I have a rather inexpensive mid-sized digital camera (Canon PS630) and with proper lighting, it gives really nice pictures. In fact, with the right lighting , any digital camera will give excellent results. Most digital cameras today - small or big, inexpensive or expensive - have excellent lenses. It is really about how to maximize on the full capacity of the lens.
For the lighting, three General Electric Natural Light bulbs (30 watts each) aimed down on the subject – one directly on top at 12 o’clock high, one to the right side at 2 o’clock and the other to the left side at 9 o‘clock - works very well. Each light bulb is then covered (about 10 inches from the bulb) with paper towels to diffuse the light's direct reflections. Another excellent diffuser that I am now using are those perforated cloth softener sheets (ex: Bounce) - the type you bung in the cloth dryer. The trick is to fiddle with the positioning of the three lights to eliminate shadows. If you notice in my images, I have very little in the way shadows cast on the blue paper underneath the vehicle - and that should be the benchmark. When there are no shadows – or little - then the positioning of the lights is perfect. It is not an attractive set up but as long as no one sees what is beyond the frame of the image, then it does not matter.
These two elements - lens and lighting - are key to bringing good images to better images. It’ll take some play and fiddling until you get precisely what you want. However, to attain good results with your lens and lighting, there are a few more steps that should almost become second nature when you start taking photographs.
My photography set-up is permanently in place so I just put the model on the desk, flick on the three lights, shoot and that is it. My images are by no means perfect and there are undoubtedly many more things and techniques that I could apply to improve the overall results. However, my set-up is inexpensive, low maintenance, and perhaps more importantly, it is easy to break-down and set-up. So for anyone who is unable to have a permanent photography set up, this is the ideal set-up. My total cost (excluding the camera) for lights, bulbs, extension cord, tripod, and background paper is less than $70.
Before you shoot your next figure or armour, check this check-list:
- Set lighting to the type of lights you are using
- Set depth of field at “F8” or more
- ISO should be set at 80 or 100
- Set image quality to SuperFine AND largest resolution format possible
- Set to Manual
- Set to Macro - but don’t zoom
- Take off flash
Step 1: Set-Up
Here is the "behind the scene" image - a right shambles - of my set up. As you can see, no frills. I had not placed the diffusing paper over the lights. There should be a sheet over the two side lights. There is also a light directly above the subject. It is important to work the light positioning so that one light eliminates the shadows created by another light. It is a bit of work but when you get the positioning, all the images will turn out much better.
Step 2: Aftermarket Zoom
Note that I have a small aftermarket zoom attached to the camera. The lenses are by Hoya and allow me to get as close as I wish without using the zooming feature built in the camera. Again, I never use the zoom built in the camera because it will rarely allow you to be in focus in macro. By using aftermarket zooms, I can take a standard photo zoomed in 6X . I use this aftermarket zoom lens for figures and sometimes for armour.
The aftermarket zoom is not a requirement but is helpful in getting those close up snaps. The zoom can be attached to the ring of the lens on your camera (not all cameras can accommodate these - check first). The only down side is that the zoom lens must be wiped and cleaned often to keep the lens void of small particles of dust. However, as mentioned, these zoom lenses are not required and serve only as an option.
Step 4: The Difference
For armour, here is the difference: photo of a Churchill sprocket using regular camera lens and same using aftermarket zoom (or 'close-up' lens fitment):
It is really up to you to decide if an aftermarket zoom is necessary for your purposes. All of the rules on the check list apply when using an aftermarket zoom lens. I use the zoom lenses almost exclusively for figures and very rarely for armour.
These are the basic rules that I use for taking my pictures - good lighting, proper setting up of my camera and deciding when to use the zoom.
Once you start attaining images that you are really satisfied with, it will be a simple question of tweaking it a little until you have it just right. I can assure you that it will all become second nature in no time.
As a small note, I know very little about the technical side to photography. If anyone out there who knows photography, do not hesitate to jump in. In fact, if you have any comments, advise, recommendations or suggestions on what I have written or thoughts on how one can improve, please share. We are all here to learn.