Wi Editor Dan shares his experience in taking photos using the camera in your pocket.
I’ve been photographing figures to decorate the pages of Wargames Illustrated magazine for years and with every passing year it gets easier. Experience certainly has something to do with that, but technology probably has more.
Despite having a ‘professional’ Nikon D650 camera with various lenses and other accessories, all with a total price tag of around £5,000, I now find myself turning more and more to the phone I carry in my pocket to supply photos for the magazine.
In this article I wanted to share a few tricks and tips I’ve picked up when using my phone camera to take print quality photographs of miniatures, all in the altruistic hope that you can take better photos for your own purposes, and more importantly in the decidedly selfish hope you can supply top quality photos of your figures to Wargames Illustrated.
We are going to keep things simple and just look at two types of photo 1) Single figure shots 2) Small unit scenic shots.
Throughout this demo I’m going to be using a 2019 iPhone Xr. In the great scheme of Apple’s planned obsolescence of everything they ever produce this camera/phone is now over a year old and has been surpassed by the iPhone 11, which has a “much improved” camera. I hope to prove that any iPhone one, two or even three years old is good enough for our purpose.
When it comes to cameras/phones by other manufacturers I know that quality and the controls will be different, but I am going to concentrate less on the tech being used and more on the subject matter, so if you have a camera phone by any manufacturer produced in the last three years, give these tricks and tips a try and see how you get on.
Other than the camera-phone itself the only other ‘kit’ we are going to be using is a few sheets of A4 paper, a desk or table and of course figures and scenery. We are not going to be using any specific lighting.
TAKING SINGLE FIGURE SHOTS
So, you have painted a great looking single figure (or base of four or five) and you want to take a good photo to post on a forum or supply with an article to Wargames Illustrated.
Get a few sheets of A4 white ‘photocopier’ (i.e. standard) paper.
Create a mini photo studio by arranging the paper as seen in the photo above.
Place the figure on the paper just ‘downhill’ of the curve.
Take a photo. OK this bit isn’t really that straightforward, here’s where we start looking to improve on simply pointing and shooting. These are the things we need to consider:
A photo will almost always be improved by more light, as long as it is well placed. But before we go any further a word of warning – don’t ever, never, not ever, use flash. Not for single figures, not for scenic shots. As an amateur (if you’re not an amateur please don’t read this article) your photos will never be improved, and will usually be ruined, by the use of flash.
Choose a well-lit room when taking your shots. This might mean using daylight, or a room with a bright central light. Generally you will get your best shots during daylight hours as long as you can find a spot in the room that has a good balance of light e.g. a window on the left but no light on the right isn’t ideal.
Don’t get too close to your model. It’s going to be tempting to get as close as possible, but for a 28mm figure try positioning your camera around 10cm/3.5″ away. The photo can be cropped tighter later.
Don’t ever (never, not ever) use the zoom on the camera.
The more you use the camera’s digital zoom the more the photo will degrade and the final picture will look pixilated and unnatural.
Rest your camera on the surface of the desk/table to keep it stable.
Resting you camera on the table will restrict your angles, but that’s a price worth paying for a clean shot of the figure, and in fact you still have two choices of angle – rotate your camera 180 degrees to get a shot from lower down.
Once you have your model in the centre of the screen/frame tap the screen to force the camera to focus on the figure. figure focus.
Right, now you are ready to press the button and take the photo.
Once you have taken your photo you will want to crop it to size. This can be done in the Photos App on your phone. Just open/click the photo and go to ‘edit’.
At the risk of stating the obvious, if your took your phone with the camera turned 180 degrees – rotate the photo so your model isn’t standing on its head/roof.
Whilst you have the photo open try experimenting with the myriad of other photo editing tools here, like ‘Brilliance’ and ‘Vibrance’. It’s very much a matter of playing and seeing what works for your particular subject. Note: If you are supplying your photos to Wargames Illustrated we will require the photos au naturel – without any cropping or editing work having been done – we’ll do that at our end.
TAKING UNIT SCENIC SHOTS
We are now moving away from single models on an A4 background to a group of models on the tabletop, but we are still talking staged shots – not in-game ‘point and shoot’ photos.
Firstly, and obviously, we need to create a scene. The options are endless, but by way of an example we’re going to go with something pretty straight-forward – a group of Romans on a ‘sandy’ tile with hills/rocks in the background.
Your scene should be set up on a ‘terrain tile’ (in the broadest sense of the term). For this demo we’ve gone with a 2′ x 2′. For yourself, this could be a section of a larger table (including a battlemat) or a handy 2′ x 2′ tile you have in your collection.
Place your subject unit somewhere near the centre of the tile.
Dressing the scene
Something we don’t have to consider when shooting single figures is the background scenery. On scenic shots attention to detail here is the difference between an average and a great photo.
Having added a three dimensional scenic backdrop in the form of two rocky hill sections, and having taken an initial test shot, it was clear that more work needed to be done to disguise the gap between the hill sections (I ruled out the “it’s a cave” excuse) on my board.
I went to work with some lichen, flock, a couple of trees, and obscurely, a detachable fur trim from a coat hood – proving that anything in the home can act as a potential scenic aid. I used these items to fill the gap and hide the ‘cave’.
As with single figure shots, your photo will be improved by more light, but again NO
Choose a well-lit room, use daylight where you can and go for somewhere were your table benefits from the most even light source.
You have carte blanche here depending on how much you want to capture in the shot and what you want to focus on (see below). For the example shot the camera was 8″ away from the subject.
Stability and Angle
You can rest your camera on the surface of the table if that gives you the sort of very low-down angle you are looking for. For the example shot, the camera was being held about 1″ above the surface of the tile – stability was sacrificed in order to get the angle I was after.
There are several different things to try here. 1) Focus on the main subject/unit you are photographing. 2) Focus on the nearest thing to the camera.
Force the camera to focus where you want it to by tapping the screen on your desired point of focus. As with single figure shots DON’T USE THE ZOOM ON THE CAMERA.
Right, now you are ready to press the button and take the photo.
Crop your photo to size and do any further editing as discussed in Taking Single Figure shots above – the process is the same.
You can get great photos of your figures using the camera on you phone. With a little practice and experimentation, equally as good as the ones seen in Wargames Illustrated.
All the photos below have been taken with a camera phone.