Clyde Jones tell how to photograph models.

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Photography for Modelers

By Clyde 'Ent'il Zog' Jones - images & text © 2001

Photography is one good way to either record objects in the real world for reference and incorporation into your models, or to record your own finished models (to show to other people; photos are much more portable than finished kits and less prone to damage). While the two operations, are similar, there are differences in equipment and technique. To simplify this subject, or at least to try, I am breaking this article into several sections.


Taking photos requires certain bits of equipment and materials. We’ll cover the basics first, even if they seem a bit obvious, so we all know what we’re talking about.

[Basics]A CAMERA is composed of at least a BODY, a LENS, usually an IRIS or VARIABLE APERTURE in (or on) that lens, a SHUTTER MECHANISM, perhaps a METER, and FILM.

The BODY is just a light-tight box that holds all the other stuff in place. Simple.

The LENS is a set of glass (occasionally plastic) elements that focus light from outside the box precisely onto the film inside the box. They come in various FOCAL LENGTHS which indicate how much “reach” they have. A “normal” lens for a 35mm (film size) camera is designated as a 50mm focal length (optical center of the lens to the film when focussed on infinity) and gives a recorded image pretty much as the eye sees it. A shorter focal length like 20mm covers a wider area as if you had stepped way back from whatever it is you are shooting, and is called a WIDE ANGLE LENS. A longer focal length like a 300mm is called a TELEPHOTO lens and works like a telescope bringing objects closer. MACRO lenses are designed to allow you to get very close to an object letting you make an image on film almost the same physical size as what you are photographing - a life sized image of a postage stamp, for instance. Lenses can take FILTERS which give you yet another size like 52mm.

A lens may or may not be permanently attached to the camera body. If it’s not, you can use different lenses for different purposes. Each lens has different physical and optical properties. Most lenses are marked as to how far from the camera they are (hopefully) focussing, in feet and/or meters. (That assumes that the lens is made to work with the specific camera body you are trying to use.)

The VARIABLE APERTURE, is an opening that is partially blocked by a variable DIAPHRAGM or IRIS that allows differing amounts of light through it, like raising or lowering a window shade. It is usually mounted between the glass elements inside the lens body. The opening is measured upside down in FRACTIONS called F-STOPS: a lens open to f/4 admits much more light than one “closed down” to f/22 (which is about the size of a pinhole). Each full f/stop lets in either twice or one half as much light as the next stop. The size of the opening directly affects some of the optical characteristics of the lens like the usable DEPTH OF FIELD. (The smaller the physical opening, the deeper the area of sharpness in front of the lens will be when focussed at a given distance.)

The SHUTTER MECHANISM is an opaque device like a mechanical curtain that can be opened for specific periods of time by an attached timer to admit light into the camera body and onto the film. It is usually calibrated in fractions of a second. This is called SHUTTER SPEED. The shutter and timer must be consistent, always giving the same results at the same settings, even if the marked fractions of a second don’t quite match reality. If your camera consistently overexposes a bit, you can learn to compensate. If it varies at random, it’s junk.

A built-in LIGHT METER is a help to properly exposing film, but it’s usually wrong. All meters are built to measure light under arbitrary laboratory conditions, to an arbitrary standard. A meter in the camera that measures light bouncing off whatever it is aimed at doesn’t know if that object is dark, or light, or against a predominantly dark or light background. So you, the photographer, need to be able to out guess it. Meters are usually arranged to give you combinations of SHUTTER SPEED and F/STOP that will give the same approximate results on film for a given FILM SPEED. (Huh?)

FILM is light sensitive stuff that records latent images that are completely invisible and useless until “developed” chemically to produce a visible image. The longer you store exposed, undeveloped film, the more this latent almost image can change. Different kinds of film produce SLIDES which you can view directly, or NEGATIVES from which you make directly viewable PRINTS. Some films are more sensitive to light than others, and this sensitivity is represented as FILM SPEED given as an "ASA rating” or "DIN number" in Europe. The more sensitive the film is, the “faster” it records an image and the HIGHER its ASA rating. ASA 1000 is much more sensitive than ASA 12.

Just to confuse things a bit more, the more sensitive a film is, the more GRAIN you can see in the film. No, not wheat or rice, but visible dots of color or grayness that make up the image. The more sensitive the film is, the larger these dots will be and the more they will show up in the finished image, and the more fine detail you won’t get. ASA 100 film nowadays gives you very fine grain: large evenly colored area seem smooth. ASA 3200 film, especially if “push processed” to make it even faster, looks a lot like the recorded picture is done in mosaic tile.

Some color films are designed to respond best and most accurately to DAYLIGHT, others to TUNGSTEN illumination (or normal incandescent lighting) of a specific “color temperature” (degree of yellowness compared to sunlight). Nothing works too well under fluorescent lights.

Finally, some cameras have “automatic” functions like setting the shutter speed according to what the built-in meter thinks it sees, or picking an arbitrary aperture opening or F-stop. While this is nice for sports shots, or Aunt Fanny at the beach, it’s usually dead wrong for detailed record shots.


[Just another view] Photographing models or small objects is not hard, but it does take some practice and adequate equipment. Not really expensive, just adequate. You have to be able to get CLOSE and be SHARP.

To get sharp shots of anything as small as (for instance) 8 x 10 inches, you need a camera that is manually adjustable and preferably with interchangeable lenses. Instamatics and other "point and shoot" cameras usually do not work well for this sort of thing. And the new "Auto-Focus" units are usually just "Auto-cuss" cameras - you often don't know just what they are focusing on. And "Auto-everything" cameras are almost guaranteed to mess up.

Why? Because you have to set cameras a particular way to shoot art or miniatures.

First, you have to be able to see or figure out just what your camera is going to put on film; the precise area it is 'looking at'.

Some cameras have one little window through the body of the camera that lets you kind of sort of see what you are maybe going to get on film. Others have a split image system with TWO little windows that try to help you focus the lens. They both have the same problem: the little windows are an inch or two from the center of the picture taking lens. When you are trying to take a picture of something close, that can be a long distance. (A ratio of 1 inch in 1 foot is significant,). What you see in the windows close up is going to be higher than what the lens is actually seeing. You can compensate for this in different ways, usually using a wire 'field frame' that physically defines the focus and frame area, but it’s awkward.

The best kind of camera for accurate photography is a SINGLE LENS REFLEX or SLR type. Single Lens just means one main lens. Reflex means that you look through the actual picture taking lens for focusing and composing the image. What you see is what you get. Good used SLR bodies are available at reasonable prices now that all the major camera companies are releasing lots of auto-everything models.

You also have to be able to focus on things that are close to the lens. This is usually called MACRO focusing. That just means "close" and "sharp". A camera that focuses down to 5 feet is good for people shots and large objects, but small art or objects will look like small blots on the film.

MACRO LENSES are specifically made to make large images of small objects, and usually have 'normal' focal lengths (which is an optical measure giving the distance from the optical center of lens to the film plane) of 50mm to 55mm for a 35mm (film size) camera. This gives an image with a perspective fairly close to what the human eye sees. Some zoom lenses and telephoto lenses can also 'macro focus' giving you some macro capability, but will usually NOT be as sharp as a specifically made macro lens. A good camera body and a good, if slightly 'slow' macro lens are my favorite combination for general photography of any sort.

Old macro lenses can be cheap, and will work well even if they are not the sharpest, fastest, fanciest lenses ever made. A very close, relatively sharp image of a something beats a tiny, very sharp image that you can't blow up enough to use.

If you don't have, or don't want to buy, a macro lens, (or your camera doesn't take interchangeable lenses) you can buy SUPPLEMENTARY CLOSE-UP LENSES that will screw onto your existing lens like filters. They work, will be a bit more “fuzzy” then a separate Macro lense, and are cheap. These may drive you nuts trying to figure out where you are now focussing unless you have an SLR, though.

You now have to be able to close the diaphragm of the lens (the aperture or f-stop) down, WAY down, either manually or by fighting with an 'aperture priority' system on automatic cameras. That means setting the lens to a number like f/16 or f/22. This is not really to limit the amount of light entering the camera, but to maximize the area in front of your camera that will be sharp at a given focus setting. Or, the SMALLER the lens opening gets, the SHARPER your picture gets, maximizing your "Depth of Field" for maximum overall sharpness. That's why you can get away with an older 'slower' macro lense; you don't need to use it 'wide open' at f/3.5 or whatever. You adjust the total amount of light falling on your film by adjusting the TIME the SHUTTER is OPEN, leaving the aperture setting alone.

We've now covered framing and focusing the picture, but we also have to get the right amount of light falling on the film to record a useful, quality image. That means metering or measuring the light available.

Metering light just means measuring how much light is FALLING ON YOUR SUBJECT so you can set the camera to properly expose the film - give it enough light for a good image, but not so much light that the image gets “washed out”. Many cameras have a built-in meter. It often lies. It tries to measure the light BOUNCING OFF whatever is in front of it and give you a setting. Trying to shoot a white-painted object on a light concrete pad, or a picture with predominant light tones, will fool the meter into giving you an UNDER exposed image. Photographing a black object on a dark grey surface, or a mostly dark picture, will fool the meter into giving you an OVER-EXPOSED picture. Either one gives you a hard to print negative, or a pretty useless slide.

Getting around this is easy. You can put an 18% reflective NEUTRAL GREY CARD in front of the camera (at the position of the piece of art or object you are trying to photograph) and DIRECTLY FACING THE LENS, then reading the light BOUNCING OFF THE CARD. This gives you an accurate measure of the actual amount of light available, regardless of the colors of the objects you are trying to shoot and duplicates the conditions the meter was meant to measure anyway. Now set the camera, and leave it that way AS LONG AS THE LIGHTING DOESN'T CHANGE. (All meters are set to give a “proper exposure” using such a gray card, which makes them kind of chancy in the real world.)

You can also use a separate INCIDENT LIGHT METER that measures the light actually falling on the subject which is the best way of setting the camera anyway.

Remember, close the lens down as far as it will go (f/16 or f/22) and adjust the SPEED as needed. Since you may wind up shooting 1 and 2 second exposures, you will also want to mount your camera on a TRIPOD. These come in the standard tall-as-you-are types and shortys that are only a few inches tall for use on table tops.

FILM? Yes, use film. What kind? The "slowest" film for your lighting (DAYLIGHT or INDOOR) and SLIDE or PRINT depending on what you want to look at. Slow means FILM SPEED: how sensitive the film is to light as opposed to SHUTTER SPEED which means how fast the internal shutter goes 'click'. Try and stick to film speeds like ASA 125 or slower (smaller numbers like ASA 64). Why? To make film "faster" or more sensitive to light, the manufacturers have to use larger lumps of silver in the film which show up in the finished picture as discrete dots. The slower the film the smaller the dots (or "grain").

PRINT film gives negatives which can be used to make (ready for this?) paper PRINTS or transparencies which can be viewed in normal lighting conditions. When making prints the lab can FILTER the light passing from the negative to the print paper and change the color balance and (sometimes) the contrast of the final print. This can save many negatives shot in weird light conditions, but getting a PRECISE color match for just ONE color may take LOTS of trial and error. And colors change in bunches in printing. You may NEVER be able to get a precise total color match from a photographic process.

SLIDE film gives you directly viewable (if rather small) images that the lab can’t mess up, provided their processing chemicals are fresh and their temperatures well controlled. What you shoot is what you will get. Good, bad, or ugly. To correct improper color balance in a slide, you have to make either a copy slide, or color INTERNEGATIVE (which can be used to make LOTS of subsequent slides) which will allow SOME color correction, and which WILL increase contrast of the finished slide. If you NEED to increase contrast in a slide, this is the way to do it. Matching film to lighting is important for an un-obvious reason. You can use filters to match film to lighting, but all filters do their work by BLOCKING LIGHT and requiring longer exposures (or larger apertures). Excessively long exposures can change the color responses of the film (it’s called “reciprocity failure”). Exposures beyond 1 second with most films generally shift the colors a bit. The longer the exposure, the greater the possible shift.

Happily, most of our subjects won't be trying to escape while we photograph them, so we can use slow shutter speeds, as well as slow film speeds. For PRINTS, try Kodak GOLD films - the ASA 100 is incredible for outdoor or detail work, the ASA 200 is excellent for general purpose photography, and the ASA 800 is perfect for live shots at a convention in low light. These can be filtered, or corrected fairly well in printing to compensate for odd lighting conditions. For SLIDES, Kodachrome is fairly accurate in rendering colors, especially when you are shooting in DAYLIGHT.

THE ULTIMATE SECRET of getting decent exposures is ... BRACKETING. This means taking several different exposures, instead of just the one that your meter likes. If you are not absolutely sure what exposure to use, take your first shot at the "proper" setting, then take TWO MORE SHOTS, one OVER-EXPOSING, then one UNDER-EXPOSING by one or one-half stop. OR double then half the shutter speed from the "proper" setting. Why? If you are shooting something a bit odd or hard to meter, you then have 3 chances of getting the best possible exposure. In extreme cases, you might take FIVE bracketed exposures, adjusting exposure in one-half stop increments. It may use more film, but if the idea is to get the best possible record of your work, it's worth the extra cost and effort.

NOTE: the way ANY GIVEN FILM sees ANY GIVEN color can be different from the way your eye perceives it. That's due to the physics and chemistry of the film. I have had one lemon yellow background for a technical diagram photograph as light green while a yellow area inside it made with a different color overlay (the same shade to the eye) came out as - lemon yellow. Ghod. I LOVE photochemistry.

If color accuracy is important to you, you will have to TEST EACH AND EVERY PIGMENT AND MATERIAL you are going to be using, by photographing it with the film you intend to use, under the conditions you will be using to photograph the final material. The way film records some pigments may surprise you. Unfavorably. If you are creating photos for reproduction, this pre-testing may save you hours or days of work. When in doubt, TEST IT and/or check with your client. You might also try including a piece of Neutral Gray Card in the photo next to your art to provide a printing reference, or go all the way to using a sheet with color REFERENCE patches and a 7 step GRAY SCALE. Arcane stuff, but useful.

Modern COMPUTER PHOTO-RETOUCHING can do literally anything to a color or black and white image, once you get it into the computer. Getting it out again is the trick. SCANNERS exist in the $200 to $2,000 dollar range that can convert flat art or slides into good 32 BIT computer images with over 6,000,000 colors at decent (4,000 line) resolutions. Programs exist (mainly for the MACINTOSH family of computers) to then manipulate these images completely. Getting images back out requires a FILM RECORDER or color PRINTER, neither of which is cheap, if you want quality. Usable units start at $200 and go up quite rapidly.

LIGHTING: you need a lot of it, and daylight is best. It's free and color balanced for OUTDOOR film. Why a lot of it? The more light, the sharper your pictures generally are: overly long exposures - beyond a second or two - start to color shift and lose contrast (crispness). This helps keep the colors you get on film somewhat close to those you actually used. Slides should be pretty close, prints can be 'tuned' in by the lab if exact color is vital. (I’m not saying that the lab can save everything. It can’t. It’s a viable last chance, and one you shouldn’t rely on.)

For indoor work you can use PHOTOFLOOD bulbs in heat resistant reflectors (cheap clip-ons work well) and film balanced for INDOOR or PHOTOFLOOD lighting. All light from white or clear glass light bulbs is yellow when compared to sunlight, while fluorescent light tends to be 'uncorrectable green' no matter what the manufacturer calls it (and which contains lots of Ultra Violet light which makes photos come out slightly blue). If you stock only outdoor film like I do, you can use a color correction filter on your camera lens for critical color work, use DAYLIGHT BLUE PHOTOFLOOD lamps, or as a last resort tell a good lab to 'PRINT TUNGSTEN' (color correct the prints to compensate for the excessive yellow tone) which usually almost works.

For recording flat art, or small objects, you can use OUTDOOR FILM and two DAYLIGHT BLUE PHOTOFLOOD lamps in matt finished reflectors (not mirror shiny ones) about 4 feet from your art or wherever you will be shooting. Have one on each side of the camera at a 45 degree angle from the line between the center of the art and the center of the camera lens. This should give you an area of flat, even lighting 2 or 3 feet across. To be safe, use a meter to make sure the area is evenly lit, edge to edge, corner to corner. Set your APERTURE to f/16 or f/22, THEN meter a gray card in the center of the area to get your SHUTTER SPEED. These settings should be constant for any subject/camera distance, as long as you don’t change the relative positions of the art and lamps.

Remember to keep photofloods 3 to 6 feet from your work, to keep it from melting or overheating, and occasionally feel the darker surfaces during a long shoot or set-up. It's tragic to watch a model begin to sag and melt. Some materials can actually burst into flames. You can also shoot outdoors, around noon, letting full sunlight fall on flat art, and use outdoor film. In many ways this is the truest color rendition possible, IF the sun cooperates. To control natural light you can use white cardboard or matt aluminum foil for reflectors, and a piece of old white sheet on a light frame to soften direct sunlight. Also, use an ULTRAVIOLET FILTER on your camera to keep the color balance from shifting toward the blue.

ELECTRONIC FLASH (STROBES) can also be used indoors with outdoor film, but are MUCH harder to work with. For one thing, they usually have a fixed flash duration, which means you have to adjust exposures by adjusting f/stop which is just what we don't want to do, or they are automatically variable which means 'automatically wrong'. You can use a FLASH METER which works well for for setting up accurate flash photography (and is my personal favorite for indoor work) but requires another level of guesstimating even lighting.


After photographing models, shooting things in the real world seems almost easy. Most of the factors that are important in photographing little things are just as important in shooting big ones, but larger and easier to cope with.

Most big things are usually OUTDOORS, which makes your choice of film easy: an outdoor film, like ASA 100 GOLD for prints, or Kodachrome for slides. An ASA of 100 or so gives you fine grain for details, and speed to shoot in shadows. (You need the speed to record SHADOW DETAIL because it is difficult to hold a camera steady for more than 1/60th of a second without a tripod, using a 'normal' lens which limits your choices of aperture and shutter speed.) Use an ULTRAVIOLET or HAZE FILTER to prevent excess ultraviolet light (which your eye usually can’t recognize) from giving an excessive blue cast to your pictures. (color film is usually quite good at detecting UV and recording it as BLUE).

If you will be shooting INDOORS, you should pick your film accordingly. Indoor, use TUNGSTEN film for incandescent lighting so your color response will at least be close. For fluorescent lighting, try DAYLIGHT film and a 'fluorescent filter' which won't work but is better than nothing, on top of an ULTRAVIOLET FILTER to block out the ultraviolet light fluorescents also put out which will turn your pictures BLUE.

If you are moving between indoor and outdoor shooting, remember that filters CUT the amount of light passing through them, and that sunlight is usually much brighter than indoor lighting. You can use a moderately fast INDOOR film and then filter that for SUNLIGHT and still get a useable speed. For shooting under sodium or mercury vapor lighting, you might be able to find a suitable specialty filter to correct that weird yellow or whatever light, but I think you're on your own: record shapes and worry about adding color from memory or notes.

A TRIPOD is vital for shooting longer exposures indoors, or with telephoto lenses outdoors. The more powerful a telephoto is, the harder is it to hold steady. It magnifies any shakiness you might have. While you may be able to hand hold a camera absolutely still for a 1/60th second exposure using a normal lens, going to a 200mm telephoto lens requires 1/250th or 1/500th second exposure to minimize shake. (Which can be caused just by your heart beating. Vampires don't have that problem, at least.) If a tripod is too cumbersome, look at mono-pods (just what they sound like), chest braces, or shoulder braces that look rather like rifle stocks and which can cause a LOT of problems at military bases. (Oh no! A person with a Bazooka!)

Metering is best done by using an incident meter and measuring the light FALLING ON your subject. Or pick an NEUTRAL GREY looking area on the subject and meter that, and use that setting for all surfaces that receive the same amount of light. Or remember that in BRIGHT SUNLIGHT at f/16 your SHUTTER SPEED should be the same as your FILM SPEED when shooting an average subject. If it isn't at least close, find out why. And if your meter dies, you have a handy and workable rule of thumb. (A dense shadow is 2 stops down or your shutter speed divided by 4. This has saved my sanity a couple of times. I think.)

[Basic Setup] [Basic Setup]
These shots were taken under fluorescent light, with fluorescent lighting on the model. The shop is lit with double tube 4' units with daylight white tubes, and the pan-fills (big, nasty reflectors) are stuffed with a 100 watt (equivalent) full spectrum daylight white bulb each.

Fancy reflectors are NOT necessary. These were from an estate sale, are very old, and hard to find. Instead, go to ACE or an equivalent hardware store (or Wally-world, K-Mart, etc.) for a few clip-on reflector units, and dig out some FULL SPECTRUM fluorescents to go in them. Why the fluoro's? MUCH cooler - they put out next to no heat, where 'normal' photo floods put out a LOT of heat.

Note the 'fancy backdrop'. That's just Color-Air graphic arts paper, pushpinned to the wall and counter top. I use bulldog clips on the wall for quick changes, and so as not to chew up the paper. Other acceptable backdrop materials include butcher paper (if you need white), construction paper, cloth (stored with as few folds as possible so creases don't show up in the photos), 'seemless' photo background paper, large photos for backgrounds, mono-color anything if you are going to stuff the image into a computer and manipulate it.


[Depth of field] DEPTH OF FIELD - A camera lens does not just focus on a nice flat, depthless plane, it has a zone of maximum focus at some variable distance from the lens. Sharpness decreases the farther you go from that zone, either toward or away from the lens. The volume where the subject is "sharp enough" to be useful is the DEPTH OF FIELD of maximum sharpness. The farther from the camera you you are focussing , the deeper this field is, for a given f/stop. The field is actually a section of a spherical area centered on the optical center of the lens. If you are photographing a flat subject, like flat art, you have to get both the CENTER and the CORNERS of that subject sharp, so you need a large depth of field to totally enclose the subject. You need to use the smallest aperture possible, just to have some margin for error, or greater enlargement later.

"Sharp enough" is arbitrary, and depends on how much you are going to enlarge or "blow up" the final photograph. If you are just going to make small prints, you don't have to worry too much. If you are going to project an image the size of a billboard for people to look at, or make 11 x 17 inch enlargements, the original negative or slide needs to be "sharper", and you need a greater depth of field.


SHOOTING A VIDEO DISPLAY or computer screen is not too hard, with a few tricks.

  • FIRST, use a TELEPHOTO LENS. The "longer" the lens, or the larger its focal length is (like 150mm) the less distortion you will get from the usually curved CRT or "picture tube". Distortion is usually more of a problem than depth of field in this case.

  • SECOND, shoot in an absolutely DARK ROOM so you won't get reflections on the faceplate of the display. If necessary, tent the display and camera in black cloth.

  • THIRD, use an EXPOSURE TIME of at least one half, to ONE FULL SECOND to eliminate scan problems, assuming that you are trying to photograph a single, unchanging image on a computer or video monitor. To shoot computer animations, step through them one frame at a time, shooting each frame individually. From T.V. or video tape, try 1/30th second exposures (which will probably give you synchronization problems, or blank bands on the screen), OR 1/15th second, or stop the action with a SINGLE FRAME, FREEZE FRAME, or PAUSE. Ideally, capture the image you want with a FRAME GRABBER and display it on a computer monitor.

  • FOURTH, to set the proper exposure, you're going to need a reference 18% NEUTRAL GRAY IMAGE on the screen. This is just a screen full of what looks like the same gray you have on the neutral gray card you would use for normal photography. If you think of a totaly black screen as 0% and a totally white one as 100%, getting an 18% bright gray isn’t too hard. Fill the screen with 18% gray, meter that gray, THEN DON'T CHANGE SETTINGS for the next "real" photos, even if you physically move the camera around. If the resulting pictures are too DARK, use a slightly BRIGHTER gray calibration screen for the next series of photographs. If the pictures are too LIGHT or washed out, use a DARKER gray. SAVE your calibration gray screen for the next time.

  • FIFTH always shoot a TEST ROLL of shots if your work is important to establish reference standards.

  • SIXTH, use OUTDOOR or DAYLIGHT film. Most computer displays are bluish and the best color renditions will be on outdoor film.

  • Last, NEVER USE FLASH to try and make the picture brighter, it just washes out the video display and leaves a bright reflection from the flash.

    EYE LEVEL - the reality connection

    What makes a photo of a model LOOK real? What makes it look like a photo of a full sized car or whatever, rather than a plastic scale model?

    [Eye level] Probably THE most important factor is shooting the model at ITS scale EYE HEIGHT.

    Eye Height? That’s just the height above the ground of the average person’s eyes. All our lives we have become used to judging the sizes of things by how big they look compared to other objects, or how much above or below our own EYE LEVEL they are. Measuring sizes this way, and recognizing eye level are very strong parts of our human makeup. Particularly in social situations, eye level, and eye contact are very strong factors in our behavior. So we are (usually) very good at estimating eye level on people, or things associated with people. This includes cars, tanks, planes, buildings, motorcycles, and other human-scale objects.

    If you shoot a picture of a real car, you usually shoot from your own eye level. That’s the way it looks most familiar, most “real”, to you. All the visual cues in the picture relate to this eye level effect, whether you are shooting horizontally, or at any angle up or down. It’s the position of your viewpoint, the camera’s height above the ground, that counts.

    If you are shooting a building, your camera may be angled UP, but the picture is still being shot (usually) from eye level, and perspective cues in the picture will show this. If you are shooting children, or smaller things, you may be angling the camera DOWN, but there will still be visual cues in the photo showing their relative scale. One main key to shooting models and making them look real is to put your camera at the SCALE EYE LEVEL of the model, THEN angle the camera down or up to get the shot you want.

    In the figure below, the roof of the “real” car (such as it is) is just below eye level for a standing person of average height. The full sized figure to the extreme right gives the best reference for eye level in this case. To make the “model” car look most realistic, you should shoot it at the eye level of a SCALE FIGURE standing next to or behind it. (This usually means raising the model, or lowering the camera. The effect is the same.) Keep everything perfectly HORIZONTAL until you get the camera at the model’s eye level, then you can angle it up or down to get the effect you want.

    [Eye level]

    If you have trouble figuring out “eye level” this way, try using a LEVELING BLOCK to set up the shot. This is just a box or plastic shape that is a SCALE “eye height” tall. For a 1/24th scale model, it would be about 2.7 inches high. Just place it on the surface your model is going to be sitting on, and then raise or lower the camera until you just barely CAN’T see the top of the block through the camera, keeping the camera completely HORIZONTAL. If the “model” car in the sketch below were a leveling block, you would raise the model slightly, or lower the level of the camera, so the line of sight just grazes its top. This trick should work for almost any scale of model.



    • an older SINGLE LENS REFLEX (SLR) BODY with matching MACRO LENS,
    • a TRIPOD,
    • and preferably an INCIDENT LIGHT METER.
    • a GRAY CARD.
    • slow color or black and white FILM.

    Remember, you can use almost any camera that has a sharp lens, a light-tight body, and consistent shutter and take good photos. It's just that some cameras take an excessive amount of fiddling to do it.


    This material has been prepared for STARSHIP MODELER. It is copyright 2001 by Clyde R. Jones, and is NOT in the public domain. It contains much that is opinion based on many years of experience. No responsibility accepted for chaos or technical errors. All rights reserved, especially those necessary for using this material as the basis for a theatrical musical comedy production. For more information, see the soon to be written book “What’s All This Then?” Or “More Than You Probably Want To Know About Photography, But Need To Know Anyway” by the same author, or possibly Douglas Adams, assuming he has any interest in such things or in preparing long, involved, but clearly written and informative works, which he probably doesn’t. Thank you. Mind the porpoise on your way out. CRJ

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    This page copyright © 2001 Starship Modeler™. Last updated on 12 April 2001.