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Photographing Your Models

Part One

By Brett Green 

bf109g6cw_1.jpg (43877 bytes)

The Illusion  -
A 1/48 Scale Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-6
built by Chris Wauchop


This article offers a introduction to some of the basics of photography and its application to getting good pictures of your models.

For a more detailed discussion of model photography, see Robert Pounds' Part Two.

B a c k g r o u n d

IPMS New South Wales is fortunate to have a resident professional photographer. The work of Pieter Stroethoff will already be familiar to HyperScale regulars. His photographs are the source of the images in many of our earlier Feature Articles and Gallery Entries. Pieter’s photographs are always a great source of inspiration for me. He has a good quality SLR camera using multiple synchronised flashes, and a "light box" with interchangeable painted backgrounds. The results are consistently impressive.

Although Pieter was always happy to take photos of members models either completed or under construction, the downside was that there was only one IPMS meeting per month to get these photos taken!

I began taking my own model photographs a few years ago when I was editing the local club magazine (IPMS News and Views), and contributing armour articles to Track-Link. Early results with flash photography were poor, so I looked for alternatives that would give me reliably acceptable pictures.

This article outlines the techniques that have worked for me. This does not imply that it is the only way to take photographs of models - the key is to keep practicing and experimenting until you come up with a technique that works for you.


E s s e n t i a l    E q u i  p m e n t

Essential equipment required is a 35mm SLR camera with either manual or aperture-priority automatic settings and a tripod. It is also desirable to have a zoom lens in the range of approximately 35-70mm and that the camera is equipped with a self-timer.


T h e   P h o t o   S t u d i o


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...and the reality - a small folding table with cardboard, railway grass and a clump of plastic trees!

My "photo studio" is a shady section of my back verandah. When I want to take model photographs I erect a small table and attach a sheet of plain blue to the top of the table. I tape this cardboard down at the front and the centre, and prop up the back to create an artificial sky. Recently I have laid a sheet of "railway grass" to represent groundwork. Chris Wauchop has also built a miniature forest of pine trees to help break up the horizon, although a similar effect might be achieved with a large scenic poster or calendar page The studio is completed with the tripod and camera set at close to table-top level to give a "spectators" perspective to the subject.


C a m e r a   S e t t i n g s

The three keys to a technically successful model photograph are good depth of field; appropriate exposure giving bright, even lighting; and focal length. Many modern cameras have "programme" settings that select both shutter speed and aperture. You should not select this option when photographing your models.


Optimising Depth of Field

"Depth of field" refers to how much of the picture is in focus. The ultimate aim is normally for the whole subject to be in focus. To achieve this, the aperture should be set as small as possible. The aperture setting simply indicates the size of the opening in the lens. The smaller the aperture, the larger the "f stop" number. So to select the smallest aperture, set the lens at its highest f-stop setting - probably f.32 or f.22.

To maximise the depth of field, focus approximately one third back from the nose of the model.

Setting Exposure

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Image 1 - Photograph taken at f.32 using "automatic" shutter speed and scanned with no further manipulation

The aperture setting has been selected as above. The very small aperture means that not much light will get to the film, so a longer exposure will be necessary. This won’t be a problem if you are using a tripod.

If you have an automatic setting on the camera, the shutter speed will automatically be selected for you. If you are using a camera on manual mode, set the shutter speed now.

bf109g6cw_2.jpg (33791 bytes)

Image 2 - The same subject, the same angle, the same aperture but at one stop slower. Image has been optimised using gamma adjustment and manipulated with a "sharpen" tool before being saved as a *.jpeg file.

Scanning will tend to darken and increase the contrast of images. Photographs taken for the Web should therefore be slightly lighter than standard snapshots. I "bracket" my photos to ensure that I get the most appropriate exposure for the Web.

"Bracketing" means taking the same photograph at different exposures. I usually take one photo at the shutter speed recommended by the meter, plus one more photo at one stop slower. "One stop slower" means double the recommended shutter speed (i.e. if the meter recommends 1/2 second, set 1 second manually). For detail shots in shadowy areas such as cockpits or vehicle interiors, I will sometimes take a third shot at two stops slower (i.e. four times the recommended shutter speed).

Focal Length

In general terms, a wide-angle lens (e.g. 28mm) will distort an image, and a long telephoto lens (e.g. 200mm) will tend to compress the same image. Either effect may detract from the realism of a model photograph. I prefer a focal length of between 50mm and 70mm. In other words, if you have a zoom lens, try to keep the zoom between 50mm and 70mm.

Taking the Photo

Once the camera is set up for the shot, it is time to take the photo. Camera shake can be a problem effecting the sharpness of a photograph. This is a particular problem when shutter speeds are slower than 1/30 second - and with photos taken in shady locations at such small apertures the shutter speeds will certainly be this slow. My photos are often taken at exposures of one or even two seconds. At these shutter speeds, the use of a tripod will be essential. To further reduce the risk of camera shake during long exposures, I use the self-timer function on the camera. An alternative would be to use a remote shutter-release cable.


S c a n n i n  g    a n d   P r o c e s s i n g   I m a g e s   f o r   t h e   W e b

The cost of a flatbed scanner has fallen dramatically over recent years so that it is now within the financial reach of many PC owners. However, the scanner is only one part of the web-processing equation. Image processing software plays, if anything, an even more important role in determining the "look" of your model photos on the Internet.

Until recently I used an Optic Pro 4800P scanner which cost me less than A$200 (US$140). This scanner has now been replaced with a Umax Astra 610P. I scan most of my photos at 100 dpi. Any higher resolution results in a wastefully large image that will not fit on a screen. I find that lower resolutions (e.g. 75 dpi) limits flexibility to crop or resize the image.

Before saving the image I will determine if further processing is required. Very often, the raw scanned image will be too dark. I use a software package called "Picturama" that allows me to improve the overall density of the image with a tool called "auto-density". I can then fine tune the "gamma", brightness, contrast and sharpness of the overall image. When I am satisfied with the result, I will crop or shrink the image depending on the plan for its ultimate destination. Finally, I save the image as a .JPG file.


C o n c l u s i o n

As mentioned before, this is not intended to be a strict guide to model photography. Hopefully it will provide some ideas or answer some questions that may help get you started. After that it is just a matter of practice and experimentation.

And when you’re happy with the results, why not send in some of your scanned images (or even hard copy photos by snail-mail) for inclusion in a HyperScale gallery?

Happy snapping!

Got to Part Two of "Photographing Your Models"

Text and Photographs Copyright 1998 by Brett Green

Page created on Monday, June 01, 1998
This page last updated on Thursday, May 09, 2002

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