A quiet Sunday afternoon provides the perfect opportunity to experiment with taking better photos of miniatures and put into practice some of the things I’ve learnt recently. On the one hand, I chose quite a challenging subject – a completely grey Perry plastic French officer. On the other, this was the first time I’ve been able to deploy the tripod and infra-red remote with the camera. I also assembled a couple of lamps from around the house to provide light sources from different angles.
For the technically-minded among you (and so that I’ve got a record of what I did) here are some of the more gory details…
Firstly, set-up: the camera was mounted on the tripod and I actually used my telephoto zoom lens at its fullest zoom (300mm). I set the camera to use aperture preference and started at f8 – the idea being to get a good depth of field. As it turned out, this figure holds a sword that (with the figure’s arm) sticks out about 30mm in front of the figure’s body, which was a bit of an issue.
I blu-tacked a couple of sheets of white A4 paper to the worksurface as a background (just one sheet seemed to be too transparent under the lights). The lamps were positioned to the front and side of the figure at 45 degree angles to catch it in the crossfire, if you see what I mean. This was intended to reduce shadows on the background.
Then I did something I’ve never tried before – I used the camera’s whitebalance functionality to set a custom whitebalance for this particular set-up. I’m sure the method for doing this varies from camera to camera so I won’t go into the specifics here. Look up “whitebalance” in your camera’s manual and follow the instructions. Essentially, I was able to get my camera to measure the lighting conditions on the white background and adjust its own whitebalance setting accordingly. This should remove those yellowish, redish or bluish tinges you sometimes see on pictures taken under artificial lights.
Once that was sorted, I set the camera to work with the infra-red remote shutter release (these tiny gizmos are really great fun), positioned the miniature in shot and started taking photos at various apertures.
Then I downloaded the photos on to the computer and did a little post-processing. I selected the image with the best depth of field and cropped it tightly. Then I tried various combinations of resizing, automatic equalization and lightening. The original images had still come out a little dark and the background was still a bit grey (but tonally neutral) so these tweaks fixed those problems to a reasonable extent.
The final image isn’t ideal but its certainly a promising start. On the plus side, there’s no nasty flash glare, shadows on the background aren’t an issue and I was able to get the background down to a nice unobstrusive and neutral almost-white with a combination of the custom whitebalance and a little post processing.
There’s still room for improvement, though. The main thing is that I’d like to get brighter lighting on to the figure. That ought to reduce the need for post-processing and enable me to go up to higher apertures which will improve sharpness and depth of field. I think choosing a grey figure to photograph was asking for trouble in the first place but once we get to ones wearing paint, that ought to make life easier. At the end of the session, I took a couple of shots of the Perry cuirassier horse I painted at the end of last year to see how things would differ for a larger and painted figure. As you can see, this is easily a few steps on from the pictures I took back then. Given this, you may well be wondering why I bothered photographing the naked plastic figure at all.
Well, it’s all part of my preparation for painting Saxons. I’m anticipating an exciting package from Calpe Towers any day now and I’ve been giving a lot of consideration to conversions with Perry plastic heads and the unresolved issue of suitable paint choices for Saxon officers’ surtouts. So messing around with this Perry officer gives me a chance to kill both birds with one stone. The figure in the photo has actually been decapitated and had one of the spare Perry heads fitted (a natty number with a damaged shako). I did the conversion with some drilling and pinning and applied green stuff to hold the pin in place and fill in the gaps. And that part of the exercise went very smoothly.
The next stage is some painting. As mentioned above, the light blue for the surtout is one target. Peter F. has suggested Vallejo Sky Blue (VMC961) but I’ve got to work out the palette to go with it. The other target is a new white palette because I’m still not happy with the one I’m using at present and there’s an awful lot of white on those Saxons! So the shot of the naked plastic is a reference point for the rest of the test painting.