Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A basic guide to miniature photography

There has been lots of discussion lately on the subject of photographing miniatures so I thought I would dig my original article on photography out and finish it off with some information on post production. For the most part I am photographing figures to showcase painting rather than for battle reports. I'll let others with more experience deal with battle reports and I'll stick to painting showcase work.

I used to use direct sunlight to light the shots. This is fine in June but even in high summer Cardiff's sunshine can't be relied upon! I thus created a light box to take shots in. Now if you buy a professional light tent/box you will be shelling out an enourmous amount of money. I built a much more Heath Robinson affair:

The first thing to notice is that there is a LOT of light going in to that box. Two 100W daylight bulbs are providing the necessary oomph there. The anglepoise lamps by the way are from Ikea and are the cheapest you can get (£8), I heartily recommend them for anyone with inadequate light while painting. Use energy savers in them for long term painting though as the incandescent bulbs get extremely hot and you will have them near your face. A lot of people diffuse the light by shining it through white muslin or greaseproof paper.  This is to reduce the harshness of the direct light. I've never had a single problem with this as the white box bouncing the light around kills the harshness. Were I to use a coloured backcloth or shoot on a gaming table I would diffuse the light however. The box itself is made of five pieces of A3 Foamcard, simply masking tape them together into a five sided box. Before you add the lid you need to eradicate the lower corner of the box or it will show up in every single photo:

It's a bit tricky to see so I highlighted the curve in red on the second picture. Run a line of double sided tape along the front edge of the box and a two more lines about two inches from the lower corner on both the bottom and inside back of the box. A final line of tape on the top edge of the inside back and you are ready to rock. Don't expose the "double-sided" bit of the adhesive yet as it will make the job harder. Now take a long piece of white paper (I used wallpaper backing as it is dirt cheap) of an appropriate width - it needs to run from side to side of the box. Expose the adhesive on the front line of tape and attach the paper to it, then move back along the rows of tape glueing down the paper as you go so that the highlighted curve is formed between the middle two rows. For neatness I allowed the paper to overlap at both ends and folded them under with a bit of masking tape to secure them.

A good tripod is essential to miniature photography. Mine has a spanky feature of a telescoping central bar that you can wind up to adjust the height of the camera. The pillow is an optional extra and doesn't do a darn thing except look messy on photos, sheesh. The tripod eliminates hand shake - just be careful of things like washing machines on the same section of floor, seriously, I have had photos shaken by household appliances! Always use either a remote shutter control or use the self timer feature to eliminate that final human element of the shutter press. For gear-geeks like me: the camera I use is a Samsung WB500. This is an ace piece of kit. The most important feature it has is a 10x optical zoom. Now go look at how much it costs on amazon and then compare some other 10x optical zoom prices! For non photographers out there, the optical zoom is important because all that most cameras do is enlarge the centre of their field of vision to zoom. All this really does is crop the image and thus reduces the resolution every time you zoom in. An optical zoom uses all of the available pixels in the reader and just makes the camera focus all that resolution on a smaller area.

With the gear dealt with I thought I would take you through the process of preparing models for display on Pirate Viking Painting. I've just finished a devastator squad for my Blood Angels and so we'll use this as our example. First, a long shot to establish the group effect:

Make sure that you use the macro settings on the camera with the broadest possible depth of field. Unless you are very adept at using cameras it is best to let a good cameras settings take the strain. On my model the "food" setting is the best mix of depth of field and macro focussing. Next, I individually photograph any more interesting figures, just keep the others out of the field of shot and you can quickly go through the whole batch.

We now have the "raw" footage of the models. Most cameras these days allow you to play with the white balance within the settings. I prefer to use photo manipulating software to correct the colours. I'm lucky enough to have photoshop but there are lots of cheap alternatives that do the same job for this kind of work. Why do you need to do any of this you ask? Well, here is the raw shot:

Technically there is nothing wrong with this, the picture is in focus, the composition is a little off, too much white space but otherwise ok right? Now look at the results after the software has done it's work. I just use the auto levels feature:

Now you can see the reason for all that white space, it helps the software to recognise what is white and adjust the colours to fit. Now to loose all that horrible composition, just crop the region that you want; leave a little white space around the image.

There we are! Now we look at the individual models. Mostly they are processed in exactly the same way as the group shot but with additional cropping to draw attention to interesting features; like so:

The sergeant is a nice model and gives me a chance to talk about the general principles of how the unit was painted. However the wing on the shoulder looks nice and draws the eye so I took a second shot from a better angle and cropped to showcase the wing:

Simalarily the lascannon model has a section on it that I found interesting to paint so I took a pair of shots to showcase it. This is the opportunity to introduce interesting/useful painting techniques like so:

"The lascannon has that odd concertina section between the barrel and the rest of the gun. I've seen this painted in all sorts of different ways ranging from a recoil spring - mildly ridiculous on a laser weapon - to coils of wire like on the plasma guns. I figured that they would either be a train of focussing lenses or an insulator between high tension sections. I eventually went with insulator and decided to try and paint it like the glass insulators on electricity pylons. This was achieved with an Orkhide Shade basecoat, the shading defined with Badab Black. The highlights needed to be sharp to show that glassy effect so an Orkhide Shade and Skull White mix was used. To get the green/blue glassy feel back I washed the insulator in Thraka Green and Asurmen Blue. A gloss varnish finished off the effect:"

Its easy to overdo this kind of detail shots. Just pick ones that show things that you have done differently, been proud of or showcase a technique you want to share. Here are the other detail shots taken from the Devastators and why they were chosen:

Used to showcase the technique for heat blackening the nozzels of the Multi-Melta

I just like the radiation symbol! Plus it shows off all of the work I did individually painting all of the wires to add realism.

Showcasing the verdigris weathering of the copper containment coils. I figured copper as plasma is contained by magnetic fields. The easiest way to achieve that is with an electromagnet, hence copper coils. Given how old these weapons are I figure a build up of some oxidised copper was inevitable.

Finally, write up the background text explaining your pictures and get them online!

Well, I hope that this article has been of use! Feel free to contact me if you want any questions answered.


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Jewel in the Chaotic Crown

So, due to absent mindedness this is part 4 of our three part feature on the Warriors of Chaos!

Actually it has turned out pretty well as the model at the centre of this feature is the jewel in the crown of this army and is one of the models that I am most proud of. The Slaanesh-mutated Chaos Giant Thunderfoot the Defiled!:

Now for those unfamiliar with the base model here it is! The model is made from most of the parts of a giant kit, several spare faces and a chaos spawn kit. The most obvious feature of the model is the two heads so we'll start there:

The head/s were made by shaving off the "inner" eighth of both heads to just ahead of the ear. The heads were then married together across the neck join with plastic glue. The join was disguised with green stuff which was sculpted to look as though the skin was under tension. I didn't take a clear picture of it but I actually shaved down and split the backbone to have a line of vertebra running to each head.

The next feature to take a look at is the weaponry and arms:

The third arm is added by thinning the join to a point and glueing it into place under the left armpit. The join is smoothed out with green stuff. I made sure to continue the tricep up from the armband and into the back muscles. Getting fantasy anatomy at least plausible is essential to allowing a suspension of disbelief and a better model. The weapons are simply the kit parts, of note is the plaster clinging to the archway. It would be easier to paint this the same grey colour as the rest of the stone but it would lack that extra detail.

As if three arms and two heads were not enough Slaanesh has seen fit to grace poor Thunderfoot the Defiled even more mutations:

The spines, are from the chaos spawn cut down and blended into the vertebrae. Again, by attaching them to the vertebra you reinforce the biology behind the beasty. I deliberately left a gap between the skin and the spine, when filled with blood mix this means that the spines look like they have burst from the skin recently. The fanged maw and eyes are also from the spawn kit. I particularly like how the blue eye looks panicked as though an element of sentience remains. Finally we come to the belly. I figured that part of the mutations wracking the giant's body would be that any victims eaten by the giant would become part of his tainted flesh, swelling his bulk and leaving just a gibbering face driven mad by it's predicament. I like imagining a whispered cacophany of voices accompanying Thunderfoot as the lips of the victims mouth their confusion and distress. Right, having convinced you all that I am lightly insane here's how it is done. Just file down a spare face from the back until you can easily glue it into place, smooth in to place with green stuff and run blood from the various openings.

Thunderfoot is one of my best models - where modelling is concerned - and there are still bits that I reckon I could do better these days!

Before we leave the Warriors of Chaos theme I thought I'd share another model with you. This was made and painted for a Games Day table a few years back. I was given it afterward and intend to make it the centerpiece of Tzeentch contingent one day.

The base of the model is an High Elf wizard with an Empire wizard head attached. With this small change and the paint scheme he becomes a Chaos Sorcerer on Disc of Tzeentch. This was made from two large round bases with green stuff layered over the top and carved into stones to match the Elf wizard base. A few more gravity defying stones made of green stuff finish the blending. The lightning is made from paperclips bent and glued together and then painted Ice Blue highlighting up to white. A few glowing eldritch runes finish the effect and create a unique disc for the sorcerer to travel on.

The yellow and blue paint scheme denote the Tzeentchian loyalties of the wizard. The pink fires contrast nicely with the other shades and also represent the spell pink fire of Tzeentch.

The runes appear black, but that would be too stark against the yellow and blue. Instead, they are a very dark blue - Necron Abyss and Chaos Black. This is a subtle change but important to bind the paint scheme together. The gold is darker than my usual mix to contrast against the yellow better. This uses Devlan Mud rather than Gryphonne Sepia as a wash.

Well, that really is it this time! Hope you've enjoyed it. Back to normal service next time.

Back to start


The Lost and the Damned

In the final [EDIT: turned out to be somewhat more penultimate!] part of our look at my Warriors of Chaos I present the Masters of the army, the Champions of Chaos!

This was the first of the heroes that I ever painted for this army. Obviously, the colour scheme for all the heroes was dictated by the army a few little accents were available. One was the skin tone. I felt that the traditional pallid skin tone for Slaanesh champions would be lost within all the bone armour. With the overall exotic look of the armour and weaponry I decided to represent a champion of the Southlands who had managed to journey up through the lands of the dead and traversed the World's Edge mountains to reach the Chaos Wastes. The sword represented the Blade of Blood that I had equipped him with and was painted by first edge highlighting the blade with grey over black and then glazing the blade with multiple heavy layers of magenta ink. The shield is my favourite part of this model, the camera hasn't been kind to my shading but has shown off the sculpting! The cloth tenting over the raised shield design is wonderful.

Next comes the Army Standard Bearer, I haven't gotten around to designing the banner for her (other projects attracted my magpie-like attention, ooh shiny!) but at least this means you can see her in all her glory!

The base for the model is Lillith Hesparex with all of the spikes removed. The halbard is from the champion on steed of slaanesh (being converted into a sorcerer lord) and the banner pole is made from high elf lances and standard crossbar. Finally the slaanesh disc from the same champion on steed and a skull from the warriors of chaos box tops it off nicely. The design was to create a very dynamic warrior using those long pole arms to keep a lethal arc of steel around the standard. I almost saw her pole dancing around the standard pole with the blades of the halbard decapitating those hypnotised by her movements. I remember quite a long discussion about which hair colour to go for on her. Brown would have been lost amid the banner pole, blond would have disappeared amongst the bone, black would have caused the mask to vanish. I dislike artificial coloured hair on fantasy figures and so red was the only choice!

The most recent character addition was the Games Day Chaos Champion painted for a bit of a contest between myself and the manager of the store I was working for back then.

This is a lovely figure, one of the few GD specials that felt like it was specially made rather than being a left over. Notable features of this model are the purple (which was highlighted with bleached bone and glazed with leviathan purple). The woodgrain is another one that I am happy with, khemri brown highlighted with bleached bone. The trick to woodgrain is adding a knothole to the piece of wood. You then have to work the grain around it giving a very natural look rather than the more usual straight lines you see painted normally.

EDIT: On to the final part of the army, the monstrous chaos giant!


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Slaves to Darkness

Following on from the previous post about my Warriors of Chaos army I present the second element of the army; the maddened cultists who form the marauders:

Obviously, the base for this unit is the Empire Flagellants, with an alarmingly small amount of conversion work and the addition of marauder shields. The colour scheme is designed to blend in with and complement the Warriors and knights.

The mud around the edge of the robes helps to make these guys look wild and uncaring in contrast to their rich purple decorations. I used my usual blood mix (3:1 Red and Chestnut ink plus gloss varnish) sparingly on the rents and tears in their clothing and on the whips and flails.

I wanted the champion to stand out from the unit and represent a perversion of the Empire god of death: Morr. Hence the scythe was used as the traditional symbol of the god, the magical purple flames are clearly a mark of the magister's favour denoting him a servant of importance. The armour comes from a grave guard chest plate with two curving plates from the bits box (NB: "from the bits box" denotes that I cannot for the life of me remember what model I scavenged them from!) forming the shoulder pauldrons. If you look closely you'll see that he has already lost an eye - probably to the mad flailing of his allies - and either hasn't noticed or does not care. Hardcore!

The standard bearer and musician are nice examples of how a little storytelling can work wonders for minor conversions. The standard bearer is clearly carrying the holy texts of the cult giving praise to their evil masters. He long since clawed out his own eyes in insanity from reading and re-reading the sanity-blasting runes of true chaos. Now the cult carry him with them in the press of bodies drawing inspiration from the words of their evil deity (note that the most intricate decoration on the banner is on the back, thus facing the unit) and hoping to unsettle the enemy with his display of devotion. Essentially, I just chose cool componants and assembled them but by adding a little story to the choice of parts and paint scheme I feel I have a much cooler model. The musician likewise has chosen to ring out his devotions on his many bells and has therefore sewn up his own mouth to prevent him from ever breaking his vow of silence. Adding blood effects to the cords make it look as though this is a descision he took this morning before the battle making it that much creepier.

Finally we come to the leader of the cult, the magister. In game terms this guy is a sorcerer on daemonic steed but I liked that he was the reason that these wild cultists existed at all:

Now I love this model, I loved it when it was a golden deamon entry. I cannot imagine the courage it took to authorise citadel to carve it up for casting. Something about the flow of the robes, the pose, that amazing staff. Yeah, I love this model! Painting wise he isn't that interesting weirdly. I wanted to let the sculpting speak for itself and so chose muted pallet of contrasting bone, black and purple to show off the robes with just a little freehand decoration to make him extra ornate (this model was painted a while ago and the photos really make me want to go back in and have another go at the freehand with what I know now).

Thats all for the cult. The new warhammer rules have inspired me to swell their ranks considerably. The main cultist unit above will double in size, pics will of course pop up here when I have finished! Next time will be the last element of the army, the Lost and Damned Masters of the army, the Champions of Chaos!