How-To: Mini Photography Part 3: Camera Setup

Camera Setup and Use

 
Welcome to the longest and the most complex part of the whole photo experience. This part of the tutorial will be broken down into several sections to help you navigate thru the minefield of mini photography. I hope that you have read the first 2 sections before getting to this point. Without the proper background or lighting this whole section will be for naught.

1Picking the right camera for me
2Setting up your camera for mini photography
3Advanced tricks and tips
 

Picking the Right Camera

Or how do I get the most for my money

In today’s world with the advent of the Internet and the rapid drop in camera prices, it really makes no sense to discuss film here. So I won’t because that can be a whole tutorial onto itself.

The first thing I want to cover is the different types of cameras available. They fall into mainly 4 classes of cameras.

1: Point and shoot – This covers almost all cameras $600 or less and some above that price. There are basically 2 types of point and shoot

EVF (Electronic ViewFinder) cameras usually have bigger zooms and when you look through the viewfinder you are basically seeing a smaller LCD screen. . Lenses are non-removable, watch it there are some places that will try and tell you that an EVF camera is a D-SLR.

COMPACT cameras these are 90 percent of the types of cameras you will see on the market today. They are identified by either not having a viewfinder at all, or when you look through the viewfinder you are actually looking through a small focusing window in the front of the camera.

Both of these types will do a decent job if they have the features we will discuss below.

2: D-SLR – These are the best cameras to use for this type of photography with the right dedicated lenses. These cameras even the lowest priced will produce a higher quality image than a point and shoot camera due to their larger sensors and better optical properties. They also have a lot more leeway in how you can set the camera up and the range of settings that you can use. These cameras start at around $600 for just the body the lenses will cost extra.

3: Medium Format – If you can afford one of these cameras I really hope you know how to use it. You should be way beyond the point of this tutorial if you can drop over $10,000 on a camera.

4: Range Finder – There is only one that I know of at this point and at $3000 it is out of the general price range of this tutorial

Now there are a few things to keep in mind when looking for a new camera or upgrading your old one.

1You want to make sure the camera has aperture priority mode.
2That there is a macro mode or a macro lens available
3That there is a custom white balance setting
4Three megapixels or better (a higher number does not necessarily mean better picture quality... see below)
5That you get a decent tripod
 
Okay now lets look at each of the sections by themselves. You will need to refer to your camera's manual to find how to set each of these modes.

Aperture priority mode

Aperture-Priority Mode: This is the mode that allows you to set the lens opening to achieve the desired depth of field, while the camera will set the proper shutter speed.

This mode is important to achieve the proper focus when taking pictures of small objects. By setting the proper aperture you will get all parts of the mini in focus but achieve a blurry background. This will give you the best display for your work.

This is sometimes referred to as the f-stop. The larger the number the smaller the opening, the smaller the number the larger the opening. So f 2.8 will have a large opening that will let in more light. The down side to this is that the camera has less time to gather the image and the depth of field will be much shallower. In the reverse f-22 will have a very small opening letting in less light and the shutter will be open longer. At f-22 almost everything will be in focus in your image, but unless you have a lot of light and I mean a lot, camera shake will be more evident. For most of your standard mini photography you will stay between f-6 to f-11.

Here is where to find the Aperture Priority mode on a Canon and several other cameras with a dial.

Most point and shoot cameras have only the ability to set this to f-8 max. There are a few and I mean very few that will go beyond that. Their price is above that of a D-SLR so you might as well get the D-SLR.

The examples below will give you an idea of the depth of field as affected by the aperture setting of your camera.

For example I will be using a $199 4.0 megapixel Canon camera. You will need to experiment with yours to find out what is the best setting for your camera. You will notice that at the same settings as the D-SLR your depth of field is much deeper.

In this next example I will use a 6mp D-SLR with a 50-mm macro lens

As you can see with the D-SLR I have a much broader range of f-stops to use. This allows you to get just a small area of the mini in focus or the whole image in focus. This helps when showing a single point like a decal or a whole diorama.

To get the proper depth of field is the reason that you want a space between where the mini sits and the background

Macro Mode

Macro Mode – this is a setting on compact cameras that allows you to focus at a shorter range. This produces a close up image that is used in mini photography. Usually a flower is the symbol found on the compact cameras to indicate that you are in macro mode.

Macro or Micro Lens – This is a dedicated lens used for close up photography on a D-SLR. There are several to choose from, from many different makers. I recommend that you get the longest focal length that you can afford.

Okay this mode is used for shooting a close up image of your mini to really get it to show. Now remember that the closer you are the more mistakes will show also. When taking a macro shot try to focus on the cockpit of your 'Mech and set the f-stop to bring the whole mini into focus. This may require several test shots to find the right f-stop but hey a digital image is free.

Custom White Balance

White Balance – This is a setting in digital cameras that is used to compensate for different colors of lights. This used to be corrected by using filters or a color balanced film for the type of lighting that will be used.

This is an important feature that needs to be on the camera that you purchase. We all have seen photos that are orange, yellow and blue in color. This is caused by the color of the lights that are used to light the mini. The human brain is amazing in that it can figure out what is supposed to be white and adjust the image we see to compensate. Cameras on the other had record exactly what they see.

If you have a camera and it does not have a custom white balance setting you are going to have to just experiment with your settings to figure out which works best.

Here is what happens if you use the auto white balance setting with normal household lighting:

Here is after using the custom balance setting to calibrate the camera to the right lighting.

Here is where it is found on the Canon. You will need to check in the manual of your camera on how to set this.

With most cameras you will need a white object to set the custom white balance setting on the camera. I suggest a business card or a small piece of poster board. If you use a piece of regular paper fold it in half so that no light leaks thru from the back. I like to put the x on it to help focusing and to make sure that the color is correct.

Megapixels

Pixel (photosites) – This is the actual point on the chip in a camera that records the image data. Cameras are listed by the number of photosites that are on the chip, usually referred to as megapixels, which means millions of pixels.

Is bigger better? That is a question I get all the time. The answer is not as clear as yes or no. Wish it was it would make life easier.

The more pixels on a camera in a perfect world would give you around an 11% increase in quality for every 1 million you went up. As we all know though the world is not perfect. The more pixels in a camera the higher the noise produced in the image. So a 3 megapixel camera from one maker may produce a better image than a 5 megapixel from another. It all boils down to the software in the camera and the optics in the lens.

This is why Nikon and Canon are the tops in the field of digitals. They have some of the best software to handle the noise in the camera. Now most cameras will produce an excellent image for what we are trying to achieve here. 3mp are good enough to win any contest you may want to enter. The higher the pixels the more reduction will be required to fit into picture size and file size requirements, but the more detail will show.

Tripods

This is probably the most over looked and most needed piece of equipment for mini photography. Taking pictures without tripods causes pictures to loose focus, or 'smudge' from your hands shaking.
There are several types I recommend something that has either a ball head or a 3 way pan head. These types of heads will make it much easier to get the camera level and aimed at the miniature's cockpit.

Here is an example of a Ballhead:

Here is a 3-way panhead: (this is the tripod that I use)

Now you don’t need to spend $300 on your tripod as you can find many with the same features for less. Just make sure that it is steady and strong enough to support your camera.

Okay now we have covered what you need to know about the equipment needed for mini photography. Let’s move on.

Setup

This part will take all of the above information and the other 2 sections and put them together.

First thing you need to do is find an area to shoot that has plenty of plugs or that you can get a power bar to the plug. I personally use the kitchen table at night. By using the table at night it helps to reduce outside light from tainting the image. (Plus keeps the little ones away since they are in bed).

Now setup as described in the lighting section. How you do this is up to you but I usually clamp the lights to the back of the chairs.
Here is a reminder of the proper light setup:

Once you have got the tripod and camera ready to go, turn on the lights.

Now the first thing you need to do is set the camera to the Aperture Priority mode. Set the camera to f 8.0 to start. If you are using a compact this maybe the highest you can go. With a D-SLR you will be able to play with several f-stops to get the best one.

Turn off the flash on the camera

Then set the custom White Balance on the camera by holding a white object in front of the camera. You will need to refer your manual to set this for your camera.

Now turn on the timer function in your camera. The timer function is important because it allows you to let go of the camera when taking the picture and avoid having any jitter caused by your own hands.

Focus on the cockpit and take your picture.

Once you have taken a picture review it on your computer not the tiny LCD panel on the camera. If you need to re-shoot the picture, it will be a snap since everything is still setup! Remember all digital photos will need some 'sharpening' with image software such as Photoshop, or Microsoft Picture Manager.

Practice until you get the results you want and start snapping away.

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Use of Pigments

To players and hobbyists, the art of painting miniatures can feel overwhelming. There are so many choices to make - choosing the mini, the scheme, paint brands, paint brushes, and techniques. It seems never-ending, like there’s another whole world that you don’t understand each time you try a new project. Even once you have started to grow in the hobby and have some basics under your belt, the more advanced techniques can feel like an insurmountable wall. My aim here is to break down one of those walls and take some of the fear out of trying something new. My subject today is applying dry pigments.

 

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I opened the baggie to find...

Assembling the Tonbo

As part of the CSO Team's effort to support Iron Wind Metals website updates, I recently received a copy of the Tonbo Superheavy Transport VTOL, as described in Catalyst Game Labs' Technical Readout 3085, pages 52-53.

I opened the baggie to find...

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For me weathering is something that truly makes a Mech ‘come alive’. I just love it as it can add so much detail and character to a miniature. A couple of times I have tried to paint a clean Mech with a shiny ‘out-of-the-factory’ scheme, but I can’t. I always come back and add at least a little bit of wear and tear. Hey, even with Jamie Wolf as the pilot the paint scheme will suffer scratches and wear around the feet just moving out of the factory.

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