Imagine you’ve just built the most gorgeous Gunpla of your life. The panel-lining is perfectly straight, the decals are precision-placed, and the plastic is blemish-free. However, your work isn’t over yet. If you want everyone to truly appreciate your Gunpla’s perfection, you’re going to need to take a photo that does it justice.
There are a lot of tutorials on the Internet about taking gorgeous, artful photography. But if you’re familiar with our philosophy here at Gunpla 101, you probably guessed we don’t think you need to be a pro photographer to take a decent, non-blurry photo of your Gunpla.
Here’s how to practice model photography, the Gunpla 101 way.
1. Use an actual camera.
We take most of our photos with my 10-megapixel Nikon P7000. On the other hand, we took the photo above with John’s 16-megapixel Samsung Galaxy 4. Why do the photos taken with a real camera look better, despite it being four years older and having fewer megapixels? It’s all about that lens. A real camera will have an option to allow you to take macro, or close-up shots, which is essential when you’re photographing small figures.
I also highly recommend using a tripod for stability. Macro photography especially benefits from a stable shot, since any shake of your hand will be magnified in a close-up. My Benro Aluminum Tripod is very lightweight (because of the aluminum) so I don’t think twice about carrying it around, despite being a small woman.
2. Wait for the right lighting.
All the photos you see on Gunpla 101 have been taken between 10 AM and noon, which happens to be when our apartment gets the best light. In fact, the photo you can see me taking above looked so nice in the natural light, I hardly had to touch it up at all:
Professional product photographers use a lightbox to ensure the proper lighting. If you don’t want to be limited to taking photos during the hours you get natural light, you can buy one or make your own.
3. Find a flat surface and distraction-free background.
Since we don’t use any fancy photography tools, anyone reading Gunpla 101 for long enough has a pretty good idea of what our living room looks like—but only when our living room is spotlessly clean. If you don’t have a photo backdrop, at least make sure there’s nothing distracting in the background of your photos like clutter, or faces reflected in mirrors or electronic surfaces.
We take most of our photos on our kotatsu table, which looks like this from a human perspective:
And from there we use creative angles to ensure the Gunpla is the focus of the shot.
4. Dust off your model kit.
Another thing about macro photography: it shows everything. So if your Gunpla isn’t dusted, or even just not 100% dusted, it’ll show up. Check out our Gunpla cleaning tutorial for ensuring your Gunpla are ready for their close-ups. Even so, I need to work on this. I didn’t realize there was still some dust on Gundam Musha until I saw the final photo!
5. Frame the shot.
The position and placement of your Gunpla really do matter to the shot. We’re no experts, but you can read plenty of professionals’ tutorials about photo composition. What we do know: make your Gunpla the focal point. That means saying yes to dynamic poses, saying no to shooting from too far away where viewers can’t see the details, and under no circumstances should the photo be blurry.
After you’ve arranged a composition you’re happy with, take a bunch of photos. I usually take at least 10 in a session to make sure that I end up with at least one that I like.
Load the photos into your computer and pick the ones you like best. These are the ones you’ll want to port into Photoshop or its free sibling software, Gimp. My instructions are for Photoshop, but Gimp has pretty similar settings.
First, select Image from the menu and select Auto Tone, Auto Contrast, and Auto Color in any order. I’m not an expert, so I let Photoshop do the fine-tuning for me.
Next, go to Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. If the photo seems too bright, tweak Shadows. If the photo seems too dark, like the example here, tweak Highlights.
Here’s the before and after. It’s not a huge difference, but lightening up the image makes the contrast more natural and present a more accurate presentation of the Gunpla’s colors and shape.
As usual, I’m not advocating this as the One True Correct way to take Gunpla photos, and certainly not the only way! But if you like how the photos look on Gunpla 101, this is how we make them happen.