Images – at last!

I promised some sample model images, so here we are. I’m presenting these in some sort of chronological order. We start with images taken with the Minolta Dimage 7, so you can see some of the issues I encountered with what was then a high-end digital camera.

The first image is of a 1/76th scale model lorry. 1/76th means literally that one inch on the model is equal to 76 on the real thing. It’s also known as “four mill”, because 4mm equal 1 foot.

(For the truck spotters, this is a British Road Services Bristol HA6L motive unit, coupled to a BTC 4-in-line semi-trailer of the late 1950s. I built this from a Langley Miniature Models whitemetal cast kit.)

The biggest issue in this image is depth of field. We’ll get to DoF in more detail another time, but you can see that the cab is fairly sharply in focus, while the nearer end of the trailer is slightly out of focus. The goal for anyone photographing scale models trying to make them look convincingly like the real thing is to maximise the amount of the model that’s sharply in focus. The problem I faced with the Minnie was that it had a smallest aperture of ƒ/9. This came as a bit of a blow to me, as my work with film SLRs had been around ƒ/22 or higher! The result was as you see above. Not a bad photo, but not technically that good.

Here’s a tip for the budding model photographer — go wide. Don’t think that a zoom lens will make things easier, because all it does is close down the field of view, and compress the effect of distance. In worst cases, telephoto will give you an even smaller DoF. In almost every case I will show you, I’ve had the camera set at the widest angle and the smallest aperture (largest ƒ-stop) possible. In the case of the Minnie, I think had an equivalent to a 35mm lens, which is not an ideal model photo lens but, as it was fixed to the camera, I had to put up with it!

The next image is also of a Langley kit, this time an Austin FX3 taxi. To overcome the shallow DoF, I’ve changed the angle at which the model sits in relation to the camera. I was reasonably successful, though if you look carefully the rear bumper is just going slightly soft.

Both these models have been in what I laughingly call my “Studio” – a large sheet of white paper, stuck to the wall and draped across the desk to give the infinity curve effect. The lighting here was two standard desk lamps, one each side. I think I also used a reflector, fashioned from a sheet of A4 cardboard and cooking foil, to bounce some light into the shadow areas. The “Studio” is fine for these small scale models, but becomes a bit of an issue when I try to photograph anything larger – especially since a wide angle lens, and low camera position, will often end up showing the top edges, and the detritus on my desk! You’ll see what I mean later.

Incidentally, I needn’t mention I’m using a tripod at all times, do I? Thought not. 

By adding Cokin Close-up filters, I could actually force the Minolta to focus a little closer to the subject. I used the Cokin Close-up 1, 2 and 3, sometimes in multiples. 

Here, for example, is a heavily modified Airfix/Dapol Scammell Scarab. Again, I’ve opted to have the model broadside to the camera in order to maximise the DoF available to me. The close-up “filter” allowed me to bring the subject much closer to the camera than the standard minimum focus would allow. The effect is a cruel enlargement of a model that is only about 25mm in length.

Okay, so photographing small scale models was acceptable with the Minolta. How did it cope with the larger stuff? That’ll be the subject of my next post. Thanks for reading.