry, I realised that it is going to be quite long, so I am splitting it up in various sections. This section deals with what camera I use and the most important thing about miniature photography, lighting.
First off, my camera is a HP Photosmart 945 digital camera, but any camera, digital or analog, with a number of features which I explain below will do. Also, my camera is a 5 megapixel one but you do not need nearly that much resolution to take photograps of miniatures you want to display on a web page. In fact, I can’t even use the full 5 megapixels, as the fixed lens on the camera cannot focus close enough to allow the miniature to fill the frame and thus use the full resolution. In this case, bigger is not better.
The most important part about taking pictures of miniatures is lighting. There can never be enough light on your miniature. The reason why is basically twofold. On the one hand, you need the light to show detail, quite simply. Without adequate lighting, the figure becomes a shady, undetailed ghost of itself. You can try to beef up the lightness of the picture in an image editing program afterwards, but that is usually quite unsatisfying, as your original picture does not have enough dynamic range (different values of “lightness”) to work with (and, to quote a certain Mr. Baggins of Bag End, near Hobbiton, the Shire, extending this small dynamic range is like spreading butter over too much bread). So make sure that you have enough lighting to begin with.
The second reason you need lots of light is because of the tricks we’re going to use when photographing the miniature (notably setting a low ISO value and choosing a minuscule aperture), which all require more light than normal to hit the camera.
I usually use a deskside light with a daylight bulb (by which I paint as well) immediately above the miniature, with occasionally a flashlight (with a white cloth across the buisness end to diffuse the light) for extra spot lighting. However, in most cases, that is usually not enough light, so I have to massage the photos afterward in an image editing program, which as said leads to mixed results. When I have my wargame room in the new house set up, I’ll include a small stage for miniature photography with some extra lighting, but for now, I’ll continue the way I’m working at the moment.
BTW, do not use the camera’s built in flash. It does provide enough light, but it does not lead to good results. It usually leads to overexposed highlights, which takes quite some work to correct afterwards (the dynamic range is skewed to one side). Also, with a builtin flash as my camera has, it is impossible to avoid quite stark shadows as evident in the picture below. To give you an idea, The composite picture below show a miniature I photographed with flash (left) and with other lighting (right). Note that the blueish tint of the flash photographed miniature is an artifact, as the white balance of the camera was set to the value for the other lighting — the blue tint is not inherent to flash photography. Also note that the photo on the right could use more light — this was one of the very first miniature pics I took, so I was (and still am) still learning.
That’s it for part 1. Next up will be some specific camera settings (ISO value, aperture, focus, white balance) I use, and why.