I love to take photos of action figures but it’s a bit of a headache to set up the light booth and lamps. It’s not easy when you have to dismantle your photo booth and lighting setup after every session. I was inspired by Philip’s new home photo studio over at Battlegrip, and challenged myself to come up with a semi-permanent setup of my own.
Here’s an overview of the new setup. I cleared off a desk in the basement that already had shelves above it. I’m using the same cheapo clip-on lamps that I’ve always used — the shelves make them easy to move around — along with a couple of flex-neck photo lamps. Having all the lamps on results in way too much light. I’m going to have to devise some sort of light box to help diffuse the harsh light, but that’s a project for another day.
I attached a couple of binder clips to the shelf above the desk, which will allow me to easily switch out the background poster board. Using a large sheet of paper that curves is usually preferred over using two sheets of foamcore that would give you a hard edge where they meet. Nothing fancy here, but it works!
The photo above was taken using my camera phone. There’s way too much light on the figure, which is why a lightbox of some sort would be helpful.
Having a number of lamps around the subject area allows for a variety of different lighting scenarios. These photos were taken with my DSLR, but with different lamps turned off and on. The mood of the image certainly changes with the shadows.
Now the fun part! Bring in a few props and switch off some of the lamps, and don’t forget to turn off the room lights, which will affect the photo. Here, I have one regular incandescent bulb shining from the left, and a red bulb on the right, which results in this…
This lighting treatment makes me think the figure is lit up by headlights and taillights of nearby vehicles. The props are just a few random plastic bits from the parts bin, and the fence is a plant tray I got from Lowe’s with last year’s tomatoes. A great trick is to put something in the foreground, in front of your figure, which helps to give depth to the image. The closer it is to the camera, the blurrier it will be, which is just fine — it’s not important what it is — if all the items were in equal focus, this would be a boring photo. Lighting and props really turn a product shot into an action shot that tells a story.
I still have some tweaking to do, but I’m happy with the way this is headed. I’m always looking for good advice — do you have any favorite photography tips that I should try?
UPDATE: Check out what happens when I add some fabric to soften the lighting.
Jeremy [Retro] says
Very Cool, I have in the past tried this same thing… without much success, you are getting it good. thank you for sharing.
Something I’ve been wanting to do for some time but, I’ve yet to find the space for it 🙂
Shots look good
The Rebel says
Lookin’ good Brian! I am a strong believer in using everyday items in my diorama pictures too (haven’t tried the plant tray yet…LOL). I agree with the need to adjust/experiment with the lighting. Excessive lighting is a bummer but sometimes it can work in your favor too. I recently found ways to get the ‘flare effect’ to appear in my photos by manipulating the angle of my shots under excesssive lighting conditions. I think they turned out pretty cool (JJ Abrams would’ve been proud!).
I’m no pro myself but from time to time I like to place my light source above my action figures so it’ll give that ‘down light’ effect…can either be faux moon-light or even street lights!
I’ve found that an LED flashlight used in a dark room makes for perfect moon lighting. LEDs has a much cooler tone than incandescent bulbs,
I’m going to have to try for some lens flares. I usually add them in Photoshop, but they always end up looking the same that way.
John gaither says
Awesome! Love these seeing your photo set ups.
Jonathan Sternfeld says
I absolutely LOVE the effect you got in that last shot! If you are worried about harsh direct light though, I would recommend a light tent. I purchased this inexpensive one:
Amazon.com 30″ Photo Tent
for the exhibit shots on the Harvey Mercheum, and I have had pretty good luck with it.
I actually own that light tent and a small 12″ one, but neither of them really allows me the flexibility I need for certain setups. For example, i have a large diorama that I like to use as a backdrop, but it wouldn’t fit in even the large light tent. I’m thinking of creating screens with PVC and fabric to place in front of the lights I have now. It might fail miserably, but it’s a worth a shot!
Jonathan Sternfeld says
The alternative to a light tent is “soft boxes” on the lights. I have not tried this technique myself.
Solid stuff – I like the variety of lighting effects you were able to pull off!
Playing with artificial lighting is one of my goals for this year; I’d gotten too used to taking pictures outdoors, and my indoor photography has suffered, so this is inspiring me to play around with additional light-sources a bit more than I have been.
Excellent. I hope you share your results over on your site. 🙂
Last photo is amazing. I tried with a cheap lantern, but the light wasn’t strong enough. Also I learned that just a couple of lamps don’t give the right lighting (I noticed my mistake when I saw the first photo of this entry).
Greetings and thanks 😀 !!