Thursday, 19 June 2014

How to Take Photos of Miniatures - 7 Tips.

As I have been taking lots of photos of my miniature paintings to put in my etsy store, I thought that perhaps some of you may be interested in how to take photos of miniatures as it can be tricky.

 There are lots of ways you can go about photographing miniatures, but here is what I do.

1. Equipment.

I use my digital SLR camera for taking photos of minis. I normally just leave it on auto setting with no flash. If the miniature is something very small, or I need a close up of something then I use magnifying filters. 
These are a lot cheaper than buying a special macro lens (unless you can find a cheap one second hand). I have seen that you can also buy little macro lenses for your iPhone so if you don't have a digital SLR you could try that as alternative. 
I think it cost me about NZ$45 for a set of 4 stacking filters. These come in a folding case and are in strengths of +1, +2, +4, +10. So you can stack them on the front of your lens and have anywhere from +1 to +17 magnification.  I mostly use between +1 to +4 but the +10 can be useful for super close ups. 

As you can see they look a lot like a magnifying glass.

2. Magnification.

One thing you need to take into consideration is that the higher magnification you have, the shallower your depth of field. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, it just means that less of your photo will be in focus. I quite like the look of photos with a shallow depth of field as I think it makes the photos look more intimate. It also helps you to draw attention to what you want the viewer to look at or notice. 

For instance, in this photo the flowers are in focus but the vase is not. 

Try different magnifications. While the previous photo was taken with +2 magnification, the following photo is taken with +10 magnification. I also placed the flowers in direct sunlight to show the texture of the paper better. The bad thing about getting too much magnification is that you can see imperfections that are not noticeable to the naked eye. 

3. Lighting.

 I don't use any special lighting equipment but you can of course get more technical and look into that if you want. You can also play around with the settings on your camera to get different results.
Here are some tips on using natural light.

Think about where the lighting is coming from. 
In this photo the lighting is coming from behind so the colours in the flowers are lost. 

Where the light is coming from is important. But so is the quality of light. 

This photo is back-lit, but the light source is not in the photo and is not shining directly on the item - so the photo is slightly washed out, but not completely silhouetted.

This photo is lit from the front (but is not in direct sunlight) and therefore the colours are much brighter (although the focus is not in the right place). 

And this photo is in direct sunlight. You can see it has a distracting shadow and the colours are less subtle. Overall it has a harsher look.

I find that a front-lit item in diffused light is best and I like to use natural light over artificial if I can. So I normally take my photos in the shade next to a window. (I hope that makes sense!)

4. Background and Format.

The background of your photo is important. I normally use scrap book paper as a background for small items.

Try different angles to see what looks good.

And try different formats too. Sometimes a photo that looks average in landscape format looks much better in portrait format or vice-versa.

Sometimes, with backgrounds, things that you wouldn't expect to look good do. So play around. 

The other thing you may like to do is include the item in a miniature scene. So you can photograph it in your dollhouse or room box or set up a mini scene especially for the purpose. I would do this if I had more doll house stuff with me. 

I took this one before we came up here. 

5. Composition and Focus.

I think carefully about the composition. I normal compose shots of items with the item either in the centre, or on a third (using the photography rule of thirds).

Focus on what you want to draw attention to in the photo. Is there a special little detail you want to show? Do you want the whole item in focus? The background in or out of focus?

Try and fill up most of the frame with your item unless it is included in a scene. You want people to be able to see it. It does not look good to have a tiny little item with heaps of space all around it. 

I also pay attention to the edges of the picture. Make sure you don't have distracting bits in the corners, or really crooked horizon lines. It's like when you take a picture of a person, you don't want to later discover they have a tree growing out of their head or something else distracting like that. You want the focus on the thing you are photographing and everything else should compliment that.

6. Scale.

You may also like to include a photo with something to show the scale of the item. 

I know that many people use coins but the only trouble with them is that not everyone knows how big coins from different countries are exactly. 
For example, I don't think I have ever seen a U.S. penny in real life. I have seen a euro 1c though and an old N.Z. 5c (which we don't have any more). The 1c and the 5c are both quite different sizes and I have no idea where the penny would fit into the scale. 
Anyway, my point is, if you are wanting people from international destinations to be able to understand the scale of your item, while they may get the general idea from a small coin, you could use something that is internationally recognisable instead. I have been using a pencil. You want your pencil - or other thing you use for scale comparison - to compliment the item you are photographing. So don't use an ugly old chewed up one. Use a pretty one in similar or complimentary colours. If you want to use a ruler to show exact scale use one that fits in with the colours and composition of your image. 

Even when I take photos of flat items, I normally take shots on a variety of backgrounds, from different angles, and from the back of the item.

7. Selection.

Once you have decided which magnification to use, which lighting looks best, which format and background you like, and how you want to compose your picture, take a few more shots to get one you are happy with. 

I think this is my favourite one. The focus is nice, the background colours are complementary, and the lighting shows the subtleties of colour in the item.

And lastly, if you are displaying your photos in one place (like on a blog or in an etsy store for example) it is best to make sure all the images look good together too. Have a common theme or colour scheme or 'look' that you stick to. 
It's like doll house rooms. While each room may be different, a dollhouse looks best (in my opinion) if all the rooms look good together too. Because while you will be looking closely at each room individually, you also look at them all together when viewing the whole dollhouse.

To sum up:

1. Equipment: A digital SLR camera. Magnifying filters. Scrapbook paper. Item to show scale.
2. Magnification: Use magnification appropriate to what you want to show. The more magnification the less depth of field.
3. Lighting: Natural light. Diffused (not shining directly on item to be photographed). Front-lit.
4. Background: Use scrapbook paper or a miniature scene. Format: Experiment with portrait and landscape. Don't do diagonal, that just make people turn their head to the side.
5. Composition: Center item or use rule of thirds. Check edges for distractions. Focus: Focus on the part of the item you want to draw attention to.
6. Scale: Show scale with something internationally recognisable like a pencil.
7. Selection: Select the best image/s and rephotograph where necessary. Make sure all your photos work together.

I hope these tips are useful to someone. Any questions please ask. :)

Also please feel free to add your own tips and tricks in the comments section. I'd love to learn what you do too.

xoxo Love Amy


  1. Great tips! I can never get enough info about taking pictures. This is so helpful!

  2. Ooo I love such photos. Very usefull and clever tips