The first and most important consideration when doing miniature photography (once you’re using an SLR, that is–see article 1) is how you will light your subject. If you have spent many hours painting the mini, you will want your photos to accurately portray the colors and the numerous little details–but this can be immensely frustrating or even impossible if your lighting is wrong. So before we begin clicking the shutter, we must first decide how to illuminate the scene. There are two basic types of illumination:
- Natural light (daylight)
- Artificial light
Natural light is easier in one way–you don’t have to set up anything, for example, since the sun is already in position–yet it brings its own challenges, so we’ll start with artificial lighting in this article. The beauty of artificial lights is that you have easy control over lamp positioning and brightness–plus you don’t have to wait for a sunny day. There are several different types of artificial light that we can use, and we’ll address them in reverse order, from worst to best. (Refer to the previous article if you are not familiar with “white balance.”)
Shooting your mini with a flash creates so many problems that you really should find another alternative. It blasts the figure with a merciless explosion of light which washes away all the color, and it creates looming shadows that produce a very ugly photo. If you must use flash, then you must also bounce it–and this means that you will need to use a separate flash attachment on your camera, not the little flash that’s built into it. You will need to bounce the light off the ceiling or a nearby wall so that the light which hits your mini is diffused and softened–and the wall is the most likely option, since the ceiling is too far away. If you don’t know how to bounce your flash, don’t use your flash.Bouncing may also introduce some strange colorations into your photo, because the light bouncing off the ceiling or wall will pick up the color of the ceiling or wall. This is not likely to be a problem if you bounce off a white ceiling, but it will become a problem if you bounce off chartreuse walls. (There is another flash alternative, using a white card to bounce off, but we’ll discuss this when we address daylight photography.)
Fluorescent lights produce a ghastly green hue. Plus they flicker (though your conscious mind may not notice it, your eyes do) and they contain mercury and old ones buzz annoyingly and the government is trying to force us to buy them. So don’t. If all you have available is fluorescent, then wait for the next article on using daylight. The effort involved in color correcting from fluorescent is simply not worth it.
Tungsten bulbs are a specialty light source designed to produce correct white balance with film–tungsten film, that is. This is no longer a major issue with digital cameras, however, so my suspicion is that tungsten lights will one day become archaic. If you don’t own any (and you probably don’t), leave it that way. On the other hand, if you do own tungsten lights, you can still use them to photograph your minis–just remember to set your camera white balance to “tungsten” (see previous two articles).
When Benoit asked me to write this series, I immediately assumed that regular household lamps would never suffice for accurate white balance. This was because I was still thinking in terms of old-style film cameras; when I started playing around using my digital, I was delighted to discover that household lamps work perfectly well–provided, of course, that you set your camera’s white balance to “incandescent.”
Now, when I refer to “regular household lamps,” I really mean regular hobby-type lamps: gooseneck reading lamps, clamp-on shop lamps, scissor-style swivel lamps–any type of lamp that will focus the light and permit you to aim it where you want it. I found that two 60-watt bulbs in gooseneck lamps provided enough light to get respectable photos.
I also tried using those “daylight” bulbs vs. the basic incandescent frosted type, and did get marginally better color control. If you don’t mind spending the extra on daylight bulbs, I’d recommend them–but they’re not essential.
Finally, you need more than one lamp–two is sufficient for a subject this small, set at 45-degree angles from your mini.
Next article: using daylight.