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    May 2010

    Mini Photography Tips
    By Deb Roberts

    Mini Photography

    One of the best things about the age of the internet is that miniaturists have the opportunity to get together and share their creations, ideas, tips and techniques.  We inspire one another when we see the beautiful dollhouses and miniatures our friends have made and we delight in sharing our own creations with others.  Digital photography is what makes it possible to show and tell with others.  It’s also the foundation for a whole new world of teaching as so many artisans share tutorials on the web. 

    Modern digital cameras have made the process simple for us with “point and click” technology and wizards that walk us thru sharing our pictures via email or posting on the web.  However, we hear a lot of people talking about being intimidated about taking pictures of their miniatures and so we’re answering the call for an article devoted to tips and trick for digital photography.

    I’ve never been adept with cameras and have more than my share of pictures of my thumb.  To be honest, photography was very frustrating for me and my first attempts left a lot to be desired.  When I set my mind to improving my skills I did a lot of trial-and-error learning and my recycle bin filled up with more pictures of my thumb.  However, I began to notice that I was occasionally getting a really great picture and started paying attention to what I had done to achieve that shot.  When I put together all of my notes, I came up with a list of tips that helped me create pictures that are a delight to share with my friends, enter in contests, and even meet the requirements for magazine submissions. 

    Resolution doesn't mean size--those are two different things. Set your camera to the highest resolution possible to get the best quality picture.  Check your camera settings to make sure that you're using a high resolution, at least 300 DPI (dots per inch)

    Size your pictures appropriately. Pictures taken with a high resolution are often defaulted at around 3000x7000!  That's the digital equivalent to a poster. In a digital picture that large, only about 1/8th of it can be seen at once. It's also much too large to email since it can be around 8 mgs for one picture. Web size pictures are routinely 600x450. Don't go any higher than 800x600.   If you need help with resizing pictures, you can go to this
    link and find an excellent tutorial provided by Dean Roberts.  If you think that you’ll be printing the picture or submitting it to a magazine, save a copy of the larger picture on your hard drive.  Print pictures require a denser dpi than pictures viewed on the web.

    Use your macro setting! If your camera has a macro setting, use it for the close up pictures. Macro settings are one of the greatest digital inventions for miniaturists because that's how we get great pictures of all those tiny details. Turning on the macro for your close ups means that you'll have crisp, clear pictures without blurring.  If you’re not sure how to turn it on, check the help menu or the manual for your digital camera. 

    Most digital cameras come with software that includes basic functions to edit your pictures.  Use the help menu in your software to learn how to use each function.  Don’t be afraid to experiment on sample pictures to see what you can do!  You might find a feature that turns an ordinary picture into something extraordinary.  Practice and perfect the use of simple functions such as adjusting brightness and contrast, color balance and resizing.  The crop feature can also be one of the most helpful in your digital toolbox.  One picture can be turned into half a dozen as you crop little bits and pieces from a photo, especially a picture of a miniature scene that has a lot of detail.  If you’re using a high resolution, you can take a picture of one room and crop out single pictures of flowers on a coffee table, books on a shelf, a cat sleeping on a hearth, and so much more.  Experiment with the crop feature and you’ll be amazed at how you can turn the overall view into a dozen portraits of your miniature treasures.

    The right kind of lighting is very, very important. Be sure that you have direct light on all sides of the dollhouse so there are no shadows. Shadows hide details that you want others to see. Don't use a flash if you can help it.  Flashes bleed out colors and fade important details. If you're lucky enough to have a sunny day, take the dollhouse outside for its photo sessions. Indoors, place lights to shine directly on the house. When taking pictures of the exterior, check to make sure that the light is even on top and bottom so you don't lose the definition and shape of the house. A great source of lighting is those cheap drop lights you can find at discount and hardware stores--the ones with an aluminum dish around a single light bulb. A couple of those shining on the house will work nicely.  When you're photographing the interior, you can hold the light in various positions so it shines onto the area where you're taking pictures.  If you plan on making a habit of taking pictures of your dollhouses, you might consider an investment in halogen shop lights.  The stands can be adjusted to any height and the lamps are also adjustable to shine light exactly where you need it.

    When I want a specific detail of a miniature scene to really stand out, I use a small LED flashlight to shine directly on that detail. That's in addition to the overall bright lights for the scene, but that little extra bit of light on a special miniature or detail will subtly make it more distinctive.  To take your digital pictures to a higher and more professional level, use “sunlight” or “true color” lights.  Ott lights are an excellent choice but you can also find less expensive lamps at hardware stores that work just as well.  My personal choice for detailed pictures of small items is an articulated desk lamp with a “sunlight” bulb and a light box. 

    Experiment with the placement of your lights when you’re taking picures of your dollhouse interior.  A light shining thru the window makes a gorgeously realistic picture.

    Backgrounds!! The wrong background can mean that your pictures are quickly passed over by the viewer because the house or miniature just can't be seen. The background is meant to bring all the attention to your house, not distract from it. If you're using a scenic background, be careful that it isn't so busy that it overpowers the house. Most important of all, avoid taking pictures where the background is your own house. When the background of your picture is your entertainment center, a paneled wall, or your kitchen it really distracts from your dollhouse. 

    The best way to create the perfect background for your pictures is to tack a white (or very light blue) sheet on a wall and drape it over a table. Allow the sheet to pull away from the wall and sort of slope onto the table, then set your dollhouse out toward the table edge to avoid pushing the sheet back against the wall. This creates a background and foundation that has no "hard line" between the horizontal and the vertical surfaces. Your background as well as the surface where your house is sitting are both covered and the only thing that is seen in the picture is your dollhouse... and that's exactly what you want! The choice of light blue or white means that it reflects the light back onto the dollhouse, another thing that you really want to have happen.

    Now that you have your camera settings correct, your background is perfect and you have the right lighting, you're ready to take pictures.  Avoid the "Grand Canyon" effect. Remember that you're taking pictures of miniatures and you want the details to show so get up close. Use the view finder on your camera as a gauge and be sure that the screen is filled with your image as much as possible. The less white you see around the edges, the better your picture will be. 
     
    Play around with taking pictures from different angles to find your house's "good side". You'd be surprised at how much detail you can get in one picture if you just turn the house a little to the left or right. But you don't have to limit your pictures to a broad view.  Don't skip the overall views because the house is what you want people to see, but don't hesitate to get up close either.

    Consider the content and perspective when you start taking pictures. Try to visualize yourself in scale with the house and use your camera as your eye. Think about what would make a really interesting composition in a picture by capturing unique positioning of details and a balance in the picture. Break away from the "Better Homes and Gardens" type of perspective and experiment with the way your let the camera "see" the subject.

    Try to keep the camera level with the content. You want the picture to make the viewer feel like they're actually looking at the house. Bird's-eye views and pictures taken on a slant aren't natural to the human eye and that gives the viewer a sense of disequilibrium. So keep the camera level and just slightly higher than the subject.

    How to get the perfect shot? Take lots of pictures. I mean, LOTS of pictures! I sometimes take up to 300 pictures and out of that many, sometimes only five or six will make the final cut. But it's worth the time and effort to take a lot of pictures. Sometimes that perfect picture will surprise you! Move the house and your camera around to get as many angles as possible. In the miniature world, moving the camera one millimeter can make a huge difference in the perspective and lighting of the picture. So take tons of pictures from as many different angles as you can, then sort thru them to find the most perfect ones. You'll probably surprise yourself with what a great photographer you are when you find those perfect shots!

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