Author Topic: Learn from my mistakes; teachable moments on lighting and photography.  (Read 1177 times)

warriorsoul

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 I have lot of experience in the fine art of repeatedly posting awful pictures of miniatures on the internet. I consider myself something of an expert on the subject, but this year I branched out into a new experiment aimed at developing some kind of modest, fair to middlin' proficiency at photography.

 Let's look at a case study:

                                                   
 Ignoring the fact I'm using a hex map and a big desert poster for a background, the lighting on this is a crime against humanity and is probably an illegal act under the Ares Conventions. How did I achieve this level of visual destruction? Well I just turned on some big ol' overhead lights and directed a third LED bulb straight at the miniatures to achieve a searing, washed out, eyeball mangling combination of interconnected hotspots that make it seem as if I was using a nuclear explosion as a flash. There is no photo-editing software on planet Earth that can fix this mess.

Now let's move on to the same 'mechs with a bit more thought and care put into the lighting.

                                                   
 Once again, ignore for a moment that there's actual terrain and a better backdrop here. This picture is leagues better than the first one. Still not perfect, but it's worlds better and you can actually see a reasonable representation of how these models look in real life. Basic photo editing software can tidy up photos like this pretty well. I'm using a 40$ set of cheap LED studio lights from Walmart that allow me to do two important things: Adjust the brightness and the tone of the light. I have a key light I'm using from one side, a fill light from the other, and rather than blast the 'mechs with a high intensity LED bulb, I'm using that bulb to refract light off a white reflector from above.

The setup looks like this:

                                                   
I've constructed a sort of primitive light box here that's basically just to help collect and diffuse light across the scene and especially from above. The main illumination is the key and fill lights which I try to bring up to just enough intensity to evenly light the 'mech. I recommend you start dim and gradually increase the brightness until you like what've you got in the view finder.

Doing this I'm able to get pictures of this quality consistently, which I think are halfway decent and run laps around my old photos.

                                                 

Here's a collection of quick bullet points on other things I've learned:

-Cell phone cameras are good enough for this, but the software behind that camera might not be. In my case, I had to download an APK of the Google camera to replace the horrible stock version on my phone.

-Put the camera in grid mode. This will make it easy to center the 'mech and see where you're gonna be cropping the pic.

-Spend about fifteen minutes researching how "key, fill and hair/separation" lights work. This will give you a basic foundation to work from. Long story short, your key light is the primary light, the fill light is to erase harsh shadows, and the hair/separation light is to help outline the top of the 'mech.

-Adjust the angle and intensity of your key light to avoid "hot spots" and harsh reflections on the 'mech. This can be very hard in some cases because these miniatures have so many panels that you'll frequently end up with a piece of armor that's catching the light at just the right angle to act as a harsh mirror. You can see a mild example of this on chest of the Summoner in the second pic.

-Use the fill light to illuminate the other side of the 'mech and help light it evenly, but don't get overzealous in your attempts to blast away all the shadows with it.

-Watch that separation light. The idea is to rain down some diffuse, even lighting from above. If you're using a "reflector" like I am, be careful that the light is aimed up high enough to not cast a searing hot spot on your backdrop.

-Use basic photo-editing. I'm not talking about photoshop, I'm talking about things like "sharpness/clarity", white balance, color/tint, etc. Contrast, color and clarity are the big three I use. A dab will do you. You just need enough to sharpen it a bit and richen up the color slightly, we're not trying to hammer this thing with an obvious Instagram filter, we're just trying to clean it up and make it truer to life. Most of the time I'm only moving the sliders to about 20 on a 100 point scale.

-Find the golden angle. Every miniature has that perfect orientation where it looks the best. It's very obvious on Games Workshop minis, but also true of Battletech. Some 'mechs look their best from straight on, some from a 3/4 angle, just turn them until you like what you got.

-Try to use a contrasting backdrop to help legibility. I've taken some fairly good pics only to realize that my 'mech is blending into the scenery. This really shows up on the thumbnail.

-Zoom in slightly. You can always crop the picture and use something like Paint to crush the resolution down if need be. Believe me, compressing the resolution is ALWAYS preferable to trying to increase it in post.

-If you can, carve out a space for a dedicated photography set. You'll get much faster, easier and more consistent results if all you have to do is flip on the lights and tweak the diorama/backdrops/mini. Hastily trying to throw together lighting for that 'mech you just tossed down on your game table is a recipe for ugly pics, believe me, I've done it enough times to know. If you've got a fairly standardized protocol for how you take pics and build your sets, things are gonna be so much easier.


Anyway, I hope these very simple tips will save someone a lot of wasted time and effort. I don't claim to be a master photographer by any means, but I can certainly see a world of difference between my old photos and my current work after implementing everything I've listed here.
 
My Imgur:
https://imgur.com/user/warriorssoul/posts

My Instagram:
@faithandheresy

My Camo Specs page:
https://camospecs.com/author/warriors-soul/

carlisimo

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This is amazing advice, thank you! 

Higher-res images might be helpful, imo.

warriorsoul

  • Sergeant
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  • Posts: 153
This is amazing advice, thank you! 

Higher-res images might be helpful, imo.

If I use higher resolution on the forum it tends to eat the entire page so I tend to avoid doing that. There's higher resolution images in the links on my handle.
My Imgur:
https://imgur.com/user/warriorssoul/posts

My Instagram:
@faithandheresy

My Camo Specs page:
https://camospecs.com/author/warriors-soul/

 

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