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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm looking to photograph some items and I'd like them to have a professional look.   Items vary in size from say G-scale figures to structures or bridges.  What techniques or props do you use that you've found useful?
 

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My technique?

1. Point camera.
2. Push button.
3. Connect to computer.
4. See the awful shot.
5. Say bad words.
6. Find better light.
7. Return to step 1
 

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If I may say something here as a dyed - in - the - wool armature?

A reasonably good (5 - 8 Mpx) digital camera is a simply amazing tool (Sadly, just about all photo records about our present civilization will be lost causing a great gap in research material for students of history in 2108AD and beyond)  and I have to reeducate myself every time I take out my SLR.  The great thing though is that a digital camera sees what you see.  No compensating for light and film type.

I use a single large flood light and a sheet of poster board to reflect some of that light behind or to the side.  I've also used a small LED flashlight to highlight key areas.  That's it.

Take dozens of pictures and sit at the computer picking out the best.  Make notes and do it again.

All the other hints you get will be of the far more professional nature. :D
 

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Depth of field is critical in model photography. In real life, the subject trains are so large that the camera is essentially set to infinity. When photographing our models, the subjects are much small and much closer to the lens. If you don't take depth of field into account, you'll end up with the front of the loco in focus and everything behind it progressively blurring.

To achieve the best depth of field, use Aperture Priority mode if your camera has it, and set the aperture to the smallest the camera supports (highest f-number). This will also result in a longer exposure under most conditions, so use a tripod if you have one and either a cable release or the camera's timer mode to snap the shutter so you don't jiggle the camera. :)
 

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Shoot picture - connect to computer - blame camera for bad picture.
Shoot another picture - connect to computer - blame computer for bad picture.
Shoot another picture - connect to computer - blame wife for talking while taking picture.
Shoot another picture - connect to computer - blame the weather for bad picture.
Shoot another picture - connect to computer - blame lighting for bad picture.
Shoot another picture - connect to computer - blame object that I shot for bad picture.
Shoot another picture - connect to computer - look at bad picture - claim it is art.
Get something to eat.
Connect computer to Net.
Upload picture and BRAG about how good it is.
Most people are to nice to tell me that my photography sucks so I feel good.
Get ready for next picture taking session.

Art
 

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I must say you guys captured the essence of 'framing' your shot [ taking multiple photos so that one will be correct!] /DesktopModules/NTForums/themes/mls/emoticons/tongue.gif

A couple of suggestions based on my attempts.

Most digital cameras are geared to sunlight - outdoor snapshots. You'll get better photos if you can take the object outside on a sunny day.

The better the lens, the better the photo. I have two point-and-shoot pocket cameras and a bigger Fuji almost-an-SLR. The Fuji takes much better photos than my newest pocket camera.  (However, it is often more convenient to just grab the small camera and shoot a dozen pics hoping one will work!)

Use the largest picture size that the camera electronics will handle. Often the default is 2016 x 1512 or similar; try to boost it to 2816 x 2112. Then you can be further away (which improves the depth-of-field and makes focus easier,) and you can crop the photo on your computer to get the bits you want in a decent size.

Talking of default...  If you can't always go outside to take the pic, read the manual and figure out how to alter the settings.  (You may want to read a photography book so you understand 'depth of field', 'white balance', etc.)  Indoor shots are quite viable, but you'll want to set the white balance to 'incandescent' (light bulb icon) and watch your flash.  Close-ups hardly ever work with flash, as it overpowers the subject - it was designed for pics of people at 10 ft.

I often switch the camera into 'manual' mode so I can turn the flash off.  It then takes a photo slowly, so resting the camera on something is vital.

On a sunny day, taking photos near a sunlit window often works.  I have a couple of bits of white shelving (I think one is an old frig panel,) that can be propped on a small table to reflect a little light and give me a decent background.
 

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I must say that my friend steered me toward the camera I eventually purchased. It is a Cannon S3.
With that said, the reason for purchase is the swivel screen on the back. It allows the camera to be placed on the ground looking up while the view screen is swiveled out to the side and reversed or flipped over.

The ideal way of photographing G stuff is from the scale people's eye level. It is not easy to get your head down to that point...so let the camera do it.

The other aspect mentioned above is depth of field. If the camera has various settings use the "Apeture" prority setting.

There are several professional photographers (not me) on this website. Hopefully they will chime in.
 

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What do you mean by "professional look"?( I'm not being facetious - you have to define for yourself what a "professional look" means to you.  It means different things to different people, even amongst professionals).  The concept of a professional look means paying exquisite attention to the details of light type, quality, amount and direction, focus,  and composition for the desired image.  Fail any of these, and the picture fails. Techniques are used to assure these, not things done in a vacuum.

The Number One problem most people need to learn to deal with when photographing objects is type of light, and quantity. For most small things you need a soft (ish) light source, not a hard, point source (the sun is a hard point source, so is flash). This is one reason why reflectors are so useful. The bane of object photography is the contrast and reflection created by point sources of light. Called specular highlights, they fool in-camera meters, they pixelate digital images and they blow effective contrast outside of the range the medium can capture (highlights too bright, shadows too dark).   If you study nothing else about photography, learn about the management of light in photography (there are good books available).  Even the cheapest point and shoot can produce exceptional pictures in the hands of someone who has taken the time to understand the importance of light control in picture making.  It is the single most important tool.  This complicated by the fact that a camera (digital or film) does not capture exactly what the eye sees.  The eye is the most sophisticated camera ever devised, and why the picture you get usually doesn't look like you remember it.  So, you must learn to change the elements of the scene in a way that the camera can reproduce what your brain is telling you what your eye is seeing.  By far, the principal skill, is light control, because your built-in eye camera compensates for light in a way no mechanical camera can.

For depth of field on any camera without a movable film plane/lens board (read "all consumer cameras") you need as much light as you can get on the subject in order to secure a small aperture (aperture priority setting), but you also need to soften the source to prevent untamable highlights and contrast. For closeup photography of trains outside in full sun, for example, use a white reflector to bounce light into the shadows. If the item has much white or shiny metal, this isn't going to work entirely. You'll soften the contrast but not the specular reflection.

A very useful item for sunlight outside is a inexpensive nylon sheer curtain (unpatterned). Arrange the curtain so that the sun passes through the curtain before hitting what you're shooting. This will lower the contrast and reduce the reflections. If the shadows are still too dark, use a reflector to put some light into them (don't overdo this - too much is as bad as too little to look "natural". The great thing about digital is that you can correct the colour of your image iif the reflector or cloth filter imparts a bit of colour, without having to use corrective filters or different coloured reflectors. The sheer curtain trick works to tame bright flash too.

Be aware too, that there really is no substitute for quality camera equipment. If the camera doesn't have a decent focusable lens, you will never get more than an acceptable snapshot (you don't get to break the laws of physics, no matter how much you spend). While convenience of size is beneficial, Canon particularly has been pushing the envelope with new SLR type digital cameras at better and better prices, and any of these will outperform ANY point and shoot for GOOD photos. The 150 year old design film cameras in my avatar picture will outperform ANY modern digital camera when used properly, but the tradeoff is required knowledge, time, and suitcase (or truckload) of support equipment.

Kevin Strong did an excellent pair of articles in recent editions of Garden Railways.  In particular, Part 2  will give you an abundance of clues to things to try. Study his example pictures closely - look at light - highlights, shadows, direction. Is the light hard or soft. What about contrast?  Direction relative to point of view? Points of view itself? Background? Where's the zone of focus? Is is natural, relative to the human eye?  Does the light direction and contrast reflect the time of day represented?   These are all questions and issues that distinguish a "professional look" from an amateur one, and things the photographer needs to control if the picture is to be more than a happy accident.  You'll note most of Kevin's shots are on a day that used to be characterised as "cloudy,bright".   Soft light, tamed contrast. The character of the shadows will tell you much about the light source.  Hard point light, hard shadows.
 

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Since my camera is rather simple,i tend to look for a scene that i think is well composed (i'm often wrong :)) and then run through every setting in the camera (about 4)

I also try not to use flash too much as the light is usually rather harsh. It has its uses thought

Hope it helps
Scott
 

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I was doing a terrible job of photographing some small objects until I tried placing them on my flatbed scanner. The results were much better than using a camera.

Certainly won't work well for a loco, but might be worth a try for figures and small parts.
 

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Hadn't thought of using the flatbed scanner.

Hmm, maybe not:

 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Stan, I'm not sure I follow how you use your scanner? Is it for the light that it produces? Or it makes a nice background?

Torby, that's actually a pretty cool pic :)
 

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Posted By Skip on 03/02/2008 9:07 AM
What do you mean by "professional look"?( I'm not being facetious - you have to define for yourself what a "professional look" means to you.  It means different things to different people, even amongst professionals).  The concept of a professional look means paying exquisite attention to the details of light type, quality, amount and direction, focus,  and composition for the desired image.  Fail any of these, and the picture fails. Techniques are used to assure these, not things done in a vacuum.

The Number One problem most people need to learn to deal with when photographing objects is type of light, and quantity. . .
You have written some excellent advice here.  (Not being a photographer) This will be most useful to me--and another reminder that it is time for me to go shopping for a new camera for the shots I will be needing for the summer season since at least one of those will go into an expensive advertising medium this fall. Thanks for the wonderful and expert  input.
 

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I discovered that when I moved "back" to primal cameras after decades of technological wizardry, I had to relearn the fundamentals. Technology had seduced me to depend on the machine making decisions for me, to the detriment of my photography. This was a lesson driven home with the advent of the digital darkroom. No amount of pixelsmithing could save a bad photograph. You have to get it right in the camera. if you truly want it right on display. 90% of good (or professional) photography is embodied in learning how light makes things visible. Technology is just the means by which you fix the moment (record the outcome).
Regardless of camera, you will become a good photographer when you "get" how light defines what you see, and how you have to use your camera to record that. Digital cameras shorten the time between opportunities to learn, but not the learning curve.
 

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Posted By jimtyp on 03/03/2008 10:52 AM
Is it for the light that it produces? Or it makes a nice background?


For the things I've used the scanner for, I ended up with the objects in good focus; I haven't run into the situation shown in Torby's scan.
The benefits as I've seen them:
(1) You don't have to put your camera on a tripod; the object (and the scanner) are stationary
(2) Lighting is uniform..
 

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I think my object was just too deep for the scanner.
 

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My indoor set-up is rather simple. I use basically three lights--two from the front, mounted about 45° off to either side of my table and about 60° above, and a third hung directly above as a backlight. All three lights are the simple aluminum clamp worklights you can get at Home Depot for around $10 a piece. The backlight is diffused by a paper towel a few inches away from the lamp (far enough to not catch fire, close enough to catch the light). I use GE's "reveal" brand full-spectrum 100 watt bulbs, as they give very nice color rendition. Not quite as nice as regular daylight, but pretty darned close. I've also got a kicker light with a 60 watt bulb in it, which I use for warming the tone just a bit. It's a single-point source, so it casts some very slight shadows to enhance depth. I shoot everything in front of a light blue sheet that's draped down and over the table. A white sheet tends to fool light meters too much, the blue much less so. Still, it has the advantage of being light and even enough in color where the art department at Kalmbach has no trouble Photoshopping it away.

With this set-up, I get exposure times anywhere from .5 second to 4 or 5 seconds, depending on the subject, focal length, etc. A tripod and timer are essential.

As Skip said, most of my outdoor shooting is done in bright, overcast conditions. Unfortunately that's somewhat of a rarity here in Colorado, so I shoot in the early morning or late afternoon when the railroad is in shadow. It's not quite as "nice" as bright overcast, but it's pretty close. I'll shoot in sunlight as well, but usually have a reflector with me when I do to even out the shadows. I also shoot into the sun a lot, using it as a backlight, but that's a completely different technique.

Later,

K
 

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Kind of hard to give specific advice with out knowing what type of camera you have.

The biggest problem with taking pictures of something small is the lighting.  When you are very close to a subject, depth of field and focusing becomes a real problem.  The best thing you can do is insure you have bright, flat light.  Expensive tricks include multiple flashes.  The best cheap thing you can do is set up some sort of reflector to give more light and and a flatter light to catch some extra sun.

You can make a reflector out of a white bed sheet for soft light or tin foil if you want a sharp light.

If you can control your camera's shutter speed,  set it down to 1/30th of a second or lower and mount the camera on a tripod.  This will maximize how much your f stop is closed down to give you more depth of field.

If you have digital camera that allows you to control the ISO, push the ISO up as high as you can with out getting excessive noise.

Look carefully through the view finder to set up your shot and then look for anything that doesn't fit.  A stray leaf, twig or piece of trash can ruin a shot.  If you don't look carefully, the first time you notice it will be when you look at the print.

You can also "cheat" on your depth of field by using software such as Helicon Focus to combine multiple shots at different focuses to make one picture with everything in focus.  This requires a good tripod and a camera where you have total control of the focusing.

Hope these ideas help
 
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