Photographing Miniatures


Program Mode vs Manual Control


The Digital Advantage

Film Photography




The Digital Advantage

After years of taking pictures of miniatures using an SLR film camera (see Film Photography) I have finally bought a Nikon Coolpix 995 digital camera and now usually use the mini-studio setup shown above to take most of the new pictures I put on this site. A section of a unit of shelves in my study is permanently set up as a mini-studio with lighting provided by three normal domestic wall lights and two adjustable copy stand light arms with 100W photoflood Tungsten bulbs. The major advantage of this setup is that I can set up the lighting exactly how I want it before taking a picture. See the redone PANTZ faction pages of my Ztum-Setum website for examples of pictures taken in this way.


When taking the pictures at friends houses or at the wargames club I either just use the cameras own internal flashgun or supplement it with a Centon FH-95 dedicated flash unit bounced off a Lumiquest Promax Pocket Bouncer (above). The diffuse light from the bounced flash gives softer shadows than using the built in flash on its own but you cannot see exactly how the lighting will turn out before you take a picture. This setup is highly portable and I use this setup both for for taking pictures of wargames being played (See recent issues of Ztum-Setum Online News for examples of such pictures) and have also used also used it to take pictures of units, bases or individual models placed on one of a number of purpose built backdrops such as the one shown above (see the ZOGs faction page for examples of pictures taken using this setup)


This picture was taken using just the camera's own flashgun.

This was taken using the setup shown above, the cameras own flash in conjunction with an external flashgun with its light bounced off a Lumiquest Promax Pocket Bouncer. The diffuse light from the bounced flash gives more light and fewer hard shadows.


The advantages of going digital.

Having got used to using the digital camera I would hate to have to go back to using my film SLR for miniatures work. The digital camera allows me to look at pictures just seconds after I've taken them and to check that the exposure, focus, depth of field framing etc. are as desired. It is very cheap to run and I can take as many pictures as I want virtually free of charge - just as long as I don't want prints.

I find it hard to imagine how the Coolpix 995 could be improved for photographing miniatures, though the autofocus is really slow, especially in low-light/low-contrast conditions. This makes it a dreadful camera for taking pictures of sports action, or even of the children running around, as waht seems like several seconds can pass between the pressing of the shutter release and the camera finally getting around to taking a picture.

Some points to consider when buying a digital camera for photographing miniatures.

  • As discussed previously (See Depth of Field) you really want a camera offering either aperture priority automatic exposure or, even better, full manual control over both speed and aperture. It is only by using the smallest possible apertures that you will get a decent depth of field and truly sharp pictures. Many digital cameras, especially the more affordable ones, do not offer such options.
  • An image size of 2 Megapixels is more than adequate for images taken for the web and will give decent quality prints at up to 7" x 5". But there are advantages to having large numbers of megapixels in that you can take a picture from further away, with the subject filling only part of the frame, then crop to get your final image. This will give you a better depth of field than filling the frame from close in.
  • For close up work you will want either an SLR digital camera (very expensive but highly desirable) or one with an LCD viewer screen as compact camera viewfinders do not work at all well when framing close up shots. The optical viewers which are often the only method for framing a shot on cheaper compact digital cameras suffer from a phenomenon known as parallax - the viewfinder is offset from the lense and points at a slightly different place. This doesn't really matter for long distance shots but the effect becomes quite pronounced when photographing objects close up.
  • Digital cameras have a wide range of abilities when it comes to close up photography. When I was seriously looking for a camera I found models quoting minimum focusing distances ranging from 1cm to 30 cm. Some cameras have no close up ability at all and are therefore not really suitable for photographing miniatures. My Coolpix 995 will focus down to 3cm, very close indeed.

  • You really want manual focussing control or spot automatic focussing. Either of these options allows you to choose exactly where you focus in a picture and avoid the problems which can arise when the camera's automatic systems try and focus on an "average" object in the screen.

  • The ability to connect an external flash gun to the camera can come in handy, though it is not essential.


Next: Film Photography.


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