I have always found model photography to be an interesting and rewarding extension to the hobby of model building. My aim in model photography is to create images that are indistinguishable from good quality original WWII pictures. The availability of image editing computer software now makes it possible to produce 'lifelike' images of aircraft models in flight and even in aerial combat from 'impossible' viewing positions.
The following is a basic step by step account of how to create realistic images of your models.
I use a digital camera but a good SLR would be equally useful. The main advantage of a digital camera is that it produces digital format images ready for photo editing. It also gives instant feedback (gratification?) of the picture you have just taken.
I attach the camera to a fully adjustable type stand to eliminate camera shake and to give me at least one hand free to do other things!
As a general rule, the larger the model the better. Most of my models are 1:48 scale fighters built in flying attitude with undercarriage up attached to a stand. The model does not have to be 'super detailed' or of 'museum' quality - a well-built and finished model will suffice.
The stand I use is either wire or polished timber and brass tubing construction. This latter type of base is used where the model is motorised. The brass tube 'spike' contains the wires running from the electric motor in the model to the battery pack and switch inside the timber base.
The wire type stand is 'coat hangar' gauge, which is strong enough to support most models and can be easily bent into shape. The stand has a triangle shape base and a 'spike', which is inserted, in a hole in the underside of the model.
Large sheets of artist's cartridge paper in light blue or white are ideal as a background for the model. These sheets are then attached to a backboard and placed upright behind the model.
A hand held dryer with heat off or on low setting can be used to spin the propeller. The hair drier is obviously not required for models that have a small electric motor installed in them to spin the propeller. Due to the space limitations inside 1:48 models this is only possible with radial engine aircraft. In-line engine a/c like the spitfire, do not afford sufficient space to install an electric motor.
Photo Editing Software
Without this it is impossible to create realistic composite images! I use Photo Phop Pro 6 but any similar editor would be suitable. A full function, time limited demo version of Photo Pro 6 can be downloaded from tucows.com.
The camera and the model should be set up in the shade of a verandah or similar - not in full sun. I've found that best results are achieved on overcast days in either midmorning or mid-late afternoon. The above conditions produce a 'soft' light suitable for model photography.
Place a sheet of cartridge paper under and behind the model. Place the model far enough away from the backing sheet so that it does not cast a shadow onto the paper. The sheet of paper under the model reflects light up onto the model. If the model were placed on, for instance, a red brick patio the underside of the aircraft would have a reddish hue in the photo.
The final image is created by combining two steps - model photography and background photography. As these images are to be merged, it is important to have the light intensity and angle close to identical in both images. For example, if the light source (sun) is coming from the two o'clock high position when photographing the model your background images should also have their light source from this position.
Model: Having gone to the trouble of setting everything up, take many more pictures than you think you need from as many angles as possible. A digital camera will give you instant feedback of the image.
With one hand operating the camera, the other holds the blow drier to spin the propeller of the model. Check the image in the camera to see if the desired level of propeller blurring is being achieved.
These are images that will form the background for the model with the aid of the photo editor. A non-specific image such as cloud formations is very useful as a background. Ideally these would be taken from an aircraft above the clouds, but if this is not possible find an elevated vantage point such as the top of a hill or tall building to take the photos.
From this point on the model is no longer relevant! The photo editing software removes the model stand and background and replaces it with the new cloud formation background. Depending on the software you choose, the editing package can perform all the cutting and pasting automatically for you. Once this is done you can 'trim' the layers by careful removal of any undesired parts of the image not removed by the initial 'cut and paste'.
The editing software can allow for a huge array of adjustments. Use it to remove that 'pasted on' look merging model with background. The photo editor allows you to adjust gamma, brightness and colors etc. I have not found a standard 'formula' of image adjustments that result in a realistic image. Trial and error using an orderly process in the image manipulation is the best method. For example, if altering the brightness make incremental steps. If the change does not enhance the image, hit the back button and try again!
With practice you can create images which have more than one model 'layered' one over the other. The relative size of the models is adjusted in the editor to give perspective to the composition. Again the best method is trial and error, making small adjustments until you are satisfied with the overall image.
The end result of the photo editing with the background and model merged into a single image.
I hope you will find these techniques helpful to produce realistic images of aircraft at war. To see more images created using the above technique visit my website at http://www.geocities.com/martyman2001/
Text and Images Copyright © 1999 by Martin