Inside the Light Tent

I occasionally get asked about my miniature photography, so I thought I’d make a post to detail the process I go through and what my setup is. Aren’t I nice.

I think it’s only recently that I managed to get a setup which is reliable and controllable, and that was largely a result of me picking up a digital SLR camera. My little Fuji Finepix is great as a small snappy cam for parties, gigs, trips, etc, but had problems focusing and exposing at close range and I ended up having to take shot after shot in the hope that one would come out OK. So, with grand designs to get serious about the miniature hobby in 2010, I splashed out and got myself a secondhand Nikon D50, and it’s revolutionised the way I take my mini pics. Now I have absolute control over things and can generally get the shot I want in one take.

Here’s my setup:

Photographing Miniatures

As you can see I use a light tent which does a great job of diffusing the light. They’re actually surprisingly cheap and I’d recommend getting one. Or apparently they’re not too difficult to manufacture yourself. I could probably have gotten away with a smaller one come to think about it, though this does give me versatility to photograph larger stuff like vehicles and terrain.

Marble Backdrop SheetYou can see I use a tripod for the camera. This is vital because I use long exposure times – several seconds generally – as I suppress the flash. The flash has a habit of flattening things so best to rely on the controlled external light. This mini tripod actually turns out to be ideal and only cost a few quid from a high street camera shop.

Instead of photographing against a plain white background I decided to create a nice textured gradient sheet in Photoshop. I think I may do a few more of these for variety and so that I have a nice complementary colour as backdrop.

You can see that I have the camera pretty close to the model – around 20cm I think. Now I don’t have a fancy macro lens because I discovered that they cost ridiculous amounts of money. Instead I have the standard AF-S 18-55mm lens that came with the camera, but with a screw-on x4 close-up filter on the front. Instead of several hundred pounds for a macro lens, one of these filters (essentially a screw on magnifying lens) can be picked up for less than twenty quid. It just means that you can get the camera that bit closer to the detail and still get focus.

In terms of camera settings, I just stick it into Aperture Priority mode and crank it up to around f25. The wide aperture creates a long depth of field which means all of the mini is in focus. I leave the camera to figure out the exposure time itself and make sure that the flash is suppressed. Flash will cause flattening and white-out so really avoid it if you can – relying instead on controlled external lighting through lamps and bulbs.

While on the subject of lamps, alongside the light tent there above you can just about make out my painting lamp. This desk lamp was a great purchase from Argos. The long neon bulb provides a nice omnidirectional white light and is perfect to paint under. Highly recommended, and an £18 very well spent I reckon.

Now, back to the act of taking the photograph itself. I simply set the countdown timer for 2 seconds which means that my pressing the button to engage the shutter release won’t nudge the camera. Instead I sit back and wait a few seconds for the magic to happen. Et voila.

That done, I’ll do a quick preview in the LCD screen – though admittedly the D50 screen isn’t the best, it’s a fairly old generation camera now – and then it’s uploading to the PC for a bit of Photoshop love. Thinking about it I may do a post about the photo manipulation side of things at some point – suffice to say I try not to do too much beyond adjusting levels and correcting white balance. I’m basically aiming to get a picture that’s as representative of the real thing as possible.

So there you go, a rambling discourse on how I take the miniature photographs you’ll find here on Max Von D’s Miniature Madness. Hope you found it enlightening!

~ by Max Von Deadlock on February 3, 2010.

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