Photographing Miniatures – My Setup


Magic box

This strange device is the box that I currently use for photographing my miniatures.  To start out with it’s a generic banker’s box with all of the sides except the back cut out.  I’ve then covered the side and top holes on the box with tracing paper in order to properly diffuse the light.  Inside of the box I’ve attached a strip of black velvet, purchased from a fabric store for about $2.50.  It really helps to give a deep black background without much reflection.  The rest of the setup is below.


Box of destiny

I set the box on the floor of my apartment for convenience of lighting placement.  I have a couple of shop lights that I anchor to a coffee table for side light.  Above I have my strong desk lamp.  The bulbs I use in each of these light sources are neutral temperature, to avoid throwing off the colors of the miniature.  The shop lights have 60w incandescent neutral-temperature bulbs.  You can see the tiny tripod I have for my camera in front of the box.  It’s a little foldup that’s actually been really useful throughout my time spent photographing, as it fits right into a camera case.


Lights on the Box

This is the setup with the lights on.  The bulbs are very close to the subject, but the tracing paper really helps to cut the light down to a very soft, uniform glow.

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Man in the Box

Here’s another view, closer to my vantage when photographing.  Mr. Butcher is in there as an example.  This picture shows how well the light is diffused, and how rich of a black the velvet gives due to its generally non-reflective qualities.  I went through a number of different background materials for this box, including black/brown construction paper and white paper, but all of them gave either a strange tint or inconsistent lighting when the model was rotated.

My camera is digital but not an SLR, so I have rather limited control over how it wants to try to auto-focus on the subject.  I am, at least, able to drop down the exposure a few f-stops, which brings me much closer to have a true black in each image.  When I was using the paper and other background material, I had to spend a lot of time in Photoshop trying to bring the colors and lighting to a natural appearance.  With this setup, however, I don’t really have to do anything more than crop and maybe edit out dust and cat hair from the velvet.  That’s really the only problem with black velvet: because it’s so dark and non-reflective, every little speck of anything shows up.

That’s my setup!  I have an extra piece of velvet that I keep wadded up by my painting desk to lay across the desk for my progress report images.  That strip of velvet was cheap but probably one of the most useful things I’ve picked up for miniature photographing.

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