Saturday, December 14, 2013

Photographing Your Model Made Simple

One thing that I notice with a lot of model horse ads (eBay, MHSP, etc.) is that people don't seem to understand how to take a flattering picture. In fact, some of them are downright BAD pictures!

Not mine though, they look good, but I couldn't very well take a random screenshot
and point out other people's flaws without their permission!

And what makes things worse is if you're showing off a custom. That model may have changes that if someone sees it in anything but the honest light of what it actually looks like, then someone may think that IT is done wrong. It's hard to give an reliable and honest assessment on a custom with a bad picture. This is where accuracy is VERY important! If you don't show it as it really is, someone may tell you to fix something that is actually just fine.

A good photo for critique due to how accurate the model is, though the background is a tad cluttered.

About the Model:

This post is to help explain how to take a basic but honest picture of your model to present it at its best for sale or critique. I've chosen to use a Lady Phase model because she is standing mostly square and looking straight ahead (so no distortion from foreshortening because of a turned head) and is a very common model that almost everyone is familiar with so they may know her true dimensions. This particular model *is* a body, so she has a chipped ear and some smudges here and there, but she serves the purpose.

About the Cameras:

I take pictures with a Digital SLR, a Canon Rebel XT EOS... an older camera, but very serviceable and produces good quality due to the SLR, or Single Lens Reflex, which works more like the human eye than on a regular "point and shoot" camera. You don't need an SLR camera to take good or accurate photos, though it does help and make things easier. A "Point and Shoot" camera usually works just as well these days with the advances in technology.

I also will be showing pictures taken with my cell phone's camera which happens to be a Nokia Lumina, which has one of the better cell phone cameras out there, but it's similar to any other cell phone, smart phone or otherwise, because of the restrictions cell phones have, which is no room for proper lenses because they need to be so thin. Many tend to create a wide-angle "fish-eye" effect, especially when taking photos up close.

The main issues with taking bad pictures is:

  • Bad Angles
  • Cell Phone Camera Distortion
  • Dark Photos 
  • Distracting Backgrounds 
  • Blurry Photos 
  • Dirty Models 

You can get a good picture no matter what kind of camera you have, even a cell phone! I cover that later, let's first look at how to take a proper photo of a live horse itself. The general rule of thumb is to aim for just behind their heart or center of gravity.

Real horse photo I took of a sweet old mare named Blue Viking
(go to to learn more about her and other retired "ladies" of the Thoroughbred industry)

The black dot indicates where I aimed when taking the photo of a live horse, close to the middle of the barrel.
If you're tall or the horse is short, you may need to crouch or bend over slightly to be level with the dot.

Because we are taking pictures of models, it's best to get down to their level. Taking pictures from above makes your horse look like it has really short legs.

Is it part Corgi?

The red dot indicates where you should aim with your camera, kind of in the middle of the barrel.
The black dot indicates the center of gravity on a horse which is not a bad spot to aim for either.

One needs to be careful to not only get low enough, but to stay centered towards the middle of the barrel as well. If you take the picture too closely inline with the shoulder, the head and front end look too big.

It's a subtle difference, but enough it *could* be a problem. 

On the other hand, if you get too close to being straight across from the haunch/butt, you will make the front end look small and the hind end too big. Some breeds, like Drafts and some Quarter Horses, actually prefer this angle to enhance the "assets" they like to show off for their breed. For our purposes though, we want to be as true to the actual proportions as possible, especially if it's a custom.

Makes the head look smaller and refined and the buttocks look big and round...
now who wouldn't want THAT?

Getting distance is a GOOD thing. Even if you don't have a fancy camera, you can get good pictures by pulling back a bit, and zooming in if you have the option, or cropping the photo later. This is ESPECIALLY important if all you have to take pictures with is the camera on your phone, where distortion is a BIG problem, BUT it can be done! Be careful, most of the zoom options on phone cameras is DIGITAL zoom, which means all they're doing is zooming in on the original image so the image looks pixelated or grainy. When buying a real camera, always opt for OPTICAL zoom. This actually uses lenses to act like a telescope to actually make the image appear closer. This is your best option for getting the most true photos.

Example of just a BAD cell phone picture.
Taken from above, things are out of proportion (look how tiny those feet are!)

This is what happens when you get TOO close to your subject with a phone camera.
The backdrop somehow is smaller and can't cover up as much as it needs to,
and the model appears to have a slightly large head and longer neck than it should.
Even the barrel seems smaller and the tail seems shorter!
Minor differences, but enough it doesn't accurately portray your model.
Compare to the GOOD photo taken with a phone camera. See the difference?
This picture is much more true in the horse's actual proportions
while the former gets them ALL out of whack!

And then compare the previous good photo from the phone camera to this one, the good photo taken with a digital SLR (almost pro-grade camera). The digital SLR is the most true, but you can see by comparing it to the smartly-taken phone camera shot that there isn't much difference when it comes to the proportions.
Just proves you don't need an awesome camera to take good pictures.

This is the original phone camera picture where I got the good shot from. I had to pull back, and didn't use zoom. Instead, I gave myself some distance so it could take a truer picture, and the cropped it later with photo-editing software.

The only problem with creating distance and cropping is that you may get more pixels or grain showing. Hopefully you have enough megapixels in your camera so that it's not very noticeable (both my Digital SLR and my cell phone has around or over 8 megapixels). It's kind of a balance of getting close enough so the pixels/grain won't be bad, but you won't distort the picture by being TOO close. If you have optical zoom, it makes the problem so much easier to deal with, as it zooms in AND stays true!

REALLY bad cell phone picture that almost looks like a fun-house mirror!
That head is almost HALF the size of the body!
A GOOD 3/4 view CAN be done that is accurate! Once again,
putting some distance between you and your subject is key.
That's what I did here with the Digital SLR camera, and then I zoomed in.
Also, notice I got down to the correct level as well.

Watch your lighting. Using flash is helpful but sometimes it can create unwanted glare or wash out a model. Pulling back also helps with "reducing" the flash so it doesn't create too much glare or lose detail due to washing out. If you want to avoid flash, the best idea is to get more lights. Find floor or desk lamps and point them at your picture-taking area. Some people use photo tents to diffuse the light so it's not so harsh and creates hard shadows, but I have found that I get along fine without one, but if you can, certainly give it a try!

My personal photo-taking set-up.
Just a piece of blue poster board (less than a dollar from Wal-Mart or whatever office/art supply store)
that I lean up against the wall and secure with tape at the bottom.
I have a shop light above, the room's lights, and two floor lamps, one on either side.
Good clean, white florescent light is best, and it's hard to really over-do lighting.

Much too dark, this is just with my overhead lighting with no floor lamps and no flash...
although I may have discovered how Breyer took photos of their models in the 70's...
Now, if you find your best lighting happens to be in an less than photogenic area (like the bathroom or kitchen) use a backdrop. Don't just place it in front of a bunch of clutter and distracting stuff. Even finding a couple of towels and draping them over something like a box or chair is helpful.

Everyone's seen this shot in ads... the top of the stove, in front of a microwave, on top of the toilet...

Simple background. Not perfect, but much less distracting. This is just towels on a chair.

And finally, you'd be surprised how much these get through... dirty models or blurry pictures. With dirty models, unless it's a body, you should always at least brush off the worst of the dust and preferablly brush it ALL off! Rinse the model with water in the sink if you need to! Otherwise it's hard to tell if there's any flaws which may be important for someone who wishes to use it as a collector's piece or to show it. Even being dusty may make some people uneasy about wanting it as a body, because they don't know if that dust is *stuck* on there (which can be hard to get out of crevices and may cause problems later if they plan to paint it) or just hasn't been brushed off.

Is that paint flecks? Are any of those white dots rubs?
Hard to tell when it's so dirty!

You wanna just blow some air on it, don't you?

And the number one WORST thing you can do for ANY picture you have of a model you want to share or sell is blur. A blurry picture ruins detail and the model can't be seen. It's very frustrating because the human eye WANTS it to be in focus but it can't. Make sure your picture is in focus, and if you upload and it's STILL not, go back and take another picture until you get it right. Don't ever upload a blurry picture. Some parts can be blurry, like the background, but if you're focusing on a certain part, like the head, make sure that part is as clear as you can get it.


So all in all, taking a good picture is not difficult, just takes some education and tricks of the trade. Don't skimp on lighting, feel free to take multiple pictures in case one doesn't take, and don't be afraid to edit with cropping and light/color balance to capture the true look of the model. You'll find a model will sell a lot better with a good picture than a bad one, and as an artist, your work will look a lot better and people won't think it's all screwed up with limbs and necks too long or heads too big.

A good picture to be proud of... happy shooting!