Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Light Box Photography 101

By The Megapope   Posted at  15:19   tutorial No comments

So I was sticking together my Mark IV Lightbox 3000 when it dawned on me that I hadn't documented my photography process for when I want more snazzy looking glamour shots. Admittedly I've been a bit lazy with the photos as of late, so I figured this was a good time to get back in the game and put together a post about how I make better looking miniature photos.

I use my wife's cheapy digital camera; the Samsung E15 which retailed for 150 bucks back in 2009. It didn't get particularly good reviews but then it was just made for mucking about with and taking 'glamour mode' shots at parties so whatevs!

Now, all us model painting nerds have looked at forums where people have shown off their newest mini with pride, only to have it backlit, out of focus and held in their greasy bear like paws. Why go to all the effort of painting a nice model just to show it off like this?

You may as well be holding a potato. 
Even if you manage to hold the camera super still and have your model lit from the front like the below pic, the model itself looks pretty nice but you're still distracted by all the background clutter going on. This ultimately takes away from the piece you want people to look at. Games Workshop show off their pretties with a white background for a reason.

Great, now it's a painted potato.
So we come to the light box! If you already know how to make a simple light box, this likely isn't going to teach you anything new, but who knows! You've stuck this post out so far so you may as well continue.

Part the first: assemble your box!

For the light box itself I just took a cardboard box, cut off two of the sides and lined the left and right interior surfaces with white paper. I then got a larger piece of paper and bent it gently across the bottom and back surfaces without creasing it, so it makes a nice concave bend. This stops you seeing any crease or join lines behind the model in photos. EASY AS PIE, BUDDY.
Precision NZ craftsmanship.
Next up we want some good light sources to shine onto your model. Ideally the lamps should have white 'daylight', not yellow bulbs, though even the cheapy digital camera I'm using has white balance mode which compensates for the yellowish light. BEHOLD THE TWIN ARMS OF LAMPY DOOM. I find that two light sources works best as they help prevent a shadow appearing behind the model and onto the white paper. 

Some people have three, five or a hundred lamps, each one with another three tiny little lamps coming off the main one. Go nuts! 
Excuse the messy desk. Or not, I don't mind.

Part the second: Shooting!

Here's a photo I took on my phone just to show what the setup looks like when I'm ready to shoot. (It's not actually dark in the room, the overhead light's also on!) I have one lamp a bit more forward and shining onto the front of the model and the other one positioned so it's shining straight down.
"I'm ready for my close up. Praise the Emperor."
I also position the camera onto the surface of the table, to make it as stable as possible and eliminate any possible hand shaking that might mess with the focus.

Your camera will likely have a 'macro' setting for shooting small things close up. Make sure this is turned on!

When it comes to other camera settings, the E15 is surprisingly versatile for its price and has white balance and a good range of exposure settings to choose from. I recommend messing around with your camera's settings to see how bright you can go before model starts going misty or the white background becomes too glaring. There's also a ton of basic digital camera tutorials available online.


Part the second point one: more words on lighting

Sometimes natural daylight is the best light source, and you can get great results by positioning your light box in front of a window that has lots of diffuse indirect (as in not direct sun-beams) light coming in. Below you can see three variations using the same model.

"Pew pew!"
Rose tinted visor.
"I could hold this pose all day."
The first one is using my two lamps and the overhead room light. The second one uses a window with the overhead light on, and for the third I adjusted the white balance some more and just used natural daylight (it's current raining outside with lots of white sky which can be great for model photos).

I was happiest with the last photo; the first was okay but I found the muzzle flash on the model was getting too washed out wheras the second has better detail but the combination of lights and white balance filter made it way too red tinted.

The take home lesson here is experiment with different lights and camera modes!

Part the third: post production! 

I know my way around Photoshop, which is hugely useful for making your photos look just a bit more sexy after you've chosen which ones to put up online. Obviously you don't want to mess with the image too much, you're showing off your mad painting skillz after all. But you can very easily use the Levels or Curves functions in Photoshop to make the light or dark values just a bit deeper. If you check out the two Behemoth pics below, you can see how the first one looks just a little bit less exciting than the second, and literally all I did was a tiny adjustment to the image's light levels.
Almost there...
Aaaaaand that's pretty much it really!  Light boxes are really the easiest way to get some nice looking photos of your finished work. The power is yooooooours.

0 bleatings to Megapope:

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Hatching from his egg high in the glacier crowned majesty of the Himalayas, the Megapope quickly devoured his other siblings and later on his parents, for being damned cheeky. He ran a bloody campaign of terror across the wind swept steppes of the north, coming to be known as 'That Horrid Bastard' by the terrified tribes of the region. Many years later he came second in a beauty contest, won $10, didn't pass Go and didn't collect $200.

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