Photographing Miniatures

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Program Mode vs Manual Control

Lighting

The Digital Advantage

Film Photography

 

 

   

Lighting

Using a small aperture means that less of the available light can enter the camera. You can get round this by shining more light at the miniature(s) or by setting up longer exposures, letting the available light into the camera for longer. Taking pictures at slower speeds means that you need to use a tripod to avoid camera shake. In general having lots of light available makes it easier to use the small apertures that give good depth of field and sharp photographs.

 

Types of Lighting

It is quite possible to take good pictures of miniatures using almost any light that is available. But each of the main types of lighting, natural daylight, flash, tungsten bulbs and fluorescent tubes, has its own advantages and disadvantages.

 

1) Natural Light: Natural light can give very good results, it's free and it's fairly easy to arrange - just take your miniatures outside and photograph them there or use the light coming in through a window.

The trouble is that natural light is completely unreliable - it changes from minute to minute, day to day and season to season. When there are dark clouds in the sky natural lighting is just not bright enough and at night it goes out. Bright sunlight gives harsh shadows, though these can be minimised by using a reflector. Not usually an option for taking pictures of a game in progress.

This picture was taken outside on a bright but cloudy day. The diffuse light means that there are no sharp shadows.

 

2) Flash Lighting: A flash setup is easy to transport and can be used anywhere. Once you've established the necessary settings needed for a given situation flash will give you completely reproducible results.

This picture was taken with a digital camera using just its own built in flashgun.

An external flashgun will usually have more power than the camera's own built in flash and for some cameras you can get "dedicated" flashguns which link to to the camera and its metering system to give extremely accurate exposure control in most situations. Such systems are not usually found on any but the most expensive digital cameras though dedicated flashes are available for most SLR cameras.

The light from an external flashgun can be bounced off a reflector to make it less harsh, and to fill in shadows. Many of the pictures on this site were taken using a bounced flash setup.

Under some conditions automatic flash exposure systems can get confused, for example a dark miniature being photographed against a white background will be underexposed, and such systems will sometimes prove incapable of giving good results. In such cases I switch the flashgun on to a fixed output setting and adjust the level of lighting at the subject by moving the flashgun closer or further away or by reducing the light output using makeshift filters such as paper tissues. This usually requires considerable trial and error and is not really feasible when using a film camera.

 

 

3) Tungsten lighting: Tungsten lighting using ordinary filament light bulbs is highly controllable, you can see in advance exactly how the lighting for a shot will look - but lights are bulky and not as easy as a flashgun to transport down to the wargames club. You can use normal desk lamps to illuminate your miniatures though higher power photoflood lamps will usually give better results.

Pictures taken under tungsten lighting will need to have their colour balance (sometimes referred to as white balance) adjusted as the light from tungsten bulbs is very yellow when compared to daylight or the light from flashguns. Our brain automatically adjusts to such changes in the colour of the ambient lighting and we almost always see white and grey objects as neutral.

Many digital cameras can be programmed to make this compensation as a picture is taken (or you can do it in any decent image editing program) but with film cameras you have to use either special tungsten balanced films or use coloured filters which inevitably reduce the amount of useful light available.

This picture was taken with a digital camera using tungsten lights. The colour balance was set automatically after the camera, my Nikon 995, took a measurement from the neutral light grey background.

This one was taken seconds later using the camera's preset balance levels for tungsten lighting. As you can see the camera's automatic setting has not fully compensated for the yellowness of the light.
This picture was taken under the same tungsten lights with the camera set up for daylight. The image is very yellow indeed.

 

4) Fluorescent lighting: Fluorescent lights have no real advantages over tungsten lights. They're not usually very bright, they're not directional and anything photographed under them will come out a funny colour. To make matters worse different makes and ages of fluorescent tubes have different colour balances so it can be difficult to apply a consistent colour correction. Not recommended unless your flash is broken and it's the only light available.

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