Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tutorial: Budget Miniature Photography, The effect of lighting

In the first part of Budget Miniature Photography I discussed my home photo booth and the costs of my set up. In this instalment I will show an experiment of the effect of lighting on picture quality. Just for some extra fun, I will write this in the format of a high school lab report.

Title: A qualitative look at the effect of lighting in miniature photography

Purpose: To find out what type of lighting apparatus a hobbyist on a budget needs in order to get decent miniature pictures. To test whether a light box makes a difference in picture quality.

Materials: Desk lamp, daylight bulb, photo booth, background, fluorescent bulb, halogen bulb, camera, test miniature.

1. Set up photo booth with the miniature located in the middle of the booth with a curved dark background.
2. Set camera to auto mode, turn off the flash, and turn on the macro function. All pictures for this experiment will use the same settings.
3. Position the lights over the photo booth approximately 15 cm from the miniature.
4. Take a picture of the miniature lit by only the daylight bulb.
5. Repeat step 4 using a halogen bulb, halogen and daylight bulb, daylight bulb with diffuser (transparent paper taped over the light source).
6. Take a picture with the photo booth oriented towards the ambient light from the sunlight (experiment was completed on a cloudy day).
7. Take a picture using ambient sunlight and daylight bulb without the use of the photo booth.
8. Upload pictures to computer and crop images to fit the model.
9. Observe differences in lighting, contrast, and hue of the sample pictures.

Note that these pictures have only been cropped. No auto-correct or other computer enhancements have been used.

Part A
All miniatures photographed inside the photo booth.

Daylight bulb
The standard the others are compared to. The coloration is natural and there is no yellowing.

Daylight bulb with diffuser

Maybe a slightly lower chance of reflections than without a diffuser.

Halogen bulb
Note the yellow hue to the picture.

Daylight and halogen
Well lit from two angles, but yellowing is evident.

Ambient sunlight
Taken on a cloudy day in a bright room. Good coloration. No bright focuses.

Part B
Comparison of pictures with and without the use of a photo booth.

Daylight bulb with no photo booth
Photo is still clear. More shadows present that with photo booth.

Ambient sunlight without photo booth
Image is a bit dark without the photo booth to focus the light on the model.

Part A:
The results show us that the daylight bulb and the sunlight provide the best image quality. The images are well lit and the colours show naturally without any yellowing. When the halogen bulb was added we could see that the images took on a yellow tint. The paper diffuser over the daylight bulb made little difference and is probably not worth the effort for most pictures. For the highest quality images, a diffuser may be worth it. The sunlight images provided good lighting and results. The lighting conditions during the experiment were perfect. Different conditions would result in less ideal pictures due to direct sunlight, insufficient lighting, or absence of light altogether.

Part B:
The results show that image quality without the photo booth was still quite high. In the images without a photo booth we can see that there are more shadows in the image and that it is not quite as well lit. For quick work in progress pictures or if space is a concern then it is possible to get well lit pictures that look good without using the photo booth. The photo booth is effective at reducing shadows and increasing the lit areas of the model.

From this little experiment we can come to a few conclusions about the optimal lighting conditions for budget miniature photography. Out of the light sources tested, a daylight bulb provides the best, most consistent light for convenient photography. Ambient sunlight allows good pictures to be taken under the right conditions and is a good alternative for those without a daylight bulb. A reflective photo booth helps to reduce shadows and improve lighting quality when using only one light source. If space or resources do not permit a light booth then a background and a good light set up will still allow high quality pictures to be taken. The experiment also shows us how image colour can be distorted under different lighting conditions. Photo software can correct for this but it may be difficult to get a natural hue back for all of the original colours.

My recommendations for cheap miniature photography would be to invest in a daylight bulb and to build a small, collapsible photo booth. The daylight bulb improves picture quality and also allows you to see full spectrum colour and have bright direct lighting when painting miniatures. The photo booth is a cost effective way to improve the quality of your pictures.
The winner: Daylight bulb, in photo booth.

As always, comments and further thoughts on this topic are greatly appreciated within the comments section. My knowledge of lighting, photography, colour theory, art (and many other topics) is extremely limited. I know there are lots of talented and experienced individuals out there who have lots of valuable knowledge to contribute to this topic. I will look forward to hearing from you.

Budget miniature photography: My tools and costs
Corvus Miniatures photo studio and backgrounds
Stahly's Tale of Painters Photo set up


  1. great article; I'll have a go at the LB. Untill now I just used daylight and a white background. I've done some experiments with light difusion boxes but this seems so much better.


  2. Keep in mind too that it's always better too have more light than not enough because if you do have to fix the picture in post it's easier to bring the levels down than it is to "create" more light;)


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