Backdrop Support for Photographing Miniatures

  • 01 of 09

    Make a Backdrop Support for Photographing Miniatures, Models and Doll Sets

    A piece of dolls house wallpaper is clamped to the back wall of a backdrop support for miniatures
    Lesley Shepherd

    If your model or miniature scenes are featured in photographs for blogs, magazines, competitions or your own enjoyment, an easy way to take better photos is to set up a 'set' to photograph your scenes. Just like a television, movie or photo studio, a set without a ceiling, and lacking full walls, will allow you to get better-angled views and lighting of your settings or your miniatures.

    Determining the Best Size for a Miniature Set

    The size of your miniature set will need to be determined by a number of factors:

    • What is your tallest model or miniature? 
      Your set should allow enough space above the height of your tallest subject to allow you to 'hide' the fact that the set has no roof in your photos. For an adaptable set for photographing classic scale model horses, and 1:12 scale and smaller miniatures, we used a back set height of 11 inches which allows us to use standard height wallpapers, many of which are just under 11 inches tall, or 8 1/2 x 11 backdrop photos against the back wall.
    • How deep do you need your set to be? 
      The depth of your set can always be extended out the front if necessary, so choose a depth for your set that allows you to work with the majority of your miniatures. We set our set depth to be eight inches, allowing us to photograph something larger than a miniature bed without needing to extend the set.
    • How wide should your set be? 
      The width of our set is determined a bit by the overhead light we use which has two stand legs. We made our set 14 inches wide to fit between the legs of my overhead light. This width gives us a good support for fairly wide backdrops, and we don't need to use all of the set at once if we don't want to. Fourteen inches in 1:12 scale is fourteen feet, which is a good depth to allow me to get the effect of a room setting without crowding items.
    • Check your camera lens to see how large a set you need 
      If you are using a digital camera with changeable lenses (DSLR) you can use any size set you need. If you are using a point and shoot camera, you may be restricted by how wide or how 'zoomed' or enlarged your photo can be with your single lens on its zoom or macro setting. To determine how large an area your camera can focus on, choose a miniature from your collection and set it on a table up against a wall, with a large piece of paper in front of it. Set your camera on a tripod and use two water glasses on the table with your miniature to see how far to each side your camera will focus when you are focussed on your miniature. At some point, the glasses will not be in your photo. This may help you determine how large a set you can use with your camera. Of course, if you stand back and use your point and shoot camera in 'landscape' mode you will have a much wider photo, but your miniatures may be too small to see clearly on a wider set.
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  • 02 of 09

    Materials for a Photographic Set for Miniatures, Models, Collectibles and Dolls

    Parts used to make a simple backdrop support to holds sets and backgrounds for miniature photos
    Lesley Shepherd

    Sturdy photographic sets for items 1:6 scale and under can be easily built from cardboard, corrugated plastic (plastic cardboard) or foamcore boards. These lightweight, inexpensive materials can be used to make sturdy sets which can be reused over and over again. If you will be photographing a wide range of collectibles, have limited room or are working where you need to build a portable set, you may want to make a knock down portable photography table The photography table can be used for photos which require lighting from below, as well as from the back, top or sides. For this example of a simple backdrop support for photographing miniatures. We used foam core board. Unless you want a very large set to photograph your models and miniatures, you will only need one sheet of foam core. Quarter inch thick foam core makes a fairly sturdy stand, especially if you protect the cut edges of the finished project with a bit of cloth bookbinders tape or duct tape to keep the edges from breaking down. The foamcore board can be glued together fairly securely with tacky PVA (white) glue. If you wish, you can reinforce the joins and cut edges with duct tape.

    The purpose of your set is to hold backdrops of three types:

    • Sweeps
    • Backdrops
    • Drapes

    Sweeps and Backdrops are shown with examples after the instructions for making the backdrop or set support.

    Drapes are softly draped fabric backdrops used to create general interest and lines of light and shadow behind your model or miniature. Drapes can be semi-transparent (gauze or net), soft (velvet or silk) or textured (leather or embossed or printed fabric).

    Semi-transparent drapes may allow a backdrop to peep through, a bit like a gauzy curtain. They work to draw attention to a figure or miniature while suggesting a wider world beyond.

    Soft drapes add soft lines of light behind a miniature. It is important to choose a material that complements the color of the object being photographed, as well as something which is a suitable thickness to create lines that look in scale with the object being photographed. Silk dupioni, china silk, velveteen, velour, fine wale corduroy or chenille, velvet or some plain cotton or linen fabrics work well. Check your clothes closet or recycled clothing sources for interesting fabrics, you don't need to have an actual yardage of fabric for most miniatures.

    Textured drapes must be in scale with the object being photographed or they may overwhelm it. You can easily drape suitable background fabrics over the back wall of your set support, or tape them behind the items you are photographing.

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  • 03 of 09

    Assembling the Back Walls and Base of a Photographic Set for Miniatures

    Base and back of a backdrop support made from foamcore board for photographing miniatures.
    Lesley Shepherd

    When you have decided on the measurements for your backdrop support, use a sharp craft knife or box cutter to cut appropriately sized pieces of foam core, cardboard, or corrugated plastic for your set. Cardboard and corrugated plastic can be cut by scoring only through the bottom surface layer of a piece large enough for the base and the back, then bending them back into position. It is helpful to cut two small triangles, at least three inches long on the base and at least half as tall as your back wall, to support the back wall and keep it from tipping over. If you need to store your backdrop support against a wall, you can hinge these triangles to the back of your backdrop support with duct tape or masking tape.

    To glue the back wall to the base, run a bead of white PVA glue (or low temperature melt hot glue for corrugated plastic) along the back edge of your base piece, and press your back piece square against it while both pieces are on a flat surface, using boxes to block the back piece squarely against the base until the glue dries.

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  • 04 of 09

    Add Side Wall Supports to Your Photographic Set Support for Miniatures

    Sides of a foamcore backdrop support for miniatures with a slot to hold background sets in place.
    Lesley Shepherd

    Although side supports are not necessary on your set backdrop support, you can add support for corner walls and also add a means of holding backdrops in place against the back wall by adding small side support pieces to your miniature photo set. The side supports are cut from the same material as your main support, but they do not need to run the full depth of the base. Keeping these pieces small allows you to get the maximum daylight or lamplight onto your set without shadows. See the photo on this page for the size of side pieces which will support a lightweight card or paper background for a corner wall. The side pieces are supported with small triangles similar to those used for the back wall.

    When gluing the side pieces to the base, leave a gap between the back and side walls. This gap will hold backdrops in place on the back wall. We left a 5/16 inch gap between the side and back walls so that we could insert backdrops made from painted or papered foam core board.

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  • 05 of 09

    Using Photographic Sweeps for Backdrops

    Sweep of colored paper clamped to the top of a backdrop support for miniature photos.
    Lesley Shepherd

    Sweeps are gently curved sheets of paper or paper backed fabric. A sweep is clamped to the top edge of your backdrop back wall and gently curved to make an 'endless' backdrop' you can set your miniatures against. If the weight of your curved paper wants to fall forward, you can hold it in place against the base of your photographic set with a small weight, we use sewing weights.

    Sweeps are best used with items where you want the viewer to focus on your main miniature or model as they give interesting 'halo' shadows and don't detract from the miniature with straight lines beneath or behind the item. Matting paper and cover paper from art supply stores are good weights and colors of paper to use for sweeps. Cut them to the width of your backdrop support and hold them in place with paper clamps to the top of the support.

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  • 06 of 09

    Sample of a Dolls House Miniature Photographed Against a Paper Sweep Backdrop

    Dollhouse table and plant photographed against a simple paper sweep.
    Lesley Shepherd

    This dollhouse plant on a table has been photographed against a paper sweep. Notice how there are no harsh lines or shadows in the background to detract from the miniatures. Although the table is sitting square on the backdrop base, you cannot see any noticeable mark for the line between the base and the back wall. The curve of the paper sweep creates a smooth line that flows under the miniature.

    Photos against a sweep are often used for products sold online, for magazine articles, catalogs or reference collections. Choose a sweep with colors that compliment the miniatures you are photographing. Some colors will show off better against particular tones and some lighting systems and cameras will work better with particular colors than others. Flecked grey papers, mid and dark green, and darker blues and creams usually work well for sweeps.

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  • 07 of 09

    Using Your Backdrop Set With Flat Photographs or Wallpapers

    A piece of dolls house wallpaper is clamped to the back wall of a backdrop support for miniatures
    Lesley Shepherd

    Backgrounds can be flat photographs or wallpapers designed to imply a particular setting or room scene. Backgrounds can be clamped to the back wall of the miniature set, or held in place along one edge using the slot on the side wall. If you need to show the corner of a room or an endless horizon, you can fold or curve the backdrop so that it is held against the side wall.

    For outdoor scenes, softly curving the backdrop around a corner will make it seem to flow more naturally, similar to the way the sweep works to eliminate corners and harsh angles. If you want to extend a large section of a backdrop around on one side wall, it is a good idea to mount the background photograph or wallpaper to lightweight card or illustration board in order to hold it upright against the short side supports on your miniature set.

    Photographic backdrops mounted on a card will be sturdier and last longer than backdrops which are printed on standard printer paper.

    A wide range of backdrops suitable for miniature scenes can be found in the backdrops and wallpaper collections page.

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  • 08 of 09

    Sample Miniature Photographed Against a Wallpaper Backdrop

    A 1:12 scale kitchen table standing on a wood plaque is photographed against a Victorian dolls house wallpaper
    Lesley Shepherd

    Here's a closer view of the kitchen table shown against the wallpaper background in the previous step of this series. The 'floor' is a piece of unfinished wood. You can use wooden floors made of paper printables, or iron veneer strips to a piece of card or craft wood to make a suitable floor surface for your photographs. If you wish to use floor moldings at the base of the wallpaper, you can use strips of finished craft wood held to the wallpaper with small amounts of 'blue tack' or other removable adhesives.

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  • 09 of 09

    Using Your Backdrop Set With Detailed Panels for Interiors or Exteriors

    A flat wall made from foamcore against a backdrop support makes a set for photographing miniatures
    Lesley Shepherd

    You can use scraps of the foam core board, or other building materials, to make detailed panel backdrops for photographing miniatures. Here foam core has been cut to have openings which hold dollhouse scale windows, then painted with a mix of grey-toned acrylic paints. You can see the background photograph set behind the window in the window opening that has been left open.

    A grey 'carpet' has been made from a piece of embossed felt. Photographs printed on paper and mounted behind the windows allow some set light through to give the effect of a garden scene beyond the window.

    You can make interior or exterior walls with windows or doors, or plants overgrowing elements attached to walls. This type of backdrop is held against the back of your miniature set by insertion into the slots between the back and the sides. If you don't have slots or sides, you can clamp the panel to the back of the set using paper clamps, or you can use artist's or photo mount adhesive to give the panel a nonpermanent bond, allowing you to remove the panel after you have taken your photographs.

    Foam core panels tend to curl if finished on one side only, so store them flat with windows and doors removed between uses if possible.