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So for the last couple weeks, as my model of the USS Republic approaches completion, I've been brushing up on how I photograph my models. I had a look in mind when I first attempted to shoot my models this way, but it wasn't until this recent run of tests shots that I had come up with a method that didn't require a lot of work (and a lot of luck) to get the shots I wanted.

The look was that of the models floating in space... empty space (black background, no stars or other features). And while I could put them in a scene using Photoshop, once I started down that road I usually started making adjustments/changes intended to make them less model like. This went away from the point of photographing them to begin with... to share the models as models. What I found out in the beginning was that this wasn't as easy as just shooting the model in front of a black sheet. This is an early example of doing that...


And while stylistically the black & white looked nice, it wasn't done for style. The colors of the images varied widely and very few were accurate to the model itself, so I converted them to grayscale. Plus the black sheet wasn't disappearing.

I was able to resolve some of these issues. To get rid of the black background I converted the image to grayscale, changed the levels on the dark end to remove most of the sheet details close to the edge of the model, created another all black layer above it, cut out a hole around the model to remove any additional background features that might still be visible (and usually this is when I removed the stand), then flatten the image. And for those (rare) images where the colors were correct, I could place the original image above the modified one as a color layer (the model gets it's color back and everything else disappears because it was above a black area).

This was workable... with a lot of work. I usually took four or five shots of the same pose hoping that the colors would work in at least one of them, and sadly (even with a lot of work trying to correct the colors) I would end up with shots that only worked in black & white. This gallery of images shows where I was both successful and not so successful at photographing one of my models.


So a while after I had finished up with all the photography of that build I was talking with one of my clients (I'm a computer consultant) who is a photographer about my issues photographing my models (I had had even less luck shooting my unfinished Klingon model). Her suggestion was to put white sheets of paper on the black background in spots not directly behind the model (as I was already removing those areas anyways). But because I had been pulled into other (non-model) projects, I hadn't had a real chance to try it out... until now.

Sure enough, it helped tremendously. The model wasn't over exposed, and the colors were true and consistent from one shot to the next. And the amount of work required to produce images was effectively cut in half.

The other things that I try to do with most of my model shots is use multiple soft light sources. I'm not a fan of flash photography, and soft light seems more like how the original effects shots felt. Currently I'm using three light sources (two medium strength lights set approximately above and below the model, and a strong light which I move around depending on what type of look I'm going for).

So, even though I've shared the Republic images already, I'll post a couple of those here along with some test shots of the Enterprise and (still unfinished) Klingon model. Please note that these are test shots and as such I didn't try to remove the stand from the shots of the Klingon model.












So, the point of this thread isn't to show what I've done, but hear what others have done (and the hows and whys behind their photography... given the fact that we do science fiction subjects). We live in an internet age where images are how most of us share our model building hobby and I'm curious how others have approached this aspect of what we do.
 

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Nice.

Consider adding a bit of fill underneath and slightly behind so you don't lose the edge contour of the model into black. If you look at production stills of an SF show, you can almost always see the edge contours of the model ... unless the mood is supposed to be mysterious (e.g. the Sulaco). As long as the fill cards don't overlap the model edges (seen from camera POV) you can close-cut the model easily in PS.

Velvet or velveteen gives a good solid black as long as you don't blast a light right onto it. A normal exposure on the subject, with the BG a little distance from the lights & subject will give you a solid black.

(I've done a few product setups in my time.)
 

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Thanks for the advice! I'll have to give those suggestions a try when I go to shoot my model after I finish it up.




Ummm… so no one had any photos and experiences to share?

I know I would love to hear from John P about his experiences (as I love viewing all his work), but I'm interested in hearing about and seeing what any of you guys have done.
 

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Shaw, consider deactivating the automatic white balance on your camera and use a fixed preset (or even manual setting of the white point), this will give you more coherent colors

It is of course a matter of personal taste what works for you, but here's my recent setup:



To the right is a large window so I get enough light for good contrast and depth of field. In automatic mode, the camera will most likely try to even out the blackness from the backdrop, so I use manual settings and go for an underexposed photo. If need, the highlights can be strengthened in Photoshop with graduation curves later.

Any texture left in the background is pushed back with level adjustment or painted out manually. Dialing down the color saturation helps the impression of scale.

So I get here:



The same approach was used for my Galactica photos.



more here

I also worked with complete digital replacement of the background; here it's important to shoot with a light background if you want to place your model in a bright surrounding.

 

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It's well lit in the sense that you can see the model clearly and distinctly, but it's not lit very dramatically, as is there aren't the kinds of shadows we had on the original model on screen.





I suppose it all comes down to what you're after.
 

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Shaw, consider...
Thanks for the advice... I'm still learning the features of my camera (as I don't do much with it other than photograph my models... which I don't have very many of). And thanks for sharing shots of your models!

I appreciate the shot of how you shot your Klingon... I had meant to share a before and after shot from my last round of photos in the first post but forgot. Here is how the images start out and end up side by side...




It's well lit in the sense that you can see the model clearly and distinctly, but it's not lit very dramatically, as is there aren't the kinds of shadows we had on the original model on screen.
You mean like this?


The effects model was lit differently from the first pilot to the second pilot to the series. The series effects shots had more fill lighting that reduced shadows (and as SteveR pointed out, made for better edges... which most likely helped in the blue screen process).

I suppose it all comes down to what you're after.
Well, I sorta said in the first post what I was going for...
"The look was that of the models floating in space... empty space (black background, no stars or other features). And while I could put them in a scene using Photoshop, once I started down that road I usually started making adjustments/changes intended to make them less model like. This went away from the point of photographing them to begin with... to share the models as models."
I try to match poses of the effects models we are familiar with, but the intent isn't to show the model as anything other than a model.

Plus, I could make awful models and make them look great using Photoshop... but the idea is to show my building skills (or lack there of) as clearly as possible (even if in a nice presentation style). I see mistakes on my models, but I resist the urge to fix them in Photoshop because it defeats the purpose of sharing the photos to begin with... sharing the models as models.






I'm sorta disappointed that more people haven't shared photos of their builds and the steps they've taken (like electric indigo was kind enough to do). I really thought I'd get more responses along those lines. I've learned a lot from both electric indigo and SteveR's posts (and I'll even be giving CRA's lighting suggestions a try in my next round to see how it turns out), and I'm sure that many more of our members have tremendous insights and experiences they could share with us as well.

Hopefully we'll see more posts! :thumbsup:
 

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It seems there have been three approaches:
1. Pilot: dramatic, possibly inexperienced in lighting spaceships (understandable).
2. Production: mostly even.
3. TNG+: back lit with lights.

In the production, the ship was lit pretty evenly. This seems to be the direction taken in the movies from Khan onwards, as well. The even lighting make the model look more approachable, more open, more ... "friendly (to us) hero." Later, when the ship showed more lit windows (TNG+) the lighting changed to back 3/4 lighting to show the far contour, with the lit windows (and a bit of fill) opening up the near side. This was more dramatic, but still somewhat "friendly" because of the lit windows on the near side.

Good stuff you have there. :thumbsup:
 

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John P. is particularly good at this. I would love to hear how he does it.
Aw shucks :).
VERY simple, basic setup:



Lights: 200 Watt incandescents (and those fixtures are older than I am!)

Camera on tripod.
Settings:
Timer on.
Manual focus.
Aperture-priority exposure (the camera decides the time for the exposure based on the f stop that you set).
Stop the lens down as far as it will go (f29, 32... the smaller the aperture, the better the depth of field). I think I have it set plus plus one-half stop, for a little more brightness.
ASA 100 (if it went lower, I'd go lower - in a film camera I used to use 25 ASA!)
Focus somewhere in the middle of the model, hit the button and stand back so you don't wobble the camera when it goes off.
Lens: 18mm to 80mm zoom.

Basically to achieve depth of field (getting the whole model in focus, front to bac), you need to blast it with as much light as you can, shoot with the smallest aperture you can, and using a wide angle lens also helps.

Using a wide angle lens can also help make the model look bigger, like you're standing next to a large, full-sized vehicle.

The result of the above photo session are here;
http://www.inpayne.com/models/p-4001-1.html
 

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Nice, John. For best depth of field for these close/macro shots, it's best to focus not on the halfway point of the model, but on the point one-third of the way along the model (closer to the near end of the model). Of course, the smaller aperture (f/22) can minimize the need to do that.

(This doesn't work for landscapes -- for that, it's best to use the "hyperfocal distance".)
 

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Like SteveR said, replace the sheets with black velvet. The stuff drinks light like a fish drinks water.

The white paper around the model is a good idea. Rig up some squares of foamcore with little triangle stands on their backs and they will be positionable. You can use them to bounce light for accents. Wrap them in aluminum foil and you'll get stronger hits. Use gray and they will be more diffuse. Similarly, different color reflectors give different color effects.

Three lights is the minimum, key light, fill light and back light (rim light). Key light is your primary source. The Fill light does what it says, fills the subject. The Back light is 'behind' your subject and is used to put a rim of light on the subject so that it pops off the background. In some cases, like bluescreen shoots, you'd want to put as much even light on the BG as you can to help isolate it from the subject. It makes keying easier so there's less bleed on the edges.

Another trick is to get as far back as possible and zoom in. This will flatten the subject. The prob with miniature photography is that it looks like a miniature from the inherent depth of field. The f-stop and speed will help. Stepping back and zooming in will give you some extra punch.

If I had any good model photos, I'd post them, but I'm all video nowadays and I never did beauty photography while I was still doing pictures.

Here's an early iteration of my old studio at my last apartment from before the black velvet and the single piece of neon green felt.


There might be some setup notes to glean from my greenscreening article over here:
http://www.modelermagic.com/?p=15154
 

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TNG had the advantage of having computerized motion control. so they could make multiple passes with the camera and get very dramatic lighting (with the intial "beauty pass"), while also getting very bright internal lighting (one pass for the windows, one for the warp drive and deflector), capping it off with one unlit pass to establish the matte. TOS had to do that all in one pass, since their motion control was the poor stagehand who was pushing the camera down the track, and there was no way on God's green earth that he was gonna be able to exactly duplicate that speed with the next take (this also goes into where Ed Miarecki went so horribly wrong with his attempted restoration of the eleven footer, but that's another topic).

Personally, I always liked the way the ship was lit for the second pilot.
 

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Right, cap: multiple-pass shooting is great: you get to tweak the exposure of each pass. There's no reason we can't do that with a still shot. :D Yes ... shallow depth of field gives away a small model. In fact, a recent (is it dead yet?) trend is "tilt-shift", which creates an artificially shallow depth of field on landscape photos to make them look like models or toys.

(It came from the technique of tilting and shifting the front and rear standards of a view camera, but can now be done in post most of the time.)

... and Model Man is right on, too.
 
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