Photographing Miniatures

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Depth of Field

Smaller apertures give a better depth of field and make your pictures look sharper.

Good pictures of miniatures can be taken with many different equipment setups (the pictures on hodgenet have been taken using three different digital cameras and a film SLR with several different lighting setups) but, if you want to get the the best results possible, you need to understand the importance of depth of field and the need to use small apertures.

The aperture diaphragm or iris, a ring of overlapping leaves within the camera lens, adjusts the size of an opening in a camera's lens through which light passes to the image sensor or film. As it changes size, it affects both the exposure of the image and the depth of field in which everything is sharp. The aperture can be opened up (small f number) to let in more light or closed or "stopped down" (high f number) to let in less. The aperture is used in conjunction with shutter speed to control exposure. The larger the aperture opening, the more light reaches the image sensor or film in a given period of time. The more light, the lighter the image.

But aperture also affects the sharpness of a picture. Changing the aperture alters the depth of field, the areas of the photograph both in front and behind the main focus point which remain "sharp" (in focus). Put simply, a larger aperture (smaller f-number, eg. f/3.7 above) has a shallow depth of field, anything even slightly behind or in front of the main focus point will appear blurred. A smaller aperture (larger f-number, eg. f/10.6 above) has a greater depth of field, objects within a larger range behind or in front of the main focus point will also appear sharp.

Compare the pictures on the left and on the right below.

These pictures were all taken using the same camera, a Nikon Coolpix 995 set in aperture priority exposure mode. The pictures in each pair were taken from a fixed tripod using the same focal length of lense and the camera was focussed on the battalion's flag in each case. The only difference between them was the aperture used in each shot. The pictures on the left were taken using the minimum aperture available on the camera, f/10.6 those on the right using the maximum aperture of f/3.7. The camera's automatic systems used these fixed apertures at a speed of 1/125th of a second and adjusted exposure by varying the light put out by the camera's own flashgun.

Depth of field is also affected by the camera-subject distance (closer focus produces a shallower depth of field), and the focal length of the lense (a short focal length wide angle lense gives a larger depth of field than a long focal length telephoto lense). But the easiest of these factors to control for any given shot is usually the aperture used.

It is the small apertures used that explain why the pictures on the left of this page all look sharper and have a better depth of field than those on the right.

In most cases a picture of a miniature or miniatures will come out better when it is taken using as small an aperture as possible (a higher f-number). This applies all the way from close up pictures of individual miniatures to long distance shots of wargames in progress.

Left: 1/125th of a second at f/10.3 (small aperture)

Right: 1/125th of a second at f/4.0 (large aperture)

The image on the left again looks considerably sharper.

Most compact cameras (both digital and film) are "fully automatic" and do not give you any control over the aperture settings used for any individual shot. If you are serious about photoraphing miniatures you really need to use a camera which gives you the option of an aperture priority exposure mode or full manual control.

Using my Coolpix 995's aperture priority mode I photographed these AK 47 professionals using an exposure of 1/125th. of a second at the minimum aperture available, f/10.1. Most the of the miniatures are in focus.

On its fully automatic setting the camera decides to use an exposure of 1/125 of a second at f4 for this picture of the same troops. Several of the miniatures are out of focus.

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Site created by Derek Hodge: derek@hodgenet.co.uk