Diecast Photography Tutorial

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guitardave_1
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Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby guitardave_1 » Thu Sep 24, 2009 3:02 pm

I have been planning to create this thread for a while, and with Jerry's recent request for some diecast photography pointers, I thought it was about time I put my mind to it. The topic covers the basics of diecast photography for beginners, as well as some more advanced tips and techniques for those looking to improve their pictures. I have tried to make the information as brief as possible whilst still covering all topics. Taking diecast pictures is not difficult, but it does require a little bit of effort. For those who read the tutorial, I hope that it proves useful and effective.

From the outset, it should be made clear that I don't consider my own pictures to be perfect, and the methods below are simply those that work the best for me. I cannot guarantee that they will provide the results you are looking for! They are not necessarily right or wrong, and other people will have different opinions and preferences.

It has taken me some time to put this tutorial together, so I would ask that it is not reproduced elsewhere without my knowledge and permission. Suggested additions and amendments are very welcome, as is any other feedback.

Equipment

There are a few items that I consider to be pretty much essential in taking a good diecast photo. With the exception of the camera itself, all the equipment could probably be found for less than the cost of your next model, so it's a worthwhile investment if you really want to improve your pictures. In order of priority, they are:

1. A camera! The quality and the price is not everything (though of course it does make a difference). However, one point worth making is that whatever camera you have, make sure you understand how to make the best use of it. Learn what the different buttons and settings do, and it will be much easier to apply the techniques later in the tutorial.

2. A tripod. Photos taken indoors without the flash (as recommended later on) can be blurred due to camera shake. The problem can be eliminated by mounting the camera on a tripod. For small, light cameras, there are miniature tabletop tripods available which will suffice, and can be found for very little money. For heavier equipment, something sturdier will be needed, but the tripod used for my sample pictures (supporting a Nikon DSLR) still only cost £15. Needless to say, it should be set up on a firm, steady surface.

3. A backdrop. To achieve the seamless background on a typical studio type shot, all that is needed is a large piece of flexible card in a colour of your choice. I prefer white, because it is neutral and shows off most models well. Coloured backgrounds can reflect in the paintwork, giving the model itself a strange tint. However, I do use blue card for white or pale cars, as they can get 'lost' against a white background.

4. A light tent. Also called light cubes or soft boxes, these are cubes with one open side, made of a translucent white fabric. Their purpose is to diffuse the light falling on the model, reducing harsh shadows and glare. You can take pictures without one, but I was amazed at how much of a difference mine made when I first used it. They vary in size, and can be obtained on ebay inexpensively. I have a 60cm tent, which is just large enough to shoot one 1:18 model, and is easily big enough to photograph small groups of 1:43 cars. They can generally be folded up to a compact size for storage.

One final piece of equipment which is desirable (but not essential in my opinion) is artificial lighting. Compared to the other equipment mentioned it can be prohibitively expensive to buy professional lighting. Cheaper alternatives may be effective, but as I don't have or use any artificial lighting, I won't discuss it any further. The sample pictures were all taken using just natural light coming through a window. Nevertheless, adjustable lighting can bring out the best in the model or be used to create interesting effects. It is something that I would like to experiment with in the future.

Setup

There are a few things to bear in mind when getting everything ready.

1. Set the tripod on a sturdy surface, and make sure that the camera sits level by adjusting the legs if necessary. The height should be set so that camera is almost down on the same level as the model. The camera should be looking across at the model, not down onto it. This will give a more realistic viewpoint.

2. Having cut it to size if necessary, place the card inside the light tent, so that it covers the base, curves up gradually and extends up the back wall of the cube. This provides the seamless backdrop effect.

3. Try to use a location with a reasonable amount of natural light, but avoid direct sunlight. The aim is to have an even amount of light from all sides. Ideally, position the light tent with the opening facing a window (but again, don’t allow direct sunlight to fall on any part of the subject or backdrop). Don’t position the tent with the back to a window, as this can cast the front of the model into shadow.

Camera Settings - Basic

Left in full automatic mode, a camera won't necessarily choose the best options for a good diecast picture. Where possible, choosing the following settings should improve results. These basic settings should be adjustable on most cameras without too much difficulty, and don’t require any in depth knowledge.

1. Flash. I prefer not to use the flash. Direct flash light is harsh, causing strong shadows and often nasty reflections. By using a tripod, the need for additional light from a flash is negated, so keep it turned off.

2. Zoom. Rather than placing the camera too close to the model, move the camera further away and then zoom in so that the car fills the frame. The camera will probably perform best with the zoom somewhere in the middle of its range. This has two benefits. Firstly, you avoid the unrealistic distortion caused by wide angles (with the lens zoomed right out). Secondly, the camera may have difficulty focusing at very close range, so moving it further back will alleviate this.

3. Macro. Depending on the camera, it may help to turn on the macro mode. This allows the camera to focus on close, small objects. However, if you apply the advice regarding zoom above, macro mode may not be required on many cameras. The best advice would be to experiment to see what works for your camera.

4. Self timer. To get the maximum benefit from using the tripod, you should not be touching or moving the camera in any way when the picture is being taken. To avoid doing so, use the self timer on the camera. This allows you to press the shutter button a few seconds before the camera actually takes the photo. Alternatively, more advanced cameras may allow for remote operation via a cable or an infra red control.

Camera Settings – Intermediate and Advanced

These settings will probably not be adjustable on lower end cameras, or may be beyond the understanding of the user. They are aimed at those with a keener interest in photography on a general level. However, the first two points in particular may be worth reading regardless of your camera or knowledge level.

1. Focus. Poor focus is another common problem with diecast photos, and can be mistaken for blur caused by camera shake. Many compact cameras now have clever autofocus systems which will deal with this issue. However, if your camera has a choice of autofocus points from which you can choose, select the one that lines up with the part of the model that should be in sharpest focus. Often, this will not be the centre of the picture. If the camera has difficulty focusing, refer back to points 2 and 3 of the basic camera settings. On more advanced cameras, try using the manual focus mode. This gives you total control over focus, and on a DSLR you can make the finest adjustments.

2. ISO. If possible, choose the lowest ISO rating available. High ISO levels are used to avoid slow shutter speeds, but this is irrelevant when using a tripod, and they will just cause graininess. A low ISO rating will provide the best picture quality. The lowest ISO available on your camera may range from around 50 to 200.

3. Aperture. This controls the depth of field i.e. how much of the object is in focus. To have the greatest amount of the car in focus (this is generally the preferred goal), use a small aperture, indicated by a high 'f number'. I use f/22 for my pictures, which brings almost all of a 1:43 model into focus when the car is placed at an angle. For non-DSLR cameras, the highest f number available may only be around f/8.

4. White balance. I leave my camera in auto white balance, and make small corrections with software if necessary. All cameras will differ, but I have found that auto actually produces better results than any of the dedicated white balance settings, at least under the conditions in which I take my photos. Of course, there is nothing to be lost from experimenting.

5. Exposure compensation. If your camera offers it, experiment with exposure compensation and learn to read 'histograms'. They are a simple bar chart indicating the range of shades (from light to dark) in a photo. This will help to achieve the correct exposure. If using a white backdrop, you will almost certainly need to use some positive exposure compensation to prevent pictures being too dark.

6. RAW mode. This is only applicable to relatively advanced photographers. RAW mode is the highest quality setting available on top end cameras, and would need a tutorial in itself! It also requires certain software to read, edit and convert the files. However, it is my preferred setting, and is worth persevering with to get the most consistent results.

Software and Processing

This is a difficult area to cover, not least because so many different programs are available with which to edit your pictures, some of which are incredibly complex. I cannot explain how to use each and every one, but there are plenty of tutorials that do.

For software, I use Adobe Photoshop. This is a complex piece of software, but even the cheaper ‘Elements’ version may be too expensive for casual photographers. Another popular program is ‘GIMP’, which can be downloaded from the internet at no cost. Alternatively, Microsoft users can even make basic adjustments using ‘Office Picture Manager’. Finally, some web hosting sites now offer some editing tools, including Photobucket.com. This site can therefore be used both to edit and host your pictures.

Basic editing which is worth attempting includes cropping the photo, to remove any ‘wasted’ space around the outside of the picture and also to correct any wonkiness! Next, try adjusting the brightness/contrast. The aim is to avoid lots of dark shadowy areas or too many ‘washed out’ white areas as these will show little detail. Also try to remove any yellow or blue tints with the colour tools. In many cases, the auto functions of the software will do much of this reasonably well with just a few clicks. Finally, it is good practice to resize photos to display them online. This makes them easier to view and quicker to load, as well as being a necessity for most forums. I use a width of 800 pixels for my pictures.

For those who want to learn more about post-processing, there are tutorials available online to cover every possible topic. Youtube is a useful source of step by step video tutorials.

Samples

The following shots were all taken following the advice given above. They all feature 1:43 scale models, but the same techniques apply equally to other scales.

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RaceOddity
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby RaceOddity » Thu Sep 24, 2009 8:28 pm

Thanks Dave, you've made a number of these suggestions to me over the last bit and they have helped. Good to have them all in one place!! :D
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby DeadCanDanceR » Thu Sep 24, 2009 10:41 pm

Good idea! Thanks, Dave!!! ;)
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dcast
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby dcast » Fri Sep 25, 2009 2:49 am

Excellent tutorial! Some things I have already used in my pics but lots of the things in your tutorial are new to me, gotta try them out next time I'll take pics of my diecast models :)
For instance placing the camera further away from the model and zooming in it is something I haven't tried out yet and pics with white background have been problematic for me, they often have come out too dark and I've lightened them with photoeditor software using histogram, usually adjusting the midtones & the "levels".
Thanks for creating this tutorial :)

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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby guitardave_1 » Fri Sep 25, 2009 3:52 am

No problem guys. I hope it proves helpful - I know I would have liked to find something like this when I was starting out.

dcast wrote:Excellent tutorial! Some things I have already used in my pics but lots of the things in your tutorial are new to me, gotta try them out next time I'll take pics of my diecast models :)
For instance placing the camera further away from the model and zooming in it is something I haven't tried out yet and pics with white background have been problematic for me, they often have come out too dark and I've lightened them with photoeditor software using histogram, usually adjusting the midtones & the "levels".
Thanks for creating this tutorial :)

White backgrounds almost always cause problems with pictures being too dark, because the camera is fooled by the expanse of white. If your camera offers it, that would be the time to try using positive exposure compensation. From memory, I use anywhere between +0.7 and +1.7. However, I do still fine tune with software, and if you already understand histograms and levels you should have no problem.
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby scalainj » Fri Sep 25, 2009 4:05 am

Thanks Dave for this - its very good and makes a lot of sense

I shall be putting this lot into practice when i get my new camera. I would with the current camera but i've lost the instructions, its years old and being frank i don't really like the thing. I've been to the local camera shop (s) and priced it all up (i want a Sony alpha) including tent, tripod etc so hopefully soon.

In the meantime i shall continue to take overbright, poorly focused pictures :o

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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby niki23 » Fri Sep 25, 2009 8:06 am

Nice tips Dave. For me, the best results I get without any sort of specialist equipment is to just take photos in a room with natural light with the camera on macro-mode, and to zoom in quite a bit to reduce the fish-eye effect.
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby guitardave_1 » Sat Sep 26, 2009 5:37 am

scalainj wrote:Thanks Dave for this - its very good and makes a lot of sense

I shall be putting this lot into practice when i get my new camera. I would with the current camera but i've lost the instructions, its years old and being frank i don't really like the thing. I've been to the local camera shop (s) and priced it all up (i want a Sony alpha) including tent, tripod etc so hopefully soon.

In the meantime i shall continue to take overbright, poorly focused pictures :o

Andy

Thanks Andy. Hopefully you will really reap the benefits once you get yourself kitted out. Although I don't specifically have a Sony, feel free to PM with any questions. I'm no expert myself, but for what it's worth my help comes free and willingly :lol:

niki23 wrote:Nice tips Dave. For me, the best results I get without any sort of specialist equipment is to just take photos in a room with natural light with the camera on macro-mode, and to zoom in quite a bit to reduce the fish-eye effect.

Thanks Niki. I agree with all those points. Natural light is a must for me, and the zooming in trick is an easy one that many people don't consider.
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby Jerry » Sun Sep 27, 2009 7:07 am

What a fantastic tutorial - thanks Dave.

I'll have a go later in the week and post up my work.
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby guitardave_1 » Sun Sep 27, 2009 10:56 am

Jerry wrote:What a fantastic tutorial - thanks Dave.

I'll have a go later in the week and post up my work.

No problem Jerry. I hope it works!
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby dcast » Sun Sep 27, 2009 9:05 pm

One another possible factor came in my mind as I bought new computer (laptop with TFT screen). My old computer is desktop PC with CRT screen and looking my previously taken pics they look so different on this new laptop. Some look a bit too much lighted or maybe I need to adjust the brightness of this laptop screen. Directly from the camera many pics looked too dark on the desktop PC, that's why I often adjusted the midtones a bit lighter. That's also why my pics may look a bit different from now on.
Anyway, appearantly the same pic can show up differently on different screens depending on the monitor adjustments & settings and even when printed out on paper.

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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby guitardave_1 » Mon Sep 28, 2009 3:37 am

dcast wrote:One another possible factor came in my mind as I bought new computer (laptop with TFT screen). My old computer is desktop PC with CRT screen and looking my previously taken pics they look so different on this new laptop. Some look a bit too much lighted or maybe I need to adjust the brightness of this laptop screen. Directly from the camera many pics looked too dark on the desktop PC, that's why I often adjusted the midtones a bit lighter. That's also why my pics may look a bit different from now on.
Anyway, appearantly the same pic can show up differently on different screens depending on the monitor adjustments & settings and even when printed out on paper.

You're absolutely right. Different monitors, and particularly different types of screen, do show up differently. Pictures edited on my old laptop looked nothing like I wanted them to when viewed on another monitor.

However, monitor and printer calibration is well beyond my knowledge, so I couldn't have added it to the tutorial. I also can't see many people paying for the calibration equipment you can get (and even if they did, the people viewing the photos might not have done!).
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby lucky » Sat Oct 10, 2009 10:52 am

Thanks for this topic. My wife presented me new Nikon D5000 to my last BD and now i need more practical advises.

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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby guitardave_1 » Sun Oct 11, 2009 11:59 am

lucky wrote:Thanks for this topic. My wife presented me new Nikon D5000 to my last BD and now i need more practical advises.

I hope the tutorial helps a bit. Enjoy the new toy! I've had my Nikon for a few years now, so I'm reasonably familiar with them. If you want any further help just ask.
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby stefschu » Mon Oct 12, 2009 9:32 am

What a great tutorial! Your pics are perfect - 10 out of 10 :!:

At the moment I am a bit too lazy to read the complete text. When have you finished the german version? :lol:

Do you use a macro lens or do you use the macro-funtion of your camera? If you don´t have a macro lens, I will raise my points up to 11 out of 10 :D

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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby guitardave_1 » Mon Oct 12, 2009 4:37 pm

stefschu wrote:What a great tutorial! Your pics are perfect - 10 out of 10 :!:

At the moment I am a bit too lazy to read the complete text. When have you finished the german version? :lol:

Do you use a macro lens or do you use the macro-funtion of your camera? If you don´t have a macro lens, I will raise my points up to 11 out of 10 :D

Thank you very much :) I wouldn't say that my pictures are perfect - there is always room for improvement, otherwise we have nothing to aim for!

I don't have a macro lens, and being a DSLR there is no 'macro function'. The only way to get true macro is to buy a dedicated lens - I would love to have one! However, it is not crucial for diecast pictures. Some of these are quite heavily cropped, and my camera only has 6MP to start with. I hope this goes to show that megapixels are not everything - my pictures rely instead on good exposure, precise focus and a steady camera.

I know the tutorial is a bit lengthy, but I couldn't make it any more brief without cutting out points that I felt were important. Rather than reading from beginning to end, I hope that people might read and apply one part at a time, or come back to learn about one particular tip.
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby zimbo » Tue Jun 22, 2010 5:39 am

Awesome tutorial Dave, now I have just got to learn how to change the settings on my camera so that I know how to do it when the time comes next time round to get photos of my models.

I still need to try and get a tripod and a light tent as well before I can try out your tips.
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby guitardave_1 » Tue Jun 22, 2010 9:08 am

zimbo wrote:Awesome tutorial Dave, now I have just got to learn how to change the settings on my camera so that I know how to do it when the time comes next time round to get photos of my models.

I still need to try and get a tripod and a light tent as well before I can try out your tips.

Glad you liked it! We men find it difficult, but it's really worth having a read of the manual. Although much of it wasn't new to me, I've still been right through mine and found the odd function or tip that would otherwise have been completely wasted.

As mentioned, neither tripod nor light tent need set you back a huge sum. Many people even build their own light tent for pennies. It is a bit more hassle and bit more expense than just pointing and clicking, but I would still highly recommend getting and using both.
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby RaceOddity » Tue Jun 22, 2010 9:13 am

Re read some bits here in anticipation of the annual pilgrimage.
Still really good info. Thanks Dave.
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby guitardave_1 » Tue Jan 10, 2012 4:21 pm

Any chance that whilst I have dug this up it could be moved and stickied in the 'tips and techniques' section? :)
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby Asejeff » Tue Jan 10, 2012 5:53 pm

That is a great tutorial which you have expended much time and effort on! Great work. I use a digital SLR (Canon 450D) but take all my model pics with the flash on and without a softbox. The flash is not the built in one but a speedlight which attahces to the hotshoe on top of the camera with a Stofen diffuser box over the end of it. If the room you are photographing in has a light coloured ceiling/opposite wall then you can angle the head of the flashgun to bounce the light by doing this you can manage to photograph without having to use a tripod and the flash gives the paintwork a bit of extra "zing" especially metallic/pearl colours and as it's not directly aimed at the model you don't get hotspots
Example pic:
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Overcooked the flash a bit in this shot but you can definitely see the effect especially on the wheels as the chrome has picked up loads of light from the flash.
I haven't messed about too much with lighting as it seems like a bit too much of a faff and is expensive for something which will only be used occasionally, I'd rather spend the cash increasing my collection of models!
Thanks again for a cracking tutorial :D

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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby guitardave_1 » Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:06 am

Thanks Jeff. I agree that a proper external flash diffused or bounced will give a far nicer effect, just as it does in any other scenario. Even so, you don't want the lighting to be dominated by the flash, as this still ends up looking artificial. A blend of natural light and flash should be more pleasing.
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby Jager » Tue Nov 19, 2013 4:26 am

Since Dave's original thread is almost 2 years old, I thought it was worth bring it up to date with changes in technology.

I've just received an iPhone 5s and iPad from work and was wondering if anyone has tips to share on using either to photograph models. I appreciate these have their limitations and will never match a good camera and specialised lighting, but the iPhone camera is 8 megapixels and the iPad camera is 5 megapixels, so they are equal to or ahead of 'point and shoot' digital cameras from a few years ago. Has anyone tried the iPhone or iPad with reasonable results and if so do you have any tips to share.
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Re: Diecast Photography Tutorial

Postby Marcellix » Sun Apr 26, 2015 3:18 am

Jager wrote:Since Dave's original thread is almost 2 years old, I thought it was worth bring it up to date with changes in technology.

I've just received an iPhone 5s and iPad from work and was wondering if anyone has tips to share on using either to photograph models. I appreciate these have their limitations and will never match a good camera and specialised lighting, but the iPhone camera is 8 megapixels and the iPad camera is 5 megapixels, so they are equal to or ahead of 'point and shoot' digital cameras from a few years ago. Has anyone tried the iPhone or iPad with reasonable results and if so do you have any tips to share.

All pictures I posted here are made with my iPhone. Just make sure you have enough light. Use some apps to enhance the pictures. And with the photobucket app you can upload them, copy the link, and write your message on the forum. Simple as that. No other device needed to do everything on the forum :)


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