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How to take better photos of your models (and not go broke in the process) Options
michu
#1 Posted : 28 April 2016 12:39:25

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It's a common misconception that to take good photos you need a lot of expensive equipment. It's simply not true and I'm going to show you how you can achieve good result without breaking the bank. With the exception of the last one, the photos below were taken with a phone camera, something that almost everyone has available to them.

Step 0. Take a bad photo.
No further explanation needed here. What's happening on this picture? A lot, and everything fights for the viewer's attention, diverting it from the subject showcased.



Step 1. Remove clutter.
The same subject, the same place - I just got rid of the clutter surrounding the object and got a fairly clean background (a piece of paper towel). You can play with this idea, use a larger sheet of smooth paper, or a thin styrene sheet, move closer to the window to make sure there are no weird shadows, and so on. This is a zero-cost and zero-effort option, I went here with the quickest setup possible (as this is not something I do normally and didn't have better background handy) but with a bit more effort you can achieve really good effect with this simple step.





If you look closely at the two pictures above you'll see some differences. Second of the photos was taken with the overhead light turned on. You can see better definition of details in the shadows and the image is more balanced tonally. This brings us to the next point...

Step 2. Control your light.
This is the only step where an investment might be needed. Get a lightbox or a light table. The budget? £50-£80 should get you right where you want to be.

One option is below. I'm not a big fan of the solution as you need a lot of space for it and it takes a long time to set up, plus you'll have to learn how to use it to get the best effect, but it can give a very good outcome. Search for 'light table' or 'photo table' and you'll find a lot of options at various price points and with various number of lights.



I personally prefer a suitcase-style lightbox with integrated lighting. It's easy to store, unfolds in under a minute and gives quite good results. The front panels are configurable, so you can leave it partially open for bigger subjects or vary the angle of the shot. Inside it's all white which allows the light to bounce around and light the subject in an uniform fashion without any effort. It's good enough for our needs, we're not doing product photography for a magazine or ads.









A tip: don't buy something like I pictured below: it's flimsy, cumbersome to use and the light quality is awful. Setup time is also considerable. I bought a tent like this at first but after one use I put it into the storage and never used again. Look for light tent or light cube, but select something with integrated lighting.



So, what's the effect? Might not be convincing at first:



The only problem with the lightbox I use is the colour temperature of the lights used. At first I wanted to return the thing, but fortunately it's easily corrected. In most cases you can fix this straight in your smartphone using a photo-editing app - I personally use Lightroom on my PC (but there are free image editors available that can do the same thing). It's one click on an area that should be grey and the software automatically corrects the colours:



As you can see, at this point you get quite acceptable photo that shows your subject in more flattering fashion. The shadows are soft, the colours are (almost) right, there is good definition of detail - all with just a smartphone. Do you want to take it a step further?

Step 3 (optional) - get a proper camera
I'm using a full-frame DSLR camera with a set of lenses available. For close-up work I'm using a 90mm macro lens, for bigger subjects and wider angle I pull my trusty 50mm prime lens or sometimes even the 24-70mm zoom. But for this kind of work a crop-format DSLR with a kit lens should be more than enough and frankly, a compact camera should be just as good.



If you compare the last two photos carefully you'll see that DSLR picture is a bit sharper, there's a bit more details in the shadow, there's a bit less compression loss of details, it was easier to get the white balance right so the colours are a bit better. But I still think that the two most important step that give a quality change are to take photos of the subjects in isolation from any clutter, and to control the light - and that comes with a low price tag.

If you plan to use a camera, here are some tips:

- Use manual mode or aperture-priority mode, and shoot with a lens closed down to f/11 or more (with more you will have to use a tripod, I found out that f/11 is the lowest I can get and still get away with shooting from hand). This will ensure a proper depth of field, keeping both the closest and furthest parts of the subject in focus.

- If you take picture of a large subject and have problems with the depth of field, then step back further, use a zoom lens, shoot from afar. The depth of field increases with a distance from the subject.

- Shoot RAW if your camera can do it, then use a photo-editing software on a PC to tweak things like white balance, exposure (if needed), and so on.

- Use low ISO setting (best is the native ISO of the sensor, usually 100 or 200) to avoid noise.

Step 4 (not optional) - experiment and have fun.
I have found out that taking photos of my work and doing it as best as I can is as much satisfying, as building the kit in the first place. Enjoy!



Thanks for looking. Do you have any other tips you'd like to share?
Any images I post on my personal builds are free to be used and shared under Creative Commons Attribution license, which means you can do what you want with them, on the condition you mention I'm the author.

Happy building :-)

http://www.model-space.com/gb/
davetwin
#2 Posted : 28 April 2016 14:24:06

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Thanks for posting

I now see why you do,some great pictures.

I use a Panasonic TZ70 and still playing with the settings to find the best picture, this has been quite useful to me, I never really understood F setting, mine only goes up to 8 so will now try using that ThumpUp
michu
#3 Posted : 28 April 2016 14:51:27

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Thanks Dave. The f setting - or the aperture - controls how much light enters the camera. The higher the number, the more the lens is closed down. With every 'f stop' the surface area of the aperture drops by a factor of two (or its diameter is reduced by a square root of two, approx. 1.41) - that's why the stops available are spaced so each is roughly 1.4x times the previous one (f/1.4 lets in twice as much light as f/2, which in turn lets in twice as much light as f/2.8, then f/4 and so on).

So with the same amount of light available the higher you go with your f setting, the darker the picture gets. To compensate you need to shoot longer, allowing the light more time to operate on the sensor (or film). So why the high f-stop setting? The more the lens is closed down and the smaller the hole is, the sharper the picture gets and the wider the area in focus becomes. With f/1.4 it is almost impossible to keep both the eye and tip of the nose of photographed person in focus. With f/11 it's hard not to, together with that tree in the background. And so on.

You can go fully manual, but the easier is to use aperture-priority mode (A on most cameras). In this mode you set the f-stop and camera tries to give you the best shutter speed (S-mode is the opposite).

ISO is the third corner of the magic exposure triangle, it's the camera sensitivity setting. So if you double the ISO without changing aperture or shutter speed, you will get roughly twice as bright image. But this comes with the price of increased noise so I usually turn the automatic ISO off and set it to 200 (native sensitivity of my camera where the quality is the best) and just manipulate the aperture and shooter speed. It's best to experiment and see where the limits of your camera are.

And the last thing... The furthest you are from the subject, the bigger the depth of field gets. So it makes sense to get aperture as high as you can, set the shutter so you get a nicely exposed image, step back, zoom in and shut from afar, if you have the space to do so. This way the most of the subject will stay in focus; that's something you want when shooting model kits - opposite to, say, portraits where you often want background out of focus so you would be shooting wide open, with low f number.
Any images I post on my personal builds are free to be used and shared under Creative Commons Attribution license, which means you can do what you want with them, on the condition you mention I'm the author.

Happy building :-)

http://www.model-space.com/gb/
delboy271155
#4 Posted : 28 April 2016 19:57:37

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Thanks for the tips.Cool

Time to practice.

Regards
delboy271155
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Gandale
#5 Posted : 28 April 2016 23:18:11

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Great tips there Michu, thanks for sharing.....Cool Cool

Regards

Alan
greyhawk
#6 Posted : 29 April 2016 13:41:51

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Wow, that Lightroom app is good.


This is a picture I took in horrible conditions



This is what Lightoom made of it with a single push of a button

michu
#7 Posted : 29 April 2016 13:53:01

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Wow, I had no idea there is a mobile version! I've been using Lightroom on desktop for years.
Any images I post on my personal builds are free to be used and shared under Creative Commons Attribution license, which means you can do what you want with them, on the condition you mention I'm the author.

Happy building :-)

http://www.model-space.com/gb/
magpie1832
#8 Posted : 30 April 2016 23:35:50

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Great bit of info michu. Certainly helps with the pictures.
Chris.
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Shauncnh
#9 Posted : 01 May 2016 11:06:23

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Great information here Michu BigGrin
Just waiting on new work benches and shelving so I can get the mess out the background of my picturesLOL

Regards Shaun
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rclain
#10 Posted : 25 March 2017 20:51:49

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Very helpful information. Time to practice!
Regards Rob

Current Build: Millennium Falcon
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