The Black Art of Photography

So, you’ve finished painting your latest model, and it’s the best paint job you’ve ever done.  Pleased with yourself, you grab your camera, snap a few photos and post them to the ‘Net, only to discover that they’re blurred, too bright or dark, and that none of the fine detail that you spent so long over is visible.  So, just how do you make sure that the photos you take of your miniatures do justice to the time you spent painting them?

There are several things that will make your photos less than satisfactory.  The main culprits will be blur and inappropriate lighting.  I’ll briefly cover the likely causes of each of these problems, and the best ways of eliminating or reducing them.


Blur in your photos will come from three places, either motion blur, incorrect focus, or incorrect aperture.  For the most part, blurry photos will be as a result of motion blur, where either the miniature or the camera moved as the photo was taken.  As long as your miniature is placed on a fairly solid surface, you shouldn’t have too many problems with the miniature moving, so let’s look at how you can prevent the camera from moving.

For starters, you need to mount your camera on a tripod.  There are no exceptions to this rule, if your camera isn’t on a tripod, you can’t stop it moving.  However, even with the best tripod in the world, you can still get blurred photos, simply from the vibrations caused when you press the camera’s shutter release.  If your camera can take one, either a remote control or cable release work wonders.  If you don’t have either of these, don’t despair, because there is still a solution for you. Most cameras these days have a delay feature, which leaves a small delay (in the order of 2 to 10 seconds) between pressing the shutter release and the photo being taken.  Using this feature lets you press the shutter release, and not worry about bumping the camera and blurring the photo.

Another cause of blurred photos is incorrect focusing.  Most cameras these days are equipped with fairly sophisticated auto-focusing systems, so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem, but if the miniature is too close to the camera lens, then you may find that the camera won’t focus on it properly.  If your camera has one, using the Macro mode should allow you to get in nice and close to the model without losing focus.

The final cause of blurred photos, incorrect aperture, is a bit beyond the scope of this basic article.  The bottom line is that aperture is only relevant for those people using a camera with manual controls.  If you’re shooting using full automatic settings, then you can’t actually control this, so it’s best to not worry about it.


Lighting can be a bit tricky, as you need to balance having too much, or not enough, and also making sure the light gets to the right parts of the model.  For starters, even if your camera has a built in flash, it’s not going to do a very good job by itself.  At the distances involved in photographing miniatures, it can often be too bright, and cause detail to be lost.

The best lighting setup would have two light sources, a strong one to one side, and a weaker one on the other.  The weaker light source on the opposite side is to ensure that shadows from the stronger light don’t obscure detail.  If you only have one light available, fear not, because something as simple as a plain white sheet of paper can reflect enough light from your main light to overcome the shadows.

Remember the flash on your camera?  The one I said wouldn’t work?  Here’s a little tip to make it do what you need it to.  At short distances, the flash on the camera will often be too bright, so a nifty trick is to tape something like a piece of tissue over the flash, to diffuse the light some what.  This can also be useful if you only have one light available, as the flash will get rid of any nasty shadows from your light.

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