Photographing Miniatures

by Tom Setzer

I have been into photography for 35+ years, and I have learned a few things that I would like to pass on to the rest of you.

The materials you will need are as follows:

A good 35mm single lens reflex camera
A good sharp lens, you can make do with a 50mm, but you will have much better results with a Macro lens. I use a Minolta 210mm Macro.
You will also have the best results if you use a sturdy tripod and a bulb extension (shutter release extension).
A blue daylight colour correction filter if you are using Tungsten lighting with daylight film.
At least two lamps with daylight photo flood bulbs or 100-150 watt Tungsten bulbs with Tungsten rated film.
If you use daylight bulbs you can use daylight rated film.
A reflector (you can use a white card for this if you do not have a photo reflector).
A white or pastel blue background (I use sheets of white or light blue matt board). You can use a cheap artist easel to hold the background and reflector if you are using white matt board as your reflector. Otherwise, you will need a tripod for the reflector.
A photographer's gray card is useful for taking meter readings.
You can use a close-up filter on a 50mm lens and get fair results, but a close-up filter will make your TTL (through the lens) meter less accurate, so you will need to experiment with exposure settings to get them right. You can do this by taking a series of shots bracketing the setting your meter gives by +1/2, +1. +1 1/2 stops and -1/2, -1, -1 1/2 stops (if your camera has a bracketing function, just use it).
Set up your grey card at the spot where your miniatures will be and with the lighting you will use (make sure you set up your lights in such a way as to eliminate unwanted shadows and take your meter reading to give you a base reading to work from.
I use a high quality strobe flash for fill but this can be tricky so you will be better off using just the lamps until you have more experience.

To set up your miniatures for photography use a clear work area. I use a table with a white covering. Set up your background with the top angled back between 30 and 45 degrees so that you don't get that "in-a-box" look to your photographs. Set one lamp directly over the subject directed straight down on it, set your second lamp on a plane even with your camera and directed toward the subject (set this lamp between four and six feet to the right or left of your camera). Set your reflector a couple feet to the other side but set it on a plane approximately half distance between the subject and the camera and directed toward the subject (make sure that the reflector is aimed in such a way that it will not reflect light back toward the camera lens or you will get flare). Make sure that you have your lamps and reflector set to give balanced lighting.

Set your camera on your tripod so that your miniature is framed as you wish it to be and make sure that your camera will be in its focus range. The center of your lens is always the sharpest and you will get the sharpest and best result if you frame your shot so that your subject is centered in the frame. At first your aperture should be set at F22 plus, which will give you plenty of depth of field and make it easier to get a nice sharp image (if your lens has a smaller/higher number F-stop you can use it to give even better depth of field).

Your exposure times will need to be fairly long, so you need to use a good sturdy tripod, and a bulb extension will be of help keeping you from shaking your camera.

Always set your camera to manual and set your aperture to F22+ and then adjust your shutter speed to give you a correct exposure, according to your meter readings (always set the aperture first and then read your meter, and then set your shutter speed accordingly).

Practice by taking lots of photos and experiment with lighting, shutter speeds, and bracketing your photos. Keep notes of your photos, the best way to do this is to use a databack on your camera, note down the exposure settings of each one of your shots, so that you will have a basis for judging which changes you need to make in your exposures, also note down the aperture settings, the lens and camera stats, and the number you assigned to the shot.

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