Onbester International

Model Photography Part5 – Image Editing & Realistic Setting

Paint Shop Pro Screen


This is the fifth article in the series about scale model photography.

Previous articles have covered how to take photographs and this one will deal with getting the best out fo them with post-photo image editing.

Image Editing: Background

Image editing is a feature of the digital age.  Digital photographs are nothing more than a collection of coloured dots (pixels) and it is possible to manipulate those dots to create different effects.  To some extent deficiencies in photographs can be corrected although getting a good photograph to start with is always best.

Image editing allows you to take a photograph and change the colours, size and just about anything else in the picture.  Some changes can be done with a mouse click and others may require a bit of work.

With image editing, the old adage ‘you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ has an element of truth.  Image editing is best at making a good photograph a little better and should not be thought of as a way of correcting poor photography.  Although it is possible to make improvements to a bad photograph, it is much better to start of with good photos.  In particular, if parts of the photograph are severely over or under exposed then it will lack detail in those areas and no image editing software can add detail where it does not exist.

It is also worth noting that if your photographs are intended for publication in a magazine, it is best not to meddle with them.  Take the best photos you can and leave it up to the professionals at the magazine to add any enhancements.

Image Editing Software

There is an enormous range of software to choose from with widely different capabilities.  At the one extreme, most digital cameras come with simple editing software that will allow you to do basic changes such as cropping photographs and maybe removing the ‘red eye’ effect.  On the other hand, there are professional software suites such as Adobe Photoshop that cost hundreds of pounds/Euros/dollars.

To get the most of your scale modelling photographs you will need something in between these two extremes.  There are many applications available, but it is possible to obtain packages like Paint Shop Pro or Serif’s Photoplus at a very reasonable price and these will have all the functions that a keen amateur will ever need.  A good image editing application that is free is GIMP, but you will need to be using a Linux operating system on your computer to be able to use this.

Although image editing applications will tend to perform the same functions, the ‘front end’ controls are often very different.  It takes a while to get used to what all the different icons and menu options do, so people tend to stick with the application that they are familiar with.  If you are starting out from scratch with no previous experience with these applications, then the best advice is to search in Google for ‘image editing’ and read a few reviews.  Personally, I have always used Paint Shop Pro and find that it does everything I need and more.  In fact, after using it for 20 years there are still many functions that I have never gotten around to using.

Image Editing: Functions

Cropping 1The photo below has been heavily cropped from the one above.

Almost anything in a photograph can be changed with image editing software given sufficient time and patience, which is why they often come with manuals that are hundreds of pages long.  However, for scale model photography there are just a few functions that will commonly need to be used.


Cropping 2Cropping is where part of the photograph is cut away.  This is often done when the subject has not been framed properly.  It is also useful where the subject is a very small item and so could not be made to fill all of the viewfinder.  When cropping photographs you need to decide whether you wish to keep the height and width of the photograph in the same proportions.  For ‘landscape’ format photos the ratio of width to height is normally 4:3 or 1.3333.  For ‘portrait’ format photos the ratio is 3:4 or 0.75.  If you change these proportions the photo may not fit into an album or into the space allocated for it on a web page.  The other thing to remember is that if you cut away large parts of a photograph then what you have left may have a low resolution i.e. not many pixels left, and so may look grainy when expanded to full size when printed or shown on the Internet.

Resizing / Changing Resolution

A digital photograph is made up of coloured dots called pixels.  The more pixels that a picture has the more detail it will hold and the larger you can expand or ‘blow up’ the picture without it becoming grainy.  Unfortunately, the more pixels that a photograph has the larger will be the file size.

The following table shows the relationships between resolution and file size for some common picture formats:

Dimensions (Pixels) Total Pixels File Size (kb)
800 X 600 480,000 (0.5 million)  211*
1200 X 900 1,080,000 (1 million)  428*
1600 X 1200 1,920,000 (2 million  768*
2272 X 1704 3,871,488 (4 million)  1489* (1.5 Mb)
2560 X 1920 4,915,200 (5 million)  2024* (2 Mb)
3456 X 2592 9,191,232 (9 million)  3199* (3 Mb)

* Note that file sizes vary enormously depending on many factors such as file format, compression ratio and the content of the photograph.  These file sizes are for the same photograph saved in JPEG format with no compression.  Normally JPEG files would be compressed reducing their file size considerably.

Alien combined

This photo shows the relative sizes of a 9 million, 3 million and 0.5 million pixel photograph. Paint Shop Pro was used to combine these three photos.

File size used to be a big issue as large picture files could clog up emails and slow the download of internet pages.  This is less of a problem these days where computer hard drives are measured in hundreds of gigabytes and broadband internet connections are the norm.  However, large picture files will still slow things down, particuarly if you are emailing several photographs.  Also there is little point in putting a photo with a resolution of 3456 X 2592 on the Internet when most PC screens have a resolution much lower than this.  You will just slow down the internet page with no benefit.

For this reason, it is often better to reduce the resolution/size of your model photographs or at least make a copy of them with a lower resolution.  This is very easy with any image editing tool and only takes a couple of clicks with a mouse button.  As a rule of thumb photos for your own portfolio and submission to a modelling magazine should be kept in as higher resolution as your camera will go.  Photos to be emailed or posted on the Intenet should be reduced to 1600 X 1200 or lower.  Normally, 1024 X 768 is perfectly adequate for the Internet.

One word of caution – make sure that you keep the same proportions of height and width when reducing size, or your picture will end up looking squashed or stretched.

Changing Contrast / Brightness / Colour Balance

HINT: If your photo does not look so good on your computer screen make sure that the problem is not with your screen.If the photo appears dark you may need to increase the brightness on your screen!

PSP Colour Balance

Changing the colour balance of a photo in Paint Shop Pro.

Ideally, contrast, brightness and colour should be sorted out when you take your photograph.

However, sometimes when you come to display a photograph on a PC screen or print out a hard copy, you may be disappointed with one of these features.  All can be altered with image editing although it may take a little trial and error to get the best results.

A tip here is to always make a copy of the original before you start and make any changes on another copy so you can always go back and start again.  You may find a tendency to tinker with one aspect, then another and eventually end up with something that is worse than when you started.  The ‘Undo’ button will help here, but it is nice to know you can always start again.


All of the above functions are concerned mainly with improving the photograph.  Image editing gives the possibility to add all manner of special effects.  For example, you could take a photo of yourself, miniaturise it and put yourself in the cupola of one of your model tanks.  However, this type of manipulation takes a lot of skill and time and is outside the scope of this article.

The final tutorial in this series deals with putting photos of scale models into a realistic settings and this will give further information about the use of image editing software.

Full article:Model Photography Part5 – Image Editing & Realistic Setting