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Photography Basics for Modeling

The main thing you’ll need to concern yourself with, is that there are different temperatures of light from different sources. Various types of illumination will change the apparent overall colour of the light used to make the exposure. There are three types of light, daylight, incandescent/tungsten and fluorescent lights. Try to minimize your lighting to one of these, to better allow your camera to figure out the white balance. Most cameras will have a white balance feature that allows the user to change the settings based on the lighting present. Leaving the setting on “Auto” will allow the camera to accurately read the type of light present, and compensate accordingly.

Types of light

Daylight,.. If you are shooting outdoors, try and avoid the harsh, contrasting direct sunlight, choose an overcast day as the light will be softened by the cloud cover and will limit the shadows cast upon your model. Early in the morning and early in the evening are ideal outdoor shooting times.

Incandescent/Tungsten,.. This kind of light is produced by a heated filament inside a vacuum glass bulb.

Fluorescent light is produced through an electro-chemical process in a tube full of gas. The type of light produced varies depending on the phosphor coating and the type of gas in the tube, which can produce widely varied illumination. Nor does it produce proportional amounts of all the colours of light in the spectrum. If you use fluorescent bulbs, make sure they are all the same.

When shooting your model, use of fill in light will be critical in reducing shadows and contrast.

A portable studio can be purchased relatively inexpensive. My set up of two adjustable lights and tripods cost me just under $150.

You can fashion a similar setup even cheaper if you buy the components individually. Another option for the DSLR users is the use of a master and slave flash setup, this allows the master flash to fire off a signal to the slave unit, firing both flashes simultaneously.

The slave unit can be positioned by hand to reduce the amount of shadow cast by the master flash.

About the Author

About Frank Portela (Clanky44)

I'm an avid modeller, with about 20 odd years of experience. I belong to a very small group of modellers here in Guelph, Ontario that formed GPMG (Guelph Plastic Modelling Group) over 12 years ago. We have our annual show (WELCOME - Wellington County Modellers Exposition) in the spring. We pride ou...


Very educational Frank. Thank you very much. Kenny
JUN 03, 2008 - 12:16 PM
Nice article. I often fall into the trap (in many subjects) of "yeah-yeah, i know the basics" but don't always apply them! I tried shooting something outside, and my first set, against the brick of the garage, worked well for the model - nice overcast day, shots good, background terrible! Next time I used a sheet, but it was so reflective it caused all pix to be dark! Lighting is so important! Nice shots, nice models, and nice camera! Thanks for the great info.
JUN 04, 2008 - 01:29 AM
What an absolutely fabulous article. Thank you for taking the time to do this. I just submitted some photos a few days ago and after reading your article I now know what I had done wrong. You have answered many questions I had and filled in some blanks for me. Thank you again..... Now, I have to reshoot all of my pictures.
JUN 04, 2008 - 01:53 AM
Thanks for the comments, Please do not get the idea that I'm camera savy, I myself had to reshoot at least a third of the photos I took for this article! and I'm constantly fighting to get good lighting conditions in my little studio, it's a constant struggle taking photos. This is one of the joys of the digital era, if it doesn't work the first time, delete and try again. thanks, Frank
JUN 04, 2008 - 09:12 AM
Hey Frank, Thanks for taking the time to write & illustrate your article! It's always good to get someone's experiences distilled down to an easy-to-read story. I was wondering about two things, mainly with regard to the photos: In your section about lighting, you have the 2 photos, but could you tell us with which kind of lighting each was taken with? In my past, I've taken slide pictures under fluorescent lighting, and they had a decidedly green tint to them! The other thing, with regard to the photos about using some colored sheeting for a background: the 2 photos of the Zero (it is a Zero, isn't it?) have such different colors with the use of different colored sheets - is that just my perception that the colors are that different, or were some different settings used on your camera to cause that? Ok, I'm done with the nit-picky stuff!!!! A thing that I find helpful in framing the photo, is to set-up the model, and set-up the camera, then just study the picture that I see in the viewfinder. This way, I can see if anything unwanted is within the frame, or if the background "works", or even if the whole "look" captures the feeling I'm trying to convey. I find the extra minutes taken to do this is very worthwhile. And you're right about reading your owner's manual - there is a wealth of info in there! One should study the book, and then study it some more. Again, thanks for the write-up. P
JUN 09, 2008 - 01:55 AM
Welcome to Model Shipwrights Timothy, I'm glad you found the article of use. Regarding the lighting used, I use my flash unit with two flourescent bulbs to either side to diminish the shadows. The flourescent bulbs are 5000K true daylight 26W/110-130V, Lumen:1600. As far as the Zero photos, the colours are the same, it's the background that gives the different colour perception. thanks, Frank
JUN 09, 2008 - 12:44 PM
Thank you Frank! Two completely seperate hobbies that complement each other and can make or break!
JUN 09, 2008 - 01:01 PM
I'm just gonna throw this in as a general comment - I've noticed that digital cameras have excellent (EXCELLENT!!!) color repro (if bright light). Kodak film was always magenta, esp in dark, Fuji Green, Agfa orange, but digital, with be enough light, is "spot on." Interesting comments about bgs, I used a white sheet and it threw the light meter way out, everything came out dark, a blue sheet a little better but not much, and I can see too much and it would start to throw color.
JUN 15, 2008 - 02:30 AM
That was a very informative article. Many thanks for posting it. Hopefully mine and other's photos can improve using some of your information in mind. Raul Guzman Jr.
JUN 15, 2008 - 10:40 AM
Hi Frank You know my thoughts about this feature, but I'll share it with the rest of the crew: Excellent! Thanks for taking your time to do it! Cheers, Rui To Wink The background color you use will have influence on the model own color... as is the lighting. A medium blue works for me, but I also like to see (some) models over white background - but depends on the model: a single airplane or a AFV without a base - not a ship
JUN 17, 2008 - 04:27 AM