Taking an Inner Trip, with Scale Photography
Inner Trip is about a journey to my inner self. These kinds of images appear in my dreams, repeatedly enough to take them out and bring them to “reality.” That’s my way of auto-analysis and sharing my world with others. Nothing extraordinary but the extraordinary power that represents bringing your dreams to life.
Light painting is the technique that I used for the shot; a long exposure shot (1 minute) and a small LED lantern to paint the scene with light. Working with scale models gives me lots of flexibility for creation. I can build and customize the models as I want, then I take them into the studio and with a mix of on-camera effects, building small dioramas and digital art, the ideas and dreams come to live. You don’t need tons of gear to tell powerful stories. In this case I just needed a camera, a tripod, a small led flashlight and yes, some imagination.
Editor’s note: In this post, we’ll deconstruct a single image to get inside the mind and process of the photographer who created it. Photographers — interested in sharing one of your images in a format like this? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For me photography is not about portraying what exists there, but portraying what exists in me.
I remember, since I was a kid I used to spend hours alone in my room playing with my toys. I also remember that the best part was creating for them an environment and “weathering” them to match the scene in my head… Now that I’m a “grownup” I realize that I never stopped playing and that the only difference is that now I have a camera in my hands. Photography and digital art just gave me the possibility to bring alive those scenes that since I was little I had inside my mind.
Toy photography is not so different from other kinds of photography, but it has its own particularities, most of all because the scale. There are some subjects that must be taken into consideration and here they are:
Scale is one of the most important elements. If what you want is to give the sense of “realism” to your scaled models (toys) you will need in many case to get close with your camera. You could think that taking a Macro lens would do the job, but the problem with Macro lenses is that they have a shallow depth of field, meaning that you will only have focus in a small area of your subject and the rest of your subject and scene would be out of focus. That would be a downfall for our purpose in making them look “real,” because of the way our brain has been taught to see the things in our human scale.
So one solution for using a Macro lens and achieve focus in all of our subject is to use the technique of “focus stacking.”
Focus Stacking means to take different shots of your subject, focusing from the very first plane (the closer part of the subject towards your lens) to the farther plane of your subject and in between. At the end you will have “X” amount of individual shots of all the planes of your subject in focus. Individual images you will process in software like Photoshop to get a final image with all it’s planes in focus.
Some important notes for scale:
• Focus stacking on camera can be done with any king of lens, no necessarily has to be a Macro lens.
• When your scene is wide enough a Macro lens won’t help. Use a wide angle lens.
• I normally use a 24–105mm lens. The focal length will depend of your scene and composition.
- You don’t have to do focus stacking if your models (toys) are big enough and you are using a f.stop between f.11 and f.32.
I shoot my models at studio with studio flashes. It could be similar to shooting a product, but again, if you want to give the sense of realism you have to think in the scale. Is not the same shooting a real human model with an “octabox” than to shoot a “scaled model” with the same “octabox”… The quality of the light would be softer due is a huge modifier for a scaled model. So all the basics of lighting in studio will apply, but take them to a smaller scale.
I normally shoot with a beauty dish and/or a snoot for the models and two more lights for the background if I want it to be pure white. Or you can forget about studio lights and just go with a small led flashlight and do Light painting. (Long Exposure Photography).
I love photo manipulation and digital art… but what is really cool, is to do all you can in-camera. It is not only fun, it also gives the image a more realistic look.
So if your model is in the snow, use your imagination and create a snow scene… I use wheat flour to do snow and I use corn flour to do deserts. If I want to add some atmosphere I use smoke from a cigarette (you don’t have to smoke, but I have found that is the best way to control small amounts of smoke and put them where you want). or spray water for a rainy day… If want to make droplets I use corn syrup or if I want to freeze something I use butane gas (Be aware, butane gas is strongly flammable so don’t make smoke with a cigarette at the same time.)
The possibilities are endless and there is no recipe, only use your imagination and try different things. Most of the things you will need are at home or at the corner of your superstore. Be creative.
Post will give the final “punch” to your image. In post you can insert images as your background, elements that complement your story telling, effects that could be complex to do in camera, adding sense of motion, color grading for adding the “mood”, etc… All of these tasks are done in Photoshop.
At the end, scale model photography is just a mix of playing and technical photography aspects. The technical side can be learn and it’s “easy” but the “hardest” part lies in our minds and in our hearts, and that is staying childish, foolish, dreamy… Learn how to play again. If you have forgotten how to… just grab some memories from when you were one!