Monday, September 20, 2010

Photographing Miniatures

Hey all,

Brother C here.

There was a call out to all FTW bloggers to submit articles written about photographing your miniatures. I can't believe we haven't talked much about that on here as of yet.. so.. here it goes.

Basic techniques for lighting and photographing your miniatures.

As with my photography, there are a lot of factors that go into a great shot. I’m going to go over a few of the basics and feel free to experiment and play around until you achieve the final image you desire. The above image is to show you a before and the rest are after implying some of these techniques.


The first thing I would recommend is a lightbox or light-tent. These are fairly expensive online, I think you can get a decent one for around $100. These are great, and I think most are portable. Great for taking to the local club. However if you do not feel like dropping the dough, like the rest of us, there are quick and easy DIY tutorials out there.. here’s ONE that I have used.


The key to setting up your lighting is to position the lights to eliminate any harsh shadows and dark areas on your models; while maintaining enough contrast in your lit areas to reveal definition. Wow, that’s a mouthful. Lets break this down. You will want a KEYLIGHT. The main light, such as the sun for instance, but you will need to create this light, decide where you want the main light source coming from. Got it?

Alright now, you want to look where the shadows have formed, where you are losing details and definition due to harsh, dark shadows. You want to position your FILL LIGHT to bring illumination to these areas. Usually your FILL LIGHT is a bit more dim than your KEY LIGHT because you don’t want these areas to shine, but just have enough illumination to reveal the missing details you spent so much time preparing and painting.

The next light is a BACK LIGHT. This light is intended to illuminate the background. Whatever background you feel is appropriate for your models. I would recommend something simple such as a gray or white background. If you are looking to replace the background in a post-processing program such as photoshop use an extreme color like a bright green or pink, something you can easily select the pixels and remove them as needed. You will want the BACK LIGHT to be just bright enough to bring contrast to your models, making them ‘pop’ off the backdrop. This will probably need some tweaking as you progress. I strongly recommend a large piece of solid color paper such as Bristol paper. You want to place your models on the center of one of the short sides and then lean the paper up against a flat backing such as a wall. This will create a nice even curved (creaseless) surface behind your models.

That’s it for lighting basics.


Fist rule for the camera. USE A TRIPOD. Don’t even argue. DO IT.

Now, the next important thing you will want to do is to NOT use on camera flash (if you know what you are doing ignore this tip, but for everyone else, turn OFF your on-camera flash. Reposition your lights if you want to change the lighting scheme.

If you are comfortable using your camera, you will want to be shooting in APERATURE PRIORITY mode, usually the one with an ‘A’ on your camera dial. Set this as low as your camera will allow and work your way up. This will allow you to get that nice clear focus and blur the background. This may blue the models next to the focus point, so again, you will want to work your way up the scale until you are happy with the result. You will want to ALWAYS use MANUAL FOCUS here, don’t let your camera focus on the model in the back, while your model in the front is blurred, it will look very strange.

If you want a simpler approach, simply move your camera dial to the macro icon, this will automatically set up your camera for taking pictures of minute details. Again, you will have much less control, but it should do the job 9 times out of 10.

Shoot in RAW if you can.


There’s a multitude of post processing you can use to accent your photographs out of camera.

Adobe Photoshop

Basic. Make sure you have the Photoshop RAW converter and check the option to open JPGs in the RAW convertor if you aren’t shooting in RAW. This will allow you to tweak almost ever option from your camera with broad sweeping strokes, allowing you to achieve desirable results very quickly. The RAW convertor for photoshop is free.

Adobe Lightroom is my software of choice, it does everything the RAW convertor does and has a very user-friendly interface which allows for all aspects of the photography process. You can organize, print and send to web all with a few tabs and clicks of the mouse.

Iphoto and Capture NX (as well as dozens of others) are also photoediting programs that are just as good. Feel free to experiment and find the one that suits your workflow the best.


And there you have it, my quick and dirty miniature photography tutorial. Feel free to play around, post results, and of course ask questions about anything you are still unsure of.


  1. I'm hurt that you would use my picture as the example of a crappy picture. Seriously though i do need to get a light-box so i can take better pictures.

  2. yeah, i'll be honest, I posted this while I was at my lunch break at work. so.. I really only had a few images to work with, and.. well.. yours got chosen for what it is. haha.

    i wouldn't recommend buying a lightbox, its really simple to create your own for pennies. that's what I would do, I do have a lightbox at my place if you ever wanted to borrow it too. just stop over and grab it.

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