Tag Archives: scale model photography

Recreating the world in miniature

Earlier this week, the creator of such classic children’s television shows as Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet, not forgetting Space 1999 and UFO among many others, Gerry Anderson, died at the age of 83. Suffering from Alzheimer’s for the last two or three years, it is reported the disease had worsened towards the end.

This is not an obituary for Gerry Anderson. This is a celebration of his achievements, and how he came to influence my young mind with what might be possible with small scale models.

I was—and still am, I suppose—quite unusual in being a girl in what is still seen as a boy’s world. I have always been fascinated by the real world recreated in miniature. As a child, I recall a booklet documenting the dolls’ house created for Queen Mary in the 1920s. The idea of a tiny house, complete in every detail, with running water, electric lighting, even real petrol engines in the cars, captured my imagination. Trips to museums, where models are often used to illustrate exhibitions, further fanned the flames of my imagination. I wanted to be able to recreate tiny but realistic bits of the world for myself.

Despite protestations from my parents, eventually I was allowed to build Airfix models. So a lifelong passion began, running alongside my continued love of seeing miniature models of all kinds. Models are still used to this day for exhibitions, or to show the construction of an oil platform, or a new building design. Models were used for advertising and promotion—scale models of ships were often used in agents’ shop windows, much as travel agents used to have model airliners on display. One of the greats of British model-making was Bassett-Lowke, a company formed in Northampton to not only build quite large scale models of ships, but also of vehicles and railways. I have a book on the company in my library, and I still sit in awe at the sheer scale and details of many of the models built for commission over the years. Later, I was to discover that the Bassett-Lowke family home, 78 Derngate, was remodelled by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and so, in a way, my fascination with scale models and art nouveau, art deco and design from the 1920s and 1930s came full circle!

Heading back to Anderson for a while, I was following up a trail started, as ever, in a forum which was discussing the man’s television productions. I found a whole forum dedicated to classic British sci-fi, and a thread in it discussing the off-the-shelf toys used in many of the shows. Thinking back to the shows, I often used to marvel at the model work, but never really had a sense of the scales that were used to create them. I could identify some parts from a kit somewhere, or a toy truck that dashed across a background. Some was scratchbuilt, but still used parts from numerous kits and components. Some was created by combining parts from several kits into a completely new model. All was then painted and weathered to a uniform standard, which only served to add to the realism. You still have to marvel at the modelmakers’ skill on display that brought those stories to life. To see more about the behind-the-scenes at Century 21 and Pinewood, I recommend a look around the website of Dennis Lowe.

Here’s a still from the EagleTransporter.com forum, which illustrates the kind of detail C21 managed to fit into relatively short scenes in their productions. The scale here is approximately 1/72nd, and uses kits and toy cars that have been adapted, repainted (or not) to fit the scene. Even today, this level of detail is remarkable.

Matchbox toys used in Thunderbirds — Space 1999 Eagle Transporter Forum.


Even as a child, I could watch a British war film from the 1950s, and I knew when I was looking at models. Some were more convincingly filmed than others, but I always did (and still do) try to work out how it was done, how large the models were and so on. In some ways I wish I could have been involved in that side of the film industry, but I never got the breaks. I am happy to build models to satisfy myself and my friends. Building models also helps me to understand how the real thing works.

Incidentally, don’t be fooled into thinking model and miniature work is no longer a part of film and television making since the arrival of computer graphics. The most recent Bond movie, Skyfall, used miniatures in many scenes, and the recently-aired Red Dwarf X used proper miniatures for the spaceship scenes. Sometimes, it’s simply quicker and more cost-effective to build, film and destroy a miniature, than to render it pixel by pixel.

So, rest in peace Gerry Anderson, and thank you for setting me on to a fulfilling and enjoyable path of creativity. I just wish I could live in a bigger home where I could display my creations properly!

Monks Eleigh

I was asked to photograph Michael Brooks’ Monks Eleigh for the ScaleSeven Group’s newsletter. Monks Eleigh is a real Suffolk village, between Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds, but I can’t find any evidence there was ever a railway station in the vicinity. I guess I could ask the owner more about the genesis of his model!

The model railway is built to ScaleSeven standards, 7mm to 1ft scale. The railway is very much Great Eastern in character, though set in the early years of British Railways. While the layout is a fairly simple plan, there is much in the way of scenic detail.

I’d like to thank Michael for his time and patience during my visit.

It’s a start

As you may recall, I have been trying to get photographic work with the British model railway press for a while. Despite contacting editors, I’ve only had one proper response, and no direct work as yet of course.

I’m not sure how Barry Norman came across my photos of Vic Burles’ beautiful ScaleSeven West Country class light pacific, but he asked me if I could send him versions for publication. I was happy to do that.


I haven’t been paid for them, but I didn’t expect the images to appear in print when I took them. I know that’s not the attitude, but if you know Wild Swan Publications then you’ll understand. It’s not a mistake I plan to make again.

Anyway, front cover and supporting images reproduced inside MRJ 213 at large sizes. It’s a start. Model Railway Journal is a respected journal, and hopefully my images will begin to get some attention in other publishing organisations.

I would link to Wild Swan, MRJ and Barry, but Wild Swan doesn’t really feel the need to move into the late 20th century with all that interweb and electronic mail nonsense.

Related: Looking for work and a plea

Have I been a bit quiet?

I have been rather quiet for a while, apart from the occasional flurry of links to various things that catch my eye. I haven’t been updating the blog with reports from my real life, mainly because I have been a little too busy to get around to it.

So, here’s an update.

I finally got through to a model railway magazine editor. He liked my model photograpy, but couldn’t promise any work. Right there is the story of my life. Promises, promises, promises. Still, it was a step forward, and I have now contacted one other editor with the same pitch. If I get any work from either source, I will be pleasantly surprised. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.

I have had a small web site job for the significant other of a friend. I am currently waiting for them to get back to me with their thoughts on what I have done so far. That reminds me I had better chase them up—may make a phone call instead of email.

Another potentially long-running freelance job is beginning to rumble into life. I’m not entirely sure what I will be expected to do at this stage, or how much I will be paid. I guess I ought to find out sooner rather than later. 

While there’s nothing concrete, then, things are beginning to look a little brighter round here. This is a Good Thing.

Meanwhile, I am finding myself engrossed on the modelling workbench, busily building three commissioned 7mm scale railway coaches. You may recall I built a coach for a friend last year. He asked me if I’d build some more for him, so I have three BR Mark 1 corridor seconds on the go. 

I built one kit to see how the thing went together, and to work out what modifications I might need or want to do before I embarked on the other two. I got that first coach to a stage where it was all but complete, aside from paint and final details, and then set about the other two in a batch. Some of the work is fiddly, and some is fiddly and tedious, but it keeps me quiet and occupied, doing constructive things with my hands.

Perhaps I go beyond the call of duty—certainly beyond what my friend is paying me to build these kits for him—but I enjoy the details. I also consider these models as portfolio pieces I can use to perhaps get more work in this field. It’s not a field that will make me rich, but I think there’s a niche for me somwhere.

I am nearing the point where I will want to break out the airbrush and get paint on the models. Sadly, my spray booth is in a garden shed, and the weather of late round here has been a bit cold for that kind of environment. I think I will have to rig up a spray booth in our loft workshop, where it may be cold but at least I have access to electricity, heating and hot drinks!

That’s what’s been going on round here for the past few weeks. I just wish some of the things I am supposed to be involved in would firm up and give me some regular income again. 

Looking for work and a plea


As you know, if you are a regular reader of this blog, I take a mean photo of scale models, if I do say so myself. You’ve seen some of my images and can judge for yourself, but I do think I have the knack.


I have been trying on and off for the past couple of years to gain a foothold in the UK modelling press as a freelance photographer of models, layouts, etc. I had a colour portfolio booklet printed, which I sent out to several editors and publishers. Disappointingly, I only got one indirect response, and even that hasn’t led to any work. I just can’t seem to break into the business at all, and I don’t know why.

Download this file

Rather than go for a reprint of the portfolio with updated images, I have opted for a PDF version instead. Hopefully, you can click to download it from the image above. It’s around 3MB. Please download it and share it around with my blessings. If you can’t download it, please let me know and I can email a copy or provide it somewhere a download works as expected.

So, I need to ask a favour. If you know anyone in the print or publishing industries in the UK who deals with railway or other modelling titles, I would like to get contacts for editors and publishers for those titles. Personal contacts and recommendations would be even better. Please pass on to them my portfolio, point them at this blog and my Flickr collection of model images

I really want to start getting some work in the model railway press in the coming year. I don’t ask for much, just a break to get my toe in the door would help. Thank you for your indulgence.


Boulton-Paul Defiant F.Mk1 | Flickr – Photo Sharing!

I’ve been trying to get my modelling back on track. For most of the summer I have not felt like working at the bench. My mood has been one where I was likely to break something rather than be at all creative.

Anyway, I spent a few hours at the modelling bench this past week, and here’s the result. When I get a bit more organised, I will do a proper “shoot” but this gives a good impression of what I managed to put together.

Elgin Park – elginpark’s Photos


A link to the Flickr stream of Michael Paul Smith was passed to me by my friend Paul Dunning. I’ve followed various links to Mr Smith’s Smugmug pages, and present what I think of as one of the best images.

Michael Paul Smith builds intricate sets to display his model car collection, and then takes them out into the real world to match them against real backgrounds in order to photograph them. The combination of point of view, depth of field and natural daylight makes the scenes come to life.

The models are built to 1/24th scale (one-half inch equals one foot). I have to say that the size of this scale makes believable photography that much easier, but these are still superb examples of the craft.

LNER K2 2-6-0 No 1742


I think I’ve found my favourite model photography lens. It’s the 35mm ƒ/2.0 EF lens from Canon. On my APS-C EOS 7D, it gives a view similar to a 55mm lens.

I like it because it’s got just the right amount of angle of view, and will focus down to about 20cm. Such a focus point means I can be quite close to a model and it’ll remain sharp. The above shot was at ƒ/22 for 2 seconds.

The model is an LNER K2 2-6-0, and it’s been finished by its builder Jonathan Bushell in a dirty, hard-worked finish typical of the period around the end of World War 2. The model uses DCC, with sound, and added features like working reversing lever and brakes. Jonathan stole the first prize in the modelling competition at the annual Gauge O Guild Guildex convention this year, so congratulations to him!

Fresh from the Workshop


For the past few weeks I have been tweeting about being in the Workshop, busy with a commissioned model for a friend. Today I completed the model, all bar a couple of tiny details, so I took some official portraits for you.

The model represents a British Railways Mark 1 BSK coach originally built in 1955 at Wolverton Works to Diagram 181, in the livery it carried in the early 1980s. The model is built from a Just Like The Real Thing kit at 7mm:1ft scale (1/43rd) to ScaleSeven standards. The client will be applying lettering and final stage weathering.

I hope to be delivering the model to the client soon, and I’ll arrange with him to take some new photos once he’s completed the lettering and weathering.

UPDATE 7/6/11: The client called today, having seen the photos here. He’s really very chuffed with the finished model. Very gratifying.