Photographing Your Models

Photographing Your Models by Paul Adams

Many thanks to Paul Adams for the following article which, although aimed at film rather than digital cameras, nevertheless covers the key considerations to be taken into account to get the best results when photographing your work…….

Whilst this information isn’t the definitive guide on this subject, it is hoped that it will give you the basic knowledge you will require to begin taking photos of your model collection. You may ask why bother. Well, as your collection increases in size it may not be possible to display everything you have in your home or at a model show, and so photos will help to show others what you have done. Additionally, you may wish to contribute to a magazine article or internet website that features your preferred subject. You might also like to photograph a model from its early construction stages onto completion. This can act as a reminder to yourself on what you did to a model years on from completion or for information to some fellow modeller who is about to tackle the same subject. I could go on. So, where do you start? Most people will have a camera in the house that occasionally sees the light of day for those family holidays or days out. I figure that most modellers will have something they have used for obtaining reference material at military, aviation, or car shows and this same camera may be used for our models.

The Camera

If you have a 35mm compact with a zoom lens or even better, a 35mm SLR camera, you are off to a good start. With your compact, check your instructions to see if it has a macro function. This will allow the camera’s lens to focus down to very close distances, perfect for our miniature creations. Most modern compacts will do this allowing you to focus down to around 0.5m. Whilst this distance is useless on 1/76th scale subjects, you should be able to take decent overall shots of 1/72 and 1/48th aircraft, 1/35th tanks and 1/24th and above cars. To get more detailed images we need a SLR camera. Modern SLRs come with a short zoom lens (typically 35-80mm) and will feature some sort of macro ability. Special macro lenses are available that can focus down to within inches of the subject allowing for very detailed shots to be taken. The basic zoom should be good enough to take some reasonably close photos without resorting to extra expense of special lenses. Again, check your instruction book, which should tell you what the lens is capable of. If you have a camera with a standard 50mm lens, this should still enable you to get up and close to your models.

Depth of focus(field)

The distance that your lens is from your subject will, in conjunction with the aperture setting will determine how much of the subject is in focus. Small aperture settings will allow greater depth of field. Generally, you will want all of the model to be in focus, so you will need to shoot at F16, F22 or if your lens allows, F32. As a rough guide, depth of field is approximately 1/3 in front of the point of focus and 2/3 behind. So, if you are shooting your subject end on, don’t focus on the very front as chances are the back will be out of focus, or soft. Remember, the closer you get to your subject the less depth of field you have. So, if you taking a detail shot, prepare to have some surrounding area in soft focus. On a SLR, you can vary the aperture settings (what is called `bracketing’), take 2 or 3 shots and, theoretically you should get a shot you are happy with. Look for your camera to be set on aperture priority in order to control this feature. The shutter speed will look after itself!!

Film and film speed

To obtain detail in our photos we need good quality film. We also need film that accurately demonstrates the colours we have painted our models in. In most cases I use colour print film by Fuji, simply because it readily available, reasonably cheap, and can be processed quickly. Also, the Fuji film reproduces colour very well in daylight situations. Alternately, you can use slide film, which also has excellent colour properties and comes `process paid’. It is also the preferred medium for magazine editors. However, it is very sensitive to incorrect exposure.

The `speed’ of a film (also called ISO rating) is a measurement of its sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO rating, the `faster’ or more sensitive it is. Fast film requires less light for correct exposure, but the images are grainier than a slow speed film.

ISO100 or less = slow

ISO200 – 400 = medium

ISO400 + = fast

Therefore, a slow speed film will need a slower shutter speed or wider aperture than a fast film to obtain the same exposure. For our photography, we need colourful, fine grain photos that will withstand some degree of enlargement if necessary. Whilst you can have your photos printed in the customary manner, I have now begun getting my photos transferred to photo CD at the processors. If you have access to a computer, you will be able to print off those photos you are happy with, crop them, resize, and pretty much do what you like with them.

If your compact camera has a built in flash, this unfortunately will not be of much use. The flash is so close to the subject that it tends to focus it’s light in one spot, causing the colours to `bleach’ out and cause very harsh shadows. However, of course you can experiment by stepping back a little, which may help. Ensure that you take your photos within the range that the flash functions properly. Check your instructions. Stick if possible, to shooting using daylight. On SLR cameras, the closeness to the subject is still a problem but as the flash is off axis more in relation to the lens, some success can be had with overall style shots.

All of the photos I take for the Internet features, both Dan and I have done, use daylight rather than flash. With daylight you can see better how the image will look before you shoot. Flash is over in a fraction of a second and at the time is difficult to determine the results. If you are at a model show of course, flash is a necessity.

When shooting in daylight and with small apertures, your shutter speed will be slow. In general it is not wise to hand-hold a camera below the shutter speed that corresponds to the lens your using, ie,

35mm lens – 1/30th sec, 50mm lens – 1/60th sec, 85mm lens – 1/90th sec and so on

So try using some support for you camera, a tripod, monopod or beanie bag. It’s very easy to induce movement during exposure when lining up your shot. Also, press the shutter button gently to avoid `shake’.

Keep your image large in the frame for better impact and detail. My work on the Ferrari 312T is shown here in some detail. The fine image quality shows the engine plumbing, wiring and bare- metal foil on the wings.

Photographing your model from low down helps give a sense of scale.

Use simple backgrounds. This avoids unnecessary clutter and focus’s the eye on the subject. Pats detail painting of Field Marshal Von Blucher is captured here by simple use of daylight and a reflector, which was used to `throw’ light into the main features of the model. This was actually taken on a very cloudy day during a rain shower!

The glare from the water can be avoided using polarising filters, but works well on this subject, giving the impression of an aerial shot.

Photos help illustrate how the modeller constructed the subject can be very useful. Seen here on the left is Dan’s Sharknose Ferrari in primer, a few days before the gloss was applied.

The second shot shows Dan’s McLaren MP4/2c. Much of this detail will be hidden when the car is complete.

Another shot showing the use of reflectors – Dan’s Harley `Fatboy’ almost appears real here. The light was coming from the left in this shot – a baco-foil reflector bounces the light back onto the engine detail.

This brief introduction to photographing your models is just the start. Have a go, and bring your photos to the club meeting next time. Have fun!!

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