Photographing Minis, Home Improvement Seminar-2013

Stewart Dollhouse Creations
Ruth & Dan Stewart

Some tips and tricks to help improve your photos of miniatures.

If you have a "point-and-shoot" (i.e. the lens isn't detachable)
     •Most point-and-shoots have a "macro" mode, represented by a small flower icon. Your camera will focus on closer objects using this setting.
     •Avoid using the flash. The flash on small cameras will usually cast undesirable shadows across a scene, use a lamp (see "Lighting Tips" below) or sunlight.
     •Keep the camera as steady as possible. If you have difficulty keeping the camera still, use a tripod, or if you don't have one you can set your camera on a small box, firm pillow, or even a bag of rice or beans.

If you have a mid range camera or an SLR (removable lens camera)
     •Some SLRs have a "Macro" mode you can use. If yours doesn't, I recommend using "Aperture Mode" (A in the mode selection). Use a wider f-stop (smaller number, the widest being between f1.8, f5.6, depending upon the lens) for a narrower field of focus with a more artistic and miniaturizing effect. If you want for of the miniature or scene to be in focus use a narrower f-stop (we usually find that f11–f16 works well). Remember that a narrower aperture means that you need more light or a steadier camera with a longer exposure.
     •If at all possible use a tripod, or set your camera on a stable surface. Higher end tripods can use different "heads." We find that a pan/tilt head or macro head are far easier to use with miniatures than ball or video style heads.
     •Most SLRs come with zoom lenses, which will work for miniatures, however are never as sharp as fixed length lenses. If you can, invest in a fixed lens like a 50mm or, even better a specialized macro lens.

Lighting Tips (applies to all cameras)
     •Light is exceptionally important in mini photography. And more light is better, however camera flashes are designed to illuminate a person 6-12 feet away, not a mini 6-12 inches away. The camera flash will often glare or cast ugly shadows. Only use it when you absolutely need to.
     •Sunlight is a perfect light source, consider doing what photography you can outside, or next to a large window. Try to keep the sun at your back, or to the side—and remember to be aware that your shadow could get in the way.
     •Many lamps and light bulbs cast a yellow light that will change the colors in your photo. Your camera might be able to compensate, but to ensure true to life color, purchase "Daylight" fluorescent bulbs (they should say 5000K color temperature), they are available at most home improvement stores. (If you camera supports custom white balance set it to 5000K to match the bulbs). If you are accustomed to incandescent or warm white fluorescent bulbs the Daylight ones might look too blue to your eyes, but you will get much more accurate colors photos.
Additional Tips
     •When photographing smaller or individual items it can be useful to purchase either a light box or small cyclorama (usually referred to as a "cyc"). A light box is a small cloth or plastic box with an opening for the camera lens, it is useful for diffusing the light on an object and preventing sharp edged shadows. A cyclorama is the same thing used in theatre and television to obscure the back wall of a stage or sound set. Table-top versions are useful in photography to provide a smooth background and makes miniatures appear to be in an infinite plane, with no back surface.
     •Almost any camera can work well to photograph miniatures, even many smartphone cameras can produce amazing results, so don't think that you need to new camera to take nice photos. Good pics have far more to do with good lighting than equipment. In fact small cameras and phones often do a better job with tiny objects due to the size of their sensors relative to the lens.
     •Have fun and take lots of pictures! You can easily delete the photos that don't come out well, so feel free to experiment and have fun with different angles and lights. You can even use colored light bulbs to add mood to your photos. With an open mind and a little creativity the possibilities are limitless.