Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Photographing Miniatures : Part II, setting up your camera

So last time we discussed how I got my perfect set-up. You can imagine my frustration when I took some pictures and still they were dark and out of focus. After reading a few tutorials and some trial and error, I came up with settings which work very well for me.

So, everything needed was inside my camera, with the essential help of a tri-pod. To follow this Tutorial you need a good digital camera (mine is a Canon IOS Rebel T3) that you can put in "manual setting" and one which lets you play with Aperture, Iso and Shutter speed (exposure).

First and most important advice : DO NOT put your camera on "Macro" or "Auto" mode. I did this for years. It doesn't work for miniatures photography. What you want to do is control the settings of your camera manually. (BTW I'm no expert, what you are about to read has been picked up from the web and many tutorials. I'm a self made man ;-) ).

Aperture is ‘the opening in the lens.’

When you hit the shutter release button of your camera a hole opens up that allows your cameras image sensor to catch a glimpse of the scene you’re wanting to capture. The aperture that you set impacts the size of that hole. The larger the hole the more light that gets in – the smaller the hole the less light. Aperture is measured in ‘f-stops’. In our case, we want a  a smaller hole (high number) so that everything is in focus. I go with f22.

In very basic terms, ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to the light, while a higher ISO number increases the sensitivity of your camera. The ISO setting changes the sensitivity of the sensor. A low number like 100 will be crisp but will require a lot of light to expose the picture correctly. An ISO of 3000 will not require that much light but will be very grainy. I often read 400 is a good number, but I went with 200 and the results were remarkably better.

Shutter speed, also known as “exposure time”, stands for the length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light into the camera sensor. If the shutter speed is fast, it can help to freeze action completely. If the shutter speed is slow, it can create an effect called “motion blur”, where moving objects appear blurred along the direction of the motion. In our case, you want to play with the exposure meter (-2..1..0..1..+2). This is where I had so much difficulty. I kept changing the shutter speed setting until the cursor was on 0, but that always gave me too dark of a picture. Took me a while to figure that one out! Now I over exposure on the exposure metre about two clicks to get a brighter picture and a whiter background (so +2 instead of 0).

However, the long shutter speed means that, if you are holding the camera the picture will be blurry because of all the camera shake. This is where the Tri-pod comes into play, because we are going to use a long timer; with a long shutter speed just pressing the button can move the camera. The timer eliminates that. I use a full 10 seconds timer. You might say it's annoyingly too long, but honestly with all of the settings described above I rarely take more than 2-3 pictures of any subject to find my perfect picture. So basically 20-30 seconds per good picture is something I can live with!

Officially, I'm still missing two things; a better background (I like blue gradiant, although my current white works just fine) which I ordered from a recent kickstarter, and something to work on my white balance. But I'm a little lazy at times, so I let my Mac's IPhoto deal with my white balance, usually by "lightening" the picture just a tad.

So here you go! In recap, ISO of 200, Aperture of F22, +2 on the exposure meter, 10 seconds timer and a good tripod. Works for me! Of course, you might have to do your own tests so that you find what works best with your camera, set-up, lighting available, etc.

My camera sitting on the Tri-Pod, with the proper settings

I'm very, very happy I finally managed to get it right, it is really such a relief. After figuring everything out, I spent a couple days smiling, and annoying the girlfriend by answering every problems with a "don't care, figured out my miniature photography".

So now not only are all the settings good, but everything is set-up just the way I want; fast, quick and quality pictures at the roll of a chair! Some recent examples of photography from the new set-up :

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Photographing miniatures, Part I; tools and set-up

Since I started blogging, my bane has always been Photographing miniatures. I hate it because it takes forever to set-up, and that means spare time not used to painting; I hate it because it always end costing money, from tri-pod to cameras to light-box, etc. (and again that means money not spent towards my hobby), and mostly I hate it because I'm not very good at it, and my pictures always end up too dark and I have to take 50 pictures to get two "good enough" picture. It has, in the past, played a role in irregular blogging posting habits. I would often wait until I had enough figures painted to spend an entire afternoon taking pics. But this way of doing thing really didn't work well with regular blog posts, and it's especially problematic during the Analogue Hobby Challenge, as I find it important to try to get a good rhythm and post every week or at least every two weeks.

So when I moved this Spring to a new house, I decided I needed to fix this issue once and for all, especially since I had the room needed; i'm indeed lucky enough to have an office (which also serves as my toys/comics collection room) upstairs to myself, as does Laurie. There were a number of things I wanted to adress, and it took me a long time to all put it together, mostly because I had to wait a few months because I was broke after the house move! So I wanted the following :
  • Permanent photography set-up. In the past I tried everything, from taking my pictures outside (not so good when summer is basically 3 months a year in Montréal), to setting up a table corner with terrain, to try to take pictures in front of a simple white paper sheet. All these would take time to install; bringing the terrain needed, getting the tri-pod, etc. I wanted something which would always be easily accessible, no set-up required.
  • A lightbox or something similar. I like to use my terrain for gaming, not taking pics, so I decided to go for a lightbox, with a permanent backgroup. Now, I like my house and my office to look nice, so not only did I wanted the box to be efficient and if possible cheap, I also wanted it to look smart in my office. So no home-made cheap looking cardboard box! 
  • A set-up right next to my computer; when taking pics outside or in the basement, you always have to go up and down the stairs to download your pics, and to double-check they are ok, etc. It's a lot of time wasted, and moreover not the best idea for my knees. 
So now lets look at the solution, which is fairly simple really. I already had a tri-pod (which I think is a must to take proper pics of minis) and a good camera. I needed a lightbox!

While perusing an Oldhammer blog, I found a review for the Foldio lightbox; it's a cheap lightbox, incredibly easy to assemble, small enough to fit on an office desk. And it was available through Amazon! And finally, it looks quite good and fits very well with the aesthetics of my Mac computer and office in general. I actually bought the Foldio 2, which is bigger and has more light than the Foldio 1, two problems mentioned by Matthew in his blog

However, lighting was still an issue, and indeed you don't have enough. I fixed this by buying two desk lamps and equipped them with daylight bulbs; faster and easier than buying more lights of the Foldio guys in Korea!

Here's a picture of the (permanent) set-up. 

To take pictures, I just roll my chair a bit to the left, get in front of the tri-pod, open all the lights and I'm done. 30 seconds and I'm in photography mode.

And then, to download the pics, I move the tri-pod with the camera still attached to it a few centimeters, and connect the USB cable straight from my usb multiple port adapter to the camera.

20 seconds later pics are uploaded, and I know if they are good. Yes, the whole point of this is to minimize as much as humanly possible all time devoted to photographing miniatures, while still getting great results. Toyota would call it "the lean method".

Of course, nothing is easy about Photographing miniatures, so I quickly realized that, while the set-up was great, my pictures still weren' stay tune for Part II!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge, Part VII

Yes, the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge is back for it's 7th year (I know, time flies). Better and bigger than ever, with 100 participants! While the Fantasy and Sci-Fi side of the Challenge will occupy the vast majority of my time, I do intend on working on a few things for this place.

So what's in store for this blog? Well two small projects, really.

  1. Napoleonic skirmishes. I've got the skirmish bug recently, for both Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and I've been thinking of doing something similar for Naps. Really, it's an excuse to paint some of the many great skirmishing Napoleonic figures on the market. One of the things I like about skirmishes is the ability to spend more time on each figures, and it's something I especially never do with Naps. So I got myself Songs of Drums & Shakos, because I love the engine, and would like to create small 10-20 men forces. Eventually maybe I'll be able to use them in bigger skirmish games like Sharpe's Practice, although it is not my goal per se. What do we start with? Well some Poles from Murawski Miniatures, of course! Roger sent me this summer some of the new "Retreat from Moscow" skirmishers and they are really good looking. I'll use them for the 1809 Danube campaign to create a wonderfully ragged bunch. 
  2. I'm having a side-duel (well two actually, you can read about the other one on my Marauders and Citadels blog) with Sander Van Straeten, who I met on a Facebook page. The duel is for "80s Military and Sci-Fi Pulp" and consists of a single entry, between 25 and 50 pts worth of infantry, along with one mandatory vehicle piece. Now, you may ask yourself "And what exactly is 80s Military Sci-Fi Pulp?". Well you'll find out! It's not the type of thing usually seen in this blog, but it should be a fun entry. Also, my very first 28mm vehicle. Wish me luck.
  3. There's a 3...kinda. I reserve the right to work on anything else I feel like! It might be historical, it might be Pulp...heck it might be Zombies! If it's not strictly Sci-Fi or Fantasy, I'll post it here! 
Of course, the above doesn't include the bonus theme rounds, and my plan is to participate in all of them but one (I don't do terrain).

My goal for this Challenge is to hit 550pts, although I hope for more.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A few Indian chiefs

A small return to the French Indian War this week. I always enjoy this era for skirmishes and we had two fun games this summer with John  and Rusti (from Crossover Miniatures)

I painted a few Indian Chiefs for the Sharpe's practice game. I had all the Indians needed but no "Big Men" so I went to work on 3 Conquest Miniatures figures. I especially like the "Last of the Mohican" Magua figure (middle figure), although I did not paint it as Magua but rather as a generic Indian Chief. Before anyone comment, no, the war paints are not historical per se, I just went with what I though would look good on the battlefield and what would be easily identifiable as big men. 

I quite like my blue war paint, even though it's not very historical!
I juggled with the idea of using differently sized based to identify the Big Men, but in the end figured it might be a problem in other rulesets, so went with my traditional 25mm slim round bases from Litko, which I use for all my skirmish historicals.  

These pics were taken just last week with my new Foldio lightbox, so its still very much a work in progress. I need more light and probably another background. I'll discuss this further in a future post.

Anyways, hope you like them!