Create a miniature world

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Should tiny people be limited to equally small landscapes? We think not. This project is all about the minute. We use a macro lens to find out what little pattern people make when put in real-life situations, resulting in unusual close-up landscapes.

For this fun project, you will need to find miniature figures. We have found that OO track railway models are well suited as they are very detailed and fit into “ordinary” scenarios. Since they’re designed to inhabit model villages, it’s easy to find characters posed as if performing daily tasks, such as a man in a suit with a briefcase or fun-sized photographers.

This is the perfect project for creative photographers who love arts and crafts. Creating a landscape for your characters is limited only by your imagination. We’ve tried everything from mashed potato hills to a muddy construction site.

If you need to know more, take a look at the work of macro world photographers Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle. They made a name for themselves by placing toys that perform daily activities in a world of giant food.

For our backside shots, we set up an indoors stage, but as this image shows, shooting outdoors in natural light can be just as effective. Here’s how it’s done…

Step by step: Get down to their level

1. Macro lens

Since the numbers are so small, you will need to shoot with a macro lens. You can improvise with different lenses and crop, but then you lose a lot of detail.

2. Narrow opening

You want a shallow depth of field to blur the background, but at this range f/2.8 will blur most of the scene. We shot at f/18 and still have shallow depth of field.

3. Head height

Go lower and level with your scene, as this creates the illusion that the toys are the same size as the viewer. It is useful to shoot at a table or ledge above the ground.

4. Precise focus

Autofocus isn’t ideal, as the focus point may not be where you want it to be. Instead, secure your camera to a tripod and use Live View to focus manually for greater precision.

Step by step: staging

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1. Find numbers

Miniature figures are easy to find online: search for “miniature railway miniatures”. Be aware of the scale of the models when viewing. We used caliber 00, which is about 15mm high. The small numbers are not detailed enough.

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2. Explore Location

Finding the right location can be difficult as there are many things that can destroy the illusion, such as grass. The best places have open ground to pose the characters and neutral backgrounds to blur. You can also create your own bizarre landscape using food, like mashed potatoes here.

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3. Dig yourself a hole

Sculpt the location to suit your scene. Use a small teaspoon or thin knife to alter the landscape, such as digging a small hole to place a road worker or farmer in, as if they had dug it themselves. This is especially important if you are creating your own scene and shooting indoors.

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4. Blue Pansy

Make sure your background isn’t too obvious. Shooting skyward is often the best backdrop for realism. If you can’t get a light background, use a piece of fabric like a blue t-shirt or colored paper. Position it far enough back that it is completely blurred in a flat color.

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5. Take a stand

Many figurines come with small transparent stands. If yours don’t, like our photographers, we can place them on a soft surface like mud or mash. If you’re shooting on solid ground, cut out a piece of clear plastic, then stick the figures’ feet to the plastic with glue or even Blu-Tack.

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6. Lights, camera, action

Natural light will work for this project, although artificial lighting is more controllable. Indoors, a desk lamp is ideal for most still life shots and can act like a sun if fitted with a tungsten bulb. It can also be done with a flash and a gold reflector face. Outside you can use torches.

Go further – more creative ideas

glorious food

One of the most creative backgrounds is a landscape carved into food. We made this scene out of mashed potatoes, using broccoli and blue decorating gel to act as trees and rivers. It was shot indoors, lit by a tungsten lamp.

Real world

Look for a landscape that can be manipulated into a small scene. Dirt looks simple enough to make a good background for any scale. It’s also soft enough to place figures in and dig holes for your models to work on.

real people

For more demanding compositions, play with perspective. Make your miniatures interact with real people – here our model is photographing a passing pedestrian. This will require a smaller aperture to ensure real people are visible.

This feature was originally published in Digital Camera Magazine, to subscribe click here

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