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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Photo frustration with my airbrushed tanks

I have been painting, airbrushing, washing, dry brushing, tweaking and teasing some WW2 German panther tanks for a few months. In life they look fantastic. I'm not just saying that because I put so much work into them. They really do look great. They have bags of contrast, dark spaces that look dirty, faded out cammo (actually you can hardly tell that they are cammo, they are so faded and "dirty"), yet the dry brushing picks up all the raised areas, especially the zimmermit anti magnetic mine paste, while leaving the dark areas still looking dark.

So what is the problem? Well, the photos I have been able to take look awful. There is no exposure setting that can really show the dark areas, while maintaining any light. There is no setting that shows the light areas properly at all. The best I can do is fade the whole thing to a light colour which totally wipes out the contrast. It looks like I've done a crappy job.

My next hope is to combine images with a HDR package like GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program). HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Computer programs, or the cameras themselves, combine several exposures to produce a range of exposure that would not normally be possible. Here are three images I took at different exposure settings. Firstly, the one the camera wanted, next -1 exposure value, lastly -2 exposure values.

This is the image my camera wanted to take. It has totally zapped the contrast.  Those areas that look a little darker in the photo are really dark, with that yellow colour dry brushed over showing up the zimmermit.

Second photo at -1 exposure value.

Third photo, at -2 exposure value compared to the first, and coming closer to the darkness for some of the dark areas (which are still darker in reality)

The tanks are from Old Glory USA.


  1. Hi, Saw your post on TMP and apart from the suggestions already there, I would like to provide some ideas to try. For the record I worked in various parts of the photographic industry for 20 years and I still keep my hand in.

    Now I'm not sure what you are using to take these pictures and that isn't necessarily important. From what I can see the quality and direction of the lighting is what is causing your image to look so washed out. Judging from the shadows, your main lighting is coming from almost directly above and is too harsh. Is it a built in flash by any chance? Most small flash units work best at distances of 2-5 metres. At less than arms length, they overpower.

    As suggested, a soft box will reduce the light intensity and lighten the shadow areas. That should allow you to get a better exposure and you will also see an improvement if you decide to use HDR. If you don't have a light box, Improvise by taping a sheet of printer paper over your main light. I would also put a white or silver reflector just below the camera lens to bounce some light back into the shadows.

    Second option is to head outside if it is overcast. That will get you the same lighting effect.

    This tute may be of help

  2. Thanks for your comment, Drew. I just saw this as I'm about to post a new photo. I put thin packing tissue paper under my four tube light source (for my light box), which sine directly down as you guessed, and that seems to have helped. It still doesn't reflect the full glory of my tanks, but it is a good step.

    Not bothered about the shadows, for example on the tracks at the moment, unless that is giving me an incorrect exposure.

    Have a look at my new photo, if you get the chance, and please comment.