Taking Pictures of Models

This is how I took the photos…  (I’m not a pro so others will be able to improve on this method.)

Lighting

I take all my photos on a table in my conservatory. I get good natural light in there, and on a sunny day I get good naturally-strong shadows too (but I have to watch out for shadows cast by the conservatory window frames). On occasion, I will also step outside to take the images.

Set Up & Background

Surface: Over the table top I lay a Games Workshop roll of grass about 4ft wide (1.2m) and about 6ft long (1.8m). See picture below.

Background: I selected a high resolution picture from the internet as a background. It must be as high a resolution as you can find since it is going to be blown up/enlarged quite a bit. I think I used one of an actual airfield in the UK. It’s important to get the right image with a very simple grass field foreground and hills and sky in the background. The angle at which the image was shot is also important. I can’t explain this too well, but you want something shot from a low angle. The image was then printed off on 5 portrait sheets of A4 paper (I don’t have a large format printer, only a little old Ink Jet – anyone with a colour printer should be able to manage this – you may need to find and play with advanced settings to get the image to print across multiple sheets). These sheets are then glued with spray-on mounting glue onto a thin sheet of plywood (anything will do really – so long as it’s clean and smooth). The background image on its board is propped up on a chair’s arms and back. The slight angle helps it get some natural light too.

Camera & Settings

Settings: The camera used for most of my shots is an old Sony Cybershot 4.1 mega pixel ‘point and shoot’ thing with some basic settings/options/adjustments. It has a timer and auto focus and some basic configurable settings. The trick is not to place the camera too close to the model. The shots you see posted on this site are heavily cropped after they have been taken. If you get too close the camera can’t focus and the image will be blurred. Also, placing the camera a bit further from the model gives the model a better chance of being completely in focus – from nose to tail. This is important to the shot. The camera settings are set to give the biggest ‘focal depth’, or biggest ‘depth of field’. You need to check your camera’s functions – typically it’s not the function used for people/portraits but the one for scenery. You need to play; there may be some manual functions that allow you to set an even bigger depth of field. I think that getting the greatest depth of field – as much of the model in front-to-back focus as possible – is the single most important factor in taking realistic photos of models. By the way, the lens on my little camera performs better for these types of shots than the one on my more expensive Canon SLR.

[Update:] I now do use my SLR as my lovely photographer daughter bought a better lens for me. But… all the above still holds true and you can get a reasonable result from a simple point-and-shot pocket camera.

The other essential camera setting is to make sure the camera uses the highest resolution setting – the most pixels for the image. Later, on a PC, this’ll allow you to crop in tight and still have a picture that doesn’t pixelate (look blocky and blured).

Position: The camera is positioned on the table surface. This keeps it steady and also creates an angle for the shot that is more like someone standing on the ground in front of the real thing. Also, using the timer and keeping the camera steady on the table-top surface prevents motion blur when the auto settings for depth of field make use of a longer exposure (when the shutter stays open longer).

I take several shots using the timer (rather than my finger to press the shutter button) and usually taken with different settings set on the camera – I never seem to remember the best ones!

I don’t worry about ‘framing’ the shot. I just try and get good, bright and in-focus picture first.

PC Image Editing

This is as important as taking the images… On the PC I use a free-bee image editor (Photoshop-like) to crop the image in tight on the subject, may be do a tweak rotation by a few degrees and then I adjust the brightness, contrast and de-saturate the colour a bit (take out the strength from the colour; sort of heading towards black and white). That’s about it. In some other images I have played a bit more – like adding an old-style film grain or that sun burst. Oh, and I blur the edges of my background image together so that you can’t see the joins between the A4 sheets.

Set up

Here’s a pic of the set up…

Model photography
Plan view of the overall set up on my table – placed either outside or in the conservatory.

Examples

Airfix’s old 1/72 scale B-57 kit with their WWII Jeep and trailer. This is the initial shot taken with the camera at a low angle and well in front of the subject. The background used in this case was a plain white drawing board.
The same image now cropped in tight using simple image editing software on a PC.
The same image, cropped a little tighter, but also now filtered and colour de-saturated (made into a black and white).
Initial picture - Spitfire Mk XIX
Spitfire Mk XIX. This is the initial raw image from the camera – with no PC editing. You can see the edge of the background image on the left, and white vertical lines where the background images A4 sheets join. These issues will be fixed on the PC.
Edited image of Spitfire Mk XIX
The same image of the Spitfire Mk XIX. But here I have cropped the original, corrected the angle of the horizon by rotating the image slightly, and I’ve applied some colour filtering. I’ve also ‘airbrushed’ out the background joins.
Black and White edited image of Spitfire Mk XIX
And the same edited image, but in grey-scale.