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Diecast Photography Tutorial


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#1 OFFLINE   guitardave_1

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 10:02 AM

Something I put together for scale143.com, but as I spent the time I thought I might as well share it here too. I am well aware that there are better photographers than myself on the forum, and that many people prefer 'location' shots as opposed to basic studio pictures. However, this will hopefully prove useful to at least some members!

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 areas. 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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#2 OFFLINE   mlokren

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 05:50 PM

Excellent tutorial!

I would like to also suggest, for a backdrop, a gray color.  I like that it's a very neutral color that works with virtually any color paint applied to the diecast.

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By the way, your photos look GREAT!    :hope:

#3 OFFLINE   carbonsigma

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 06:25 PM

I need to get myself a light tent, it looks like it makes a lot of difference. Thanks for the tutorial, I'll definitely put your tips to use next time I shoot my diecasts.

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#4 OFFLINE   mairandeddy

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 07:12 PM

Thanks for sharing that Dave   :hope:

You get great results and have given me some really good tips to try!! http://www.diecastxc...tyle_emoticons/default/rock.gif

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#5 OFFLINE   Ducati-900SS

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 08:20 PM

Great tutorial, Dave!  Thanks for taking the time to put the write-up together!!!

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#6 OFFLINE   guitardave_1

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 01:53 AM

Glad you like it gents. As I say, I know that I myself have room for improvement, but thinking back a few years, many of the tips that I've included would have been really welcome as a beginner.

I just hope that some of the pointers work for people.
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#7 OFFLINE   Seby123

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 03:00 AM

nice write-up dave, ill try to use some of your techniques;)
Cheers,

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#8 OFFLINE   m_power

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 08:19 AM

Very useful thanks for posting  :hope:

I'll have to try this out when I have time. My setup is rubbish right now. Can you show us what your setup actually looks like?

#9 OFFLINE   guitardave_1

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Posted 29 September 2009 - 01:40 AM

Thanks guys. Good luck trying them out.

Dennis - I will try to get a picture of my setup next time I'm shooting some pics. I had intended to do it before and add it to the tutorial, but it slipped my mind!
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#10 OFFLINE   ricallen

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 07:23 PM

That is a terrific write-up, Dave!  Indeed, the use of a light tent can make a very significant difference!  That, and there is not replacement for good ol' experimenting!  I have spent hours just trying different settings (non-DSLR camera; but with some nice settings), as well as checking out tutorials and tips (like yours).  My photos, while still having a long way to go, are considerably better than they used to be.  

Here are a couple early photos I used on my website, taken about 18 months ago (no light tent; very little modification in PS... not very good by any means):

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And here are some more recent photos taken with a light tent and more significant software clean-up (getting better, but still more to be learned):

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It is a big part of the enjoyment I get out of the hobby (albeit a time-consuming one!   :giggle: )

Thanks for sharing!   :10:
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#11 OFFLINE   acisne

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 07:59 PM

How did I miss this thread?   :giggle: Thanks for the write up Dave!

I had stopped taking pictures, but just recently dusted up the old Ikea laundry bad photo booth and this is what I came up with following your tips.

Here is another one

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#12 OFFLINE   Florin

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 08:07 PM

Very helpful tutorial, guys!
Thanks for posting.
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#13 OFFLINE   ricallen

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 09:33 PM

Nice pics Al!    :giggle:
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#14 OFFLINE   guitardave_1

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 05:12 AM

Thanks for all the kind feedback guys. Ric, that white E30 is just gorgeous.

Just a thought, but would it be helpful if the tutorial could be made into a sticky so that it is easily discoverable for any new members visiting the photography section.
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#15 OFFLINE   dbonser

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 07:23 AM

View Postguitardave_1, on 08 December 2009 - 05:12 AM, said:

Just a thought, but would it be helpful if the tutorial could be made into a sticky so that it is easily discoverable for any new members visiting the photography section.
Yes - I think it would definitely help!
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#16 OFFLINE   Mike DeTorrice

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Posted 11 December 2009 - 04:52 PM

An excellent photo tutorial and many fine example images to illustrate the thread from everyone. Thanks for posting this.

Mike

#17 OFFLINE   guitardave_1

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Posted 12 December 2009 - 02:08 AM

Thanks Mike! There are plenty of fine photographers here as shown in the thread, but for those starting out it can be quite daunting wondering how some of these great photos are achieved, hence my little walkthrough.
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#18 OFFLINE   Richardson

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Posted 02 March 2011 - 11:25 AM

And I like taking photos - Mercedes Benz C-Klasse DTM V8 2008 No.3

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Edited by Richardson, 02 March 2011 - 11:28 AM.


#19 OFFLINE   SimonV8

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Posted 15 September 2011 - 12:50 PM

I know its a thread resurection, but rather than start a whole new topic I'd like to gain valuble advice on techniques etc, I have seen with envy some of the quality photos taken on this forum, and would like some pointers on how to's... with not much expense into equipment. these are some of mine i have taken, with my Canon Powershot A420 a background and a single light source.
On a black background
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On a white background
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