Chapter 22


Chapter 22

Photographing Models.

PHOTOGRAPHY is such a universal hobby nowadays that lots of people, having built a model, will want to photograph it. A photograph will still be good years after we have almost forgotten the model, and it is nice to have evidence to show how we have improved.

There are two ways of photographing scale models; one in which the model is made to represent a full-size aircraft by the inclusion of a suitable background, and the other to use a plain background. The writer prefers the latter since in the first method the model merely becomes part of the picture, and can seldom be mistaken for a full-size machine, but in the latter the model is the picture, and there is nothing else to distract the attention.


Practically every article written on photography points out the many variables that have to be taken into account, and gives no definite data as regards exposure. The exposure may be given, but not the lighting conditions, which are just as important. The writer has worked out a method that never seems to fail, and hopes to describe it here, so that anyone with a little intelligence can take photographs, similar to those of the Lysander and Swallow shown, with an inexpensive camera.

The camera is not very important, except that a means of giving time exposures is required, and also some means of getting the model in focus at a short distance. Most cameras have a shutter that can be set to give time exposures, and if there is no focussing adjustment a portrait attachment should be used. This portrait attachment must suit the distance at which we shall work, generally about five feet. If small models are being photographed the camera can be used nearer with advantage, but a portrait attachment for five feet will not do for, say, three feet. The camera must be put on something firm, such as a good solid tripod, box or table. When using the camera as close as this, do not trust the viewfinder too much. The safest way is to sight along the camera and see that it is pointing straight at the model.

The model can be placed on a table, either a plain or polished top will do. For the background we can use a plain distempered wall, a papered wall so long as there is no very obvious pattern, or a plain curtain or blanket. A buff colour, or something near it, is the most useful. The main thing is to have the background as unobtrusive as possible.

We now turn the model about on the table till we find a view that we like. This will generally be a three-quarter rear view from a little above with a low-wing model, and a three-quarter front view from about the level of the table with a high-wing model. Put the camera in place and see that the whole of the model is included in the view, and that the model does not overlap the background.

If we are using a portrait attachment, we must have the camera just the right distance away from the model to suit the attachment. For instance, if the attachment is for five feet the camera must be five feet from the model, and the distance must be measured. Guessing is not good enough. Measure from the camera lens to the fuselage of the model. With a three-quarter front view measure to the leading edge of the wing, and with a three-quarter rear view use the trailing edge. If you are taking a different view, measure to a point a little nearer the camera than the centre of the model. If your portrait attachment is for five feet, and at that distance the model does not nearly fill the picture space, do not worry, because if the negative is sharp, as it will be by working at the correct distance, enlargements can always be made. The Swallow and Lysander were no more than an inch long on the negatives, yet exhibition prints 8 in. long have been turned out of the Lysander.

The next job is to arrange the lighting, and this is probably the most interesting part. The best plan is to remove the camera and put a piece of cardboard in its place, with a hole to represent the Jens. We can then look through the hole and see the model just as the camera will see it.

For the lights, two or three 100-watt bulbs costing 6d. each can be used, or the more expensive "photofloods." The bulbs are best used with reflectors of some sort, which can be made from sheet tin or thin white cardboard. The writer uses tin ones 10 1/2in. diameter at the front and 6 1/2in. long, in the form of a cone. A bayonet socket is fixed in the apex, and a fitting is bolted on to fix it to a tripod or other support. The thing is to be able to adjust the height and move it to the position we find best. One lamp can be used in the ordinary room light, but any shade or reflector should be removed from this, the idea being to get an even light all over the room. With one lamp in its reflector we can move it about to see how it lights up different parts of the model and show them up brightly, and at the same time cast shadows on the background. A good position will be about level with, or just below the camera, and 30 to 45 degrees to one side or the other.


This is how the three-quarter rear view of the Swallow was taken. The camera was five feet from the model, and the room light, 100-watt bulb, was about three feet above the camera. A 100-watt bulb in tin reflector was placed about 6 in. below the level of the camera and about 45 degrees to the right. In this position it lit up the fin, side of fuselage, top of near wing, and propeller. By adjusting it a few inches one way or the other, it left the top and bottom of the nose showing dark, due to its curvature. It lit up the inside of the cockpits but left the top of the fuselage dark behind them. The propeller was turned round to find the best position for showing it up. With the nearer blade higher the further blade could not be seen very well, and with the near blade lower it reflected so much light that it was as bright as the fin. The shadow along the leading edge of the starboard wing came along very conveniently all on its own. After sorting out the lighting the camera can be put back in place and the exposure made. Since readers can copy the photograph of the Swallow with their own models, here are the full particulars.

Model: - Silver wings and tail surfaces. Blue fuselage, nose and centre section. Mahogany propeller.

Lighting: - 100-watt room light six feet from model, and 100-watt light in tin reflector about 45 degrees to the right, and slightly below the level of the camera.

Exposure: - Two seconds at f.11 on Selo H.P.2 plate. Using Selo H.P.2 film, or Kodak Super-XX, the exposure would be 2 1/4sec., and, using Panatomic-X, 3 3/4sec. Using Selo S.F.P. film the exposure would be 15 sec. These exposures should be considered the least you can give to get good results, and you can give up to twice as much without spoiling the picture. Twice as much would even be better if the walls of the room were dark. If you use a paper reflector instead of the tin one, put the lamp at three feet instead of four. The symbol f.11 denotes the diaphragm or "stop" on the lens, and if the camera is a popular cheap one like the No. 2 Brownie you need take no notice of it.

Should the model be dark practically all over, the exposure would need increasing by about 50 to 100 per cent.

Making tin reflectors to fit on tripods may be too much trouble if we do not want to use our photographic apparatus indoors very often, but it is a simple matter to make a reflector out of thin card or thick paper. It can be made from a disc about 18 in. diameter, cut from the edge to the middle, and rolled-into a cone, so that we have two thicknesses all round with an overlap about 1/2in. wide fastened with a paper clip. We can then make a hole through the side about 3 1/2in. from the open end, through which we put the brass end of the bulb, with an ordinary bayonet socket on the outside. This "floodlight" can be hung up by its flex. Instead of a tripod, we can use a broomstick tied to a chair. Since a picture can speak louder than words, Fig. 78 shows just how things are set up, with the model in position and the lights in place. Please note that in this picture a shade has been used over the ordinary room light. This was because a light shining on the camera lens may cause a "flare" or bright streak on the photograph. Always see that the lens is in the shade. It may sometimes mean getting a friend to hold up a piece of cardboard or their hand between the lamp and the camera. See that the card is kept outside the picture.


Taking the case of a high-wing model, look at the three-quarter front view of the Lysander in Fig. 79. One light was used down low to the right, again to light up the side of the fuselage and pick out the wing-tip and edge of the tail-plane. Instead of the room light another bulb in tin reflector was used close up and shining down at about 45 degrees on to the nose. This lit up the leading edge of the wings, struts, undercarriage and fuselage formers. The lamp to the right was four feet away again, but the one on the left was only three feet away. The exposure was the same as before. The Lysander was silver all over.

This is the general idea of the lighting and exposure used by the writer in most of his photographs of models; it is just varied slightly to pick out certain features. Where a view is a bit more to the side, like Fig. 80, a lamp is often placed a bit on the other side of the model, to show up the rounded top. We can be pretty sure of getting a pleasing result every time by using a general light about four or six feet from the model, with another light about three or four feet away, to pick out spots of high light. In another view of the Lysander, Fig. 81, one lamp was placed a little to the left and just below the camera, to give the general light, and the other lamp was placed round to the rignt, and higher up, and served mainly to light up the fuselage formers. The position of the lamp on the left was finally chosen where it cast a shadow from the exhaust pipe on to the fuselage. Without working round to that position, the exhaust pipe would not have shown up.


Sorting out the lights is very interesting, and the writer usually takes about ten to twenty minutes on the job before being satisfied. It is often best to switch one light off while the most suitable position is found for the other. Sometimes we shall have to stand objects up in front of the lamps so that they cast a shadow on the background.


As an object lesson on what can be done in arranging lights and shadows, two more photographs are shown with the following notes. Fig. 82 is the first one taken, and shows a model Lysander set up for glueing the tail-plane and fin. We can see that the tail-plane is held in place with glasses and blocks of wood, and we can just distinguish a piece of black thread holding the fin. The tail-wheel shows up beautifully against the edges of the books, but it is not at all obvious that the books are holding up the rear end of the model. Having made a print of that set-up, the writer decided that he could make a clearer picture by rearranging the lights and fittings.


Fig. 83 shows the second attempt, and to get it the writer spent a most instructive and interesting two hours. The first thing to do was to show that the fuselage really was held up, and this was made clear by supporting the tail-wheel. The lights were arranged with one on the right, close up, and one on the left a bit farther away. The right-hand side of the tail-plane was next packed up, using a glass so that there would not be too much shadow about. For the left-hand side a pile of books were used to cast a shadow on the table, under the stern of the fuselage. The books were all placed with .their backs to the camera so that the edges of the leaves would not show a blank white space as in the first photograph. Of course, the books chosen were such that if the titles could be read they would give a good impression of the writer's cleverness!


White thread was used to hold the fin, since the black had not shown up very well. The light on the right was then moved about to get the best effect. In its final position it cast a shadow from the fuselage on to the wall that passed behind the tip of the fin so that the background would be the darker. This meant moving the whole outfit a bit nearer to the wall. The light on the left was next taken in hand and moved to such a position that it lit up the fuselage formers and tail and fin main spars. The background behind the left side of the tail-plane was a bit light and the tail-plane did not show up very well, so something; had to be done about it. A shadow was wanted from the light on the left, so the writer hunted round for something suitable. Eventually the baby's pram was pushed into place, with the baby's dressing gown on the handle. This gave a shadow in jusf the right place. The exposure was then made in perfect confidence of a satisfactory result. For those who wish to know, the exposure was 2 sec. at f.22 on S.G.Pan plates, using two photoflood lamps in tin reflectors at two and three feet from the stern-post of the model.

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