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Your RC-car:
Spectacularily staged!

Due to quite a lot positive comments on my reviews (thanks!) and requests about how I shot the pictures and which equipment was used, I've compiled a small three part "how-to" that covers anything from photographic basics up to some studio- and sports-photographing techniques.

Again, I want to emphasize, that this has nothing to do with "professional photography" - it's just to show which kind of results can be expected from a rather low budget (compact-)camera if used the right way. And these can get quite impressive sometimes!

Deutsche Fassung: hier klicken!

 Part 2: "Studio" - photography

Pictures of rc-cars or parts on your trusty workbench may have their special charme.
But when it comes to taking clear pictures, for your next ebay-auction, an article or similar needs, the workbench isn't the best place to present you car to the public.
The background is irritating, and there's often too little light available. "So I pop out my cam's flash" I hear you say...
But think of it: compact cams don't have a very sophisticated light meter system. Your cam only knows the distance to your subject to determine the flash power.
It could care less, whether there's a black, light absorbing plastic part or shiny alloy part in front of its lens. Even worse: a shiny shocktower and two pairs of dull black suspension arms.
Baseline: Direct flashes should be taboo, and the onboard flashes are usually too weak for a bouncer or a diffusor.

If you can spare about a square-metre in you hobbyroom, then you can create your own "Did it myself" photostudio:
All you need is a table, white sheets and some lights. Cover the table with a white sheet and tack it to the wall.
For lights, I use a 500W halogen unit (the cheap one from the hardware store) and an old 50W halogen desktop lamp to create individual highlights.


Well... that's all you need!

Still, it's important, that both lights are about the same color temperature. Don't mix halogen lamps with normal light bulbs or tungsten light!
Your pictures would get very unnatural colours.

And because not all parts look good on a white background (bright parts in general) you can euqip yourself with some sheets of coloured fancy paper, just in case.
The colour background can be cut later using some basic photo editing tools.

Don't forget to adjust your cameras white balance to the halogen light, or otherwise all pictures will look yellow-ish like the one on the right.

All cameras provide a preset white balance especially for light bulbs that creates quite natural colours.
Again, never trust the automatic white balance, or you'll get something like the image on the right.

Whether to use a tripod or not depends, if your camera is euqipped with an optical image stabilisation or CCD shift anti shake system.
In this case, the described setup provides enough light to take photos at ISO 100 without a tripod. You can be more flexible and work faster in this case, even if you use higher f-stop numbers.

 It all depends on the point of view...

Two questions:

  • What to photograph?

  • And how to do it?

I can't help with the first one, because that depends on the actual situation. But I can give advice on the second one.
In my opinion, the focal length is the most important mean for composing the picture. At around 50 - 100mm focal length (normal up to moderate tele), the proportions of the framed subject appear natural, just as we see them through our own eyes.
So this is a perfect focal length to take pictures for a quick overview from above (like presenting a chassis etc.)

If your camera does not provide a focal length scale, then zoom until it displays something like 2x - 3x or the slider is midway between wide and tele.

LRP Shark 18 Chassis (50mm focal length, full frame equiv.)

At the wide end of your camera's zoom lens, it's field of view gets bigger, hence subjects appear smaller in the frame and you have to get closer to get a picture at reasonable size.
Doing so will also introduce some perspective distortion that will make the subject appear bigger, larger and more "impressive" than it really is. Great for expressing details!

moderate wide angle (35mm focal length, fullframe equiv.):
perspective distortions around rocker arm and damper

At the same time, most cameras have their minimum focus distance at the wide angle. With the optional macro-mode, this focus distance is further decreased, sometimes to as close as 1cm.
This is useful for creating a small depth of field which fixed lens compact cameras usually lack due to their small sensors.
Blurring the back- and foreground is another way to make small details prominent.

Seperating the subject from the background with a small depth of field at f/2.8
(35mm focal length fullframe equiv. ca. 10cm distance)

Very small depth of field at close distance: the shocktower is out of focus
(35mm focal length, aperture f/2.8, ca. 5cm distance)

Should you want a larger depth of field, you have to close the aperture (choose a higher f-number). Be aware though, that this also lowers your shutter speed and hand held shots may become difficult to take without visible camera shake. Higher ISOs to compensate for the small aperture should only be an option in case you don't need a 50-100% crop of your picture, since sensor noise will become an issue at higher sensitivities.
Seperating subject and background via depth of field can become a difficult task on compact cameras, since you have no means to preview the DOF. Rather, you have to get the feeling for it, since DOF depends on three factors:

  • aperture (smaller f-number gives smaller DOF),
  • focal length (higher focal length gives smaller DOF) and
  • subject distance (smaller subject distance gives smaller DOF).
In case you're unsure, do multiple exposures choosing a smaller aperture every time.

Wide angle shots work best, if the camera is only a few centimetres above or below the subject – „from face to face“, so... on your knees!

Some tips for studio photography to close this chapter:

  • The correct exposure: The shiny white background irritates your camera so that it underexposes on your subject, if it's set to "average" or "center weighted" (usually default) metering. Better use spot metering on the subejct itself or set the exposure manually!

  • For post processing, it's not overly important for the background to remain white. It's just important, that it's of a homogene colour and seperates itself well from the subject, which can then be cut out with basic photo editing tools.

  • When photographing single, small objects (shocks, diffs, ...) make sure, that their full shadow is within the frame. Cut shadows don't look natural neither especially good.
    Exception from the rule: Should you decide to completely cut the subject from it's background and paste it into a new one, it's sometimes possible to leave the shadows out, example:


Continue part 3: Outdoor and action photography
Back to part 1: A brief introduction to digital photography
Special: Offroad-Action Photo-Thread (DSLR)

Text, pictures and translation by Aaron Banovics
This article was published on om 3-6-2007