Photographing Scale Models

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Photograph Scale Models


While I'm not a photographer per se', I do like to take photos of my models, and it's neccessary when I write my books and magazines. I moved onto digital many years ago. I now use a camera that has the ability to take images as low as one centimeter away.

I'm not an expert on cameras or even taking pictures, but I know what has worked for me, especially when trying to photograph a model. I build all kinds of models, large and small, from cars to spaceships, and through trial and error, I've come to use what's familiar with me.

Small Table Top Lights - The smaller tabletop LED lights are what I usually use today. I use2, 3, or 4 of them at a time. They produce a very bright light which highlights all the areas of the models. Positioning these lights around the model helps keep the shadows at a minimum. This is what you want because a dark shadow will obscure any details on the model. I typically use one on the left and right, and I have another that shines down from an elevated point (from atop a cardboard box in my case).

Different kinds of models and paint colors may require different positions, so they are easy to move around and try different ways. If you have any glass, a car windshield or aircraft cockpit canopy, you want to try and minimize the lights reflecting off those when you can in a photo.

Umbrella Lights - I do use a pair of these now and then, especially if the model is large. I still use the Tabletop lights, but to get a softer and more even light across the model, I use them all together.

Camera Tripods - A tripod helps steady a camera so you get a clear shot. The closer you get to a model to take a photo, the more likely there will be even the slightest hand movemnet. This gets amplified in an image and you end up with a fuzzy picture. A tripod keeps the camera steady, much better than holding it in your hand freely. Tripods come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I use a small cheap one, nothing fancy.

Today, many smart phones take very high resolution images, better than many digital cameras on the market. But you still want to use a tripod when you can. A steady phone will give you better results.

Photography Backgrounds - I've tried many types of backgrounds, from many types of materials. Today I use a simple photography white cloth background sheet. It was originally around 6 x 9 feet. but I cut it in half, and use a bench table to lay it on and prop it in the back to have a seamless horizon. There really aren't any small sheets, and the larger ones can easily be cut with scissors. Plus, if you cut it in half, you have an extra one in case someting happens to the first half you're using. They are inexpensive, so you mght as well get the large ones.

If you get any wrinkles in the cloth (and you will if you move it around a lot), a common clothing iron and some misted water will take of those.

Sometimes you will see "photography booths". With the internet and eCommerce everywhere, these are very common for photographing small objects to put on a website. I have never tried one, but my feeling is they are to small for models (unless you're building only 28mm Warcraft figures), and they are limited when it comes to lighting possibilities. I feel that one light position doesn't work on all models. So, these might be great for web shots of a watch or jewelry, but not really models. I'm sure there are modelers that use them, you'll have to judge if they fit your photo needs or not.

I use white as a background for most photos. However, I occasionally photograph spaceships (and some white painted models) that require a black background. I've tried many things over the years, but I've had the best resuts with black velvet cloth. I doesn't reflect any light, unless you get a wrinkle in it, and it's easy to remove any artifacts in a photo with Photoshop (but that's rarely needed).

Black and White Display Boards - These are very handy, especially for quick photos. I just lay them on the white cloth, position the model, setup my lights, and take a picture. For the white one it provides a wrinkle free base to work from. The black one has a matte side, and the other side is glossy, almost like a black mirror. These are especially useful for very close up photos of model parts, or images of aircraft cockpits or a car model engine bay. Lighting can be tricky on the gloss black side because it will reflect your lighting just like a mirror, so you have to position the model and your camera angle to avoid that, but it's easily done.

That's about it for the basics for taking images of your models. You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to get good photos. You can do that of course, but there's nothing wrong with saving a few dollars here and there as well.

Cameras - I'm not a camera expert. But if you buy a new camera, you need to make sure it can take close-up photos. Always check the technical details. How close can you get to take a clear photo?

If you already take images with your cell phone, just take a few minutes to try different distances and see what works.


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This is what I typically use above most of the time. If a model is bigger, I use a larger box for the rear light and the horizon, and unfold the cloth sheet wider to accomodate the larger / longer model. The umbrella lights are behind me (when I took this photo) , and I just turn them on and bring them forward when they are needed.

This is conveniant for me, as it doesn't take up much space, and when I want to take a photo I can do it right away. I leave it set up all the time as it is.




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