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Taking pictures of your model kits

OK, so you have been working long hours on that model and finally you can declare it, finished! No comes the part that I’ve seen many times. A photo session of your finished model kit (or work in progress for that matter) where not a hint of justice is made to your hard work. Due to the nature of my work, I have the proper equipment for high quality pictures of my finished model kits. Now, don’t think that every model is glamorized in my studio. 99% of the pictures here are taken on a simple set up and you can too!

Note: The pictures below are watermarked with n URL I no longer host.

First let me say that you don’t need the latest and the greatest DSLR camera to get good pictures of your finished model kits. First thing first, you need a background. I’ve seen plenty of model kits being photographed with all the clutter of the workbench on the background and a less than clean cutting board. That in my opinion is OK if your showing your work in progress. But please, do your model and yourself a favor, don’t take the pictures of your finished model under such circumstances.

Flash: Whatever you do amigo, don’t point your point and shoot camera with the flash ON onto your model. It washes out the colors and your hard weathering work. So using a direct flash on your models is a big no-no.

Background: Lets see the first big circle picture below. It is quite self explanatory.  The measurements are there but feel free to use yours. That’s 1/2” PVC pipe from the hardware store. You won’t need to glue the pipes, in fact, use them without glue and when you’re done, it’ll be easy to store it because you’ll be able to break it down. I did not spend more than $12 and that included the paper. The paper can be found in the post cards and gift bags section in your mega store.

If you are using a regular point and shoot camera, your light source can be obtained with 2 of those cheap table top lamps from the mega store. One lamp on each side will help minimeze harsh shadows.

There are also table top mini tripods. You’re going to need one, because your exposure will be longer than usual and chances are that you will get camera shake resulting in blurry pictures. Frame your picture and use your camera’s self-timer for razor sharp pictures.

All of the above applies if you own a DSLR. However if you have a flash for your DSLR, you can skip the table top lamps. A white painted ceiling (if you have it) is your best friend. Point your flash up instead of to the front and the light will bounce down beautifully.

I hope this is of some help to our fellow model builders. Should you have any questions, feel free to leave them in comments section below. That way your question and answer might benefit other visitors.

George Collazo
George Collazo

George has been hosting review sites and blogging about toy collectibles, travel, digital photography and Nikon digital imaging since 1998. His first model kit build was a Testors 1/35 DODGE WC-54 in 1984.

  • Dale Hutchinson

    Thanks for the nice words…means a lot coming from you. I will indeed remember the links in the future.

  • Dale Hutchinson

    I took some of your recommendations and did some experimentation when taking pics of my recent completion a P-51A and posted on the Agape site. I inserted some lights into milk jugs as a diffuser and it worked well. I used my point/shoot Canon G10 and was mostly satisfied. I attempted to use my wife’s digital SLR, but had a hard time figuring out how to effectively apply the Depth of Field/manual aperture settings.

    I miss the old technology. I had a wonderful Nikon manual SLR during the film days and I could control everything with beautiful results…I don’t understand why the digital world took a step back in some cases. Unless you fork out the money for a superior camera… Forgive my whining!

    • George

      I hear you Dale. To me changing from analog to digital was a ‘cultural clash’. I’ve never used any of the Canon G series but I know they are great cameras.

      I don’t use manual mode on my DSLRs unless I’m shooting with studio strobes. Other than that, most of my photography is done in Av (aperture priority) If you are using your wife’s DSLR here is a tip. Don’t be afraid of increasing your ISO to 800 or 1000.

      To get the most depth-of-field out of your aperture. Focus somewhere in the middle of your model. For example, if your P-51A is at an angle focus your camera on the canopy or slightly behind it.

      That way you are splitting the DOF. You’ll get more DOF at say F/11 than if you shoot at that aperture but your camera point of focus is say on the propeller or Cowl.

      When you shoot in Av, you can control the exposure with the EV control. The button with the +/- icon. If the picture turn underexposed, add +.3 or +7 or more if needed. The same thing but – if the picture turns out underexposed.

      Post a link to the thread on Agape to see it.
      Cheers!

      • Dale Hutchinson

        Thanks, George. I will do some experimentation with my wife’s camera soon and will post some pics. I have not given up on my G10 either, as a member on the Agape site pointed out that I can play with the aperture setting on the G10…I have to do more digging in the manual. I did post pics with the G10 and experimented with the lighting, based on your advice. Jon posted them on the Agape splash page. If you get the chance, take a peek and let me know what you think. In the meantime, I am going to construct a PVC apparatus, as you suggest. I designed one on paper during lunch at work this week.

        • George

          Hello Hutch, I went to Agape’s home page. Are you referring to this link? http://agapemodels.com/2013/01/21/readers-gallery-dale-hutchinsons-148-accurate-miniatures-p-51a/.

          If it is, congrats on a very nice build and also the pictures turned our GREAT my friend.

          The only Mustang I have on my shelf is a Revell / Monogram I built after my long hiatus. It turned out nice. Now I need a 1/48 Spitfire. So many subjects from WW-II and I don’t have a single Spitfire.

          Thanks for sharing Dale. Next time don’t hesitate to add links from Agape.

  • Dale Hutchinson

    George,
    Great article…can you better describe the paper you purchased? I use poster board sometimes, but it is not always flexible.

    Thanks,
    Hutch

    • George

      Howdy Hutch old buddy. Happy new year amigo. The rolls of paper that you see above, is from the Hallmark postcards section either from Walmart or Target. You can also use poster boards from the stationary section. They are dirt cheap and come in plenty of different colors.

      • Dale Hutchinson

        Thanks, George…Happy New Year to you, too. I really like the PVC idea. I once toyed with purchasing material on blinds that stay on the roll. Once used, it can be rolled back up automatically. Although I may try that, I think I will try your suggestion, first, as your pics show the nice results.

  • Don Wheeler

    Great photos, George.
    When I use a white background, my automatic camera under exposes, and the picture comes out too dark. Do you use a gray card to set exposure?

    • George

      Hello Don, nice to read you my friend. When you use a white background, you’ll get under exposure. It is completely normal no matter which camera you use. The same happens if you use a black background. The camera will see it too dark and to compensate, it over exposes.

      I don’t use a gray card. In the case of a white background, use your exposure compensation and boost your exposure by at least 1 stop. The EV (exposure compensation) mode is available nowadays even on the most modest digital cameras.

      It is the +/- icon on the back of your camera. They are usually set by default to increments of .3 (a 3rd of a stop). Most digi cams have a +2/-2. That’s 2 full stops of under or over exposure to play with and more than enough to nail your shot. Cheers!

      • Don Wheeler

        Thanks, George.
        I’ll try that next time.

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