Why does my painting look so terrible in photos?

I’ve noticed for a while now that when I photograph my figures, they look terrible.  The detail looks like it was painted on by a real ham-fist, the shading is blotchy, and the overall job looks messy.  This despite my being very happy with the actual figures in real life.   To the naked eye they look more than adequate.  But photograph them, and they look terrible.

I’d like to blame my camera, but I strongly suspect it is more to do with my increasingly impressionistic way of painting.  I do find it harder these days to see the detail  as I’m painting.   While I’ve never been as clean and crisp a painter as many of those featured on websites such as the Steve Dean forum,  I’m sure in the past my figures didn’t come out as bad in photographs.

A case in point is my latest work – a Warlord Games 28mm French vivandiere for my Sharp Practice gaming.

Here she is in all her un-glory:

Now compare her with a similar Foundry figure I painted several years ago.  Still not a painting competition winner, but definitely much tidier than my latest work.

One thing I have noticed is that my shading of the apron on my latest figure is a total disaster, so I’ll do that again.  I’ll also try to deliniate the frogging on the tunic a bit more (even though it looks fine to the naked eye).

I noticed the same decrease in painting quality in the picture of my latest naval officer and an older marine officer in my posting the other day.

6 thoughts on “Why does my painting look so terrible in photos?

  1. I have the same problem. What looks good to the eye the camera often finds the flaws and accentuates them.

    A couple things that I found that help: don’t set your camera to the largest picture settings. I used to, and then I’d resize them to a reasonable size later- I think this tends to ‘block’ the colors into sections, losing some of the blending, even when using a very high pixel count and resolution. Also, size the picture to what the miniature would be. I usually still have it a bit bigger, but often I see photos of minis that are 2-3 times the minis actual viewing size, and of course they’re going to look worse as a result.

    another thing to consider is the intent of view that the mini is painted for. A lot of painting is done in a way that it will allow the mini to look good from a foot or more away. but the camera is almost always less than that. Think of it like a model with make-up: that make up can look pretty bad when up close.

  2. Most of what the ferret said above. Interestingly I use uncropped and un-resized (?) photo’s to see where I’m getting it wrong with my painting, I go back and look at the figure and then try and set right in my head whether it is a flaw worth fixing. Also, while viewing the photos at ‘huge’ size I sometimes make a copy and shrink it down to 640 x 480 pixel just to confirm in my head if it is a flaw worth bothering about or not or if I’m just being painter paranoid. Secondly don’t forget the three foot rule.
    Lastly, at the risk of blowing my own horn, take a look at this you old bugger
    I wrote it last week, timely 😉
    You managed to finish your Mindens in good time and looking pretty sharp, I still have a couple to go on my Froggy regiment.

  3. The “Big Question” that you need to ask yourself is . . . “Am I painting for the gaming table OR am I painting for my blog where the figure is seen at many time its real size (and not even from wargaming distances)?”

    That should point you in the right direction, sir.

    — Jeff

  4. Jeff, the simple answer is that I would like to think it is for both! I like looking at my figures in the real, and also up on my blog. In fact, in some ways I get more satisfaction from the latter.

    Ferret, thanks for the advice. I’ll try that and see.

    Dave, thanks too for your advice. I’ve tried a magnifier before, but couldn’t work with the lack of 3D. While I could see my brush and the detail much more clearly, I just couldn’t judge the distance between them, and kept making awful splodges. Do you get used to that?

  5. Yes, yes you do. I usually only use that magnifier light come desk lamp and with my glasses, it does most of what I need. Judging where the brush is in relation to the figure is quite annoying at first but now I don’t seem to notice it at all now. One other thing to remember with the focal point is your distance from your eyes to the lens and the lens to the figure (if you wear glasses you probably already know that) and that comes very naturally too after a while.
    Frankly Rolly if you get a desk lamp version or a overhead articulated whatsit version they become a godsend just give it time. Now the optivisor I have to go slowly with because I dont use it much, so the problem judging distances is still there but for that super fine detail that most people lose after priming, yeah baby!

I hope I've given you something to think about - please do leave a comment with your thoughts or reactions.

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