Making Your Miniature Photos More Professional
When I first started in miniatures I admit I got lazy and would simply post any and everything to social media I did using my iPhone.
Don’t get me wrong, iPhone cameras are pretty amazing. However, I am a professional photographer. I haven’t shot professionally (for paid gigs) in about six years except for the occasional friend’s kid graduating or my niece and nephew.
I still have all of my gear and knowledge. And, I knew that miniature photography could be a lot of fun if I allowed myself to have it.
How To Make Miniatures Look Amazing With Little Photography Knowledge
Shooting miniatures don’t have to take a lot of money or skills. If you’re like me, your dollhouse isn’t complete. Shooting the things you build whether for sale or for display in your house makes it a little harder.
Let’s talk about three ways you can stand out with your miniature photography and up your game!
Three Ways to Stand Out With Mini Photography
Lighting Is Key
I don’t care what you say, what kind of camera you have, or what editing software you may use, lighting is and will always be the key to making your miniature photos look great.
This image was shot with my Canon 5d Mark III but you could achieve this with any camera, including your iPhone. I got down on the level of my object to shoot straight on. I used natural light and positioned this so my window was almost directly in front of my subject. I did use a stock image for the back from Creative Market* and a floor printable from Jessica Cloe on Etsy. P.S. I photoshopped the artwork on the wall and the lights on the tree. If you have that knowledge it’s a great way to make things look even more professional.
Now, do you need professional lighting to photograph your miniatures? No, not at all. It doesn’t hurt. But there are plenty of ways to find great light to make your minis stand out among the crowd.
Find a window. Yeah, it’s that easy. Or, even better, get under some type of overhang. For instance, my back porch is open but has a roof covering. So I can get out of the direct sunlight, yet still have the beautiful natural daylight to help light up my images that comes in at all sides.
If you can’t use an overhang or get outdoors for your photography, but can get near a window, purchase a few pieces of foam core board to help bounce light. Even if you don’t use any fancy cameras, this is the one thing I cannot recommend enough to anyone trying to get better photos of their miniatures.
Start by placing the miniature subjects near the window – though not directly up against it, just enough to make it filter the side of your object. You’ll notice that the other side may look like it has deep dark shadows. That’s where the foam core boards come into play. Place them opposite the window and voila, you have a beautiful bounce of light to fill in those shadow areas.
If you can afford to purchase a simple lighting system that provides a continuous light source (that just means your camera isn’t hooked up to some fancy flash system and the light is always on) then it can also serve as the perfect bounce.
Even better, buy two continuous lights and now you don’t even need that window. I’ve been stuck in my basement plenty of times and that has helped me light up my shots.
This lighting system is super affordable and easy to set up. For around $75 USD you can purchase the two light system that comes with softboxes and a case. And, what’s great is you can use these for your Tik Tok videos, too!
Showcase Miniatures with Backgrounds
Since I do not have a complete dollhouse yet, but I do make decor for my dollhouse and to sell, I need to find creative ways to make my products stand out to buyers. I’m sure you’ve come across listings where the photographs really feel flat and unflattering.
This is a pull-back shot of my hot cocoa stand. I’m sure you’ve seen it from this blog post already. But if you haven’t…it’s so glamorous! This image came from Unsplash.com. They have free images. I actually took the image and scaled it so it would fit on two sheets to go wider. That meant less Photoshop work on the edges after I shot because I had a lot in my subject area that I was worried would fall off the edges of the background. Think about scaling and widening your setups so you can avoid Photoshop!
Since I have been doing this method of finding backgrounds to use for my miniature decor my sales have increased…so bonus!
Start with free stock photos. I use a lot of images from Unsplash.com. There are others out there but this one is my favorite. I look for images that feel real and can look great like they have some depth of field in the back of my shot.
I often will print these on a Premium Presentation Matte paper so you can’t see through it. I will tape it up to something on my desk and make sure that my subject is pulled forward enough that it will give it more blur (or depth of field) in the background.
Sometimes, I will put two together. And, no, I don’t always worry about my seam because I can adjust my f/stop enough to blur that.
With the iPhone, you too can control the f/stop on the camera! This article shows you how easy it is to do this. So no fancy camera is needed. The lower the f/stop the more blur the background will get. It’s important to make sure you are tapping on the screen to focus on the subject, however.
And, if you want to learn about apps to help you up your iPhone photography game this article is helpful: https://iphonephotographyschool.com/depth-of-field/
Get On The Same Level
One of the things I see a lot when looking on Etsy and listings of miniatures is everything feels as though it were shot up high above. This can distort things and also not make it feel as real.
When you get down on the same level as your miniature you truly can up that photography game.
For this shot, I used a background image from Unsplash.com and then worked my photoshop magic to take the front area that had the ground and extend and clone it enough to make a floor/ground printable. You can tell on the left that my Photoshop work cloning wasn’t too great, but I think the subject shines because I got on the same level as my bench. You almost don’t notice my bad cloning work!
Line your camera up with the subject. This might mean you have to crouch down. Or maybe you raise your item higher. Sometimes a tripod can help with this. But now you have a better angle to truly show off your item.
If you’re shooting full miniature scenes, this can be the breaking point between making it feel lifelike or not.
Here are some images where I didn’t pay attention to lighting and honestly didn’t think through my position or what was distracting the images in the backgrounds.
For this shot, I was super impatient and shot at night with my room’s overhead light on. It cast a huge shadow. Bleh. I also could have not shot it directly on my porch and used some faux wall or something. Anything would have been better to get it better lit and shot more straight on that up above.
Once again, I was impatient and shot at night with my room’s overhead light on. Look at the highlight cast on the light. Not good. And, I shot it with my house in the background which makes it even harder to see the light. I wish I had used a white or brighter backdrop for it. Oh, and I needed a manicure badly.
Miniature Photography Can Be Easy and Fun
These three takeaways for your mini photography hobby can help you stand out from the crowd. Honestly, it’s those shots that have me questioning if it’s real or mini that I find myself drawn to anyway.
I currently use a Canon 5D Mark III for my shots and I will edit in Photoshop. But there are plenty of apps to help you with editing if you want to use your iPhone’s camera instead.
My only suggestion is that while shooting you watch for things in the shot that get in the way, or will make cropping your image for social media tough. Once you get the hang of it you’ll be improving that Insta feed!
For this shot, I glued two pieces of flooring paper together and didn’t bother Photoshopping the seam. I felt like even though it’s right in the middle the subject was so well lit and shot straight on that it doesn’t really distract too much. But if it bothers you, put your full sheet in the middle and then take another sheet and cut in half and tape to the left and right sides.
I do take some behind-the-scenes videos on Tik Tok of my work so you can see how I pull back from the backgrounds and show you what it looks like.
I can’t wait to see you improve your mini photos!
*Links marked with an asterisk are affiliate links for Holly McCaig.