Taking scale model photos

I take photos of real aircraft to support my scale model projects (as reference material). Once a model project is completed, I usually take pictures of the model and produce a Web page that describes the model, its construction, etc. Some people have asked me how do I take those model pictures, and how do I edit them afterwards. This blog post is my answer.

Here are some examples of my recent models:

I used to use a DSLR for the photos, but lately I have used my iPhone 12 Pro. Cell phone cameras have improved tremendously, and I find that having the phone close by is also convenient when I want to take work-in-progress photos while building. To take pictures of finished models, I use a simple photo booth, constructed from the LED lights of a photo booth I bought (approx. $20, but it was too small) and a plastic storage box; the background is just a large white sheet of paper taped to the top of the inside of the box so that it “drapes down” nicely. I bought a special grip for the phone, and it is attached to my tripod. The grip came with a remote trigger that connects to the phone via Bluetooth. All in all, I paid less than $50 for the setup (save the tripod of course).

I have chosen one of the pictures of a recent Messerschmitt Bf 109E model to demonstrate the simple steps I take when editing. By the way, the models are really small, as demonstrated by the photo below; that is a normal-size soda can.

I am not going to discuss how the photos move from the phone to my computer, but once there, I import them into Adobe Lightroom Classic (software I use for editing all my photos). In short, the steps to edit a photo consist of first roughly adjusting the exposure of the subject (I ignore the background at this point), then masking the subject off so that I can over-expose the background, making final adjustments to the exposure, and cropping. Here goes:

1. Original image. Not bad, but can benefit from some editing.
2. Minor adjustments to how the subject is exposed.
3. Subject masked.

For masking I used the special feature in Lightroom that automatically identifies what the subject is, but it often requires small adjustments afterwards (this can be done, for example, with the mask brush).

4. Mask “inverted”. Now I can adjust the background only.
5. Background overexposed.
6. Slight additional adjustments to the model itself, plus final cropping.

The phone produces 3:4 aspect ratio pictures, but I like 2:3 like the ones my DSLR produces.

7. The final photo.

Some folks have commented that my photos look over-exposed. I think that is a fair comment, but I feel that it is also a matter of taste. I intended the background to be over-exposed, to bring out the actual model.

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