I started writing this weeks waffle just as my adopted country was rudely awakened to the harsh reality that COVID-19 has, like some B-movie monster, been lurking behind the closet door, under the bed, just outside the airlock patiently waiting. . .
"They're here. . ."
So I'm once again (and, I suspect, just like you), a tad preoccupied, distracted and otherwise not totally on the ball (was I ever?) A lame excuse for a part formed post but here we go.
"For Pete’s sake!" Reviews and their self-image issues
We all like the idea of writing a review and many of us regularly contribute to forums and model sites. But while actual long form writing can be daunting at first, holding forth at length about something we know about is actually not that difficult. And as long as we stay on task, don’t ramble off on pointless tangents about the history of the real thing, and include some well formed objective opinion, our writing can be rather interesting.
That’s the straightforward bit, but what about the images that support the review?
Here’s the thing. When we start to write, the spectre of taking good images to support our insightful (I nicked that from a HiFi reviewer, everything in HiFi world is 'insightful') opinion often creates a bit of stress.
It’s extra work and the fear of being taken to task for 'iffy' images often means that we end up with too many words to compensate for a dearth of pictures.
Things need to change people.
But, I hear you say, it all takes time and effort to set up lights and cameras and, and. . . and it doesn’t have to be this difficult! There is a solution that reflects the amount of effort expended in writing the wordy stuff and satisfies our readers need for eye candy too. . . It’s a smart phone and natural light.
"Are you seriously saying taking some quick images with a smart phone is the answer?" I can already hear folks saying, Quickly followed by, “But it’s not real photography, your semi-mythical 'soon to be published' book and this blog say it’s all about keeping it real isn’t it?" "And anyway, smart phones are limited and lack true control?". Well, sort of, yes, but what we really need here are clear, relatively close detail shots (not close up) to illustrate our points about sharp panel lines or soft detail. Smart phones are really quite good at this, their auto settings are designed for just this type of thing.
1/48 Hasegawa Mitsubishi F1M2 Type Zero Model 11
I’ve just about finished building Hasegawa’s 48th scale F1M2 Pete. A lovely kit which I’m told by others far better placed in the field of Japanese aircraft models than me, is one of the best.
This post isn't so much about how to write the words of a review (pick a good writer online and copy their style, it's not really cheating) will hopefully lead into an ongoing series of mini-tutorials on how to document an out of the box build with the minimum of fuss and effort. And all with a trusty old iPhone SE, no fancy studio pro lighting rig, just cheap as chips clean white paper, two egg cups and some careful use of available light.
Egg cups?. . . Eh?
"I'm a bit whelmed to be honest"
You’ve seen a myriad of reviews which slavishly show you the sprues in all their inane conventional mid greyness. Why, what’s the point, who looks at these? Are they seriously excited by this sort of thing? Ok so that's me being facetious and yes there may be a purpose to this conventional documentation approach but frankly, its a bit old hat old chap.
It’s much better to capture relevant detail which supports a well written review text. But how do we do this without the obligatory light tent/cube, or scoop table and light units with daylight rated bulbs and the attendant time and effort needed to fiddle around with setting up. After all it’s just a few bits of raw plastic isn’t it?
Step 1: kill the lights and lose those shadows!
We don’t need a light tent or half a dozen balanced lights for this. In fact the close crop shot below was taken in my kitchen on a sheet of white art card.
Raising the sprue off the surface and balancing it on a couple of egg cups was enough to lose the pesky shadows beneath the main sprue. No extra lighting other than daylight from a north facing window was used. But the details still suffer from high contrast and are soft and trying to get everything in means the detail is too far away to be of any real value to us.
Actually, there's no real need to bore the viewer with tedious pics of sprue A, B, C, . . . G. Pick a few details and tell a story with them.
The solution is either to get the camera closer or 'crop' the shot in an editing app.
Here’s the result using the old iPhone SE. Despite getting on a bit, it still does a rather good close shot: the light was indirect and oblique to the subject so all the lovely detail is thrown into relief.
As we can see, the image of the cockpit side wall is more than good enough for the purpose of illustrating what is on the sprue and its raw styrene quality. The shot is around 4 times life size. There is no digital editing or additional light involved. Oh and it’s hand held too. Not bad huh and only five minutes work. Yes there is a bit of basic camera technique involved in getting a decent hand held shot and we'll maybe come back to this in a later article but it's not really that hard, just steady breathing and a firm position to steady the phone against. We could even use a mini tripod and the timer function to improve the sharpness.
Step 2: ‘While you’re at it, bounce some light in there!’
The basic raised shadow removal technique demonstrated above is fine for what are essentially two dimensional components, but what about when we start to assemble them into a three dimensional shapes?
We can still use the basic white paper and mobile camera approach but its looking a bit dull in this shot. To deal with shadows, we can introduce a little bit of reflected light by using some tinfoil or white card. Scrunch up the tinfoil and then unfold to create a reflector that won't produce specular highlights.
With the subject set up we can move the card around to 'bounce' light into the shadow areas and illuminate the detail while keeping some shadow to anchor the object to the paper.
Thanks for looking in and happy model photography.
PS: Wherever you are in this slightly unhinged, unpredictable, unsafe world, stay safe, be kind but don't suffer fools and go well. Kia kaha.