Thursday, August 30, 2012

Miniature Photography, Part 1: Cell Phone Photography

Guest post by Jordan

"Wow! That's a great looking photo, but the only thing I've got with a camera is my cell phone." Not to worry. Cell phones now-a-days have integrated cameras with resolutions in excess of 3 megapixels. As a matter of fact, my iPhone 4 has a 5 megapixel camera, more than six times the resolution of my DSLR camera. This is a guide to get hobbyists not familiar with photography comfortable with taking great looking photos of their miniatures without the upfront cost or effort of creating a miniature photography studio and without having to adjust anything other than the size of your image in an image editing program like Photoshop.

The first step when taking photos with a cell phone is to know what you're going to be working with. Obviously, you'll need your cell phone and a miniature you want to photograph. Also important, though, is a proper backdrop. You'll also need plenty of ambient light. We'll address all of these things now.

You're going to want to understand the dynamics of your phone's camera. The iPhone 4, for instance, doesn't like direct light on the subject, and will tend to wash the subject out. Like the iPhone, any other phones are designed to take photographs in conditions of ambient indoor lighting, and will assume any object lighting is an error and will digitally "dim" that part of the picture to compensate. Many phones are more versatile than the iPhone and may have more than a small handful of options for taking photographs, so experiment with your phone's settings to see how you can get the clearest possible picture without having to make the room brighter.

A miniature to photograph is largely self-explanatory. For best results, I recommend using a flat varnish on your model, which will eliminate any shiny spots left from darker paints and washes.

Finding a proper backdrop for your photograph can make or break the picture. There are a wide variety of options for backdrops. Rich, the proprietor of this fine blog uses a gray T-shirt. But the most common, and in my opinion, best option is a simple piece of printer paper. Bringing up the iPhone again (seeing as that's what I own), some phones may not like a white backdrop, seeing as the phone will interpret the white backdrop as projecting light and will darken the model, much the same as having too much direct light on your subject. I've found that a sky-blue background produces the best results for cell phone cameras. To get one, all you have to do is print out a piece of paper that's entirely light blue, set up something relatively stable on a table (like a box of pasta) and tape the backdrop to whatever you've set up in order to create a "swept" background like you see in the photo below. A swept background will even out how the light reflects off the backdrop and creates a smoother background for your photograph, drawing attention to the subject.

Be sure to pad the metal clips with paper or cloth.

The last important part of the set up process is your lighting. Opening the blinds and letting in the sunshine is by far the best way to light your scene, but that may not always be an option. Again, I'll stress that with most phone cameras, you're going to want ambient light. In other words, light that fills the whole room. I've gotten the best results from using "daylight" bulbs, available at your local home improvement store. These bulbs simulate natural sunlight and are often used in pet reptile cages. Other types of bulbs can produce either a yellow or blue glow, both of which will make your photo look unnatural.

Now that we know what we're working with, it's time to start taking some photos. Set your model up on the backdrop and get situated with your cell phone facing the model and backdrop. Now you're going to center the model on your phone's screen; the model should take up most of the screen with a visually pleasing amount of the backdrop bordering the model.

Cell phone cameras will often have a focal "sweet spot," the point at which you can't get your phone any closer to the model while the camera can still focus on your subject. Six inches is usually in the ball park. The main problem with taking photos with a cell phone or point-n-shoot camera is that most of them can't be focused manually, and rely on their software to focus the image. This can lead to your phone focusing on the backdrop instead of the model, throwing it out of focus. To compensate for this shortcoming, you're going to have to "lock" the focus on your phone. What this does is set the focal distance from the lens of the camera, so you can simply move the camera around until your subject is in focus. On the iPhone, you do this by waiting until the blue "focus box" comes up and disappears, then pressing and holding your finger on the screen until you see the blue focus box flash. The bottom of the screen will say "AE/AF Lock."

Once you have your scene set, your subject in focus and your camera steady, all that's left is to take the picture! Now you have an excellent photograph ready for posting online.


In addition to writing guest articles for Green Stuff Industries, Jordan hosts the Table Top Generals podcast, available on iTunes, and chronicles his Warhammer 40,000 experience at There Is Only War.


  1. Thanks Jordan, that was great help. I usually use my HTC Sensation Android phone for miniature pics. Your ideas of steadying the camera and the blue backdrop will come in handy. Excellent.

  2. Michiel,

    Glad you enjoyed the tutorial, be sure to post some links to your results.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...