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Encore: Scale Modeling Photography | Hawkeye's Squawkbox/The Plastic Scale Modeling Hour

Encore: Scale Modeling Photography

How I do modeling photography-in the early days using digital cameras. Again to ensure those who are new to the hobby or my blog that missed this article when I was  publishing my email newsletters, will now get to use the information. I’ve also added more information to show how my efforts have progressed and improved…all for a minimal investment.

Okay, let me preference this article by stating I am by no means a professional photographer. In fact, the last time I even took a basic photography class was back in junior high school which was a long time ago. I did do a short stint as a photographer in the USAF, so I guess I can say that I do know how to take a decent picture. Studio photography was never my thing…I prefer the great outdoors, air shows or mishap investigative type work. The PR shots were left to someone who knew what they were doing. Other than that I am self taught and probably wasted as much film as the next person…thank goodness for digital cameras. Since getting my first, my collection of Cannon 35mm SLR’s have been inactive.

Let’s start with the equipment. I have two small pocket type digital cameras that I use to photograph my modeling subjects. Hopefully, I’ll graduate to a digital SLR someday when it is within the budget.
My primary camera is a Kodak Easy Share 5.0 mega pixel model CX7525. The other is a Sony Cyber-shot 4.1 mega pixel model DSC-S40.

I prefer doing close up work with the Kodak because it has a macro setting and it has a rechargeable battery. The Sony loves to eat ‘AA’ batteries, but is great for normal snap shots indoors and out. Both cameras were relatively inexpensive…well under $200. In fact the Kodak was a package deal with a docking station/printer we found on closeout at our local Radio Shack.
A memory stick is a must have item. My Kodak has a good sized internal memory, whereas the Sony doesn’t. The memory stick allows for numerous photos to be stored and can be transfered to my computer so I don’t have to mess with hooking up cables between the camera and the computer to view the images.
Set your camera to take the highest resolution images as possible. This means your memory will not hold as many pictures but when you go to edit them it provides for better pictures. Holding the camera when doing up close and personal photography isn’t easy. The slightest little shake can routine a great picture. Use a tripod to hold your camera and the self timer to trigger the shutter. I have a mini tripod as well as a full sized one. Both are inexpensive.

Lighting is next, I made do with the lights I had around the house but it got to be a pain setting up and returning them only to find out the pictures didn’t turn out and had to be retaken. So, with a budget equivalent of the price of a model kit ($50 or less) I made a trip over to the local home improvement store.

I’ve seen other photographers using fluorescent lamps before so that’s where I started. I picked up the brightest (most wattage) full spectrum bulbs the store had. They were under $8.00 each. I started with three but added two more later when I went to a larger photo setup. Then in the electrical department I found these contractors lamps which clamp on to most surfaces. I use a paper towel (no printed pictures on them) as light diffusers held in place with clothes pins. The compact fluorescents throw very little heat so as long as you are attending them, you shouldn’t have any issues, just turn off the lights when done!
The idea with lighting is to get as even of a coverage of light as you can. You want either no or as subtle shadowing as possible. Sometimes too much light can work against you. Experiment and view the images on your computer, don’t go by what you see in the little screen on the camera.

Using one inch PVC pipe, some elbow fittings, a bed sheet, an extension cord and of course the lights to make a table top set up like this. This is my first attempt at making my own booth. The whole deal was under $50, I was able to get everything on sale! The bulbs were the single most expensive item at just under $7.00 each. The sheet was $2.99. The PVC supports the sheet which acts as the light diffuser and gives a surface to clamp the lights onto.

Here is one I purchased at Wal-Mart for the same price I have invested in my homemade unit. I like mine much better, but this one is good for doing production work like taking pictures of paint bottles for catalog shots.
Backgrounds can be just about anything that is neutral in color and without texture. Or you can pose your model in front of a picture. I purchased a roll of paper from a supplier that was listed in a FSM article about this same subject. The roll was about $40 and will last me a long long time.
The curve in the background paper prevents it from casting shadows or showing demarcation lines in the picture background.
Or you can find these neat foam pads at the craft store. I use one as an impromptu backdrop on a shelf over my workbench to take pictures of small parts while working. (They also make a nice surface to build models on that protects the work surface).
I found that the table top photo booth that I had purchased and the one I made weren’t large enough to take pictures of such projects as the Graf Zepplin, so I made this large one which I use most of the time.
Again I used PVC pipe to make a light stand as well as finding some tripods at a local school equipment auction for cheap. I use a wooden chest and table on occasion as a working platform to rest the subjects on. I also have a dinning room table nearby if I need a really large surface.

To edit my pictures I use nothing more than the software that came with my laptop computer. In this case an HP. The software is very basic and easy to use. I do have the full Adobe suite which includes Photoshop, but I tend not to use it. For one it isn’t on my computer so it isn’t necessarily handy when I am trying to post up a picture.

The editing software allows me to adjust the images (light & contrast adjustment at the push of a button), crop and select file size and type. Here is an example of a before and after:

Get down eye level with your subject, spin it around to find the best views. Put your camera where your eye captures the best view in your opinion and take the shot from that vantage point. Digital cameras allow you to delete bad pictures whether still in the camera or on your computer. So snap away!
If you are doing demonstration pictures, be sure to make yourself a reference point on you bench so what you are attempting to show is in the camera field of view. Before you proceed on, check the picture to see if it is in fact what you wanted. It is hard to rewind after the glue has dried!
To add lines, circles, boxes and text to an image I again use the software that came with my laptop in this case it is a program called ‘Paint’. A little practice and you can figure out the rudiments of using it.

Since the time I first published this How-To, I have probably redesigned my photo “studio” a dozen times. Each time I did so was to build upon what I had learned about backgrounds, lighting and camera capacities. I still have and use both of the camera in this article, they are handy to grab to shoot an impromptu shot when my newer camera is configured or setup for shooting something else.

photosetuplibI’ve made myself a studio that now holds all of my rolls of background paper so they are conveniently available to pull down to change color. I have the original blue mentioned above as well as white and black. I will be adding other colors as necessary because I find myself doing more commercial product photography for our marketing clients.


Most of my current studio is made from things I have recycled…after all I am a frugal modeler. ;o) The wire rack frame work is from a discarded store display. The PVC pipe I have been reusing which was originally a plant growing rack my wife once used. The table is an old dinning room table we use only for large family gatherings when everyone dines together.


photographymonitor1eProPECut6av2The lighting I used originally is still in use, but I have stepped up to add some new components such has some umbrella reflectors and strobes. I didn’t drop a huge wad of cash on these either. To conserve I opted to not purchase the “Best” but the most affordable. I wanted to see what I could or could not do, or whether it was going to improve on what I was already doing. I will say it has made significant improvements in what I can do. I found this equipment by shopping on Amazon.com.

Final1My photography is quickly becoming more of a second profession than a hobby. I am providing images for some of our clients as well as for myself. If you haven’t noticed the ad for Images By Hawkeye, here on my page you should check out some of the fun I am having.

Some of my images appear in the ads we have designed for our clients projects. I hit total geek the other day when I hooked up an old small LCD TV/monitor to my camera so I could view what the camera seeing as I need to have both hands in front of it as part of the shot. I used a remote shutter release to trigger the shutter release.


Digital photography and scale modeling compliment each other as hobbies. Since scale modeling is a visual one it lends itself with photography well. Many of us don’t have the access to model clubs, contests or even a local hobby shop to display our efforts so we turn to an electronic media…the Internet and websites such as this one to learn and share our accomplishments with others.


The camera lens sees everything. So you might want to periodically during your build snap a few pictures to review your work. It might help you detect an issue before it becomes a critical issue later on. If you have inspirations of doing review articles or full featured builds, the habit of taking in progress shots is vital. Many of us forget and scramble to recreate in order to document that particular step of the process for our readers.


Editing. For years I used the software that came with my computer or that which came with one of my pocket cameras. Either was suitable for basic editing of cropping, contrast, color and sizing for publishing. Now I am learning to use some of the more advanced photo editing programs we use in our businesses. Which gives me the ability to fix mistakes and pose my builds on a background to showcase the work. In addition to the software, I acquired a Wacom tablet which gives me a pen instead of a mouse to move the cursor more accurately and the capability to draw on images and create illustrations.


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