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Chuck Doan's Journals
A brief description of my current photo taking techniques (for what its worth).
I have had my digital camera for about 2 years now. Prior to getting it, I had not used a camera for model pics (say, Instamatic!) I am so NOT an expert, but I keep playing with it. Here is what I have found mostly works for me. Your camera may have different settings or names for stuff. I don’t really know what a lot of these things are; I just read the manual, poke, jiggle, and curse (not always in that order!). Press the shutter and hope for the best!
Setup: camera on tripod, using a cable release to trip the shutter (The timer would also work, but the Fuji one has to be reset each time-too awkward to use.) I never freehold the camera.
Lighting: preferably outdoors in sunlight or shade.
Camera: Fuji FinePix S7000.
Quality mode: 6 megapixal
ISO sensitivity: 200 bright light, 400 sometimes in dimmer light but not always. Seems to alter the amount of “grain” or “mushiness” of the photo.
Manual mode (aperture and shutter speed manually settable, as opposed to full auto)
Aperture manual setting: F8 (max for this camera, gives best depth of field for me)
Macro: Single flower for most shots, double flower for shots within 1” or less. Most pictures are taken with the lens between 6-8” away and single flower (who came up with this flower stuff anyway?). Double flower has limited DOF.
Focus: I use the auto focus almost exclusively.
AF (auto focus) mode: Center or Multi
Zoom: occasionally used. DOF can get tricky.
White balance: Standard camera shade or sun setting as required
Photometry: Multi (whatever this is)
Once I have the shot setup, I usually take 4-8 shots, changing the shutter speed for each one, from bright to dark (or reverse). I move the camera in or out a couple of inches and retake the set of shots. I can take 50 to 100 easy to get 2-3 that I like.
I don’t have a sophisticated photo-editing program yet. All I do for now is crop/straighten, and maybe bump the contrast/brightness a bit and add a touch of sharpening. I can also do a bit of “digital dusting”, since taking photos seems to attract dust and bits like ants to a picnic! ****dest thing! The color is straight from the camera, since my cheapo program has no useable adjustment. This is one area I hope to get into soon.
I still need to find a decent indoor light source, since I can’t post-tweak my photos yet. I also find issues with vertical distortion. May be a lens/macro thing, probably solvable with a more expensive camera! Yep, just throw some more money at it!
Hope something here is useable. Now here is a link to a tutorial where the guy knows what he is doing!
Here is a brief description of how I have done the ground covering on the (very) few dioramas that I have built. One advantage to freelance modeling is that I don’t have to try to match a specific location, so I can use real dirt from my local area. So far, I have mostly tried to duplicate the summer dried grass look of the California Sierra Nevada foothills, and I haven’t strayed from that look yet. Also, I have only done relatively small (and flat) dioramas, so many of the things I have done may not be practical or useful for larger dioramas with more varied terrain. There are also a lot of new and interesting products these days to play with (Silflor for example), but hopefully there may be something here that will at least spark some inspiration, and get you started on that display!
The “dirt” on dirt
One thing I learned early on is that not all real dirt will work. I don’t know if it is quartz or what but a lot of real dirt, when sifted to scale, has too much sparkle to it especially when viewed in sunlight (my favorite photo lighting). Supposedly, high clay content is desirable. I have been using real dirt from my Dad’s back yard. It has a lot of clay, which mainly means low “sparkle” (it is also hard to dig up!) His dirt has a nice “generic” coloring to it. So far I have never had any trouble with bugs or other critters. I have heard of some folks microwaving dirt before using, but do that at your own risk (WHO PUT #*!**#DIRT IN THE OVEN!)
I always work on scenery in a different area than my usual workbench. It’s going too get messy; enjoy it!
The first thing I do is sift the dirt through some brass screen. I have 5 or 6 different meshes of screen. I don’t know the exact screen meshes, but they make from a fine powder up to a fairly coarse grade of dirt. I create different grades by sifting raw dirt through one or the other screens and storing each unique grade in separate boxes. I think I bought the screens (approx. 5” x 7”) from Kemtron (out of business) or Precision Scale in the U.S. I also use a couple of different kitchen strainers for creating small stones and larger rocks from the raw dirt.
Applying the dirt
I have so far used drywall patching compound as a base covering, but many different materials will do. After I have sanded my base contours, I paint it with latex dirt colored brown paint. I use Floquil Polly-Scale “Dirt”, but it isn’t critical, just a similar color to your dirt will do. Then I mix up batch of white glue and water, with a touch of photo-flo added (dishwashing detergent can work as well. This helps the break the surface tension of the water so it will flow more smoothly when applied). I don’t measure proportions carefully; I just create a somewhat runny white “soup”. Then I take a ½” or so wide flat brush and apply a thin coat of glue soup to a small area. Then I sprinkle on the first layer of dirt, usually a finer grade. I keep applying in this manner until I have covered the entire area I am working on. I usually don’t get perfect coverage, so when the mix is dry, I lightly brush off and save the excess, and then I vacuum the area to see how well it covered. I then go back and fill in any bald spots. ( I originally tried the technique of applying the dirt and then spritzing on the glue/water soup with a spray bottle. I wound up with dirt that was well glued, but it looked more like mud, definitely darker). I keep applying successive layers of glue-then-dirt, leaving pathways fine, and adding the coarser grades of dirt around less walked on areas. I also sprinkle trimmed jute macramé twine (grass), fine sawdust chips (leaves), larger stones and fine sifted bark to some areas for a variety of texture and color. The main thing is that I only apply light coats of the glue mix and cover it well with dirt. The more glue to water there is, the darker the end result. And be patient (one of the hardest things for me!) and let it dry thoroughly before vacuuming. If an area is fully covered but has an uneven look, I sometimes re-apply a bit of water with photo-flo and let it dry again to blend the underlying glue. Of course, some uneven coloring is desirable too. Final work includes applying individual leaves and stones here and there, along with jute macramé twine weeds, small twigs and bits of bark.
For the small amount of hand laid railroad track I have done, I have applied a low level of dry dirt between the ties (pre-rails), and then I apply the glue mix with a medicine dropper. This creates a well glued fill almost to the final level. When dry and vacuumed, I sometimes sand the fills to even them out, then I apply the final coats of dirt as per above, glue first and then the dirt. Sometimes the first thicker application(s) of dirt/glue will shrink away from the ties, so sanding and adding the thin final layer fills in the gaps. Once the dirt is in place, I lay the rails.
Bushes and weeds
For small bushes, I have been using a product called “Supertrees” (from Scenic Express). These are some kind of dried real plants that have a fine branch structure. After trimming different sizes, I spray the raw bushes with a brown paint color to cover the natural green of the branches. Then I paint on the diluted white glue mix onto the branch tips only and sprinkle on a mix of green and sometimes yellow fine ground foam. Sometimes I also use fine sifted sawdust to represent dead leaves around the bottom sides. I tried the common method of spritzing the whole bush with a spray bottle (another common “glue” product is cheap hair spray), but this resulted in a lot of the foam sticking to the inner branch structure. This didn’t look correct to me, so I just paint on the glue to the branch tips. I usually make two or three applications to fill out a bush, waiting for each application to fully dry. I then poke a hole in the base, but before installing the bush(es), I apply the thinned glue and sprinkle some fine sawdust around the hole to simulate fallen dead leaves. Then I glue the bush in place.
For grass and weeds I have been using jute macramé twine. It has a great dried grass color. I trim short lengths and sift it over some areas of dirt to simulate dead grass that has lain over. For standing weeds, I trim a likely looking length of twine, and then while holding the base with tweezers, I use another sharp set of tweezers to “tease” and pull the twine and create an uneven look. I trim the other end square, apply some glue and stuff it into a hole in my base. I use a minimal amount of glue, but I often sprinkle fine dirt over the weed to mask any excess (blow off when dry). I usually glue several clumps of weeds together to create a more natural grouping. Uneven numbers look best to me. When the glue has dried, I sometimes go back and trim or thin the clumps. I also may stick a random longer single piece of twine in for variety. On my 1/16th scale diorama, I experimented with longer weeds and played around with the shaping more. For many of my ¼” scale weeds, I touched the tops with thinned white glue and sprinkled on some very fine yellow ground foam to create “hay fever” weeds (ah-choo!)
I have been building models since I was eight years old. Over the years my interest has developed into a love, maybe even a lust for detail and weathering. For reasons I can’t explain, I get the most enjoyment from observing real world minutiae and trying to replicate it in miniature to the best of my abilities. I like to absorb the hard details as well as the “in-use” or “was used” evidence that brings an extra level of realism to a model. I study real world weathering to figure out why and how things got that way. I like to try to achieve “casual decrepitude”, to make a model look weathered without it looking like it’s been weathered.
My main area of modeling interest has been railroads, in particular western narrow gauge logging lines. But I like all manner of machinery and old buildings, and the more weathered the better. I don’t want to own a beat up car, and I don’t want peeling paint on my house (or my neighbors). But I wouldn’t consider building a model that wasn’t weathered to some degree.
I enjoy researching my subjects as much as I do building them. The internet has opened up a huge new world of information and pictures that I use for reference and inspiration. In particular, the photo site Flickr has introduced me to hundreds of weathering enablers who stoke my passion. There are many groups of photographers who love rust and crust as much as I do, and they post thousands of pictures to peruse. I have also discovered many modeling sites where one can see superb modeling, both in finished presentations and also helpful step by step topics. I am grateful for the generosity of so many modelers who freely share some of their best modeling secrets. I have no objection to trying someone else’s techniques on my own models; getting results I like is the most important thing, whatever the source. I have also long agreed with the idea of going beyond my immediate interests and looking at what modelers in other fields are doing.
For a while now, my projects have been collapsing in on themselves, becoming smaller and smaller concentrations of detail. I have recently been doing a series of small dioramas that fit into my Dad’s custom made display cases. I like having boundaries or limits so I’m not tempted to bite off more than I can chew. I never regret doing the detailing when it’s done, but sometimes the doing can get tedious in spots, and I would lose interest if the project was too big. Most of my models have been built in ¼” scale (1/48). Recently I have experimented in larger scales both ½” (1/24) and 3/4” (1/16). The bigger scales provide a greater degree of detailing possibilities, but it becomes even more important to limit the size of the project for sanity’s sake.
For most of my modeling life I never took any pictures of my work. But since the age of digital photography, taking pictures has become an indispensible part of my hobby. I use the camera to take checkpics to get a “second opinion” on works in progress, and also to take final pictures to share on the internet. I prefer shooting in full sunlight, and while the shadows can obscure details, they also provide a realistic element to my shots. I do admit to occasionally engaging in “Macro lens modeling”, that is building details no human eye would see at normal viewing distances. But sometimes it’s fun to find out what the camera will see when it’s only a half an inch away.
When I am really into a project I like to savor it. I flat out refuse to bring deadlines, hurry-ups and have-to’s to my modeling. It is my escape from all of those things. The idea of rushing a model for some event is utterly repugnant to me. That show or contest will be over in the blink of an eye, and how much building enjoyment did I miss? I definitely side with (at least attempting) quality over quantity.