Do you ever look at your photos of lego models, or minifigs and think “Why doesn’t that look as good as other photos you have seen on photosharing websites or lego blogs?”
It took me a while to realise the problem was a relatively busy, untidy environment around my model, and big shadows. Even when I tried to take a picture on a table next to the wall, it still looked a bit dubious. Shadows were a problem. I had two options: invest in a swish light box, or improvise. I chose to improvise (on this occasion!)
A light box typically diffuses light, minimising the strong shadows that may otherwise be seen. Often it will enable you to shine on the subject from several directions, minimising shadows, and allowing for even lighting on the subject. There are some neat, collapsible light boxes out there, for around $95-100, but that is not necessarily the investment you want to make before you start taking pictures! Besides, who wants to go out shopping when there are images to capture? Recently, brickset.com published a design for a home-made light box, which covers most of the features required.
But what are the most basic elements of a light box? How can they be improvised? I present my quick and dirty setup for minifig/ small model photography:
- First, get rid of the background: I place a piece of (normally white) paper against the wall or against a box onto the table top, and have it gently curve onto my work surface. Some times, you may need several pieces.
- Reduce the shadows: I aim to have at least 2 light sources from different directions to fill in some of the existing shadows. I have a few tools which facilitate this. At worst I use one torch and the flash on my phone. My preferred device however is the ‘Batlight’ – it has 2 panels of LEDs on a hinge – that can cover a multitude of sins. Diffusing the lights with baking paper works well: paper and sticky tape does the job. An overhead light, or reading lamp is also useful to lighten the subject.
- Place your subject far enough in front of the ‘back wall’ so as to avoid casting too many shadows onto it.
- Slight over exposure of the photo can help clear the lines brought on by using several pieces of paper.
- Practice. Quite a lot.
- Something to be wary of: the lens on your phone is a bit wide angle (typically around 30mm, 35 mm equiv). Holding your phone close to the subject is likely to induce more distortion than taking the picture from a distance and cropping it. Avoid using the digital zoom on your phone: it just upscales pixels, which doesn’t improve your picture quality. If you look at this example, moving the phone closer to the model results in some distortion: the vehicle feels like it is bulging in the middle. when you move the lens away ( In this example I went from 4 to 20 cm, and then cropped the distant shot). As you can see, the image on the right has less ‘bulge’ However, the trade off here is the brightness of the image is somewhat diminished.
- Experiment with your phone’s post processing abilities: darken highlights to reduce glare, and lighten shadows to bring out more detail. If you are able to darken the blacks a little (adjust the black point) , it can also help. Here is a quick fix on the green goblin again:
The results aren’t as good as using a DSLR, a lightbox and a couple of big lamps, but they can be satisfying. And it’s quick and portable.
What’s your approach for a quick photo for online publication? This is just one way of producing a tidy photo without setting up a studio. I’m sure at some point I’ll look at a more sophisticated setup… but I might need to get one first.
Do you do something different to take your pictures? Why not photograph your setup and results, and share them on the rambling brick’s Facebook page?