Picture Taking and Image Preparation Hints

Below are a few "rules of thumb" that you can use to help take some great pictures to show off your favourite models for publication on the web or to send via E-mail.

Note, I have written another article HERE for taking reference pictures of original subjects you may wish to replicate.....


Use the best quality digital or film camera available to you. Those cheap "Instamatic" style or cellphone cameras are just not suitable for taking pictures of models, as they can't get in close enough, or have enough control over the camera's settings.  An SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera (such as the Canon Rebel series) is recommended, if you have one. Digital cameras that are adequate for this kind of work usually cost upwards of a few hundred dollars,  but the quality of digital cameras are going up and prices are coming down dramatically.  I started off using a film camera (Canon Rebel 35mm), then switched to a Nikon Coolpix 990 digital camera and now I use a Canon Digital SLR for most of my own newer work as shown on this site. The better quality Digital cameras are now equal to or superior superior to film and are easier to operate, plus of course there's no processing or wasted film. You can experiment and see immediate results.

Best to use natural outdoor lighting or strategic "studio" lighting rather than the camera's flash-bulb. Flash pictures usually look awful or amateurish. If you have a very brightly lit shop using daylight type fluorescent tubes, that can do a nice job as well, but you do need a bright environment for any good photography.

Use a neutral background. Keep background clutter to a minimum. You want to show off the model, not it's surroundings. Dioramas which are part of the model display are, of course, an exception.

Frame the picture well. Try to fill the scene with the model rather than background.  Try to get the model to fill as much of the frame as possible without any of the model falling out of frame. Also, for a model with direction, such as an airplane or car... something that is known to travel, leave a little bit more room in front of the vehicle than behind it to impart a sense of room ahead of it's forward motion.

For emailing or web publication, save the final digital or scanned picture as a Jpeg image (.jpg file extention) at least 640 pixels wide, not a bitmap (.bmp file extention). If the picture is to be manipulated, always do so at the highest resolution, then scale it down  to appropriate size after the image editing has been completed.

Hint: NEVER work using the original digital image, work on a copy instead, in case you make a mistake.

Also remember that it takes time to do a good job when photographing models. Be patient and set up your surroundings carefully and deliberately. Most casual pictures taken at a whim don't look very good.


Try to keep the model evenly lit (unless you're trying for something particularly dramatic) without using a flashbulb. Flash photography always looks terrible unless you are taking pictures for documentation of colour schemes rather than showing off the beauty of the model. Use lighting that shows off all parts of the model evenly. When using outdoor lighting on bright sunny days, use white cards positioned just out of frame to bounce light into dark areas. Slightly overcast days (without being too dark) can produce very good results when taking pictures outdoors, as the light is automatically well balanced and not too intense.

Here is a typical indoor setup that I use to photograph models if I want dramatic lighting. The lights are common halogen work lights, available at most hardware stores. Keep them well back from the model at least six feet, to avoid hot spots and also to avoid melting the model from the lamp's high heat! The background is usually a bolt of black velvet rolled up onto a bar and unfurled when I need it.  It's always best to have the background curve down to become the table which the model is placed on, as this avoids an unsightly "hard edge" behind the model.


Experiment with various lighting setups that suit your needs, or just plain "looks cool".

In most cases when I want to make the model look realistic as if it were flying in space, light #2 is usually placed behind and to one side of the model, and is sometimes the most intense. The first light is used as "fill" to keep the overall picture from being too dark, and is usually a lower wattage light or placed much further away from the model. Click here to see a photo which shows this particular setup's effect (This model of a 23" Eagle was actually photographed upside down to eliminate the need for a mounting rig or hanging the model with wires!).

Sometimes only one light is needed with no fill necessary. Here is the same model shot using only the key light, placed off to the right side.
Click HERE to see a simple special effects diorama style shot.

If you're not going for anything particularly dramatic or realistic, but simply want to show off the model, the background can be made from a single large sheet of white paper or better yet, one of those retractable sheet type vinyl window blinds, which I use often.  Click here to see such an example. Never use  wrinkled cloth or anything with a pattern on it. Solid colours only. The lighting shown in the diagram above was not used in the last example, but was instead lit by the installed fluorescent ceiling light fixtures in my shop above the table.

Using the Camera

Digital Camera
Film Camera
For cheaper cameras, use the highest quality setting the digital camera will allow. You can compress the image later. With high end cameras (those that cost $500 or more) you can use a lower quality setting with good results. If possible, try to keep the camera's iris to a high F-stop setting (small iris) while flooding the model with as much light as possible. This will help to keep the model entirely in focus. You may need to experiment with various camera settings. Sometimes you will need to use a time exposure (slow shutter speed) and in this case, a tripod is mandatory, and a remote shutter or self-timer is desired so that the camera doesn't jiggle when taking he shot.
Use the highest F-stop setting (small iris) the camera will allow while flooding the model with as much light as possible. This will help to keep the whole model in focus. Use a tripod to keep the camera rock-steady while taking the picture. If you have an SLR camera, this procedure should be easy. High speed film (400 or higher) is recommended, but you will still need to use an exposure time that requires the use of a rigidly mounrted camera. 

Image Composition

Keep the model (or part of the model you wish to show off) in the centre of the frame, and occupying as much of the entire frame as the camera will allow. Be very conscious of the position of the model in the frame. A tiny model in the corner of the frame with a lot of background is not terribly interesting! Also, unless you are showing off a specific part or detail of the model, do not allow any part of the model to be "cut off' or left out of the frame.

When choosing a background, make sure it is either pure black, pure white white or sometimes you can use grey, whichever background is in contrast to the model. For example, if the model is very light, use a black background. If the model is very dark, you may wish to use a white background. If the model is neutral, use either one, but don't use grey or the model will blend into the background too much and will not stand out.  Experiment to see which looks best, and have a look at the pictures in the "Gallery" section of this web site if you wish, as a guide. Note the many different ways a model can be shot. Resist using a coloured background though, unless it's for a very specific reason, as a coloured background detracts from the model's own colour scheme. Remember, it's the model we want people to notice, not the surroundings.

Image Preparation

Scanning from a film print:
Always scan your photographic print at a resolution higher than you think you'll need. A 4x6 print should be scanned at a t least 300 DPI or greater. You will then re-size the picture in your image editing software. Never re-size a small image to make it bigger, always take an image that's bigger than you need and resize it down after the image has been edited.  Scanning the image larger than you need also leaves room for you to crop the image, eliminating some of that unwanted background!

Digital Prep and Editing:
Take your scanned/digital image and resize it to an 800 pixel wide image or so (if you will be emailing it or posting it on the internet) and save it as a medium quality JPG file. Never send a BMP image through Email, as the file is not compressed, resulting in an unnecessarily large file which may clog some email servers. Always save the image as a compressed JPG file. Your 800 pixel wide JPG image should never be much bigger than about 150 Kilobytes (K) or so. 50 - 70K or so is better. If you want to, you can keep the picture larger, such as 1,200 pixels wide if you really want to show something off or allow people to have images which they can use as wallpaper or have printed off. Remember that the bigger the file size, the more internet bandwidth you'll use.

When editing your pictures, save them in a "non-lossy" format. Photoshop, for example, uses the PSD format for continual saves as you work. Then it can be saved as a Jpeg when you are finished. If you save the image as a Jpeg multiple times, the compression will degrade the image (lossy) a bit more with each time you save it.

Although there are many good quality image editing software programs available, the use of Adobe Photoshop as a digital image preparation tool is highly recommended to make your images the best they can be for publication on the web. However, if you do not have Photoshop there are also now many online photo editing tools that you can use for free!

One of them, called "Pixlr" (www.pixlr.com) is strikingly similar to Photoshop and has most of the same tools. It's totally free to use online ! Try it out!

Pixlr Photo Editor

Click here to return to the main web page.

Best viewed with Netscape Navigator 3.0 or higher, at a resolution of 800 x 600 or higher.