Photographing Miniatures on a Budget

When I started photographing my miniatures for this site, I had a lot of difficulty finding useful information on the subject. Now that I’m reasonably content with the quality of the photos I’m taking, I thought that I should provide information on how I take them. I didn’t want to have to spend a fortune straight off so I experimented with what I had available.

Camera
Timer
Focus
Background
Corrections


Camera

A regular compact digital camera with a macro or close-up setting should be enough if you use it correctly. Obviously there is no harm in using something better if you have it but this really is all you need as long as you know how to use it. I mount the camera on a book with some Blu-Tack, which raises it up slightly whilst still allowing me to move it around easily. Obviously a GorillaPod, Flexi-Tripod or similar could also be used.


Timer

If the camera has a timer, then this is preferable as it will cut out any shake from pressing the shutter button, which can create a blurry photo.


Focus

If you can change the aperture on your camera then make it smaller as this will improve the depth of field, however, if, like me, your camera doesn’t have this feature, then it’s best to zoom in to at least 1.5×, as this will also increase the field depth slightly. If the whole miniature is not in focus, then zoom in a little further, even if that means moving the camera backwards to keep everything in the frame. It’s also best to aim the camera at a midpoint in the depth of the miniature. A sword or something extended far into the foreground may still cause an issue but there’s little that you can do about this. You could also try increasing the sensitivity (ISO setting) of the sensors, however, this also introduces a lot of noise (undesirable speckles or dots).


Background

Whatever background you use, it should be curved so that you don’t get a distracting edge running through the background. Most digital cameras will make a lot of adjustments automatically, unless you fiddle with the settings, so a dark background is best as a light one can come out too bright and upset the other colours as the camera tries to compensate. I prefer a cold colour to a warm colour as this will sit back further from the subject whereas a warm background will come forward more, however, you may decide to pick a colour which contrasts with or harmonises with your miniature depending on the effect you want. Alternatively, you could just use black.


Lighting

Absolutely nothing beats daylight. Try and set up opposite a window, preferably south facing, and if there are no clouds to diffuse the light, try a net curtain. If the light is not quite strong enough or the miniature is a complicated shape and casts shadows on itself, use a couple of desk lamps with daylight bulbs (these are always massively overpriced at hobby/art/sewing shops so look for an electrical shop; I get them from a stall in Swansea Market). Don’t shine these straight onto the miniature as this will create glares, instead reflect the light off of the surrounding work surface or some white paper or shine the lamps directly at the miniature and use some thin white paper or fabric to diffuse the light. Alternatively,  you can buy or make a light tent to diffuse the light but this is an extra expense.

If you have any gloss varnish on the miniature then this will tend to glare anyway so it might be worth painting it with matt varnish before taking the photo or taking photos before using the gloss varnish.


Corrections

If needed, I just use the Windows Photo Gallery editing features to alter the colour and exposure of my photos and to crop them. I then resize them using MS Paint so that they’re not unnecessarily large for my website. I don’t use Photoshop or GIMP as I don’t edit the image to improve the look of the miniature, I simply alter the colour balance to make sure that the photo looks, as much as possible, like the original miniature.