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Cheap Shots - Tips for affordable miniature photography
Marcel
Germany
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Photography (and miniature photography) can be both expensive and complicated, if you want to achieve top end results.

But many miniature painters just want to show of their work with decent photos without dedicating huge chunks of their time and disposable income to photography...

After a discussion in the Golden Turtleback Contest I decided to start this list.
The purpose is to provide tips for miniature photography, that are easy and affordable.
Some of these tips might be obvious, but it can be worth considering them nonetheless.

Assumption: You already have a way of taking pictures (camera, smartphone...) if you don't there is little you can do without spending significant amounts of money...

Please feel free to comment on the tips and add your own!
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1. Board Game: Aladdin and the Magic Lamp [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Marcel
Germany
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Provide proper lighting!

Normally you want bright, diffuse light coming from all directions. This will eleminate most deep shadows and make it possible to see everything on the miniature.

The easiest way to achieve this is probably a light box or light tent, but good results can be achived with simple desk lamps.
If they are not diffuse and create shadows try adding a screen of white baking paper between them and the miniature. Beware of fire hazards!

Another possibility is natural light. Normal daylight is often sufficient. It doesn't even need to be direct sunlight.

Links:
DIY Lightbox (internal BGG)
Article on Massive Voodoo containing some tips on lighting

Example:

A few mice assisted me in showing the differences.
All images were taken with a hand-held smartphone, so there are some variations in the positioning.

Apart from the lighting, nothing has been changed.

From top to bottom:
- Single overhead lamp
- Single desk lamp
- Single desk lamp and flash
- Multiple desk lamps
- Multiple desk lamps with baking paper

I did not put much effort into these images, they are just there to show the effect of lighting.
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2. Board Game: Make-A-Scene [Average Rating:4.71 Unranked]
Marcel
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Consider the background

Find a fitting background for your miniatures.
That might be
- A blank piece of (colored) paper
- A sheet of fabric
- The boardgame they belong to
- ...

The main consideration should be, that the miniature is shown of, so the background should either match the look or just be neutral and not distract from the main focus at all.

Links:
Re: Miniature photography... making my minis look good in my gallery. (Internal BGG)

Example:



A few mice assisted me in showing different backgrounds.
All images were taken with a hand-held smartphone, so there are some variations in the positioning.

Apart from the backgrounds, everything else stayed the same. This leads to drastically different lighting of the miniatures. Lighting or exposure configuration should have been changed to get better results.

From top to bottom:
- White felt
- Black felt
- White paper
- Mice & Mystics Board

I did not put much effort into these images, they are just there to show the effect of different backgrounds.
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3. Board Game: Tools Of The Trade [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Marcel
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Know your tools

Even the best equipment can give you bad results, if you do not know, how to use it. That is especially true for complicated machinery like DSLR cameras. I've been there, but luckily my wife knows, how these maggiks work...

Learn the basic functions of your camera to get decent results. It's amazing how the picture quality changes if you know which wheels to turn and buttons to push...

Links:
Lifehacker: Basics of Photography
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4. Board Game: Here I Stand [Average Rating:7.94 Overall Rank:184]
Ze Masqued Cucumber
France
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A camera stand is mandatory if you want to manually adjust the settings of your camera for an optimal picture (see entry hereunder).

You can also use some books, an anvil, or anything else that ensures your camera doesn't move. Scotch-taping your camera on the back of a live turkey doesn't work.
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5. Board Game: Q-Sets [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked]
Ze Masqued Cucumber
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Here are some basic camera settings that give good results, generally. These are only guidelines, you can try different settings and see what works best for you.

You'll need:
A- a camera stand (see corresponding entry)

B- a camera that allow manual settings. Most allow it, even the cheaper compact ones such as mine.

C- good lighting (see corresponding entry). It "works" with bad lighting too, but... well.. Doing manual camera settings with bad lighting is like installing a turbocharged V-8 on a horse cart. Can't say it doesn't "work". -Ish.


1- Set Mode: Priority to Aperture. Generally indicated as "A" or "Av" on the camera.

2- Set Aperture: Aperture between F/8 and F/16.
This will give a good depth of field (all the parts of the mini will be neat, not blurry). My camera only goes to F/8, so that's what I use.

3- Set ISO sensitivity: The lowest possible. Most cameras go down to ISO100. Mine goes down to ISO80, that's what I use.
This will minimize the light-induced noise on the pics.

4- Set camera timer: a few seconds (pre-set timers are generally 10s and 2s, use the one you prefer).
This makes sure that when the camera takes the pic, it won't move due to you pushing the button.

5- Set number of shots: 3. (optional)
This will take 3 shots in a row, you can then select the best.
Most of the times, all 3 pictures are 100% identical, but sometimes there is a very slight difference.

In Priority to Aperture mode, the camera will auto-calculate the exposition time. And it will be long!
So the slightest move will screw the pic. That's why you need a stand (or equivalent) and to set the timer. This, or you are a corpse (but then, pushing the button is an issue).

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6. Board Game: T.I.M.E Stories [Average Rating:7.81 Overall Rank:60]
Chris Flux
United Kingdom
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Nottinghamshire
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A tripod will reduce shake but pressing the shutter button on the camera can also cause camera shake, there are two ways to avoid this:

1. use a remote shutter trigger, or use an app if you have a newer wifi camera

2. use the timer function instead, much cheaper and nearly all cameras have it
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7. Board Game: Photo-opoly [Average Rating:6.33 Unranked]
Marcel
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Your smartphone might surprise you

Even if you own a dedicated camera (I assume it's not a top-end DSLR otherwise you would not be reading this...), try what a smartphone is capable of.

Especially newer ones have hardware that is capable of good pictures and they are significantly easier to handle than most older cameras.

There are lots of alternatives to the native photography apps on most mobile operating systems that provide extra functionality and make full use of the hardware. Take a look what is cheaply available.

Links:
Tale of Painters - Tutorial: How to photograph Miniatures with an iPhone Smartphone
Camera Apps for Android
Camera Apps for iOS
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8. Board Game: The Game of Great Composers [Average Rating:5.38 Unranked]
Marcel
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Image composition

Think about how you want to show off your miniature.
This is more creativity and art but a straightforward tip.

Many images are shot from slightly above to show of the base, but is that what you want to do?
You could
- Make a collage with multiple different shots and close-ups focusing on certain details
- Do an action shot on the board with other miniatures at the margins
- Ditch anything anybody says and make a picture showing of only the left ear...

There have been libraries written about this topic and great artists dedicated their lives to perfect this. Who am I to tell you what you want to show? Just try out stuff. In the age of digital photography, most errors made here are cheap.

Link:
Digital Camera World: 10 rules of photo composition (and why they work)
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9. Board Game: Coloretto [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:501]
Marcel
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Software for finishing touches

Most of the time, the raw image is not perfect.
Luckily, there is lots and lots of software to make small improvements.
Color correction, adapting brightness, improving contrast, clipping of edges... everything can be done.

The only thing to consider is, when to stop. If you start using tools that change the look of your miniature, e.g. by improving blending, do you still show of your miniature or rather your image manipulation skills?

In case you do not have access to a PC, there are also quite advanced apps for most smartphones... (I can recommend Snapseed for mobile and GIMP for PCs)

Links:
GIMP - The Free & Open Source Image Editor
Snapseed iOS / Android
15 best Photo Editor Apps for Android
The 10 Best Photo Editing Apps For iPhone (2016 Edition)

Example:


A few mice assisted me in showing some possibilities of digital postprocessing. I used Snapseed and overdid everything a bit so the changes would be noticable.

From top to bottom:
- Cropped
- Adjusted brightness and contrast, decresased saturation
- Changed lighting. Less shadows less highlights
- Lots off stuff I should not have done. Glow effects, focus effects...

I did not put much effort into these images, they are just made to show some effects.
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10. Board Game: Try it Again [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Marcel
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Practice makes perfect better... hopefully

Taking digital photos is cheap (after the initial investment). So take lots and lots of photos. And delete them if they are rubbish.
As in most things, experience is invaluable. Only trying out stuff can tell you, if it works with your setup and desired result.
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