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Tips for better picture quality

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Tips for better picture quality

Postby hulk hogan » Sun Jun 15, 2008 3:16 am

Ok, I have done plenty of G.I. Joe dios...I want to begin some Lego adventures. I am having difficulty trying to get clear pics. Any good and easy advice?
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Postby Peppermint Pig » Sun Jun 15, 2008 7:27 am

I'll try to begin an answer with a series of questions:

1. Does your camera have a macro mode, or macro lens?
2. Do you have a tripod?
3. Do you have a large sheet of paper in any color, or white?
4. Do you have any good sized blocks of styrofoam as found in electronics packaging?
5. Do you have any reflective material, perhaps some white ripstop nylon fabric??
6. Do you have several light sources, convenient lighting housings such as clamp lights and bright/clear bulb colors??

Clear pictures are best obtained with soft but bright lighting, with a camera that uses a macro lens mode. Sometimes a small tripod helps here. Lighting is relatively affordable nowadays, and you can do a great deal of things for very little.

Some people use styrofoam around much smaller scenes, with light flooding in from off camera, typically diffused through a sheet of white paper or other material, which reduces the harshness that comes from direct or spot lighting.

Colored backdrops several inches away from a scene can help you set a mood, or can be used as a convenient color for chroma key work, though this is rather limited if you can't get the backdrop evenly lit.

I personally use 3 Clamp lights (can buy them each for... 6 bucks at walmart I think...) and you can buy a package of "reveal" blue tinted (avoid the clear ones!) lights on budget (also at walmart).. just compare prices!! With these, you will also need to find things to clamp the lights on, and 1/2 inch pipe clamps and a stretch of pipe might do it (, but they will cost you a bit more and weigh quite a bit together).

If money is no object, you could splurge on neodymium based incandescent light bulbs (read 'daylight' simulating) from a lighting store.... or even shop around for used lightbox photography equipment on places like craigslist, though you can make your own if you're willing to put in the time and buy a bit of fabric. I've built diffuser/light boxes with black construction paper (and the magic of duct tape) surrounding aluminum window screen frames, with ripstop fabric replacing the old screening. On the inside of this box, I've glued and taped reflective aluminum foil to the black paper, so that light inside the box is projected evenly onto the screen and out to the scene.
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Postby Aliencat » Mon Jun 16, 2008 7:35 am

I have a question related to this, is it best to use a flash or not to use a flash when taking pictures of MOCs? I usually take pictures in daylight with no flash. I don't have any light sets/lighting houses etc, so I'm sure that's worth getting in the near future as well.
I have tried taking pictures with flash before, when there was no daylight, but because I'm too close to the MOC (using macro mode by the way) the pictures uended up way too bright.
Between plotting to kill you all and chasing balls of yarn, I also build MOCs

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Postby Peppermint Pig » Mon Jun 16, 2008 3:14 pm

You've hit on an obvious problem: Using flash at really close proximity can be ugly.

Possible Solution: You can use a sheet of fabric softener (bounce), folded up and placed over the flash to help diffuse the light. I'm sure you can think of similar solutions to this problem, perhaps including a regular sized sheet of white paper held a few inches in front of the flash, though you'd have to be sure to block any direct flash lighting (maybe create a box shaped item and tape it around the flash (but I can't recommend it since I don't know how hot your flash would get)?

The next most likely thing to do is get two big white poster boards. If you can't get enough light to reflect, perhaps get some with a bit of a sheen/gloss coating, and setting those off-camera, facing to the left and right of your scene and slightly angled towards the camera so it can bounce the light.

At normal distances in dark rooms, flash is often the inevitable lighting choice.

Optionally, if you have a tripod, you may want to take two photos of your scene, one with flash, and one without, and use photoshop to combine the best aspects of each work. For details on that kind of process, just ask.


I strongly recommend buying at least 2 clamp lights so you can usually get at least 1 light set up from above and behind the scene, so you don't have any ghastly shadows... even if you buy just 1, and use your camera's flash, that MIGHT be enough to get by.

Or, if you want, you can try the trick I suggested of taking multiple shots (provided you have a tripod (a good one can be well under 50 USD at BH photo)) using a single clamp light held at differ positions, or using different colored light bulbs, which can be extremely useful in photoshop production.
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Postby Aliencat » Tue Jun 17, 2008 9:00 pm

Thanks for the tips Peppermint Pig, I went to try and put them to use immediately!
I made a small "box"-like thing out of regular white paper that I put over the flash (it just got mildly warm, nowhere near hot enough to start a fire ;)), I used a tripod and I also put the MOC on a big sheet of white paper to give it an evenly coloured background.
I also did a tiny bit of post-processing in photoshop to make the only shadow on the paper the MOCs drop-shadow (because the paper was bent up to also be behind the MOC and not just under it, it had a shadowy band over it).

I'm quite happy about how it turned out, photography-wise. It's better than the pictures I've taken so far. If you have any more useful tips like above, keep 'em coming!

Here's the picture by the way, if you would like to take a look and give me some feedback, maybe I can get the colours better in my next attempt, but for now I am very happy about it.
Between plotting to kill you all and chasing balls of yarn, I also build MOCs

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Postby hulk hogan » Tue Jun 17, 2008 9:15 pm

thank u for the input :) hopefully I can get some adventures going by years end
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Postby Peppermint Pig » Wed Jun 18, 2008 2:55 am

Glad you had success Aliencat. That picture looks great. Did you use a flash there? I can't tell. The colors are well balanced. Did you simply emphasize the shadow and try to clear away some of the background?? Is there a second light source in there??

Softening your light source is important because most Lego is reflective to some degree. Flooding a scene with plenty of light helps capture detail from Black Lego pieces, which tend to photograph dark (duh), particularly under harsh lighting. You don't want too much light without any sense of light direction, as that can make things look flat. Besides, if you want to create a 'cartoony' feel with lego, there are ways of doing that in post-process for the most part.

My avatar is a sample of decent lighting. Look at the soft lighting of the hair and how it stands out with multiple lights hitting and revealing the shape. There's a light in the front right, front left, and above/to the rear on that... However the picture in my signature exhibits some spotty lighting (ceiling lighting), as you can see it reflected in the hats and hair.

I'll come back with maybe a short tutorial that shows the difference between photos, and shows what I do in post-process. I also need to photograph my lightboxes (though they're kind of ugly and I'm thinking about making a HUGE lightbox screen to go along with a bigger project)
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Postby Aliencat » Wed Jun 18, 2008 9:20 am

Peppermint Pig wrote:Glad you had success Aliencat. That picture looks great. Did you use a flash there? I can't tell. The colors are well balanced. Did you simply emphasize the shadow and try to clear away some of the background?? Is there a second light source in there??

Thanks. I had one light source to the left, in this case daylight through a window ;) and used the flash with a little "box" over it made of regular white paper. There were two drop shadows and an odd one in the background which I removed, the shadow to the right of the MOC wasn't emphasized but softened a bit (daylight makes for a pretty sharp shadow).
I will have to try some different light sources but to be quite honest, I don't have any kind of portable or spot lights ;) so for now daylight will be my primary light source, and taking pictures at night will have to turn out like this ;) that's with just flash and a weak light in the ceiling. Not ideal circumstances for photography.
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Postby siabur » Thu Sep 04, 2008 7:33 pm

When taking pictures I use the floresent "Daylight" type bulbs in a shop light over the moc about 2 feet above. It creates a nice lighting of the scene. Tripods are a must, I've also built a stand from legos to support the camera. I've also never used flash, they tend to light unevenly and if you have the right pieces in place they cause a reflection of light and in some cases the cameraman.

As for backgrounds, since most of my pictures are for a comic made from Lego stuff, I use scrapbooking paper. I have stars for night, trees for forest and what ever else I find useful. It's something to occupy the empty space in the back.

As for focusing, sometimes it helps to focus the camera first. If you have an auto focus. On my camera you just have to press the shutter button lightly, it will focus on where it's at, then take the picture. I have had problems with incorrect focus points. Just practice. Digital cameras make it economical for this.

Peppermint Pig you have a lot of wonderful tips. Thanks for sharing.

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