Model Vehicle Photography
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TOPIC: Model Vehicle Photography

Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #1


Gold Boarder
As I have suggested in forums previously I am writing a book on photographing die-cast models.  Some parts of it are complete - others need more work.  I asked one of the moderators if it was OK to put parts of it on here as it may help some members.  There is method in my madness :)  If there are parts that a member doesn\'t understand then they can either PM me or reply on the forum.  This will help me to edit the passages to create a better book.

It is a book for beginners.  Most of the pictures have been taken on compact cameras - a couple of them costing less than £50 here in the UK.  The few taken on a digital SLR have been used only for comparison purposes.


One of the main messages of this book is that model photographs can be taken with almost any digital camera.  Digital cameras are much more sophisticated than older film-based models, and the photographer has more control over final output through camera menus and image editing software.  

The real difference between the types of cameras is more to do with handling and control.  There is little difference in the quality of image.  Some of the pictures I had taken on the Pentax E90 I sent off for 12-inch by 18-inch (30x45cm) prints. Even I was surprised by the sharpness and quality of the prints.

Each of my chosen cameras presented its own problems.  The simple compacts have no facility for setting a small aperture, any digital SLR is big,  bulky, and requires a lot more space than a compact.

Comparative volumes of different cameras

Photographing the smaller scale models then the compact can  often be set down on the base in front of the model to take the photographs.  This is not possible with the larger cameras.  They usually have to be mounted on a tripod and, because of their weight, digital SLRs require a sturdy one.

Throughout the book I have tended to use the simplest camera that would give me the result I wanted. At times I did have to scratch my head and call on my photographic training of more than 40 years ago and subsequent experience to figure out what I needed to do.

Most compacts have facilities to focus at close distances, usually described as macro and using the flower symbol.  This allows focusing down to 4 inches (10cm) or 2 inches (5cm).

Nearly all compacts and bridge cameras only stop down to f8. At normal distances this gives an image which has an overall sharpness. When photographing in close-up this no longer applies. In these circumstances the depth of sharp focus can be as little as 2 to 3 inches (50 to 75mm).

Simple Compact

My definition of a simple compact is a camera which is fully automatic. It is a camera where you cannot choose aperture priority, shutter priority, or set the camera manually

I have used 2 simple compacts; the Pentax Optio E90 I bought specially for producing the book.  At the time of writing, it was available from Amazon UK at £50 and in the USA at $60. The Fuji Z10, which is my granddaughter\'s camera, had been bought a few months previously as a refurbished model at £37.50. The E90 was bought on price while the Fuji was bought because of its small size.  

Both cameras proved that they could be used for photographing die-cast models, albeit with some restrictions.  The biggest problem is to get them to use a small aperture to give sufficient depth of field. Simple, automatic cameras tend to increase the shutter speed before they switch to a smaller aperture.  So, it is only on the brightest days that it will give the depth of field needed at closer distances.

Though both cameras have built-in flash it is rarely used for small models. When reviewing this type of camera most magazines criticise the low output of their flash units.

Photographing small objects then the reverse is true: the flash is too powerful.

I found I got the best result from the cameras if I drew back to around 3ft (1m) and zoomed in on the model.  The trucks and buses at a scale of 1:76 work fine but cars at this scale means that you have to crop a lot of the background.  This is fine if you need the image for use on your web page or for prints up to 6x8 inches (15x20cm).  

The other problems are in handling.  It is difficult to of see the LCD in bright light.  More recent and more expensive models have in some cases made this easier.  But, I would suggest that you buy an LCD shade which helps somewhat.  My other criticism is the shutter release.  It needs quite an emphatic push down to operate which, on many occasions, caused camera shake.

Advanced Compact

The advanced compact can range in price from around £150 through to £500.  Most don\'t have an optical viewfinder – the LCD gives a more precise view of the picture to be recorded.  Again some form of LCD shading is useful.

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Aside from any image quality gains that the advanced compact has over the simpler cameras the biggest is, for model photography, the ability to set the aperture.  Handling too is improved.  The shutter can be released with a gentle squeeze rather than a jab,

Compact Interchangeable Lens Camera

These are the latest kids on the block and are often more expensive than standard dSLRs.  Some rely on the use of LCD as a viewfinder others use an electronic viewfinder but can also use the LCD as a viewfinder.

As well as doing away with the mirror box of the standard SLR there another difference which should be acknowledged.  To make the system smaller and lighter some of the distortions are not corrected in the lens but rely on the firmware in the camera.

Digital Single Lens Reflex(dSLR)

The SLR has always been the most versatile camera. In its digital guise it remains so.  Photographic enthusiast buy SLRs purely for this versatility. But, compared to a compact it is heavy, bulky and generally more expensive. To get to the line of features such as macro mode you find in a compact then you have to spend a good deal of money.

Some of the pictures within the book have been taken with my Pentax K10D (a model from about 3 years ago) and its standard kit lens – a combination which cost £500.  It has been used mostly for comparison purposes.

With an SLR you get a larger sensor so the image doesn\'t have to be enlarged so much to make a print.  If you are not prepared to get a magnifying glass out to examine an A4 or 10x8-inch print then you won\'t notice the difference.

The real benefit of an SLR for modellers is its ability to give more depth of field by closing the aperture to f22.  This is at the expense of longer exposures – so you will need a sturdy tripod.

One of the things I noticed when taking model pictures with the Pentax dSLR was that I generally took pictures from a higher viewpoint than I did when using a compact. It was laziness.  I didn\'t want to contort myself into being able to look through the viewfinder when the camera was at a lower level.  SLRs with \'live view\' have the advantage here.

By what I have said you may think I have something against SLR cameras. I don\'t.  I am just against the hype that suggests you will take better photographs with them.  You won\'t.  If you are capable of taking a good photograph with a compact then you can take the same photograph with an SLR.  It will not suddenly give you photographic skills that you don\'t possess before investing in one.

Last Edit: 11 years, 1 month ago by pix.

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #2

Excellent. You mention a shield for the LCD screen on the camera for outdoor use. This has been the biggest problem I\'ve faced trying to take pics out doors. I end up aiming in the general direction of what I want to photograph or finding shade to stand in while I take the pic. I\'ve not seen a shade for the screen before. Is this something new, and is it widely available?

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #3


Gold Boarder
Have a look here to see them, though most photo shops have them in stock
The following user(s) said Thank You: LUFF

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #4

Platinum Boarder
My father had the sophisticated old-school camera\'s with proper film that he liked. I think he still has his old 35yo Canon. At the moment he\'s having fun converting thousands of negatives into digital format.

I had a couple of cheapies and throwaways along the way not worth mentioning. So was delighted when the Sony Mavica came out in the late nineties.

However, I soon found out the difference between digital and film. Film has more depth, and digital with its limited colour range had less colours. But this was very new at the time.
I still get questions everytime I bring that particular camera with me and I explain to them it uses a floppy disk. Went through a lot of floppies with this one, which is why I\'m so annoyed that new computers don\'t have floppydrives anymore.

Forced to find a replacement, I got a Sony Handycam.

This one I use on a daily basis as the photos are instantly stored on an SD-card. Even though the card is limitless I often transfer the multiple photos to my computer for editing and renaming.
Ofcourse its a DVD recorder too, but I hardly use that function - and even this has become obsolete as the camcorder now uses the laptop harddrives for storage of movies. That will be my next upgrade...

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #5

I use a Hewlett Packard Photosmart M537 6.0mp that has video capabilities for all my pics. Small and easy for me to use with a pair of Sandisk 2gb cards that I swap out for video or stills. The LCD shade it top of my list of things to buy now.

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #6


Gold Boarder
That gives me an idea.  I have a JVC video camera, the GZ-HD10.  I may give that a go for taking some stills tomorrow.  I\'m not sure about the results I will get as the pixel count is a bit low and don\'t know its macro capabilities.  Just wonder where I put the manual for it

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #7

That will be interesting to see. I haven\'t tried to capture video for an image yet.

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #8


Gold Boarder
RVREVO said \"I\'m so annoyed that new computers don\'t have floppydrives anymore.\"

There\'s usually a connector on the motherboard of newer computers for floppy drives and slots to put them in.

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #9


Gold Boarder


Composition is about the arrangement of shapes, lines and tones within the image frame. Sometimes the composition makes the subject a secondary consideration. When photographing scale models composition is reasonably simple. I have used plain backgrounds here to emphasize the effect without distraction. Composition is about positioning the model and the camera while excluding everything that does not add to the image. Your choice has much to do with what you want to express about the model in your photograph. And, of course, the purpose of the photograph.

I have used the expression \'purpose of photograph\' a number of times, so let\'s look at it in a little more detail now. \'Purpose\' is about how you intend to use the photograph. When I started writing this book there was always at the back of my mind what picture could I use as a cover. The image had to be simple, bold: but it also had to express the content of the book. More than that it had to have blank space where I could add the title.

Three alternative front covers for my book.  The lower one may work better for the American market than the others because it shows cars that American readers are more likely to be familiar with.

You may not be writing a book or submitting pictures to a magazine but you may want to make a banner for your website or even an illustration to include in your email signature. It might also be that you require a picture to hang on your wall. In any of these cases it is best to visualise the finished picture before picking up the camera. Do you need an upright picture or a horizontal one? Do you want a simple or a busy background? What size will the picture be reproduced at? What shape will the picture be? All these are to do with \'purpose\'.

The composition of a photograph will be different if you are taking the picture of a family saloon or a sports car. A 1950s American car will be photographed differently to a 1950s British bus. The vehicles have different purposes so the pictures will need to be handled differently. The reason for showing a particular aspect of the vehicle may be something more personal. My usual view of a double decker bus in my teenage years was the back end of one I had just missed when I was on my way to work.

Lines in a photograph are major elements of composition. Images can contain horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or curved lines. A photograph where the major lines of the image are horizontal, as in the picture of the American Mercury Turnpike Cruiser, tends to be rather static, though restful and peaceful. Vertical lines have stopping power while diagonal lines give movement. Curved lines can offer enclosure – as in the cover image of the BMW\'s wheel arch.

Vertical lines as well as vertical images arrest movement. This is why most magazines and books take the upright format: on the newsagent or booksellers shelf they bring your eyes to a halt. It is also why cover pictures are often a simple image – a simple image is more striking and more easily read. They have more impact.

Strong vertical and horizontal lines need to be positioned correctly. Putting them across the centre often means you are splitting the image into two halves and the viewer will not be able to decide which half has the most importance. You get a ying yang situation.

You can force diagonal lines by tilting the camera. But it has to be done with care. It has to show that it has been done purposely rather than a mistake. Watch the background too. Trees and houses on a slant rarely work.

Diagonal lines are inherent in three-quarter views of any vehicle. The steeper the perspective the more emphasis there is on the diagonal lines. Having diagonal lines going in different directions, as in the third book cover above can excite the eye. The downside of this is that it requires greater depth of field.

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #10

One of the hot rod magazines I subscribe to has a yearly photograph contest and describes the same diagonal line positioning, leaving out the rather important building and tree advice. They also suggest that the front tires be turned to emphasize the rim. This isn\'t possible on many of the diecast vehicle as most have straight front axles. On the newer releases in larger scales, positionable front wheels have become common. I\'ve seen them on models as small as HO scale, Herpa sells a conversion kit for a positionable front axle conversion for their HO trucks. Turning the front wheels to emphasize the rim adds to the compisition of the scene as well.

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #11

That is....if the front axle can be posed.

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #12

Platinum Boarder
pix wrote:

RVREVO said \"I\'m so annoyed that new computers don\'t have floppydrives anymore.\"

There\'s usually a connector on the motherboard of newer computers for floppy drives and slots to put them in.

Tell ya something interesting, my floppydrive is ten years older than my current computer. Its the one peripheral I tend to keep.

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #13

In this pic, the top half shows the Corgi Scania T cab with the front wheels straight and the lower half with the front wheels turned to emphasize the rim. Not a huge difference, yet it\'s the subtle things that can make the shot visually exciting.

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #14


Gold Boarder
RVREVO wrote:
pix wrote:

RVREVO said \"I\'m so annoyed that new computers don\'t have floppydrives anymore.\"

There\'s usually a connector on the motherboard of newer computers for floppy drives and slots to put them in.

Tell ya something interesting, my floppydrive is ten years older than my current computer. Its the one peripheral I tend to keep.

I have some old floppy drives in cardboard boxes but don\'t use them these days.  Just one photograph would have to be split over 4 or five of them - and that\'s talking about jpeg compressed images.  When I take them in RAW then they are usually around 15MB per image.

I recently gave over my 2GB SD cards to my granddaughter use.  Now mine start at 4GB and for the two cameras I use most they are plied with 16GB cards.

Re:Model Vehicle Photography 11 years, 1 month ago #15

Platinum Boarder
yes, I like using my 8GB SD-card too, but haven\'t got around sorting out my brother\'s wedding photos yet... and that\'s over 7 years ago. He\'s divorced from her now... so what am I going to do with these floppies now...

another lovely storage device is my ancient Iomega ZipDrive with 100Mb disk cartridges. Talk about obsolete technology. Silly thing still works... and on XP... was intended to work only with W95.