Thursday, April 13, 2017

Worth a thousand words

For the most part, humans tend to be a very visually oriented species.  (Apologies to those who are blind or otherwise visually impaired - this isn't commenting on you (and I doubt there are many people who paint and/or play miniature games that can't see)).  We like pictures, both the still variety and movies.  Just look at how many youtube videos are out there about, well everything, up to and including Kings of War.  (A special shout out to Kyle (and you too Caleb) at Master Crafted for their excellent battle reports and other videos (Kyle did the artwork for our Ohio War Kings banner you see at conventions)).
I even set this as the background on my phone
Myself, I don't do videos, and rarely record or listen to podcasts.  I am not against them, I have just found that just listening is the worst way for me to get any information.  I don't make videos because I want to be able to easily stop and look at different things (I've been told I have a face for radio, and a voice for print).  I much prefer the written word to get information and share it.  I do like pictures though.  The saying goes that "A picture is worth a thousand words" (ok smart-ass, I can hear you already replying "especially yours" from the peanut gallery (who let that guy into the room anyway?))

For this year I am stepping up my game a little bit taking pictures of my models.  I recently received a kickstarter from the fine folks who Tablewar (the folks that make F.A.T mats) for their new "Macromats" photo backdrops.  These fit nearly perfectly in my Foldio 2 (another kickstarter from the fine folks at OrangeMonkie), plus I just got a new Google Pixel phone, with a 12.3-megapixel camera. So I thought (any excuse to write a post you know) that it might be interesting (ok, at least to me) to take a little tour of taking pictures of models since I started, and maybe give a bit of advice.

My aunt loved to take pictures, though I don't remember ever seeing much of them.  Back in the day we used to use film, and you had to get your pictures developed to see them (with the occasional Polaroid instant camera).  With modern digital cameras on nearly every cell phone, tablet, computer and other digital devices, much of the art of photography is being bypassed by convenience.  Not that I ever claimed to be artistic or a photographer.

My wife used to be an amateur photographer.  She would spend a lot of time (sometimes hours) setting up and making sure she got the perfect shot.  At one point (before we were married) she dated a professional photographer, and she was amazed at the amount of film he used.  Sure he would set up shots - but then take lots of them from slightly different angles and distances.  Then he would get the film developed, and decide which one or two he wanted from the dozens he took.

She gave me my first digital camera - a Sony Mavica some time around 2001 (I think).  It had a 3.5" floppy disk drive for recording the pictures, and could take awesome high def 640x480 pictures (that is roughly 2% of what my new phone does - 12.3 megapixels)
Sony Digital Mavica - 1997
such a huge view screen
I tried to take a picture with it after charging the battery, but it has errors writing to the disk. However you can see some of the quality back then.
a whopping 640 x 480 resolution
I would try to arrange a suitable, simple background (this was on the display board).
Some I would take against a blank sheet of paper as well.

Well eventually I was able to get a new digital camera that no longer needed floppy disks - it could connect directly to my computer via a usb cable.

I found this still on a bookshelf - but the screen is cracked and ruined, so that even though it turns on, it won't take a picture any more.  This first came out in 2008 and was 10 megapixels.  What it did not have was any software to help with holding the image - so if I used the zoom at all things would get pretty shaky and blurry.
white table, with the back of a pad of paper for the backdrop
two pieces of MDF for a backdrop
I went through several of these little cameras - none of them seemed to last very long.  Eventually I bought a Droid smartphone (the one with the slide out keyboard) and the camera on it was as good or better than these, so I just started using it.  Then every time I would get a new phone, the camera was better, so that the phone I now have (a Google Pixel) takes great picture (and does have image stabilization software!).

In 2014 I had already discovered the addicting appeal of kickstarter - and saw one that looked to be what I needed to take my pictures to the next level.  Foldio - a portable photo studio for smartphones. This gave me better light, and now I had better neutral backgrounds.  This was my grey period, as I had a choice of black, white and grey.  It worked well for painted minis, not so much for grey plastic sprues and bare metal.
original Foldio - one light bar, battery operated
Stick the batter on the side with the magnets
four background sheets - green, white, black and grey
Using my old Foldio
 A year later, they came out with Foldio2 which was bigger - so I could fit larger units inside.  It had a few backgrounds - green seemed to me to be the most neutral and worked well for high contrast against grey plastic.
Foldio 2 - 2 light bars, plugs in (no batteries)
Significantly larger - the Foldio 1 inside of the Foldio 2
Again 4 background sheets - these are thinner (paper)
grey plastic against green background
The most recent kickstarter was for MacroMat Miniature Photo Backdrops, which was for a set of three backdrops on neoprene-backed material (think mousepads).  I got all three, but my favorite is definitely the blue-white gradient.
Three backgrounds - brown clouds, grey clouds, and blue to white gradient
against blue white-gradient
The fit almost perfectly in my Foldio2, though the magnets to hold the background in place barely can take the weight of the neoprene, and will fall off if I pull very hard.

The last piece of equipment I have added was a small tripod with an adapter for a smart phone. While not 'hands free' it does get it down to one finger - but more importantly it takes my shaky hands out of the picture.
Folds up nicely to slide into the corner of my desk cabinet
grip to hold a smart phone - which can be removed for a normal camera mount
I like that it can be angled however you need it.
Hopefully it will give me consistent better focus, as I don't have to pick up and set down the camera for every picture.  I set it up, put in the mini, take the picture, then turn or swap out the mini for another without having to move and readjust the camera.

Of course a lot of my posts are written ahead of time (some several weeks now), so for a while you will be seeing a mix of the old green and the new blue.

To help out all of you budding photographers, SpikyBits put up a graphic last year with some great tips for photographing your miniatures (that I have shamelessly cut up and re-posted here).

First, and most important is Focus!  With the resolution of computer screens now - what may look ok on your phone may reveal that it is not truly focused when blown up on today's modern LCD displays.
Lighting is very important, so that you can truly see your model

As seen above, the background can really make a difference.  You want a background that easily shows your miniature but does not detract from it.

This is one of the harder pieces to master.  Where does it look best from?

I like to make mine as tight as possible - even to the point where I almost always crop pictures I steal get from other sites.  And I just use Microsoft Paint that comes with my laptop.

Lastly, most people are too worried about what their camera is - whether it is a phone or low priced digital.  It is much more the photographer than the equipment (a good photographer can still get really good shots). If you are taking pictures professionally (or for things like painting competitions) then you want the best equipment you can reasonably get, but for most people what they have will work fine.

Just like playing, painting and modelling, your photography skills will improve the more you use them.  With today's digital photography, you can take as many shots as you need to get exactly what you want.

Because it is all fun and games . . .

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