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Friday, August 07, 2009

The long road back to the painting table

Gearing up and clearing the decks
It's been three months since I wrote about returning to the miniatures hobby I'd put aside a few years ago. I still haven't picked up a paintbrush in anger in those weeks, but I'm getting close. In the meantime I had to empty a large walk-in cupboard to clear the space to reestablish my painting table. Although everything's packed away again so that I finally have a functional workspace I'm going to have to unpack and reorganise everything again at least once before I'm satisfied.

For the sake of the bloggery I've invested in the finishing touches to my layout for miniatures photography:
  • A nifty wee tabletop tripod.
  • A quality PVC backdrop.
  • And a pair of cheap halogen spots; I'd've thought these would give bad light, but the guy in the camera shop where I bought the backdrop pointed out that digital image manipulation makes it easy to correct the light.
The picture at the top of the article shows the new layout in action this afternoon, when I was taking pictures of my Penumbra's Talons DIY space marines. And the picture above right shows some of the results after the original shots were processed through google's Picasa. I confess I think the pictures aren't bad: the colours are quite true to life, and the yellow glare of the halogen spots is gone; all very easy to achieve using Picasa. I've been using Picasa as my default picture viewer for the best part of a year now and I like it quite a lot. It's the best program for managed images I've used, and it's pretty good for basic retouching work too.

All of these labours, those recent vicissitudes and other diversions notwithstanding, my scanner has been the source of the major problem with which I've had to deal. When I began posting pictures of my miniatures to the web a digital camera was way beyond my means, so that I had to rely on my scanner to take my pictures.

The pictures- above and right, show that this produced surprisingly good results; notice, eg. the depth of field in these 2 samples. So I was disappointed to find that my new scanner was much worse. Why worry you might ask? I've finally got a digicam and a half decent photographic layout after all. It's just that scanning can still be convenient for taking pictures of sprues, parts, and so on; all the sort of stuff that I'll need for blogging in other words.

Rising to the challenge
So, wishing to use the scanner for some miniatures pictures, I set out thoroughly to investigate the parameters of my scanner (an Epson Stylus DX3850 printer/scanner), to find the best settings for my purposes. The figure I used- painted version below, was Bosun Grogspar from Privateer Press' Warmachine. Grogspar was part of the swag from Saturday's Claymore.

I went round all the minis traders twice before I finally chose it: I was looking for a mini for August's painting challenge at the Sheffield Irregulars. The Sheffield Irregulars are a fB group I joined a few months ago in one of those random bouts of networking that you do on a social networking site. They have monthly challenges in which entrants must paint a mini (or minis) of their choice according to an agreed theme; August's theme is 'swashbuckling', and I was girding my loins to join in.

I'd been looking for the inevitable pirates but all I'd been able to find was Grogspar. On my second trip round the traders I saw Grogspar and his piratical mercenary mateys at the Edinburgh League of Gamers' Warmachine particpation game (highly commended), and I knew they would fit the bill. Grogspar it was then.

Testing, testing
1. Background
I'd started doing this with other minis but it had turned out that I wasn't going to be using them for RD/KA! so I decided to start all over again with the Bosun. That first run had at least taught me a few lessons about going about the task systematically, so I was able to work more quickly.

Backgrounds
When I was scanning my first minis pictures back in the 90's I just used a handerchief (clean, naturally enough!) to cover the minis on the flatbed. Later I used a box. So I tried several different backgrounds; box and paper looks to be the best. Notice how poor is the depth of field on these images compared to those from my previous scanner. I wish I knew the technical specifications which are responsible for this.

2. Document type
My background set, I next had to determine the best document type setting: photograph was my instinct but I was being thorough after all.

Document types
The illustration document type aside (a bigger file size and poorer image quality), there was nothing to choose between the remaining 4 document types. No reason then to change from photo I figured.

3. Image type and resolution
Image type was going to be colour or grayscale; resolution (AKA. destination) was screen/web or an 'Other' setting allowing me to choose the image's dpi resolution. Screen/web seemed the obvious choice.


Image types and resolution
There is no appreciable quality lost across the various settings. The greyscale screen/web image is the most compact- 810x1105 pixels and 877Kb; as opposed to 2532x 3456 and 25MB for the colour 300dpi image (the largest). Greyscale screen/web it was then.

4. Brightness
I hadn't noticed the brightness control on the scanner control panel before, so I was quite pleased with myself when I started experimenting with it during my first attempt at this task.

Brightness
These are low quality images so that you can't improve them much by changing the brightness setting. Still, brightness 50 seems not too bad: these images are really only to show off parts; WIP shots will be proper photos. And so the scan settings are:
  • Paper background and box cover.
  • Photograph document type.
  • Greyscale screen/web.
  • Brightness 50.
I wish I still had that old scanner though. ;)
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