Photographing Your Gunpla: Products Vs Scenes/Dioramas Ft. Shootingthegalaxy
We've all seen some amazing photos of other peoples kits, from just a blank white background to full recreations of scenes from our favorite series. What does that really take though? Today we'll take a look at how to do both well and what to consider when photographing your latest builds.
I asked talented Gunpla/Toy photographer Shooting The Galaxy how they broke down the two type of photography. Here's what they had to say.
"Product photography aims to show off the whole product. Sometimes that means putting it in a really strange and awkward pose. If you look at pics of Hasbro Black Series and Marvel Legends figures, their promo images usually feature toys in weird poses to try and show off as much of the figure as possible. So usually no super dynamic, contorted, stances where arms are crossed over the body covering large portions of it for example. Its usually lots of wide open poses. Wide legged stances, out stretched arms, holding as many of its accessories as possible. Maybe one arm crossing over. Because they want to show the product off. Then after that at a bunch of different angles you might see a slightly more dynamic pose. But its mostly vanilla posing unless they're a few shots trying to show off the articulation. And even then it'll often still try to do so without anything crazy and of course fairly flat, standard camera angles. To show off the whole figure in its entirety. The figure is usually lit in a flat neutral light for the same reason.
Courtesy of Hasbro
If when they get a little fancy where it would call for colored lighting and most fan gunpla photography looks more like that, people want to show off their build. Which is understandable.
Courtesy of Bandai
If they have a diorama, even worse. Its really really hard to resist the urge to just take this big sweeping shot of everything possible to show as much off as possible. Which is again, essentially product vs toy photography, or at least good toy photography lol Because technically product photography of toys is toy photography. Actually having found that diorama its the perfect piece to use as the example.
Courtesy of Hank Cheng
Its gunpla, and the guy took a lot of different kinds of photographs. This shows off all the cool details of the build. But outside of that its not that interesting except to admire the craftmanship"
Courtesy of Hank Cheng
Now that we have an idea of what both are and some killer examples, lets take a deeper look.Starting with product photography, there are a couple of important things to consider before snapping a picture. First and foremost is the focus, usually not too hard as almost all cameras and camera phones had a solid auto focus, but make sure the parts of the kit you want in focus are. Hard to see all the detail work in the face if the leg was the focus point. Most standard cameras will default to the dead center of the screen, offering more manual options in the settings, and smart phones you can tap where you'd like to focus. The second most important part is lighting. Everything else is a side note to these two, if we can't see the details we can't appreciate them. You don't need an elaborate light set up, regular laps will work. If you start having problems with too much light washing out the photos you can always put a light material or paper of the light to soften it up. Make sure these items don't touch the lights and some bulbs can get really hot.
Next on the road to making those photos stand out is the posing, there are several basic diagrams and videos out there for how to turn basic standing poses into something more dynamic. These can range from the Hasbro example up top to just a stronger regular standing pose. A lot of people in the community like to take shots of specific areas, ie heads, arms, chest, etc. This helps fill out the full view of the kit with a lot of different photos and angles.
The next step upping your photography games isn't to jump into scenes or dioramas, it's about getting the most out of a photo. Some may think that you need a DSLR and a fancy set up to achieve this, there is some validity to that argument, however equipment should be one of your last concerns. All the little physical adjustments made to posing and lighting can up your game and will come with experience. This is where the two types of photography start to overlap.
There are a lot of stellar toy photographers out there that do stunning work, there are a lot of things they do to make these shots work but one of the strongest, most consistent aspects of the whole art is selling the scene with fluid posing and dynamic lighting. Product photography focuses in on that one feature, toy photography takes a step back and gives you a miniature world. That being said those skills from product photography can carry over into scene set ups. Here are a couple examples from my work.
Making the leap into toy photography can be hard. I'm still amateur at best, but there are a lot of neat little tricks you pick up along the way. Notice in the photos above, both use a really similar pose but at a different angle to help integrate the suit into a scene. This is why Bandai loves the signature Aile Strike pose, it allows for kits and figures to shows off a good amount of detail and articulation, while being able to be easily replicated and looking dynamic.
To start shooting scenes all you need is an idea. A lot of people draw direct inspiration from scenes, while others make scenes up. Which ever works best for you, run with it. As you can see in the photo above, something as simple as a sky photo on your computer monitor will work for a back drop for multiple shots. Gundam Seed got away with reusing a bunch of clips, so can you.
The photo above also demonstrates a really important part of the community of toy photography. Practical effects vs Photoshop. It's honestly a personal preference. I do a little of both a picked those photos above for exactly that reason. The strike I Photoshop to removed the stand and you can tell at little in the clouds. For the Heavy arms its all practical but doesn't really add a ton to this photo. Don't get me wrong, practical effects are awesome and can add a lot to a scene, but if you're struggling and getting frustrated, there's nothing wrong with shopping stuff in or out.
Of course a diorama can look more impressive but it's not necessary to get stellar shots. That being said, it is the next step in complexity. This will add a whole new level of depth not just from a photographic sense but also in terms of display. This is where knowing more about the concepts of photography will start to pay off immensely.
The two photos above provide a general idea of depth in both senses. Knowing how to when to force perspective can lead to really nicely scaled shot, especially for giant robots. In the first picture we can feel how big the Tallgeese is, not only due to the focus being shifted to mini Zechs but the environment around both of them. The rubble on the ground in front of Zechs and the little cuts of yellow from the under pass help set scale. In a more notable example, a lot of movies and video games use flocks of birds to provide scale. In the second photo we see more of what's around the Tallgoose and once again the environmental details provide more than you'd think. Without the rubble and the "smoke" from the buildings it'd feel emptier. Still not bad but these little thoughts can help tie a scene together.
And once again, hardware should be the last thing on your mind.
It the end it doesn't matter which you prefer or which you do, I hope Shooting The Galaxy's incite and mine have helped you get a little more comfortable with the extreme basics of both. If you'd like more on these subjects let us know. I'm always looking for excuses to take new photos.