Monday, April 22, 2013

Tutorial: Easy Photo Setups

Gunpla is, for the most part, a solitary activity. The average Gundam Modeler spends hours locked away in their bedroom or basement, toiling away to craft the next best Mobile Suit. When you finally finish that awesome kit that you've been working on for so long, do you just put it on a shelf and let it gather dust? No! You want to show it to people and get critiques and compliments; and to do that, you need to take nice photos. Believe it or not, it's actually quite easy. I see a lot of people advocating light boxes for gunpla photography, but I've found a couple ways to get great results with simple desktop setups. I am by no means a professional photographer, but I wanted to share these methods for anyone interested.

The lights that I use are a set of photo lamps that I grabbed on Amazon for about fifty dollars. They work nicely, but if that's not in your budget, then desk lamps fitted with 60 Watt daylight bulbs will do the trick. I use a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20 point-and-shoot to take my pictures. Although Gunpla photography doesn't necessitate owning a Digital SLR, it would certainly help when trying to take great pictures. This post will be entirely about photo setups, not the actual photography, as I'm still learning myself. I may do a photography tutorial in the future once I have more experience!

The above picture is my first photo setup. This is what I will use if I want an all white, seamless background. The setup for this is very simple. Take a piece of white poster board and tack it to the wall behind a flat surface such as a desk or table, and be sure to create a gradual sloping of the poster board from the wall to the desk. This is how the seamless effect is achieved and any folds or creases will ruin the illusion. I usually use two light sources pointed directly at the background, then a third one pointed in the general direction of the kit to mitigate shadows.

This is a picture taken using the seamless method. Note the consistent lighting on the background. This is very important if you want to have nice looking seamless photos. If there is too little light on the poster board, then it could appear yellow. Too much, and you will end up with heat spots, or large white orbs behind your kit.

The second photo setup that I use is great for more dynamic looking shots. Using the same poster board as before, I let the paper hang down behind my desk and lay a piece of black plexiglass in front of it, creating a white backdrop. This setup will produce photos with a visible horizon and a subtle reflection of the subject in the black plexiglass. You should not use transparent glass to take photos on top of. Any type of transparent glass, even black, will produce a double reflection that looks blurry. However, if you spray paint one side of a sheet of transparent glass, then flip it over, you will have the same single reflection as a piece of black plexiglass. I picked up this piece of 18"x18" plexiglass at my local hardware store for about 15 dollars, but if you wanted to try the spray paint glass method, just buy any old picture frame and remove the glass.

Once again, it's important to light your background as much as possible, but now that we're using a highly reflective surface, the lights don't need to be as accurately placed. This picture shows how I would position the desk lamp in front of the kit to get a little more light directly on it.

Here's a picture taken using the black plexiglass. This method will produce a nice black horizon between your kit and the white backdrop, as well as a reflection of the model itself. If you haven't noticed by now, this is the setup that most avid or pro Gunpla builders use to photograph their completed kits. Both of these methods have their advantages and you'll need to experiment to see what you like best. I hope this helps those unsure of how to photograph their kits, and I look forward to seeing some awesome Gunpla pictures!