I was pleased with the quality of my miniatures photos came out, so this is my cheap, cheerful and minimal effort method of photography.
What you’ll need
- A camera – any basic compact will do, as long as it has a manual settings mode.
- Tripod – or at least some way of keeping the camera still.
- A sheet of A1-sized thin white card – I found a sheet for £1.75 in Hobbycraft.
- A desk lamp.
- A daylight bulb – these shine white instead of the yellow of normal bulbs and cost about £10 at Hobbycraft (and if you’re painting using a standard yellow lamp, just buy one of these now, you won’t regret it!)
- Some other form of light, either another lamp or a bright room.
The most important thing on this list (apart from the camera) is the daylight bulb. Balance the camera precariously, improvise a white sheet, whatever, but without a good bulb your photos will look horrible!
Put the card on a flat surface and lean the back on something to make a nice curved surface. Put your miniatures on the card. Set up the lamp out front, shining more-or-less straight forwards. Put your camera on the tripod, maybe a foot or so from the miniature. Something like this (not ideal because some of my white card has been cut off and used for something…):
You want to minimise shadows, which is why you put the lamp in front and not off to the side. Multiple lamps from different angles help here, as does having a big window nearby and a bright day. But don’t use direct sunlight or it’ll cast shadows again. If you’re serious you can make a light box like this one which should give better results than I’ve managed to get (but requires some non-negligible amount of effort to make, plus storage space and more lamps than I have).
This style of photography is basically the ideal environment in every possible way – you have a completely static scene, full control of everything in it, controllable lighting and as long as you need.
First put your camera in macro mode (little flower icon) – this enables it to focus up close, and we’re very close here. Then put it in manual mode and use these setting:
- F-Stop – this controls the aperture size. Set it as high as it will go. This makes the aperture as small as possible, which has the effect of making the in-focus depth range as large as possible (you may be able to see this from the diagram is my depth of field post). This will help keep both the front and the back of your miniature in focus in your photo.
- ISO – this controls the sensitivity of the light sensor. Set this as small as possible. This means that a lot of light has to reach each pixel before it registers, which reduces the noise in your image (more light means that the relative random differences between neighbouring pixels are smaller).
- Shutter speed/exposure – change this until your photos come out at the right brightness. With the tiny aperture and low ISO you’ll need a relatively long exposure, maybe 1/10th second.
- Delay mode – you want to set a delay between pressing the shutter release button and it taking the photo. This is because you’ll move the camera slightly when pressing it which will blur your image. My camera has a two second delay option which is more convenient than the standard ten second delay.
Then just snap away, adjusting the shutter speed until you get the right exposure. I prefer to slightly over expose rather than have it too dark, to get a nice white background and bright colours. You can tell I’ve taken photos at different times without a light box because the background is whiter in some images than others, but I can live with that.
And this is a shot I just quickly took. The guy on the right is a little blurry because the aperture doesn’t go particularly small on my camera, at least in macro mode. That could be fixed by moving the camera backwards a bit to reduce the relative depths. There also isn’t much ambient light today so the background is quite blue, but again that would be fixed with a light box.