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Basic Camera Set Up


  • Basic Camera Set Up

    Basic Camera Set Up
    Following on from last month’s article “Photography the Basics” I thought I would spend a bit of time and explain a few things with basic camera set up for miniature photographers. Having all the gear but no idea of how to use it because you can’t find what you are looking for in the cameras manual is a bit like fumbling around in the dark and you will soon become despondent with it and give up.

    All cameras are different whether by make or type, I am going to use my own DSLR for this tutorial but most of the settings you will find somewhere on your own camera whether it is a DSLR, a compact or a 35mm film SLR. Most cameras are only as good as the lens that is on them, the belief that your mobile phone will take good photographs because it has a 7 mega pixel camera built in is probably rubbish because it will have a plastic lens which is not very good, it’s a bit like buying a Jamie Oliver cook book and expecting to churn out food to the same standard on a camping stove!!

    At the end of the day the camera you buy is the one that best suits your budget and what you intend to use it for, I would have loved a Hasselblad but at £10000 upwards just for the DSLR body...well let’s not dwell on that you never know I might win the lottery one day!

    OK onto the article and the camera settings themselves, most cameras these days come with a multitude of buttons and settings to make life easier for us (if only we could remember what every one of them did) on the DSLR one of the first things to ensure when taking photographs of miniatures (unless you are a professional) is that the lens is in auto focus mode, this is normally changed by a ring on the lens itself and has two positions A and M.
    Also on the front or side of the camera will be a small switch marked AF and M, ensure this is set to AF as well, with these both set to A and AF the camera will auto focus happily for you when you part depress the shutter release button saving you the trouble of trying to do so by eye.

    We also need to concern ourselves with some of the other controls on the outside of the camera, so dealing with the top of the camera first we have the Control Panel which amongst other things will tell you the battery level, the F stop that you have set, shutter speed and the number of remaining images that can be stored on the camera, the focus area and metering mode. I am not going to go into the other buttons in this area so you will have to read your manual, the only reason I have mentioned the control panel is that it is a duplication of some of the things you see through the view finder and is often easier to get information from especially when changing the F stop value.

    The other control we need to concern ourselves with is the is the mode dial (usually on the top left). The four main settings that we are concerned with are those depicted by the letters, these are the priority modes;
    · M – Manual mode, this means you set the shutter speed and the aperture mode all the camera will do is focus (unless you set the camera and lens to manual as well)
    · A – Aperture priority mode, with this setting you set the aperture (the F stop for depth of field) and the camera will do everything else for you.
    · S – Shutter priority mode, with this setting you set your required shutter speed and the camera does the rest for you.
    · P – Program mode, this is a set of programmed settings that the camera will choose automatically for the scene in the view finder, they may not necessarily be the ones you want. I find this setting useful at shows if I want to take photographs of people or static display tables over a large area indoors using the camera flash.

    Other settings include Portrait, Landscape, Close Up, Sports, Night Landscape and Night Portrait; these are all camera pre-set settings for specific tasks. If you do not have a dedicated macro lens and you want to get closer to the subject then you will need to select the macro setting (the flower) but be aware that as this is a pre-set setting which means the camera does everything for you and you have no control over the depth of field.

    For miniature photography if it something you are going to be doing a lot of then I would highly recommend a dedicated macro/micro lens, you might think that this will be limited to close up photography but trust me it isn’t, I tend to go everywhere with a 60mm macro/micro lens on my camera and use it as a general purpose lens the only down side to it is if I want to take photographs of large groups of people I have to move further back than I would with say an 18 to 35mm lens.

    Moving onto the back of the camera we have the monitor and more buttons, I am not going to dwell on all the buttons and what they each do as every camera is different but the main one we are concerned about is the menu button as this allows us to access the different menus and settings that we as hobbyists taking photographs of miniature figures will need to access in order to get the best quality photographs possible.

    The menu we want is the Shooting Menu which can be accessed when the camera symbol is highlighted. Of the sub menu choices in this menu window there are four that we need to be concerned with, these are: Image quality, Image size, White Balance and ISO sensitivity. I touched on some of these briefly in the last tutorial so let’s go a little more in depth now.

    Image quality
    From here we can select the quality of the images that we want to take, as you can see from the list below there is quite a few to choose from, however unless you know what you are doing ignore the Raw selections (if your camera has them) which leaves us JPEG fine, normal and basic. For the best image quality of these three choices we want to set the camera to JPEG fine.
    • NEF (RAW)
    • JPEG fine
    • JPEG normal
    • JPEG basic
    • NEF (RAW) + JPEG fine
    • NEF (RAW) + JPEG normal
    • NEF (RAW) + JPEG basic

    Image size
    From this sub menu we can select the size of image that we want and in our case bigger is better because the larger the size the pixels per inch we can pack into the photograph which means better quality. Size will obviously vary depending on camera type and age, older camera and usually smaller compacts will have a smaller mega pixel range and as technology advances so newer cameras will have more. As can be seen below each choice includes the dimensions and the size of the image at the largest size it means that each image is likely to be between 2 and 3 Mb in size when downloaded to the computer.
    • Large - 3872 x 2592 / 10.0M
    • Medium - 2896 x 1944 / 5.6M
    • Small - 1936 x 1296 / 2.5M

    White balance
    From here we can select the white balance (WB) we want to use, if you have day light balanced lamps or photographic balanced lamps for your set up then you will be able to get away with setting the WB at the Direct sunlight setting otherwise you need to set an appropriate setting for your set up.
    • Auto– Menu to fine tune WB (-3 to +3)
    • Incandescent
    • Fluorescent
    • Direct sunlight
    • Flash
    • Cloudy
    • Shade
    • Choose colour temp. - 2500 K - 9900 K
    • White bal. preset – Select program preset WB

    As explained in the previous article ISO means International Standards Organisation and this governs the film speed on older 35mm SLR and large format cameras i.e. ISO100, ISO125 etc. The range you have on your camera will depend on the camera itself, “Hold on” I hear you all shouting at me “You said this was for the old 35mm film cameras, what’s it got to do with DSLR’s that don’t use film?”

    Well the DSLR uses these settings in the calculations for the photograph so in essence it uses them to fool the camera so to speak and it is these settings that can influence the final photograph quality just as they did in the film cameras of yesterday. The ISO speed will influence the graininess of the final image i.e. a high ISO such as 800 plus will produce a very grainy image at full size whereas a setting of ISO100 will give a very smooth image with little to no graininess. The ISO speed will also affect the shutter speed of the camera, an ISO 800 setting for instance would allow faster shutter speeds in poor light whereas an ISO100 setting would be good for direct sunlight shooting but not so good in poor light unless a tripod is to be used.

    Below is a sample of the DSLR’s ISO range. For photographing our miniatures we want as low an ISO setting as possible and as we are using a tripod we can go for ISO100.
    • Auto
    • 100
    • 125
    • 160
    • 200
    • 250
    • 320
    • 400
    • 500
    • 640
    • 800
    • 1000
    • 1250
    • 1600
    • HI 0.3 (~ISO 2000)
    • HI 0.7 (~ISO 2500)
    • HI 1.0 (~ISO 3200)

    Taking the photograph
    That covers the settings of the camera so let’s have a look through the view finder at the photograph we are going to take, I apologies now for the sub standard photograph, holding a small £40 compact to the view finder and trying to take a photograph is not easy.

    Looking through the view finder you can see several squares and the quarters of a circle that I have numbered in red, so what do they mean?
    1. Is the main focus bracket, this is the main focal point for the photograph I am going to take.
    2. Are the area focusing brackets.
    3. Is the 8mm reference circle that the camera uses for metering (light measurements).
    The number of focusing brackets that you will see will depend on how you have set up the focusing on your camera and you may well see other lines in the view finder such as a framing grid depending on camera model/make.
    Below the image in the view finder which hasn’t come out in my photograph above you will see a digital read out when the shutter release if half depressed giving shutter speed, F stop etc.

    This is the final image, with the camera set on spot metering it has taken the primed figure as the main reference point/colour and has greyed out the background, be aware that the colour(s) on the figure that you are taking a photograph of will affect the outcome of your final shot.

    All I have done with this shot is to crop and resize the image to go into this article are as follows:
    · WB – Sunny/direct sunlight
    · ISO100
    · Image size/quality – Large, fine
    · Spot metering
    · Shutter speed 1/1.3 s
    · Aperture setting f18

    Here ends this article, I hope it has been of use and if real life allows next time I will introduce you to GIMP but don’t worry it is a Graphic Image Manipulation Program for photo editing so you don’t have to wear a rubber mask (unless that’s your thing).

    • Cregan Tur
      Cregan Tur commented
      Editing a comment
      Okay, I'll try that tonight.

      I think my biggest problem might be with my light tent itself. I have a Sunpak Ebox, which is really nice, but it just seems that I can't get enough light on yhe mini because it's so small and so far away from the translucent sides.

    • flart1943
      flart1943 commented
      Editing a comment
      Fine article that even I can understand. Thanks

    • Terrain tight wad
      Terrain tight wad commented
      Editing a comment
      Blast you, War Griffon, now I can't blame my cr***y camera for my cr***y photos. Great tutorial, thanks.
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War Griffon Coffin dodger thats been around the world a bit Find out more about War Griffon

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