Model Photography

The equipment

Model photography requires to perform manual adjustment of the various camera settings. "Compact" cameras should be proscribed for this use because fitted with automatisms that cannot be de-activated. It's the camera which decides how the photo will be taken and not the photographer. Besides, this type of camera has the disadvantage of showing in the viewfinder a different image from the one being taken, especially for close-up photography, due to the distance between the viewfinder and the lens.

The ideal camera for this type of photography is the reflex camera (SLR camera) which offers many advantages. SLR cameras are often associated with high prices which is largely untrue. The SLR camera market offers equipment in a large range of price and performance and the low end cameras, amply sufficient for model photography, are often offered at a lower price than many "compact" cameras.

Any reflex camera allows to sight the photographed scene through the lens and visualize exactly the photo that will be taken. Depending upon the chosen model, the camera will be fitted with more or less features and automatisms but it is important that any of these automatisms can be de-activated so that the various camera settings can be manually adjusted. The ideal camera for model photography is an old, used (and cheap) SLR camera with manual settings. The photo at right shows an example of such a camera : my old Pentax P30 camera which I use for all my model photos and also some other uses.

Regarding the lens, and considering that we want to render the scenes just like in "prototypical" life, it is better to choose a standard 50mm focal length lens, or a slightly "wide angle" (35mm) lens since the latter somewhat increases distances while giving a wider field. If your intent is to get a zoom lens, make sure that the range of focal lengths covers at least the standard range. The quality of the lens is not of utmost importance since it is mostly related to lens performance at maximum aperture, while we are going to use it at minimum aperture. But, of course, your choice may be for a more sophisticated equipment insofar as you intend to use it for other photography needs.

A useful camera feature, not to be overlooked for this kind of photograpy, is the "depth of field tester" which allows you to precisely visualize the depth of field at a given aperture. As a matter of fact, with an SLR camera, sighting is always done at maximum aperture (thus with a reduced depth of field). This device lets you see the actual depth of field by closing the diaphragm at the selected aperture (with some brightness loss). But not all cameras are made alike and only some of them are fitted with this feature.

After choosing your camera and its associated lens, it's now time to think about acquiring a good quality tripod and a cable release since all these photos require a long exposure time and it is necessary that the camera remains steady when the picture is taken and that it does not shift when released.

The photo at left shows the typical equipment setup that I use for photographing my models. Note the cable release and the tripod.

Once the camera is ready to take pictures, the next step is to properly light the scene.

Back to the basics Lighting the scene

Page created by Jean-Louis Simonet
Last update : 03/07/2000
© 2000, Jean-Louis Simonet