Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Photographing Models and Miniatures by Paul Brent Adams

Photographing Models and Miniatures 2 Lledo RNLI Tyne Class lifeboat. This is a full hull model, and normally sits in a plastic cradle. Depicting such models in the water is more difficult than with waterline models, as the lower hull has to be hidden. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

Once upon a time, model photography was hard work, and required some fairly sophisticated and expensive equipment, even for basic shots. This usually meant a 35 mm Single Lens Reflex camera. Today, a small and cheap digital compact camera is capable of producing high quality close-up photographs, without the need for any extra lenses or other special equipment. The cameras are highly automated, so you can leave the technical side of photography: aperture, exposure, etc, to the camera, and concentrate on composing the photographs.

Photographing Models and Miniatures 3 Corgi Aston Martin DB5 posed on a simple grass mat, sold in model shops. Features such as opening doors can be shown both open and closed. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

Photographs can be taken against a plain background if you just want to catalogue your collection or sell online; or complete miniature worlds can be created for a more realistic look from a city street, to forests and mountains, or outer space. You can use readymade scenery items, or make your own, often using items that most people would throw away – used tealeaves are very versatile. As a modeller and collector, rather than a photographer, this is the part I enjoy the most – but even non-modellers can produce simple and cheap backgrounds and settings for their models. The photographs show some typical examples.

 

Photographing Models and Miniatures 1 The Canon PowerShot A490 camera is so clever it can even take a self-portrait, with the aid of a mirror. The result will be a mirror image, but this can be flipped in an image-editing programme so everything is the right way round. The camera screws to the tripod, which is adjustable. The background is a large sheet of Woodland Scenics ReadyGrass grass mat. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

I only bought my first digital camera after my 35 mm film camera died, and I needed a replacement. I soon found how easy it was to use, much easier than a big 35 mm SLR. The most basic cameras may not have the features needed for close-up photography, but my Canon PowerShot A490 certainly does. You need the ability to focus on small items at close range; a socket for a tripod; a self-timer; and a modest zoom range. The small size and light weight of a digital compact also makes it easier to use in a limited space. The only extra equipment needed is a small tripod to hold the camera steady during the long exposure times often required in close-up work. Table-top tripods can be bought in any camera shop, and are not expensive. Get a good sturdy model, which will not tip over, even with the camera angled well down. If you do not have a tripod, just rest the camera on a block of wood.

Photographing Models and Miniatures 8 Even a very simple painted background makes this lion look more at home. A piece of coloured card is finished with streaks and blobs of green and brown paint. It is not intended to be anything specific, and a background such as this requires no painting skill at all. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

Most of my working methods would probably appal real photography buffs, but I get the results I want, and have fun doing it. All my photographs are taken indoors, by a window, using natural light. This means I do not have to contend with the wind, or complicated lighting set-ups. With the light usually coming from only one direction, one side of the model is well lit, while the other side may be in shadow. A reflector – a simple piece of stiff white card – is used to bounce light back into the areas in shadow. This makes a surprising difference with many shots. Pressing the shutter can disturb the camera, even when it is mounted on a tripod. Using the self-timer means there is a slight delay between pressing the shutter, and taking the photograph, reducing the chances of camera shake. The A490 has two standard settings, or you can select your own – the two-second setting is fine. If you want your photos to have a 'period' look, the camera settings can be adjusted to take black and white or sepia shots. This suits some subjects more than others.

Photographing Models and Miniatures 14 The roadway is grey card, with the building sitting on a grass mat. The clouds are painted on blue card, using white and grey acrylic paints. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

Over the years I have built up a collection of backgrounds and props for model photography. Some of these I have bought in model or toy shops; adapted from old toys or household items; built from kits; or made from odds and ends. One of the best general purpose backgrounds - suitable for most types of models - is a grass mat. Sold in model shops, this is a sheet of paper or plastic, covered with a grass-like material. Some brands do shed their 'grass' very quickly, but the American Woodland Scenics range is very good, and the sheets are available in a range of sizes, and grass shades. A piece of fine green material would be an alternative. Printed backscences are available in model railway shops, in a range of sizes. The ones I use are by the British company Peco. Even if you have no artistic skill you can still paint your own; fluffy white clouds can be dabbed onto a sheet of plain blue card with a sponge; or distant hills streaked on, again with a piece of sponge, using various shades of green. Model trees and loose 'clump foliage' can be bought in model shops, which is easier than making your own. These can help to disguise the transition between the three-dimensional foreground, and a two-dimensional background. One way to give the illusion of great depth to a scene is to place smaller scale models behind the main subject: being smaller they will appear to be further away. These are many simple tricks like this that can be used to make your photographs more realistic.

At the end of each session, all my equipment has to be packed away in a drawer or cupboard, as I do not have a permanent photographic studio. All the photographs here were taken with this simple set-up. Photography does not need to be complicated and expensive; it can be simple, cheap, and fun.

9781445662541

Paul Brent Adams' book Photographing Models and Miniatures is available for purchase now.