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Ship Modeling Photography Basics
How to take the best photos of your ship
to post on forums.

By Donald B. Driskell
Owner Ships of Scale
May 6, 2017 Article

This is a basic short manual / tutorial in order to equip you with the knowledge and tools to help you get the most out of your camera, and photo image processing. It will help you make the best decision on how to approach each image and setups.

I sincerely hope that you will find this information simple and informative. I know you would rather be working on your ship, but I really feel passionate about getting this article out to you.

These are the topics discussed:
    I. What kind of camera do I really need?
    II. Camera pixels, image size, cropping, and file sizes
    III. Camera settings and lets start taking pictures
    IV. How to prep your photos for uploading for forums which includes image processing, compression techniques, etc.
    V. Do I really need graphic software, and what all is out there from free to purchase.
    VI. Build your own "Shot Box".

I. What kind of camera do I really need?

To begin with, I must tell you that I do not have a College Degree in Graphic Arts. I am simply writing this article based on many years experience and trying to take this info and provide it to you as simple as I can. I also do not consider myself a pro photographer. I have read material and studied some on my own. The best thing to do first when you have a Point-and-Shoot camera or a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera or any camera as far as that goes is to dig out that instruction manual and read it, especially the DSLR cameras as they are full of so many adjustments.

Well, I hope that you will not disappointed with my fact filled, straight to the point writing style.

First, as you know, there are hundreds of cameras to choose from. For me to even come close to suggest any camera for you would take a considerable amount of time to research for you. But, you need to ask yourself what do you want to accomplish? Do you want a less expensive camera and all you want to do is take simple snap shots, something like a simple point-and-shoot? Do you want a point-and-shoot that has a little more adjustments like MANUAL modes, and MACRO Modes? Or lastly, do you want to go all out and get a Digital SLR camera that uses separate lenses and has many features and adjustments to it. It is all up to you and your budget. I am not partial to SONY, but only as an example, you can look up the Sony DSCW830 20.1 MP Digital Camera with 2.7-Inch LCD. At the time of this article, it was less than $120. If you take a look at this camera, you can use it as a go by for others in this class of Point-and-shoot. I am also not partial to Canon, but a quick look on the internet revealed a Canon EOS Rebel T6 Digital SLR Camera Kit with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Lens less than $450. Again, use the specs to compare other cameras to this.

So, here are two cameras that pretty much represent the range from a simple point-and-shoot to a DSLR.

SONY DSC-W650 Point-and-Shoot Canon Rebel T3i 600D

I took up photography about 14 + years ago. Let me say that there is nothing wrong with automatic settings for a camera. I have one camera that I use all of the time now and it is rather getting old. It is a SONY DSC-W650. It is interesting that this is a 2012 year model and it can still be purchased on the internet.

It is a 16.1 M Pixel Image Chip. Pixel is actually short for Picture Element. I use this camera about 98% of the time on my build logs because I am just wanting to make quick snap shots of my work as I go along and I do not feel like making adjustments to the camera at each stage of my building. It has an excellent MACRO mode as well.

II. Camera pixels, image size, cropping, and file sizes

Ok, this is going to be a little more difficult to explain, so roll up your sleeves and get ready. The advantage of having a high pixel count camera is simple, you can crop the image or crop out the portions of the image you want to discard and still have enough pixel count to make a nice photo. If you do not have a high pixel count camera, then the amount of data is not enough. But, in this day in time, even a lesser expensive point-and-shoot cameras have a very high Pixel image chip in them.

These are two images taken, one with no information such as black, with the lens covered and the other shooting a white lit background. You will see that the FILE SIZE is different between the two as is obvious that there is really no information there and the file size is going to be relatively small. Notice that the pixel width and height are the SAME, but the FILE SIZES are a little different. This will always be the case.

Fig.00 5184 x 3456 pixels Yes, I know, its a picture of nothing. The point is that to take note of the file size is 2.8 Kb or almost 3 Mb. was taken with a 16 Megapixel camera.
Fig.1 5184 x 3456 pixels Yes, I know, its a picture of nothing too of a white background. The point is that to take note of the file size is 4.5 Kb or almost 5 Mb. This was taken with a 16 Megapixel camera !! There is a little more information in the image as it is not a pure white background, but a piece of foam.
Fig.2 5184 x 3456 pixels This photo is the same 5184 x 3456 pixels, but, now, since we have information here, the FILE size is now 9Meg !! Same physical dimensions, but the file size is quite different.

I hope that you are starting to see now the difference between the physical image size as compared to the file size of the image itself. All of this is very important when we start to apply image compression. Image compression is reducing the file size, NOT the physical image size.

Fig.3 5184 x 3456 pixels Ok, to make my case, this image is the same as before, but, in this case, I compressed or reduced the size of the file down to only 1Meg !!! Now, how did that happen? That is the physics of image compression found on your Photo Software or Graphics program. More on this later.

So, now, we need to discuss image compression and let me say that there are volumes of books written on this one subject and neither you nor I want to get all that involved with it. So, let me see how I can explain this in a few words so you can get back to working on your ship ! According to wikipedia, JPEG compression is: The degree of compression can be adjusted, allowing a selectable tradeoff between storage size and image quality. JPEG typically achieves 10:1 compression with little perceptible loss in image quality.

See, I told you – now say what again ? Basically, what is going on is that you are taking away a certain amount of pixels and still maintaining the images integrity. Because you have so much information in a large megapixel camera, you can eliminate a lot of info and still retain enough info that the eye just can't detect the loss of pixels. This is what is called lossy compression. You are loosing pixels, but not so much so as to ruin your image. If you apply too much compression with your software, then the image will loose its SHARPNESS and begin to look “blocky” and “blurred”. There is a nice trade off as you practice how much compression you want. Most good software programs allow you to adjust the compression in REAL TIME while you watch the image. If you keep adjusting the compression, you will see the image start to seriously deteriorate and you continue to wipe out your data (image information). There is just so much data that you can remove before the eye starts to see it. The above image was compressed to 10:1 ratio. (basically 10 Meg down to 1Meg). Yes, I could have taken it further down.

But, 1 Meg is still way too large for most forums, right ? Not only that, it takes a while to download that 1Meg image to your computer when you are on a forum. Besides us Admins we have to limit the amount of the file size and the physical size to reduce the amount of space on the server. But more important is that we want your build log to appear really fast on the internet so you can again get back to doing what you really like to do and that is building your ship.

Ok, same image. Oh my, that is horrible. See the blocking of pixels. The image is nearly destroyed. I did this on purpose obviously. Ok, the physical size is still the same, however, now the file size of this image is only 487 Kb. This is about 20:1 compression.

Fig.3 5184 x 3456 pixels Ok, to make my case, this image is the same as before, but, in this case, I compressed or reduced the size of the file down to only 1Meg !!! Now, how did that happen? That is the physics of image compression found on your Photo Software or Graphics program. More on this later.
Well, hold on a minute, how am I putting images on the forums and they look really great at only 60 Kb !!! Yes, that is even less !!

This is where we get into now, re-size the image – this is not the same as cropping. Cropping is removing part of the image, we will be discussing re-sizing the entire image.

I hope you are still with me because this is where things get a little more intense. But, its not as bad as cutting yourself with a knife while working on that ship a while ago, huh ?

It is a must that you re-size your image when uploading to forums. Now, if you were printing your pictures, that is a different situation. You would want all the data (image information) you can get.

Again, a lot of very technical stuff is written on re-sizing and it would be best for the both of us to stick with what you really need to know. Your image editing software will provide all the automatic processing for you and it is important to have an understanding on how to use your software. It is not important to understand anyway unless you really want to. To make a point, I will use whole numbers. Lets say that you took a picture and the camera you use made an image that was 8000 pixels in width x 6000 pixels in height.

In most graphic editing programs, the command will be something like

then a control box will open to allow you to make adjustments. I will get into this later in the next chapter. The point is that I am going to re-size that image to 800 pixels x 600 pixels.

The main point that I will make is this: When you downsize an image, you are taking the same amount of data and squeezing it into a smaller space, which in turn can make the image appear sharper. If you were to upsize an image, you are taking the same amount of data and causing the program to “duplicate” the pixels and in effect, can ruin and blur your image. The analogy would be like if I made lemonade. I had a way to remove the water, but keep the lemon, I would be condensing the taste (downsizing). Conversely, if I added more water (up sizing), the taste would be diluted. I know this is a crude way of putting things, but basically this is what is happening. If you started out with a 800 x 600 image and up sized it to 8000 x 6000, well, there is just so much data that is duplicated and made up, that it will make the image look blocky and blurred. If one pixel is red, then the program is going to try to make another red pixel and another until that red pixel does not look the same. There is just so much that any graphic program can do when you are up sizing an image. You always want to downsize your image.

On my particular forum, I have the image size limited to about 950 pixels wide and if I remember, about 5000 pixels in height. That is more than plenty for the reader to see the image well. I always downsize my images to 800 x 600 and then compress them. Remember, we just discussed compression earlier and I will demonstrate that with a program that I use. So, my work flow consist of an original image that is about 8 Megb and about 5500 x 3500 in size. I then re size it to 800 x 600 and compress it to about 60Kb !! that is a huge amount of reduction, but you cannot tell because I am staying within the normal maximum range I can get away with. That range is limited to about 10:1 compression ratio.

Now, lets talk about cropping. Sometimes I will crop an image to remove unwanted stuff in the background. You have to be careful with cropping because you are removing much needed data to make your image still look sharp and clean. Just think if you were to crop 50% of your image, then you have effectively removed 50% of your pixels ! Then you still have to downsize it and compress it.

So, let me say this: you can avoid having to crop by “framing” your images correctly. What do I mean by framing? Well, lets say you took a picture of your hull in full view, but, your workbench and all the tools are in the picture too! In this case, I am sure it would look better to crop out all the workbench and tools, well, that is if that is what you want to do. I think most people would like to see just the subject material and that is the hull only. But, I know, sometimes it doesn't work out that way. I know because I am guilty too of not taking the time to frame my picture well. So, cropping comes to the rescue.

Take a look at this picture (Figure 6). A ship sitting on a workbench. Nothing wrong with this photo if that is your intent. But, in this situation, I am in a hurry and this is not my intent. My intent was to “frame” the hull only and leave my workbench out of the photo.

Figure 6

In this image below (Figure 7). I used a red rectangle to show you what I am going to crop. The symbol in the top left corner of the screen is usually the standard icon for cropping found in most graphic editors.

Figure 7

Figure 8 shows a screen shot of how my graphics editor selects the object for cropping and see how it highlights just that area. The area that is to be cropped out is darker.

Figure 8

So, therefore, in Figure 9, here is the final image that is cropped. Remember all that background data and pixels are gone for good. That leaves less pixels and data to work with. The image started out at about 4600 pixels wide, now it is only about 2600 pixels wide.

Figure 9

I can still take this image and re size it now to 800 pixels wide. The Graphic program will automatically adjust the correct ratio of width vs. height. All I do is enter the width factor and the height is automatically done for me.

So, you want to crop out more to show the stern. Remember, you are going to wipe out a lot of pixels / image information. Lets crop the image to highlight the stern. Figure 10 shows the cropping tool.

Figure 10

Figure 11

Look at Figure 11. Well, I guess it doesn't look too bad after all. The image is now down to a whopping 687 pixels in width. We started out with a 4600 pixel width image !! This still can be used on a forum. The image physical size is limited to 687 pixels. So as you can see, a little planning ahead, you could have taken a picture of just the stern area and you would have had a lot of data to compress and make really nice. But, we all know that sometimes that does not happen, even with me. I get impatient too. Remember, with a higher pixel camera, you can get by with doings things like this, because you still have a lot of what I call real estate left. Well, this wraps up the subject material for this lesson. The next lesson I want to talk about getting the best shot that you can get (framing your shot).

III. Camera settings: lets start taking pictures

Now, I also have a Canon 600D T3i which is about 3 years old. I only use this camera for one purpose and that is to get the “Depth of Field” I want. Well, I have to be honest, it took me a long time to figure this out because there wasn't any info on the internet that would explain “Depth of Field” in terms that I could understand.

So allow me to try to explain by example:
Depth of Field is an “adjustment” that you make to the camera settings in order to “achieve” a certain result. What is that result – what am I talking about?

“Depth of Field” in technical terms has to do with how WIDE the camera lens is open, or how NARROW the camera lens is open. With this setting, you can focus on just one tiny part of the photo and the rest be blurred on purpose to illustrate a point, or you can focus the entire subject matter, it is all up to the “Depth of Field” settings.

To make it more confusing. The wider the lens opening, the smaller the numerical figure is. Like 2.0 fStop. The narrower the lens is opened, the larger the numerical figure is like 32 fStop.

So what in the world is fStop ? Well, a little googling turned up one definition of this: The letter f in f/stop in photography had its origin in the Latin language. It means finestra or window. Therefore the f stop opening on a lens is actually the window opening the lens it set on.

Ok, so that really doesn't tell me much – All I want to do is set up my camera to take a picture. So here it goes for an example:

Lets say that you are facing your Hull “head on” but at a slight angle and your objective is for the stem of the hull to be in focus and all the way aft as far as you can see to be in focus. For an automatic camera, you will be fortunate to get the first several inches of your photo to be in focus while the aft part of the ship will be terribly “blurred”. Well in this case this is not what we want. You have to grab a Camera like a DSLR to get the results or a camera that you can MANUALLY adjust the settings. So, to get to the point, there are just a few things you need to do.

One, you need a lot of good light. If you have lets say a fairly good DSLR, that stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex, set your camera to the MANUAL mode Figure 12 and then set the Speed to like 1.6 seconds and the fStop (lens opening) to about fStop 22. (or F22) This is a typical menu setting on my Canon camera. Figure 13.

Figure 12

Figure 13

If you are looking through your viewfinder or the LCD screen, yes, what you see is that all of the image is NOT in focus. BUT, when you take the image, it will be in focus. The camera needs to be on a tripod if you can because the shutter is going to be open for 1.6 seconds and you don't want your picture to be blurred by any shakes. I would also set my camera for TIMED event – press the shutter and count down 5 or 10 secs. This is a typical image taken that shows how focus ranges all the way from the front of the ship to the rear and can ONLY be obtained by similar settings I just mentioned.

Figure 14 is a real example of the entire image is in focus from front to rear ! This is done by adjustment to the speed and lens opening and just using natural light. Remember, in this case the lens is actually closing down like a tiny pupil pin point. When the lens is barely open to obtain this LONG depth of field then you need to slow things down to allow as much light in as possible. The camera setting SPEED is set to 3.2 seconds, the fStop in this picture was F22.

Figure 14

Figure 15 shows the position of the camera on the tripod when I took the above image.

Figure 15

Well, so far, I hope that I have not lost you in all of this. If the image you have is not in focus all the way from front to rear, then adjust your fStop to F25 and even up to F30 and keep the speed the same. If you still are not successful, then take the speed much slower to like 2 or 3 seconds.

Play around with those settings and remember to use a tripod. I used the self timer set at 2 seconds – press the shutter – stand back and the camera will take the picture with hands off. This minimizes any shake or vibrations.

Well, I said that I was going to get right to it and try to eliminate as much tech stuff. By the way, you will have to make some image processing to make the overall image look brighter and crisper. More on this later.

Ok, so lets back up a minute and lets shoot using just the opposite situation. Lets say that you want to focus on just one part like a pulley or part of the mast. You want just this part focused and you wish to have the background out of focus in order to capture and emphasize one aspect.

Why would you want to do this? Well, I can show you can example of how nice of an effect this can be.

This time we are going to change our MANUAL settings to an fStop of F5 and the shutter speed to 1/41 of a second (pretty fast shutter huh !), and the lens opening is really wide open. Its like having your eyes dilated.

So lets see what effect his has. As you can see in Figure 16, I wanted to focus on part of the yard / pulley to emphasize this part only and the rest was blurred on purpose. If not, then the image will be so “busy” with so much other detail, it will be difficult to emphasize your point you are trying to make.

Figure 16

You can see that the lower deck is de-emphasized on purpose to make a pictorial point that I am trying to convey. The Pulley / Yard and Rigging is clearly in focus while the rest of the ship is not. All done with the same Canon T3i, same lens. The only difference was taking just a few minutes to make two adjustments to the MANUAL shutter speed and the F number.

So lets go back over the two main settings for our focus lesson. 1) You want your entire subject material to be in focus. Shutter speed 1.6 or 2 seconds @ F22 or F30 2) You want just to highlight a small subject material to be in focus and the rest of the image out of focus. Shutter Speed 1/20 to 1/41 second @ F4.0 to F3.0

Yes, these are actual settings in my camera so that you can get right to the action yourself. However depending on light situations, just a little variances will be in play here. You should be able to notice right off the major differences in the settings to obtain two entirely different pictures. The cameras settings set to factory default. The lens is a basic Canon EFS 18-55 mm. The only changes are in the MANUAL settings. I used plain natural light shining through the windows. So, you can imagine if you have better lighting, it would result in even much better pictures. Well, this wraps up this lesson and I hope that you got something useful out of it. One last thing, this Canon T3i does not do MACRO (very close ups). You would have to purchase a special MACRO lens to do this. So, what is macro mode and how do I know if my camera does this? Most cameras that have an LCD screen on the back will have an icon that is of a flower. Remember this is a photo that I took of the LCD screen of my SONY point-and-shoot. See the icon of the flower, (Figure 17) that shows you that you are in macro mode and you can take very close shots of the subject.

Figure 17

Now, I am going to use my SONY to take some close ups. I included several pictures to demonstrate the power of macro mode. Figure 18, Figure 19, and Figure 20

Figure 18

Figure 19

Figure 6

Ok, I think those are enough pictures for you to understand macro mode and how helpful it is. This is good to demonstrate an aspect of what you are trying to convey. I need to add that the camera is about 3 inches from the item I want to take a picture of. You must be close enough in so that the automatic function of the camera will switch to macro mode on its own.

IV. How to prep your photos for uploading for forums which includes image processing, compression techniques, etc.

So, this part of the article is probably the most gruesome because there are many graphic editing programs out there. To name a few: Photoshop, Corel Paint Shop Pro, GIMP, ACDSee Ultimate 10, Smart Photo Editor, and the list goes on. I do believe that Photoshop is now only by “subscription” now of which you pay a small monthly fee. The core components of the program are downloaded into your PC and you must have a monthly license to continue to use. I personally have very little experience with Photoshop. However, I admire those that know how to work with this remarkable program.

I personally use Corels Paint Shop Pro X9 as of this writing. I have found that it is less expensive and does things with a few clicks. I would consider Photoshop is more for professional graphic artist. As of this writing, you can get the full version of Corel PSP for less than $64. I highly recommend it. Then for the free stuff, I recommend GIMP. I downloaded GIMP and you have to do a little manipulating of the software so that the program will load FULL SCREEN. If not, then the program will load all the tools in separate areas of your desktop. If you do download GIMP ( then when you first open the program, go to this menu setting to make the program operate at FULL screen. On the top menu bar, go to windows > Single-Window Mode. This will put all the tools on one page.

Figure 21 shows the opening GIMP splash screen.

Figure 21

Figure 22 is a screen shot of the typical workspace.

Figure 22

Figure 23 is a screen shot of my Corel Paint Shop Pro X9. First image is “Manage Mode”

Figure 23

Figure 24 is Corel in “Adjustment Mode”

Figure 24

Figure 25 and finally, in “Edit Mode”

Figure 25

So, this is my work flow using Corel. The pixel size shown is not actual, but just represents for example purposes. Here we have a fresh taken image straight out of our camera and it is roughly 5800 Pixels x 7800 Pixels. Lets say that the file size is about 8.7Meg (thats 8,700,000 bits, or 8.7 Kb).

The first thing I am going to do is to 1) re size this to about 800 x 600 to fit on a forum. 2) then I am going to compress it down to about 65Kb in file size. Figure 26

Figure 26

I have Corel opened up and then the image. On the top menu bar, I simple click on Image / resize then a re sizing dialog box will appear and I enter my NEW pixel dimensions. When I have selected “Keep Aspect Ratio”, all I have to do is enter the “width” and the height is automatically done. Since we are mostly only concerned with width. Figure 27

Figure 27

Now, you will notice that the box will tell you the current image size, then as I have noted, you will enter 600 for the width. Figure 28

Figure 28

After entering values, click on OK. Your image has been re-sized now. It is time now to compress it down. At the top menu bar, you click on: File / Export / JPEG Optimizer. Figure 29

Figure 29

Then the JPEG Compression tool opens and you can enter the amount of compression, while observing the DECREASED valued of the file size. Figure 30

Figure 30

These next two images just show the before and after compression in the Optimizer box. Figure 31 and Figure 32

Figure 31

Figure 32

Don't worry if you do not have Corel to perform your Image Compression Optimization. You can do an On-line search for "JPEG Image Compression Software" and the results will be plenty to choose from, even an online type. To help you get started you can choose from:

V. Do I really need graphic software, and what all is out there from free to purchase?

Well, as you can see from this tutorial, it really helps to have the correct tools on hand. When building your ship, you have most all the necessary tools. So with preparing your images for your own personal documents, or uploading them to a forum. There are so many things you can do once you get your images like you like them and re-sized and compressed. You can create a “slide show” for Youtube, or for your family and friends. You can create a calendar – there are many sites online that you can create your own calendar to pass out as well. So, I hope this is enough justification for you to start being creative and lets give your hard work some showing off. I mean afterall, you put so many hours into building your ship, then wouldn't it great to put a reasonable amount of effort in to publishing the images ? Certainly it would.

VI. Build your own "Shot Box".

This chapter is about building your own "Shot Box". I am sure there are other names for this. I am using a 75Watt 5200° for all four (4) lamps. As you can see the bell lamp assemblies are even used at the top. I cut a hole in top and glued the bell housing (believe it or not with wood glue) and has held ever since.
The walls of the box is made of what is called foam core which can be bought at any crafts, arts, supply. Mine came in like a 3 foot square sheet. My first box was only 3 feet tall, but as I installed the Mast, I had to get another set of 3 sheets. So, I think the height of the box is about 5 feet tall now.
I found that with the two bulbs mounted with the light shining downward with the light shining in from the front eliminated a lot of the shadows, but still not 100% perfect. What causes a lot of shadowing is the model is placed too close to the background. When the model is moved away from the background the shadows will or should disperse into nothing. I have seen a lot of good intentions go ary. I have seen many models be pushed right up against a background and a light shown right at it. It was hard to tell what was the rigging and what was the real rigging. I could have instructed the person to simply pull the model out away from the background off the wall.
However, I am not trying to be critical as to appear to some people. I am only saying that it only takes time. Besides, photography is just one of those arts that takes time to learn. I am sure that I have taken my fair share of the worst photos.
In photography they say how important light is to the CAMERA and not to the eye. I just attempted to hit the model with as much light as possible. The more light you have - the less blur and noise you are going to have. Then you have to consider camera settings. If you have a camera that allows you to set your camera to MANUAL mode, then I highly suggest that setting and become comfortable with it.

Figure 33 is a diagram explaining a little technicalities of Depth of Field.

Figure 33

Figure 34

Figure 35

Figure 36

Figure 37

In conclusion, I wanted to have a conversational writing style, and I hope that you enjoyed these lessons. Got any questions or would like to contribute to this article, then by all means, let me know.

Donald, B. Driskell
Madison, MS.