I think we all have been there: you have made a fantastic piece of (miniature) art, but you can’t figure out how (
the hell) to photograph it! Well, today, I am going to try to tell you how to photograph art, especially in miniature size.
It probably will be a kind of a long read, so you can always skip a part and go straight to the part that you are interested in by using the ‘table of content’ above.
Being creative also means that you want to show the world that you are!
It isn’t hard these days to take a lot of pictures with modern technology, cameras are everywhere and everybody can have one nowadays.
Miniatures are widely spread through social media and in this way you can share your ideas, look for inspiration or ask questions and feedback from others. It is a vibrant and exciting community, and I spend a lot of time on my own Facebook group and Instagram.
How to photograph art and miniature art in particular, is unfortunately not as easy as taking a simple selfie. Which any
monkey, I mean anybody can do. 🙂
You really need to score a better picture of your artwork than your Tinder photo. Especially if you want to make your Instagram page or Etsy shop successful!
Some pieces of art, and of course our miniatures, are very small (really?) and have tiny details (both sculpted and painted). And thus need a refined setup to make it as real as possible.
Just pointing your cellphone at your work and take a snapshot is rarely enough to get a fantastic picture. Although these days the Apple phones and Samsung phones have some great preset settings that can give you a headstart.
Make a scene!
No, I don’t mean that you need to break up with your boyfriend during diner in a restaurant 🙂 But you can make a beautiful setting to place your miniature piece in.
I would recommend a simple setup with a plain white background. A piece of paper pasted on something solid is a quick and easy solution, providing a neutral background for your miniatures.
It helps to show the model in the best light, without distraction of the details.
TIP: If you really want to get into some serious business, I would most definitely invest in a lightbox, you can find them in a camera store or online.
Let there be light!
As you might have guessed, lighting is one of the most important things to have a good picture. No light = no picture! Let’s dive deeper into this.
When taking pictures of miniatures, you need an even and constant, persistent light. Thé best way to achieve this is using daylight lamps. The latter gives a neutral light, not too blue, not too yellow, but just right to photograph small things.
Daylight lamps fit most standard desk lamps and are available everywhere. What works best is putting two lights in front of the piece with some diffusion on both sides. So that would mostly lighten up the front of it.
A few more tips on lighting.
- Always remember to light up the art or miniature piece itself and not the background. You can always add a third light above the piece and aim that towards the background only.
- Usually, this isn’t necessary, unless you want to draw attention to the background (when for example there is something extra going on back there).
- Make sure that your lighting isn’t too harsh or too soft. The artwork has its own shadows and highlights, so you don’t want to cover up certain areas or on the contrary not have enough light to make it shine!
- A very harsh light, such as a LED lamp, will create shadows and sharp edges, while a softer light, such as the daylight lamps, will get you shadows without those edges.
- Don’t try to use natural daylight for your setup, even when it’s really sunny out, because it is never even. On a cloudless day, for example, your pictures will often turn out yellow and on a cloudy day, they can turn blue.
- Avoid using the flash of a camera, as it will make the mini piece or art piece too bright and will get you too much contrast light.
TIP: If your light is too bright/too harsh, you can soften it by covering it with tracing paper.
TIP 2: Why not create your own lightbox? Have a look at this fantastic Youtube video on how to do that!
Finding The Perfect Angle.
A big part of how to photograph art and miniatures is how to get that ‘golden’ point of view to get a clear view of all the details of your work. Let me try to explain how you do that.
Each piece of art has a golden angle, a point of view that best captures the essence of the model.
For miniature furniture like a closet, for example, that would almost always be a front view of the model. Regarding miniature food/dolls/sculptures or others, you would need to make sure to see all the details that you wànt people to see.
If you try to take a picture and all the important details aren’t visible, then turn the model around a tiny bit and try a different angle.
Some pieces of art or miniatures can be quite difficult to photograph, so if you are unsure of a model’s golden angle, have a look at Etsy shops that have beautiful settings and perfect pictures, like these artists: Aida Pravia, Kathleen Holmes, or BigmanSmallWorld who are all on Instagram as well.
Another factor to consider is the vertical angle of the camera, for dolls or sculptures, for example. The camera lens should be leveled with the eyes of the model.
If the camera is pointed too high, you will only get a nice view of the shoulders, the top of the head, and the base, that’s it.
With larger pieces of art or miniatures, it would be useful to experiment with the camera angle. Shooting pictures from a camera angle that is too low, may not capture the shape of the object. Try to raise the camera slightly to capture the depth of a model.
Size And Focus.
One of the most difficult parts of photographing art or miniatures is that you want your pictures to be totally sharp, but also big enough to see all the details clearly. How
the hell do you do that?
Miniatures are often quite small (euhm, really Lizzy? lol), so you need to make sure you are close enough to get a usable picture.
This doesn’t mean you have to fill the frame completely but aim to fill at least a quarter of the view on your camera. Be careful not to cut off parts that are necessary for the setting!
Some More Technical Details For The Hobbyists.
With the camera on ‘Automatic’-stand and the right circumstances (see above), you can go a long way. Just remember to turn off the flash for better results.
If you have an SLR camera, then you can set all settings manually for each photo, if of course, you know what you are doing.
So, you have placed your piece on a solid and white background, your lights are in the right position, and your camera is ready to take some pictures. But is it set up correctly?
What Does This All Mean?
The aperture determines how much light gets through the lens and how much of the picture is focussed upon. Low numbers in aperture mean more light, but less focus and high numbers mean less light, but more focus. The higher the numbers, the better in our case.
If the camera shutter stays open longer while taking the picture, more light will pass through.
While taking photos manually, you would need a shutter speed of 1/100 seconds, or faster, to avoid getting blurry images while moving the camera.
Also, I would recommend using a tripod or supporting the camera on a stable surface, this would make it a lot easier to take sharp pictures. Before we go on, maybe it is better to have a look first at this Youtube clip about photographing mini’s:
Sometimes the shutter speed is very slow, sometimes only a second. This is all fine and dandy, as long as the camera remains stable during the process.
TIP: Using the camera’s timer function makes it easy to not having to touch the camera at all when taking a photo.
If you don’t have enough light, you can always increase the ISO level, as this indicates how sensitive the camera is to light. The higher the ISO, the more the camera uses the available light, but it makes the picture more ‘grainy’!
Instead, it would be better to set the ISO as low as possible to photograph our work. 100 is the lowest on most camera’s and I recommend not to go above 400.
Then you can change the shutter speed to compensate for low light levels. The end result will be a picture where the entire piece is in focus, the level of light is ideal and the quality of the photo is nice and sharp, without graininess!
How to photograph art with your smartphone camera!
Funny cats, impressive meals, and selfies are often widely available on our phones. But, are they good enough to take pictures of your piece of art or miniatures?
For sure, I mean: YES! For the nit-pickers amongst us, there still might be a big difference between an SLR camera and a (clever) phone, but you can definitely still make fantastic pictures with recent models.
Not in the least because those phones have many presets that make a photographer’s life easier!
The first thing you will need to do is hold the phone closer to the object than a camera. This is because the zoom function doesn’t work in the same way.
Also, you need to know that a smartphone doesn’t offer the same settings (ISO, aperture, etc.). Although interesting enough, the settings of the latter can often focus way better on an object. And thus get you much closer to the piece without it starting to blur the edges!
Pictures taken with a smartphone can often look quite dark. They may look good on the screen of the phone, but when you transfer them to a desktop you could notice a difference that is not so flattering for your piece.
Remember that you don’t have as much control over the shutter speed, so it would be better to move the lights closer to the model to get a better picture.
Final Conclusion On How To Photograph Art And Miniatures.
I hope that you enjoyed this long blog post on how to photograph your work/collection.
Feel free to comment below or ask any questions, or be very much welcome in my Facebook group. You can now join my newsletter as well, to get some weekly presents and more!
I wish you happy crafting!