Half of the battle of presenting a well painted model is taking good photos of your hard work. In this first blog post of a two part series, I’ll be providing a brief walk-through of equipment and setup that will put you on your way to taking great photos of your models.To start, I’ll give a quick rundown on the equipment that you’ll need: lighting, a tripod, a backdrop, and a camera with a remote or internal shutter.
Good lighting is crucial to achieving a good shot. In my experience, it’s best to use more than one light source to illuminate your subject. A single light source is not ideal as it will produce stark shadows and will throw unwanted contrast off on elements of the model.
Typically, I will always use at least two light sources during a shoot. Ideally, the lights should be used at 45 degrees angles to the left and right of the model. To provide good fill light, a third light may be used from the top of your subject. A fill light will bring details and features out of the darkness. The better your subject is lit, the easier your camera will pick up on all of the details you’ve worked hard to bring out.
When I created my light setup, I made a point of ensuring that all of my lamps were using the same kind of bulb so that the lighting is uniform in both coverage and temperature (color cast).
If you’re noticing that your lights are too bright on your subject, you can move them further away of even add a diffuser, such as wax cooking paper, in front of the light source.
Photographing models requires a steady platform for your camera. Any sort of camera shake can blur details of the model you’re photographing. Tripods come in all sorts of styles and brands. If it sets up correctly and is sturdy, you’ll be ready to shoot your model.
Choosing a backdrop can be tricky as it can asset the mood and accentuate the model as well. In the past, I’ve used black cloth, but I’ve since moved onto a matte dark grey background as I like the neutrality it provides. White backgrounds can work, but they can also clash with your camera’s ability to focus on the model and even create overexposure issues. Any color can work as long as it doesn’t clash with your model and wash it out.
To take good pictures of your models, a top of the line camera isn’t necessary. The same applies with lenses. Some lenses are better than others, but most kit or “stock” lenses will work just fine. Additionally, with the latest advancements in hardware, phones are becoming capable platforms for model photography. Whatever you choose to shoot with, it’s best to use a camera with a “manual” function, an internal timer or remote, and the ability to change your ISO. There are 4 aspects of the camera I’ll cover: aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and white balance.
Aperture (or F-Stop):
A camera’s aperture controls how much light hits the censor of your camera – It opens or closes to allow more or less light in and functions much like the human eye. A lens’s aperture is measured in f-stops and can range from f/1.4 all the way up to f/32. Here’s an example of how the f/stop of the lens affects the image:
The higher the f-stop, the smaller the “iris” of the camera will be, but the greater depth of field and more in focus a model’s various parts will be. Lower f-stop numbers mean “iris” of the camera is open wider, but the depth of field is smaller. For photographing models and miniatures, you’ll want the greatest depth of field possible. I typically stick at f/6, but that’s my personal preference.
One thing to keep in mind with the f-stop is that the higher the number, the less light you’re letting in. To counter this, you’ll need to increase your shutter speed or raise your ISO.
The ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to light. Higher ISO numbers are generally used for lower light conditions or when you need a faster shutter speed.
Higher ISOs produce photos with more grain or “noise”. When shooting models, I typically shoot from 100 to 250 since I have the ability to control the amount of light on my subject. Here is a series of shots showing how ISO affects an image.
Here is a series of shots showing how shutter speed affects an image.
The faster the shutter speed, the less light sensor, giving you an image that is darker. Your shutter speed will vary due to lighting setups, different backdrops, and even with how reflective your model is. There isn’t a “correct” shutter speed. Each model is different so you may need to experiment with different shutter speeds to see what fits your model and light setup the best.
Getting a good white balance, or color temperature, with your camera’s sensor is incredibly important and can affect the way your model looks. Here’s an example of how different white balances can affect the way an image looks.
I typically will use the fluorescent setting as that is what my lights are, but you should choose whichever setting gives you the best and most accurate white balance.
Taking the Photograph
After getting my camera and tripod setup, I’ll take a few practice shots to establish my shutter speed and decide how dark or light I want the shot to be with my current light setup. I tend to slightly under-expose my shots as I can always bring them back up in post processing, but this is a personal preference. In my experience, I find that I save myself from having to worry about blown out highlights. This is a habit that I’ve carried over from doing “normal” photography, but again, it’s only my personal preference.
Once I’ve determined my shutter speed, I’ll use my camera’s remote so that I’m not bumping the camera when I shoot. If you don’t have a remote, using a timer on the camera will work just as well. The less you move your camera during a shot, the sharper the images will be.
I hope this guide has provided some useful pointers that you can use when photographing your models. Have a great one and get back to painting.