Scale model photography

Two weeks ago, I visited the Scale Model Challenge 2015 in Veldhoven, The Netherlands.
I visited this scale model exhibition because my father participated in the contest (and won a gold medal) with his Normandy bocage display.

I took my camera with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 to take some photos of my father’s display and the other scale models participating in the contest, but surprisingly, this proved to be a lot more difficult than expected!

I tried to take photos of the scale models and dioramas (mostly in 1:35th scale) from a point of view perspective, to make it look like the photo was taken in a full scale setting. However, when I shot the first couple of photos I noticed that the depth of field was not proportional to the perspective and the (scaled) distance to the subject. The photos just looked like they were taken with the aperture wide open, even though I was shooting with an aperture between f/3.5 and f/5.6. An example of this effect can be seen in the foto below, which I shot fully zoomed in at ISO 3200, 1/60s, f/5.6:

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In the photo above, the shot is quite okay, because the running child is in focus and the background is blown out in a way that it could have been photographed like this in a full scale setting as well. It doesn’t really look like it was shot at f/5.6 though.

Because I didn’t want every photo to look like it was shot wide open with an f/1.4 lens, I experimented a bit with taking the photos from different perspectives and I noticed that taking the photos from an angled bird’s eye view perspective (as seen below, also shot at ISO 3200, 1/60s, f/5.6, but zoomed out to 44mm) set the focal plane in a way that the depth of field looked more realistic.

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Under limited light, I was shooting at ISO 3200, but also sometimes as high as ISO 4000, which didn’t make it possible for me to close the aperture more to get a more realistic depth of field. However, sometimes the small depth of field resulted in a nice portrait of a scale figure, as seen in the photo below, which was shot deliberately with a wider aperture at ISO 2000, 1/100s, f/4.5:

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I can say that I learned that proper lighting is an absolute must to shoot scale models at f/16 or higher (without having to bump up the ISO to levels which are not correctable in post processing) to get a more realistic depth of field for creating nice photos in a point of view perspective.

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