Blood Bowl – Skavens!

I committed to myself and my club that I would paint at least one model before I played again.

I scheduled a game for Wednesday. Then ran out of time to paint a model.

Mid-Wednesday, my game got cancelled because of various reasons, and I was unable to find a new one. Some might say it was a sign. So I painted two models today to stave off the wrath of Nuffle!

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The nice thing about these models is that they are mostly done before I get to them right now. The first steps are super simple, but care needs to be taken with the shading which is where I’ve been stuck for a few weeks (months). With these, I’ve finished my Gutter Runners and got the first of my linerats done.

 

Photography

I’m still playing with this stuff. With the Orlocks I used my 25mm lense, but it has a much longer focus range than some other lenses I have. The macro lens I used in the previous Gutter Runner post is a little to close to keep my ego intact – plenty of people adhere to the “2 foot rule” when it comes to models, and the more I paint and photograph, the happier I am with keeping people (and the lens) a little further away to minimize the effect of brush strokes and tide marks, etc.

With the photos here, I used a 20mm lens which gets a lot closer physically, but is notably further away focally. I cropped the photos down a lot to bring them as close as they look above, which works due to the quality of the sensor in my camera.

Blood Bowl – Skaven Gutter Runner…and some photography stuff.

I’ve had it on my todo list for a long while to get back to the kind of photography I was doing before I moved into a tiny apartment and got really lazy about pulling all the equipment out, and setting it all up for a single model, then putting it all away. We moved about 6 months ago and have more space now. Then I back the MacroMat Kickstarter and it arrived yesterday. And I finished a model today, and had some spare time to move some stuff around. The stars were aligning.

Here’s a rat!

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The GW Skaven box doesn’t come with enough Gutter Runners to run a proper team, which is a little silly and the cause of much argument in CHOP! chat. I don’t know why GW made this decision, but my policy has generally been to try to overlook such things and fix it myself. It is a hobby, after all!

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I had Little Pat sculpt me two more Gutter Runners out of some Clan Rats he had. This guy is my favourite of the two, but you’ll see the other guy really soon I’m sure.

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I made a mistake on the photography, I think, and set my aperture to 11 when I really should have done much higher, and didn’t check my focus location carefully enough. Consequently, you can see the line where the model is in focus versus out of focus, and that line is slightly before the middle of the model.

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This is my new setup. I put it all together this afternoon, took these photos…then left it up. Madness! I turned the lights off, obviously. That, plus a new computer a few months ago and a new photo editing program, and the process from click to upload is pretty damn fast! Not as fast as the phone, unfortunately, since the phone can just upload immediately.

The MacroMat comes with 3 different backgrounds – the gradient blue, a speckled black and a speckled brown. I think the black one is my favourite for this model, and that’s the super nice thing – I can choose which background depending on the colours on the model and what will contrast best!

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I also got a flash for my camera since last I used it for this blog, so I’ve now got 2 side lights and 1 front light and things are well lit. The only thing left is that the lights aren’t portable, because of how I’ve done the difuser for them. My ideal setup would be one I could take to the club on a photography day or something. We’ll see how it goes, maybe my lights are portable enough. 🙂

 

Analyzing lens choices for conventions and tournaments

I’m flying to Japan today, so everything you read after this has been long since scheduled! Before I left had a look at some different lenses. Two I had my eye on were $100-250 cheaper there than even online, so I had to see if I actually wanted them!

One of them is the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II. The Mark I version has been consistently said to be one of the best lenses of the m4/3 line-up, so I’ve fought with buying it for a while. The Mark II version isn’t much different, but has new colours. 😛

The primary use of a new lens would be walking around conventions and tournaments. I have a macro lens that I like (although it needs cleaning), but it’s so slow to focus that it’s time consuming walking around. I ended up settling on the less prestigious Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 lens. It’s easy to carry, has a reasonable minimum focus length and reasonable speed.

I also have a lens that I used to love, but which I’m falling out of love with. The Leica 25mm f/1.4 has great qualities, but it’s not wide or telephoto, it’s minimum distance is difficult to work with, and it’s noticeably larger than the 14mm.

So I pulled out my camera, a tripod and a Dreadball rat to take some photos! I also took photos with my phone, of the setup so we could get a sense of how far away tournament armies can be for focusing. I set the camera as close as possible to the model, so these are the minimum focus distances.

Olympus 35mm f/3.5 Macro

This one is fun. I think this one could have gone closer, but there’s not usually any reason to in my photography.

This photo also had a 25 second exposure time at f/22 – be sure to use a tripod! (although I also hadn’t set up my studio lights, which usually help out a lot).

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Mold lines!! >.<

Leica Summilux 25mm f/1.4

The stated minimum focus distance of this lens is 12″, which is not nearly close enough. So even though the lens has pretty good telephoto compared to the 14mm (in a moment), and it’s excellent for taking photos indoors, it’s not good for these purposes.

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Rat is to far away.

At home I set my camera to f/22 for a few reasons – I don’t need to blur the background, lenses tend to have better image quality well above their minimum aperture, and when I take photos of armies or crews I need some extra depth of field to get it all in.

But one interesting thing is that because it increases the depth of field, I can focus about 5″ behind the rat and still have the model in focus. Not a thing that I can do at conventions, because it also means that I need to bring the shutter speed way down to compensate. Still neat. 🙂

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I probably needed to pull the camera back another inch.

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Here’s a photo of the camera LCD – it was that blurry when I took the photo above.

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Lumix 14mm f/2.5

This is the one I use these days around conventions. I did the trick above for this first photo – again, not possible while walking around.

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And finally, here’s a photo that might actually be taken.  It’s at the minimum distance, so I can set the aperture appropriately for indoor settings, and the shutter speed for hand-held shots, and this is the kind of photo I’ll get.

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It’s a lot “closer” than in the 25mm lens, which is good for individual models. And because it’s a wide 14mm, I can back up and fit an army into the frame.

So what now?

So now that I’ve taken all of these photos, the question goes back to – is the 20mm a good buy?

The 20mm would bring that last photo closer, which would allow more detailed photos of individual models. But it would also make it harder to take photos of entire armies. I feel like some of my photos of individual models aren’t great, and that the details get lost in the background.

The f/1.7 would give more speed for taking indoor photos, which is just a win. Also it would allow for better bokeh, bringing the focal point forward more.

Apparently the auto-focus on the 20mm is a little slow and it costs $300. But I could still carry the 14mm around if the 20mm doesn’t work for armies, since the 14mm is pretty small.

OFCC 2014 – Photography

One more bonus post before I get back to painting stuff.

This photography setup was in the corner of the gaming room. A lot of lights and tripods and hangers and not shown is a very sturdy tripod with a camera on it.

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Wyrd Summer Painting Contest – Photography

Since I have an interest in miniature photography as well, I’ve got one last post here on how it all came together after the painting was done. Here’s two photos for reference.

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Setup

Getting this all set up was a bit of an ordeal!

First, I was glad the kitchen table had been cleared – I was playing a 3-player game of Malifaux with some friends that afternoon, so I didn’t have to move our crap from it!

The backdrop I’d previously purchased to take photos of my Daemon army (and, obviously, for future things like this!). When I unraveled it and put it on the table though, it was to far away – I’d previously measured that I wanted my diorama to be about 7 inches from the lens. So I grabbed an end-table, cleared the stuff off of it and rested it on the kitchen table to provide some support for the backdrop. Initially I put two glass cups on top, but after thinking about the consequences of glass falling, should I bump the setup, I found some metal and plastic cups instead to hold it up. (what I’m getting at here, with the end table and cups — you find ways to make it work!).

I had some brown material sitting around for another project, and put that on the bottom to provide “dirt”. The goal was that the backdrop would be sky, and the diorama wouldn’t look out of place on a dirt brown floor.

Then my standard 2-light setup, with my tripod. I had to bring over a third light – my painting light from my desk – because I was getting shadows I didn’t want. Because of the heat we’ve had the shutters closed and I didn’t want to open them, and didn’t have enough ambient light from living room light fixtures to solve the shadow problem.

Then, put the diorama on the backdrop.

 

Photography

Because I had an idea of what settings I wanted to use (in fact, the camera was still on those settings), I knew where to start. I had to remember to set the ISO back down to 200 because I wasn’t taking super grainy test photos anymore.

I took a variety of photos. I adjusted the aperture up and down, and the focus up and down, in order to ensure that I had the photo I wanted. Once I was done taking photos, I didn’t want to have to go back and re-take any, so I wanted to try to get as many as I could. I moved the model around as well, in order to get different angles that didn’t have my living room in the background.

 

Editing

Here’s a picture of the final image again, just to help remind you.

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When you take a ton of photos, you then have to go through and delete a ton of photos. I only wanted to submit between 3 and 5, but I’d taken 30. I loaded them all up in Lightroom, and started deleting. Some of them were super easy – focus was all wrong, lighting was all wrong. Some of them were harder – do I have enough photos that have the Gunsmith in focus? This photo is dramatic, but this other photo shows more of the diorama. And similar to making a resume, or a Magic the Gathering deck, anything you put in that isn’t perfect is just making the whole thing worse.

I got it down to 7 good photos and moved on.

Lightroom has a host of great editing features that I use regularly. I adjusted the white balance on every photo – usually I do this physically with a white card and the camera setting, but I had forgotten. >.< I also click “Auto” for the brightness, contrast, whites, blacks, highlights and shadows section. Auto isn’t perfect every time, but it’s a good baseline. I find sometimes it will adjust my photo to an extreme, so I have to pull it back a bit – most often in the Whites or Brightness.

I also use Lightroom to crop. All my photos are taken 4:3, but sometimes a different ratio works better, and sometimes I need to crop to get a better photo. As well, because my lens (grrrr) has a couple spots on it, I need to use the spot remover in places.

You’ll notice there are only 5 photos in the final image, and during this process I realized that two photos were unnecessary – either not good enough, or showing something I’d already shown. Deleted! Do not be afraid to delete! You’re only making your project better.

I saved all of the photos as JPGs…and then moved onto the step I don’t usually do. I opened each photo up in Paint.NET…and smudged the lines on Killjoys side. I don’t feel bad that I did this – it’s all a part of submitting the best photo you can. At the same time, that line bothers me and I wish I could slow down enough to make it go away on future models!

The very last step was to create a brand new image that was 800 pixels wide, and as tall as the combination of all of the images. The contest rules required that photos be no more than 800 wide, but that you could use as much height as you wanted to show additional angles. I copy and pasted each image into this new one, leaving a 2 pixel white separation between each image to help set them apart.

The contest rules also stated that images must be less than 300kb, so when I saved it I set the JPG quality settings such that the final image was 294kb. It’s good that I got rid of those 2 extra photos, otherwise I’d have had to sacrifice more quality! This was something I hadn’t accounted for, so I’m glad it worked out by accident!

 

And that’s the end! I’m writing this on July 15th – I was told not to publish any photos or articles before the voting was done on July 27th, so I’ve scheduled all of the last posts. As I write, I have no idea what’s going to happen! Excitement!

Photography Update!

I’ve been steadily changing and upgrading my photography setup whenever I can. There are some inexpensive things you can change, and some expensive things you can change. Here’s a few things I’ve changed since my last update.

 

Getting Rid of the Soft Box

The soft box is great, but it’s limiting. I wanted to be able to take photos of more models and it wasn’t big enough to take a picture of more than 1-3 models, and almost certainly not a unit without getting cramped.

I kind of hacked together a diffuser for each lamp. I bought some white cotton, a knitting hoop and some bendable metal rods. I put the cotton inside the hoop, and used the rods to place this directly in front of each lamp. In this way, the lamps are now much more portable.

This was an inexpensive fix, but it required some ingenuity.

 

Making Use of the Space

Now that my lamps are portable, I had a bit more space, but not by much. I had printed out a gradient image on a piece of 8.5×11 paper, so my photos are still limited to whatever can fit on this paper.

So next, I had printed out a gradient on a 3 foot square. This is huge and unwieldy, but now I can fit an entire army on the paper. Now to determine what I can’t fit on this…

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Perfect.

 

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Uhh…who do you think you’re fooling?

This piece cost me about $70 to get printed. It’s made of a strange paper material that isn’t cardboard, but is still thicker than most other paper I’ve felt.

 

And then…

Then I bought a new camera. >.>

It’s a Lumix GX7, one of the best of the latest round of mirrorless cameras. It has a ton of features I could write about, but you can look it up if you care.

Something about this latest round of photos has a feeling to them that I can’t explain. I have to blame the camera.

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This photo knocks my socks off. The paint job is nice, the photo is amazing!

(I bought it for a lot of reasons, not just miniature photography :))

Walking around.

It’s one thing to take photos in my own apartment, with all my stuff. It’s quite another to go to a convention and try to take photos of beautiful models folks have.

My favourite lens, the Panasonic/Leica 25mm, has a terrible focus distance. Even though it’s a tighter lens than most, I can’t get closer than about a metre to the object before it can’t focus anymore. So even though the photo is beautiful, the model is tiny inside it!

My normal lens I use for models is the Olympus 30mm macro with a 4/3->m4/3 adapter. This is miserable for walking around because it takes about 2 seconds to focus – longer than I have time for in a lot of cases. I could manually focus, but it also has a minimum aperture of f/3.5, so indoors or at night I’d have to push up my ISO to get reasonably bright photos (without a tripod, since I’m walking). At that point, noise is introduced and we’re back to not great.

At AdeptiCon, I only used my 14mm f/2.5 m4/3 lens. It’s a wide angle, but the focus distance is quite nice for models and it’s bright enough to take photos all day. In a perfect world I’d have preferred something with a longer focal length so I could get tighter photos, but the fact that the lens is only about an inch long is the final reason why this lens is great for this use – the camera fits in a pocket (or my leather satchel :)).

 

The only significant downside, is that you really have to watch your depth of field. At f/2.5, the depth is pretty small. Ok for a model, not ok for an army. I saw a photographer walking around AdeptiCon with an external flash, and I’m thinking about that now. Add a bit more light, and you can push up the aperture more and still get nice bright photos!

Miniature Photography Setup

I haven’t updated recently on what my miniature photography setup looks like. It’s changed a lot since I first started, and will continue to change!

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A flat, empty surface.

I’m glad that my kitchen table has been cleaned, and has stayed clean for a while now. Previously I had to move books or other things around to find the space to set my stuff up. The more effort you need to put into doing something, the less likely that you’ll do it.

An ok camera.

My camera is a Panasonic GF3. I bought this one because it was small, and had the ability to use interchangeable lenses. Intermediate features on your camera allow you the control to make things look the way you want them to. A point and shoot gives you no control and the camera will tell you what your photo will look like. Sometimes that works out! Sometimes it’s frustrating. That’s why I started using the phone camera for Work-In-Progress photos, because I gave up the need to have control over all of my photos for the sake of get ‘er dun.

A lens that can get in there.

The macro lens for my camera system is about $1200. I don’t use that one. I bought an inexpensive adapter to another camera system ($80), and an inexpensive ($230) macro lens in that system. The focus time is really bad, but I’m tending to manual focus these days anyway. Not like the model is going anywhere. The macro lens is nice because you can get really close to your model. Some other lenses may have a focus distance that works for you, but most of mine need to be at least half a meter away from my model. That’s to far away to get good detail! I’ve always wanted to take photos that are right in your face, big, with the detail easy to see. Sometimes I get to much detail…but I think it’s worth it.

A tripod.

This is one of the more important things you should get. You can use a dinky little Gorilla Pod (or a really awesome big one!) or a nice expensive tripod, but you need to have one if you’re controlling everything else! If you can’t control how much your camera moves, your photos won’t turn out as well, particularly when you start setting the shutter speed lower, in order to get brighter photos. There is no reason to hand-hold your camera!

I have a 3-legged tripod I got from my mom, and I have a couple medium sized Gorilla Pods depending on where I’m shooting. I tend to use the tripod now, just because I have the space setup such that I can.

A couple of cheap lights.

I bought 3 desk lights from Canadian Tire. The important part is to make sure that the bulbs you use are the same temperature. This is easy to do if you buy all your lights at the same time! If you have to replace a bulb though, check the side of the packaging or the bulb itself for a number that looks like 3000K or 5000K. Bigger is a cooler colour, smaller is a warmer colour, but if you’re using your cameras White Balance properly, it shouldn’t matter.

Some backgrounds.

I used a pair of grey jeans for my Astronomi-con booklet photos. I found a white-to-blue gradient photo on the internet. I opened it up in Paint.NET, resized it big enough to print and then had Staples print me out a few copies of each. You can see this in the photo above – one sheet is good for a single model. I tried to cut a second up, but I’ll get shadows where the two meet. I try to use this in my photo editing software, but it isn’t great at times. This is definitely an area I want to improve on! More interesting backgrounds (terrain) and bigger backdrops will let me take photos of bigger armies!

A light box/soft box.

Lights are harsh. You can compare the photos I take with my phone camera to those I take in the soft box. The light is dramatically uneven on the camera phone, with strange shadows appearing in places. For these, I’m just pulling my painting light down and taking a photo. The soft box scatters the light, removing the harsh shadows and glare. This is another area I want to improve. I want to get some frames with the mesh in them, so that I can place my lights behind them, and adjust their position rather than being forced to put everything in the box.

Taking photos of bigger armies is my next goal!

Bad photography

Randomly I’m working on my photography setup for the finale posts. I learned a lot from the Adepticon photography class and want to put it to good use.

Unfortunately, things seem to be getting in my way. I get a gradient blue background printed, but it isn’t big enough so I have to get another printing done the next day. My lights aren’t bright enough. I find new lights around the house, but one of them doesn’t work in my lamp. Go buy some more.

And then, the final straw for this attempt…

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Melty! My old lights were CFLs, but I wanted bright, so I bought some 100W incandescent. This is what happens when heat meets crappy plastic. And woooah did it stink. So now I’m thinking I need to pick up another desk lamp…or two (the three I have already are either broken, or are hard light bulbs to find).

Adepticon 2013 – Day 4 – Photography

Sharply after my day of Blood Bowl, I had a photography class to go to. This was one of the things I was most excited about! My photography reading and research has not been specifically about the topic of taking pictures of models. You read about macro, and they’re talking about bugs and other small things usually. And miniature bloggers don’t write much about their photography. Probably because, rightly so, they believe that their readers are there to read about models, rather than the finer points of focal lengths and depth of field!

At the end, this class wasn’t 2 hours of learning for me, simply because I have done so much research on my own. However, it had more than enough information that I didn’t have already, to make it a terrific class.

The class was held on the 13th floor of the hotel, in another hotel room converted into a gaming room. It had rows of desks with hobby lamps on them, and the previous class had left little piles of green stuff all over the place (man, I wish I’d been able to take that class…)

Here’s a summary of the things I took out of this class, that I didn’t know before:

White Balance
The white balance is apparently the most important thing to correct for. This makes sense, as without proper white balance, your colours will come out an entirely different shade or temperature (cool colours, warm colours) than the “actual model”. But even the words “actual model” are some what strange. I paint and mix and glaze under a florescent “daylight” light, which means that when my models are under another light, they aren’t the same colour I painted on!

You have to make sure that all of the lights you are using are the same temperature, otherwise you can’t possibly white balance. Some of the model will be lit by a warm light, some by a cool light, and there is no balance that can correct for that.

You should use a white card to set your camera’s definition of “white” before you start taking photos. This can be easily done with most prosumer cameras. (including mine) Look for “custom white balance”.

Softbox
He showed us how to make a simple softbox, using some frames, some vellum, and a few Home Depot lights. I have a white box already, but he added a simple white piece of paper in the front of it. This is used to bounce light up from the bottom of the box, which can fill in shadows from underneath the model. It was subtle when he showed us, but still noticeable if you looked. You can use a front light if you want, but you have to use the vellum (or other) to diffuse the light. Otherwise the light looks sharp and harsh on the model.

He used a gradient backdrop to create a simple background that didn’t draw the viewers attention away from the model. You can buy these, our just get one printed out. Most are a blue gradient to white.

I’ll save the step-by-step on creating a softbox, but if you’re interested please ask.

Setup
The human eye has vision equivalent to a 50mm lens (35mm equiv), which means that is the focal length you should shoot at. Don’t use the zoom to bring the model closer or further away, move your camera.

He doesn’t use RAW. Tends to think that it is a lot of memory, and that JPG is good enough since we’re mostly only making photos for display on the internet, rather than a magazine.

Shoot from above or at level with the model, never from below. From below is a horrible angle (insert sidebar about never shooting portrait photos from below). Ideally focus on the face. This follows the advice from my Masterclass painting to highlight the face more than the rest, since that’s where the viewers attention will be at.

Lastly, the best advice of the night: “if your subject isn’t moving, use a tripod”.

Sorry there are no photos in this photography post, we didn’t actually take any!

Macro lenses

Those who have been paying attention for a year or more will have noticed that I’ve tried just about every technique for doing macro photography that didn’t involve actually buying a macro lens. The only macro lens for my camera system is the Panasonic Leica 45mm, a lens that I’m sure is absolutely lovely if not for the heavy $1200 price tag on it. I’m really enjoying miniature photography, but I’m not enjoying it to the tune of that price!

The first plan was reversing the lens. There are reversal adapters you can buy, but this was such a shitty solution that it didn’t merit any more thought. Next I bought an extension tube, a $20 investment that did ok, but my selection of lenses at the time didn’t have enough range – just about every photo had the subject almost touching the lens. Lastly I picked up the Panasonic 100-300m. Combined with the extension tubes, this did a decent job. I had to hold the massive lens+adapter rig, and I still didn’t have auto-focus or aperture control, but it produced acceptable photos.

I was reading a photography blog and after a conversation with the author, it turns out that if you use an adapter, all Four Thirds lenses are compatible with my Micro Four Thirds camera, with electronic control and everything. The downside is that autofocus was “very slow”, whatever that meant. With this information, now I had a whole new system of lenses that I could look at!

I ended up Craigslisting an Olympus MMF-2 adapter for $80, and picked up the much more reasonably priced Olympus 35mm macro for 43 (only $230!) and now, finally, I have a fully functioning macro photography system.

It’s a little slow on the focus though. Thankfully, miniatures don’t move around so I can afford to wait. I played with it tonight a bit, and it’s wonderful to use! Set apertures for depth of field, pin-point exactly where I want the auto-focus to sharpen, and my tripod can hold the entire rig up! Now I need more lights…and a good place to put them.

I’ll have some photos to share sometime this weekend, but for now…sleep!