Friday, 7 August 2020

Miniature Photography: Digital Editing Basics


Hi folks,

This post is a short tutorial on how you can use some free online editing tools to get the most out of your miniature photography. I am by no means an expert, but it is something that I do very regularly as part of blogging and sharing the hobby with others on social media platforms.

Generally speaking, the purpose of digitally editing a photograph of your miniature is to clearly show what you have done with it. This involves enhancing the image to show what is already there; not to add something new*. Often the lighting used, as well as other factors, can take away from what you have done. I often read the comment "the photo doesn't do the model justice" in reference to this. This post will hopefully provide some ways to avoid that.

General Advice:

Games Workshop has released some pretty good tips on how to set up a good photograph; it is worthwhile reading what they say about it, particularly in relation to lighting, the "golden angle" and f-stop settings. 

Here are a few personal tips:

  • You want to light your model so that shadows won't distract from the figure and so that there is no detail on the figure that is completely hidden by shadow. 
  • White paper is a good background that helps with editing later on, though for my blog I use a more elaborate screen.
  • Clean your camera lens before taking a shot. 
  • If you have a tripod for your camera, use it and set the camera on a 10 second timer. This eliminates any shaking you would get from pressing buttons to capture the image.
  • Generally speaking, photos taken from further away are better than those taken up close. Make sure the camera doesn't cast a shadow over the miniature!
Here is my setup for this tutorial: one light only with the shot taken on a Samsung 9 smart phone, one-handed from about 70 cm away (from behind the lamp).

The photo I will be editing is this one:

There are quite a few digital editing web apps you can access on the net. My go-to is Pixlr X. To use it you will need to upload the photograph (read the privacy information if you are concerned about doing this). It will ask you to pre-size the image; I always use Ultra-HD.

Once you have loaded your photo, you will have access to a sidebar of editing tools on the left. For most photos, I only use two tools; the cropping tool and the adjust tool.

Crop the photo so that the focus of your shot is in the centre of the image. This is also good for removing things at the edge of the photo that you don't want (like the side walls of the light box).

The Adjust tool allows you to modify quite a few aspects of the image. I only play with Light and Color. As a rule of thumb, I start with Light first, then adjust colour once lighting is how I want it. The Color tool also allows you to add colour effects that aren't actually there, which is usually something you don't want to do*.

Light Tools:

  • Brightness: arbitrarily increases the brightness of the shot at the cost of contrast and saturation of colours. If you have poor lighting you will be jacking this up quite a bit. Avoid turning white portions of the model into blazing suns of doom: they should be as bright as what you can see on the physical miniature. For illustrative purposes, I pushed this a little too far so you can see that some detail is being lost due to brightness (look at the snake motif). Don't push it too far!
  • Exposure: artificially modifies the image to make the most of the light you did actually collect in the shot. Play with this setting to see if it brightens your shot while looking more natural. I usually use this in combination with brightness, though in this shot it didn't look any better, so I set it to 0.
  • Contrast: makes the light parts lighter and the dark parts darker. If you have lit your model up like a Christmas tree there is a fair chance you have removed some contrast that should be there from the paint job. This tool can help you put it back. If you push it too far, though, you will add contrast that was never there in the first place. This may make for a pretty picture, but is not a true representation of the model (if that is what you were after).
  • Black: makes the black sections blacker. Good if you jacked up the brightness and your blacks are starting to look grey. Bad, because if you push it too far the deep details may get lost in shadow.
  • White: makes the white sections whiter. Good if you have painted clean white but lighting has made it look grey, or you dropped the brightness and need to brighten the whites selectively.
  • Highlight: like the "White" tool above, though it is less selective. This will boost your lighter shades and edge highlighting. Push it too far though, and again you get more contrast than you actually achieved with the paint job.
  • Shadows: the same as the "Highlight" tool but for the darker shades. 

Final check: anything white should actually look white. This is where having a white background helps.


Colour has a whole heap of settings you can play with to enhance your image. Here is a quick rundown of what I focus on. 

  • Vibrance: as the name suggest, this makes the colours a little more vibrant. I use this tool to replace vibrance lost due to lighting or other setting I have changed. Again: play with it until what you see on the screen looks more like the physical miniature.
  • Saturation: increases the intensity of colour in the image. Red things become RED!!! If you feel like your carefully layered reds are lacking in photography, this setting is your friend. Some folks like to oversaturate their photos just as a form of artistic expression. My suggestion: do what you like. If you want a natural looking shot, you probably don't want to be too heavy on this setting. Lighting a model well will tend to desaturate it, so I often add a touch back in. The result, due to my background and warm house lights, makes the image too "warm" though.
  • Temperature: the "colder" and image is the whiter the light. If you are using warm light from household globes, you may need to reduce the "temperature" of the image. If you are using fluorescent globes, you may need to increase the temperature. My pictures, particularly after adding some saturation back in, are often too warm. I can tell because white parts look a bit yellow! Reducing the temperature counteracts this.
  • Tint and Hue: I don't usually touch these, as they dramatically change the colours in the image. On rare occasions it has helped me under really specific lighting situations, i.e. when the sun is setting so my gaming board looks like it is on fire, or when it is cloudy outside and I am getting blue lighting. If you are lighting with a lamp, this shouldn't be a problem. Have a play with them anyway, just to see what they do.

Final check: anything white should actually look white. This is where having a white background helps.

Once you have changed your settings, press "Apply". Pressing "Save" will prompt you to download the edited image. Give it a useful name (e.g. Dreadnought left side etc), it saves time when you want to share a certain photo/aspect of the model. I save them as a JPEG file and set the size of the file between 1 and 2 MB. This reduces upload time for you and download times for other people. Obviously, the smaller the file the less resolution, so choose a size that suits the purpose of the image.

Here is a final comparison of the initial and final image:

In this case, the initial image wasn't that bad, and I have intentionally increased the brightness a touch too far, but I am sure you can see the differences between the two. Try Pixlr X for yourself and enhance a problem photo, just to see what it can do!

*Really, though, feel free to do what ever you want: it is your hobby.

See you across the table,



  1. Replies
    1. Cheers mate, hopefully it helps some people!

  2. I still use Picasa, free to download still but no longer supported by Google.

    1. I have heard that it is quite good as well, though I haven't used it personally. Anything that provides the basics of light and colour adjustment, is quick and easy to use and doesn't smash you with too many pop-up adds will do :-)

  3. Thanks Marc, your generosity with your knowledge for the hobby is always impressive. I can't wait to try this out with some photos. Other than cropping I didn't know anything about taking model pictures other than the GW standard. This might be because I was a photo editor on yearbook in HS, although back then we did cropping with ruler T-squares, wax pencils, and black and white photos. That sentence made me sound as old as when my dad tells me how much bread cost in 1951 :-)

    1. Ha ha ha! Mate, with some examinations we purchase from external sources at work, we still have to sit around physically cutting and pasting questions together like that (seriously: they should all be digital by now!). Free apps for digital photography are common and generally very easy to use these days though. They are well worth a couple of minutes of tinkering.

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