Follow by Email

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Photography Thoughts and Controversies

So today's post will be mostly musings on a topic that's very touchy for a few members of our group, and that subject is miniature photography.

One point that has been brought up numerous times is how a miniature will look great in a photograph that's semi-professionally done and look completely different when seen in real life and not up to the same quality as before.

Another sour note comes from the use of photo editing, and where the line is drawn or gets fuzzy. At what point are you misrepresenting your miniature?

Well, as a primer, I am fully in the camp of presenting your models as best as possible in the best way possible. This entails correctly utilizing lighting, framing, and photo editing to show your model in its best and truest form. What may result isn't always true to how you may see it in real life and I'm glad - I'll explain this properly in a bit.

I'll start with my set up for my photographs. If you see a backdrop on my miniature, then my set up uses a printed piece of paper with a blue backdrop on it taped to the wall, two cheap lamps from Wal-Mart using the incandescent bulbs they came with, and usually my wife's old digital camera from almost 10 years ago. If it's not using a backdrop, then it's my iPhone 5s and whatever light exists around the place. Also, while shooting I make sure to use the right settings and white balance to create the truest colors, and the only post shoot editing I use is cropping. Also, this is all from the perspective of the most amateur of amateurs, so as always take this with a grain of salt. If you're looking for a professional view of miniature photography I'm sure Google will yield several great results as taking photos is a popular subject.

I'll be going through several photos that I've saved and not necessarily shared on this blog to show you the process I go through to take photos of my minis. It's really trial and error as I'm always learning how to be better at it.

My painted Malifaux models, snapped with my phone

So the photo above was just a snapped picture I took to show a buddy all my painted models so far, but it's a good control picture. The only thing I did was crop it a bit, everything else is standard, true-to-life as a camera phone can be. Seeing as no one argues that unedited photos of your friends on Facebook seem different than real life I'd say this should work just fine. I would like to say that since I have yellow bulbs in my light fixtures then it lights everything up with yellow light, that's why real life can make a model suck.

Hannah taken without correct white balance

Now take a look at this photo of Hannah. Compared to the control photo she seems a bit more yellow, and the background looks grey or even white. Since the other colors don't easily change with different light conditions they don't look too much different, it's usually the brightest colors that stand out the most as changed. This is because I didn't have my white balance properly set on my camera, meaning I didn't "tell" my camera what white should really look like under the light conditions using two incandescent bulbs. In video class we used to do this by holding up a white sheet of paper to fill the frame and adjusting the white balance to it, as it is a true white color source in the current light conditions, telling the camera to use it as a base to adjust all other colors to and recreate a true representation of how the environment looks. Yes, it's using technology to "adjust" what is being seen, but this is being used to create a more true representation to what should be seen.

If you see the above picture and see the piece of paper I use as a backdrop you'll be shocked at how much the color has changed. Of course it would look different in real life! In real life I could spend hours getting a blue shade just right only to have it spoiled by this crappy photo telling everyone else it's grey.

Hannah with correct white balance and settings

Now this is the photo I showed everyone online. One, it's significantly better. Two, it's a much more true representation of the model, as compared to the control photo. It may not be a perfect comparison, being that I did no white balance or anything else like that in the control photo, but I feel like it's closer than the previous one. I'd say that this photo is more true-to-life than the control, but what do I know, I guess you'd have to see it yourself.

Here's another to compare it to

Below is another comparison for the same criteria, this time using the Convict Gunslinger and on my phone:

Convict Gunslinger on my phone without WB

Convict Gunslinger with my phone with WB and no other settings change

Granted, there are lines on the backdrop due to the phone being a terrible tool to use for the set up as it's too bright for the default settings, but the only thing that changed between the two photos is setting the white balance correctly. 

If you're in a room filled with crappy lights when you first hold this model in your hands it will definitely look different in real life, but that's usually because if you're trying to show off your work you're going to make the best conditions possible to show how much work you put into the model. At least that's my thought process when I take photos. I equate that to trying not to take a photo of my new paint job in a dark room using a red flashlight or something, I'm setting it up for success. Taking a good photo is simply an extension of that.

Malifaux Child... in real life

Malifaux Child taken with my camera

Here's an example of how lighting can affect your model in other ways, namely with directional lighting. In these two photos the Malifaux Child's colors are almost the same short of maybe the shirt being lighter in the second photo. The main difference is where the light comes from creating shadows that aren't painted on.

In the first photo the light is above and behind the model, creating shadows on the front of the model. This obscures a lot of detail in the torso and face. I do like the way the hair comes out though, as I feel when I have it well lit the contrast is taken away, but I chalk that up to not having varnished it when I finished and it reflects a lot of the bright light.

This does bring up a perfect example of why there is protest to some photos and why it's a legitimate claim. Some miniature photos use directional lighting to place dynamic shadows on their models that weren't painted on like that. I've seen some models with a spotlight effect that I feel isn't actually true to how it was painted and it does add an impressive effect that isn't necessarily representing the miniature as it is.

An example of this would be taking a miniature in a diorama or gaming setting, upping the contrast and making it black and white. This makes a much more dramatic photo that doesn't represent the paint well but looks cool.

There's a fine line that photographs tread, and it can really all depend on the context that you present your miniature.

My Shenlong Proxy with terrible lighting and settings (phone)

Just changing the light placement can really improve it (phone)

Here's a model I don't believe I've shown before, although I mentioned it previously in a blog entry about Shenlong. This is an example of how just moving your light sources closer can improve the photo dramatically. Because the first photo had the light too far away the camera has less light being picked up for the photo and changes colors as a result, In all fairness though this was using an app I downloaded for my phone and it may have automatically added a filter or something, it doesn't look like it's just the light alone in my opinion. But taking that away you can see the difference in the shadows on his ribs. The first photo is more dynamic but I did not paint those shadows on his midsection. 

Okay, so next I'll bring up how a different background can change how a mini looks as well. Here's a pic of when I first finished my House Member for Mercs:

My Housemember in the kitchen against the table

With the brown table as a background it makes the model appear darker. Granted, this was a fast snap picture I took so I didn't make sure the light was hitting it right or anything.

Now the next picture I took in the same room, all I did was put the model in my foam tray with the foam topper as a backdrop for a quick pic:

Same lighting conditions and settings, added with black foam as a ghetto backdrop

I didn't change the settings on my phone or anything, but it's a dramatically different picture. Now that the model is the brightest part of the photo the camera compensates with the light conditions or something I guess.

How you see them "in real life"

Okay, so where am I going with this?

It seemed like a long winded explanation of how your photos can change just with a few key settings. But I was really just explaining these examples to build to a point:

Seeing models in real life can sometimes suck.

Some stores have terrible lights. I used to go to a store that used LED strips as lights. It was awful. So of course models are going to look different when you see them in front of you as opposed to when you see them online. There's a reason why artists are very careful with their lighting and placement when they present their work in a gallery, because they want you to experience their art in the best way possible.

But we as gamers don't always get this opportunity. A lot of the times we're hastily putting them on and off the table or moving them around terrain. Most people get to see your work in passing as they try to murder them with their tiny figures. We don't get the luxury of placing them in the best conditions possible when everyone gets to look at them, our only way of controlling that is through the photographs we post. And I don't plan on making it look anything worse than what I worked to have them look like when I painted them. Anyone's work can be made to look worse or better in photographs. You can take an award winning model and put it in a closet using only your phone's flash to illuminate it, I'm sure you'll lose some details and it won't look that good. So why not use the tools at your disposal to make it look as good as possible?

I guess the line we're really treading is using these tools to make it look better than it really is. I just wanted to make the distinction beforehand of how changing your settings and stuff can change the dynamics of your model. I highly doubt that many people are using Photoshop to add brush strokes or something to their models.

I argue that taking good photographs can actually make your work look worse. A lot of the pictures I show are larger than the models are themselves. This means all the tiny details are extremely visible. Every brush stroke can be seen, every mistake. If you can do this and it still looks good then more power to you. I tend to always find things I don't like about my models after taking photos of it. After all is said and done your models are mostly seen and scrutinized from arm's length most of the time.

Anyway, I guess what I'm really trying to say is I don't think people are using photography to pull a fast one on everyone, I know I don't. I don't believe that they're making award winning models out of crap just because of lighting. I think it's a tool to enhance your art and make it more presentable. A good painter can spot others' work regardless of the settings, and should be able to identify the skills necessary to pull off those tricks.

It's all subjective, really. I guess if you tread carefully and use your photos for the best intentions it should be okay. If you intend to show off your paint job then make your photos as true to life as possible. If you're using it for dramatic effect then I say all bets are off and any editing tools should be at your disposal. But the key is knowing how something as simple as changing your backdrop can change how your model appears is important, as it's not something that is used to elevate your painting skills, it just elevates how your art is received.

Let me know what you think, or if I'm just full of air!