Monday, 29 April 2013

Using a dedicated macro lens to photograph miniatures

Let's say you have decided to invest in an entry-level DSLR camera, or have gotten your hands on one for general photography purposes. In  a natural progression of the hobby for a miniature painter, the next dilemma is to pore over the pros and cons of opting for a dedicated macro lens to take photographs of your models. Do you really need such a lens for this hobby? Read on to find out ...

At last, Chaos had gotten their hands on a forbidden Standard Template Construct

Before we delve into detail on what a macro lens can offer, let's us take a step back. An entry-level DSLR let alone a dedicated macro lens is a huge commitment to undertake seeing that the miniature hobby will have already burned a huge hole in your wallet. If you are just starting out in the hobby, I would say NO to a DSLR/macro lens combo. It would be better to save the money - for miniatures, brushes and paints - and slowly built up your arsenal in this hobby. Moreover, in the early stages you will have yet to determine if you prefer the painting or gaming aspect (or both) of the hobby.

So why the all the fuss about DSLR? Well about a year back I borrowed an entry-level DSLR and took some comparison pictures (shown below). Although I had expected the obvious differences in quality, I was still taken aback by the results. While not state of the art, my 8 MP camera phone was still pretty ok with Schneider Kreuznach optics and ISO settings of up to 1600. But more than than, using the entry-level DSLR with just a standard non-macro lens already gave me so much more control over the actual act of taking photos - something that you have to experience to understand.

Comparison photos taken a year ago between my old LG Renoir camera phone (left) and the Nikon D60 (right)

Nowadays, you can find very reasonable performances from cameras in the latest smart phones and tablets as well as from budget compact system cameras (non-DSLR cameras). But if like me, you have more than a passing interest in photography and are putting in a lot of effort to improve your painting skills (I am, by far, not a good painter yet but I am working on it) - then investing in an entry-level DSLR will be a natural step forwards in this hobby. Not too long after that, the question of whether to use a dedicated macro lens is bound to become a serious consideration.

Differences between a standard kit lens and a dedicated macro lens
First up, I compared what the difference in focal length offers a photographer - the Tamron SP AF 90 mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 (an entry-level budget macro lens) versus the basic lens usually sold with the body of a Canon EOS i.e. the Canon EF-S 18-55mm which is a wide-angle to mid-telephoto zoom lens (see the two photos below for comparison). Bear in mind that my aim is to show the difference you would get from a dedicated macro lens over a standard kit lens for Canon's entry-level DSLRs.

An Ork Nobz captured using a Tamron 90 mm macro lens
Here the same miniature is captured by a Canon EF-S 18-55mm lens from the exact same position and at the highest zoom

Right off the bat, the Tamron macro len's 90 mm focal length gave it a greater telephoto capability than the Canon EF-S lens with 18-55 mm focal length (longer lens = more magnification). Both photos above were shot from the same location, using first the Tamron macro lens followed by the Canon's standard kit lens, at the same settings and at each lens's highest zoom setting. However, this does not mean the standard lens you have is useless because when you want to take huge panoramic shots of a huge 2,000 points army, then the Canon EF-S might be a better option . 
But to focus on the focal length of both lenses (pun not intended) is erroneous. There are certainly better and more expensive macro lenses with wider ranging focal lengths (from 55-300 mm). But the Tamron SP AF 90 mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 offers the beginner photographer a way into the world of macro photography by being among the lowest-priced macro lenses in the market.

I then proceeded to take focal length out of the equation by moving the camera with the Canon EF-S lens as close as I could to the miniature before taking the shot. From the results seen, you will be hard pressed to tell the difference between the photo shot using a dedicated macro lens and on using the standard kit lens. Try to tell them apart before clicking on the photo above to see which is which.

Zoomed in - Photo taken using the Tamron macro lens
Zoomed in - Photo taken using the Canon standard kit lens

Only by zooming into the head of the Ork Nobz, you will start to see the differences between both photographs. You will notice that when zoomed in, the photo that resulted from using the Canon EF-S 18-55mm lens (standard kit lens) is slightly more blurred and has less definition to it. A dedicated macro lens like the Tamron SP AF 90 mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 offers true macro capabilities at 1:1 magnification. As defined by Digital Camera World magazine - a true macro lens is one that can capture frame-filling images of subjects that are the same size as the sensor itself.

I repeated my experimentation with a different model, this time a Word Bearers Chaos Cultist, and got the same results (see above). So all-in-all, the dedicated macro lens provided better results as was expected of it. No surprises there but a picture as they say is worth a thousand words.

Such detailed photographs have the added bonus of pushing you to improve your painting skills as all the flaws will be twice as visible to the naked eye. I have always had tremendous respect for the 'eavy Metal team, Golden Daemon and Slayer Sword winners as well as other talented painters all over the blogosphere; now more so when even at extreme closeups, their painted miniatures still look great. 

So do you need a dedicated macro lens to complement your DSLR camera when dealing with miniatures? Well, it wouldn't hurt - that's for sure. Can you work without one? Of course you can but once you go the way of a true macro lens you ain't zooming out.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Miniature conversion using green stuff

Woo-hoo ... I managed to finally complete my first miniature conversion as well as use Game Workshop's green stuff for the very first time. Taking them for what they are i.e. maiden attempts, I am fairly happy with the results and it gives me the confidence to do better next time. As a start, I decided to try something not too ambitious and limited my conversions to simple modifications. For now, I plan to place this fallen Ultramarine on the same base as the Word Bearers Helbrute that I am painting.

No guts no glory - intestines were sculpted in a slightly enlarged size to simulate bloating (Nurgle at work here)
Realised that I had no decals for the Ultramaring tactical symbol so that had to be drawn free-hand
Shot through the primary heart while armour show signs of battle damage

Why a fallen Ultramarine for the mini-conversion project?
Well, the idea behind this mini-conversion was to have a victim for my Word Bearers Helbrute and what better Adeptus Astartes chapter to use than the Ultramarines. Granted that the Helbrute is carrying a multi-melta but the story behind the unfortunate soldier is that he was shot through his primary heart by a Word Bearers Space Marine and as his secondary heart tried to cope, he lay down on the rocks to recover. Who happens to trudge by but a Helbrute who decides to gut him with his power first. So there you have it, a fallen Ultramarine who is at death's door (if not through it).

This particular Ultramarine's blue armour is slightly darker than what I usually paint my boys in blue - the direct result of having a heavy wash of Badab Black to portray a battle-worn armour. Other battle damage effects that I tried to include were scratch marks from bolter rounds and blood splatter. His head is not totally inclined as his secondary heart has not completely given in yet.

First try at using Green Stuff
A warm-up before sculpting the actual green stuff
As this was my first experience at using the green stuff, I decided to practice first by using a rubber mastic adhesive or more commonly known as Blu-Tack. In this case, I used Selley's Ezy-Tack which was white instead of the traditional pale blue colour. I guess the muscle memory gained from a childhood spent playing plasticine was still intact as I managed to shape the re-usable adhesive without fumbling too much. For this project, I used the smallest sculpting tool in my set of cheap plastic tools.  

Green stuff for miniature conversion
Of course the adhesive is different from the green stuff in two key areas:
(a) It is less sticky; and
(b) It is softer than the green stuff. 

Nonetheless, it gave me the chance to test out my ideas before settling on the final result that you see on the left i.e. some leg armour to reposition the foot; some bloated intestines and the stump of his torn-off arm.

Based on my experience, the biggest thing to note about using the green stuff is to always keep it moist while sculpting. Don't worry about getting it too wet, just keep dabbing water on the green stuff as you sculpt to prevent them from sticking to your hands.  

Just to be sure, I left the green stuff to cure over night before spraying a white undercoat on the whole miniature prior to painting it. Well that's it for this post, thanks for reading and happy hobbying!

Friday, 19 April 2013

WIP: Word Bearers Helbrute with a quadpolar disorder

Unless you have been fully brainwashed by the false-Emperor's indoctrination, you would know that to be a Word Bearer is to embrace all the chaos gods equally. Upon close examination, the Helbrute seemed to have afforded me the chance to paint in all four chaos gods's influence - Tzeentch, Nurgle, Slaneesh and Khorne. I had to be careful not to overdo it or it would end up looking like a rainbow-coloured Barbie doll. First up was the many eyes in the Helbrute miniature. If that doesn't scream Tzeentch I don't know what does. So that one was easy ... one down three to go.

Tzeentch sees all ... whether you are naughty or nice

Another fairly easy one was the mouth/horns/tongue thingy sticking out from the left side of the Helbrute's body. To me, it looked like something that would adorn a Slaneesh daemonette. So I painted that thingy (for want of a better word) in purplish hues.

Slaneesh's influence but more pain than pleasure

With regard to Nurgle, I was a bit perplexed at first but later hooked on to the fact that the god of decay and death can actually be showcased by rotting flesh and rusted metal. So I focused on the fleshy right arm of the Helbrute which was carrying a multi-melta.

Nurgle decays everything at an accelerated rate

Finally, we have Khorne which is all anger and hate. What better to signify this than fires from the infernal engine that is powering the Helbrute. On a previous post I did a mini-tutorial on doing Object Source Lighting using the engine vents as the light source.

Khorne burns with hate fuelled by sugar and spice

On the unlikely event that you are not aware of how big the Helbrute miniature is, I took a picture of the model next to a 31 mm paper clip. The reason I did this was because the close-up pictures might give a false impression as to the scale I was working with.

Paper clips are useful for organising the many writings of Lorgar

Having to put so much attention into just one model is quite exhausting and it has thrown a spanner into my 2Q 2013 hobby schedule. It is very hard to resist painting in the details when the model is so beautifully crafted. But if I get bogged down with the details I will take forever to finish painting the Word Bearers Helbrute. And there are still so many things in this miniature that I need to work on.

Couldn't resist painting in the details for the Helbrute's wiring

Meanwhile, seeing that the base of the Helbrute is so big with a fair amount of empty space, I am also planning to do some minor miniature conversions to go along with this model. I am still undecided as to which chapter the space marine below should belong to but odds are it will be an Ultramarine.

Is that the Emperor's light I see?

Miniature conversions are completely new to me. So much so that I have never even used Game Workshop's green stuff before. I had better do some research before I start on the green stuff. I couldn't find any small sized sculpting tools so I got a cheap set of plastic ones that might just be a tad too big. Will give the humongous plastic tools a try anyway and see if I can make do. Wish me luck on my miniature conversion project and thanks for reading!

Some cheap plastic sculpting tools and the GW green stuff

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Music to paint and write by

Now it stands to reason that by indulging in two things that I truly love doing ... painting and writing ... I would start a blog on my miniature hobby. But the underlying glue which holds both together is the music which plays on the background while I am doing either tasks. Music is a very personal thing and individual preferences would vary but for me, the blues genre reigns supreme.

She gets it ... the blues experience
Not to be underestimated, music has the ability to raise our spirits and set the mood thus inspiring us to do good, if not our best work. Just the other day while I was painting, one of my all time favourite blues tune - Etta James's hauntingly beautiful song "At Last" - took its turn on my playlist and actually gave me an emotional boost and helped me through some delicate painting. If you have never heard this tune before, please do yourself a favour and check it out on this YouTube link. It was Etta James's blues-infused rendition of songs that finally dragged my wife into liking this genre.

A song so achingly beautiful that it leaves you emotionally drained

For all you younguns that are wondering why all this fuss about the blues, perhaps you should check out a more contemporary movie starring Beyonce Knowles called Cadillac Records in which she starred as Etta James. I loved the movie which was loaned to me by a friend whose late-father was a huge blues fan. In my opinion, the only music-related movie that surpasses it is the Cameron Crowe-directed Almost Famous.  

If you love the blues, you will like this movie

In future posts, I hope to share with you my love for the blues as I list for you my various playlists which many a times have gotten me through a particularly tedious painting/writing session.

Do share with me your playlists if you have one as I am always open to new music seeing that my musical tastes range from Heavy Metal, Rock, Country, Bluegrass to Jazz (all which have blues at their roots).

I have observed that some hobbyists prefer silence when painting while yet others participate in friendly banter to break up the monotony of having to paint a whole army of miniatures. A few also leave the TV on while painting, of which I am guilty of on occasion much to the missus's exasperation. (Yes dear, I am watching with my ears.)

What do you do while you are hobbying?

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Basic Object Source Lighting for Miniatures

While working on a miniature (Word Bearers Helbrute) that I hope to get done in time for a local painting competition called Golden Kris, I decided to try my skills at a simple method of object source lighting (OSL) which uses glazes. This method is based on the translucent nature of glazes which allows them to be used when painting reflected hues on top of a miniature's existing colours.

Bask in the light from the fires of hate

Stage 1: Light Source
Firstly, I needed a light source so I decided to paint the vents (or gills) at the back of the Helbrute as an outlet for heat emanating from deep within. To achieve that effect, I decided to use a simple three-step method, starting with dark colours and getting lighter towards the light source.

In short, Blood Red was first applied generously all over the vents to the extent that they spilled out of the vent. This was followed the application of Blazing Orange paint in lesser amounts with a little spillover outside the vents. Finally, Sunburst Yellow was painted at the centre of the vents signifying the hottest part of the heat source.

Stage 1 - Step 1: Apply Blood Red paint
Stage 1 - Step 2: Apply Blazing Orange paint
Stage 1 - Step 3: Apply Sunburst Yellow paint

Stage 2: Preparation for Reflected Light
Once the light source was established, I then finished painting (largely finished as there are a lot more touch ups I need to do) the area around the light source before applying the reflected light effects.

Areas surrounding the vents were painted up in preparation for the reflected light effects

In addition, I also had to see how actual light reflects from the painted surfaces. Because the light source was from within the miniature and I could not place a torchlight into the miniature and shine it out from the vents, I decided to do the next best thing which was build some mock-ups.

With that in mind, I painted up three sprues to represent the three main surfaces that would be affected by the reflected light i.e. bronze metal parts, silver metal tubing and the dead skin covering the silver metal tubing. Following that, I shined a torchlight (using a yellow bulb) at the sprues.

Before a torchlight was shone on the mock-ups
After a torchlight was shone on the mock-ups
Behind the scenes look
What the results showed me was that the surfaces reflected an orange-yellowy light. So now I at least had a rough idea of the hue that I wanted to achieve.

Stage 3: Painting the Reflected Light
Now, the things were set for the actual painting of the reflected light. Using a 1:3 mixture of Blazing Orange:Sunburst Yellow and lots of water, I created a glaze that best mimicked the effect that resulted from the yellow bulb of the torchlight.

As you can see from the picture below, the glaze has a low level of opacity that permits you to see the surface under the layer of glaze. To know if the glaze is at the correct opacity - swish some of the paint to the side of the palette and check if you can see through the layer to the palette itself.

No this is not an Egg McMuffin - it's the glaze preparation

Finally I applied the glaze on areas which were in direct line-of-sight of the heat source emanating from the vents. I will need to study in detail if there are any areas I missed out but it's largely done I suppose. If you think there are any areas I missed out please feel free to comment and let me know. This is my first attempt at OSL and while it may not be 'Eavy Metal standard, I am still happy with it.
Can I do better? Most definitely but it's a first step for me towards better OSL techniques.

Basic OSL for the Word Bearers Helbrute

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Macro Photography ... on the road to taking better photos of miniatures

Any miniature painter worth his (or her) salt would recognise the icon below instantly. Yes, the all too familiar macro setting that can be found from the simplest camera phones to high-end Digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras or better known as DSLRs. When I first started out in the hobby I didn't really bother with the hows-and-whys. All I did was put the settings at macro, point and shoot. If the photos didn't come out right, I usually just shrugged my shoulders and snapped away hoping that somehow, magically, a good photo would emerge. Well, they sometimes did but that's not the point. 

As fate would have it, my camera phone decided to die on me right about the time I was thinking of getting a good camera-and-lens-combo to take better pictures of the miniatures that I was painting. So about 9 months ago, me and the missus decided to invest in a DSLR camera (her for the family photos, me for the miniatures) which resulted in us getting the Canon EOS 650D and the Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 lens. It's a pricey investment but think of it as money saved which would otherwise be spent on models that will never see the light of day. You know what I mean.

Canon EOS 650D and the Tamron Macro Lens

One thing the DSLR has done is force me to try ever harder to paint better because the level of detail that can be captured in photos has ratcheted up tremendously compared to my old camera phone. The ability to capture fine details can expose a badly painted miniature in all its ugly glory. Having had the DSLR camera for sometime, I have picked up some knowledge (and am still learning) which I hope to share in later blog posts. As the saying goes "If you want to learn something teach it". 

What are the settings I need for my camera?
So going forward, I hope to share what I know on macro photography (not necessarily in that order):
1. Aperture versus Shutter Speed
2. Depth of field
3. Lighting (something simple that continues to be a huge challenge to master, for me anyway)
4. ISO settings
5. Photo taking techniques
6. In-camera effects
7. Flash - to use or not to use
8. Backgrounds
9. Post-editing on the cheap
10. Making your own light box
11. Other fun stuff

Friday, 5 April 2013

Word Bearers Dark Apostle

If it wasn't for the inspiring Word Bearers trilogy by Anthony Reynolds, I truly won't have had the courage to attempt painting the Dark Apostle. It's funny how the urge to recreate in miniatures what we have read in books, will actually force one's hand to attempt painting outside the comfort zone.

For the glory of Lorgar

Although I could definitely do a better job of painting the Word Bearers Dark Apostle's face, I thought better of it and decided to quit while I am ahead. For now at least. I lack the confidence to properly paint human miniatures faces (apart from Ork faces which are a hoot to paint) in full detail.

Behold the Word of Lorgar for there is no other truth
Thanks are in order to the warrior of Guilliman who donated his skull for the corrupted crozius
Side view which shows the false truths being trampled upon by the Word Bearers Dark Apostle
Spot the Word Bearers decal on the right shoulder pad
Yet more written truths from Lorgar written on skin parchments
No ... the L does not stand for Learners driver license
Strapped to the left hip is the Dark Apostle's dark grimoire
Oh heavenly Lorgar, I beseech you to return to us ... please?
A close look at the falsehoods that Word Bearers have to contend with

Progress so far on the Word Bearers army
To date, I have finished painting the Dark Apsotle, five Anointed, and 10 cultists. Not that much come to think of it. Next on the list is a Word Bearers Helbrute which I will be painting alongside the Black Legion Forgefiend. Early into my 2Q 2013 schedule and I realise that I may have bitten off more than I could chew. Oh well ... you won't know if you don't try Gran' Pappy Lorgar use to say.
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