How to Paint High Contrast Miniatures with Photography (5 Steps)

Not sure if you have enough contrast on your painted miniature? A quick way to check if you have enough contrast on your miniature is to take a photo! Once you have the image, remove the color. You’ll see the dynamic range on your model a lot better, and painting with high contrast will become a lot easier!

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RELATED: 50 AWESOME MINIATURE PAINTING TIPS

In this article, Chris Spotter, studio artist and owner of the “The Spotted Painter”, shows us a quick tip on how to use photographs to help paint miniatures with high contrast. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Spotter, and I have learned a lot following his work on social media. You can see more of his instruction on his Facebook page here.

The key to the venerated “3D pop” in miniature painting is contrast.

Read on to learn about how Chris Spotter uses photographs to help him paint with high contrast.


How to Use a Photograph of Your Miniature to Paint with High Contrast (5 Easy Steps)

Use Photos to Paint High Contrast Miniatures (5 Steps)

In 5 easy steps, use a photo to see where you may need to brighten or darken your paint job (i.e., increase contrast).

  1. Take a good photograph of your miniature with even light over your entire model
  2. Remove the all of the color using your favorite photo editor (turn the image black and white)
  3. Assess the black and white photo for contrast
  4. Re-emphasize highlights and shadows with brighter or darker value paint
  5. Repeat from #1, if necessary

1. Take a photo of your miniature in good light.

Use Photos to Paint High Contrast Miniatures (5 Steps)
Here’s a photo that Chris Spotter photographed of a work-in-progress (WIP) miniature

2. Remove the all of the color using your favorite photo editor (turn the image black and white)

Use Photos to Paint High Contrast Miniatures (5 Steps)
Here I’m using my Mac Photos app (built into OS X)
Use Photos to Paint High Contrast Miniatures (5 Steps)
Notice the saturation color slider
Use Photos to Paint High Contrast Miniatures (5 Steps)
Turn off the color to make the photo black and white

In most software, this is a slider that you merely drag to reduce the saturation, which turns the photograph into black and white.


3. Assess the black and white photo for contrast

Use Photos to Paint High Contrast Miniatures (5 Steps)
Black and white photo of your miniature. This shows you where your shadows and highlights are located without the confound of color.

Losing color in a picture will help identify where you need things (saturated colors can fool your eye) particularly value contrast.

How identifiable are pieces of your mini without color information?

A black and white photograph of your miniature will let you know if you need to change things. The colorless version of your miniature will tell you where to make some things darker or brighter.

4. Re-emphasize highlights and shadows with brighter or darker value paint

In the example miniature above, a black and white photograph tells you 3 important things:

  1. I need more shadow and color in the skin tones.
  2. I need to take my non-metallic metals a bit brighter.
  3. I need more contrast in my red (this can be either made darker or brighter)

Once you have done this with your miniature, go ahead and paint where you need more highlights or shadows. Of course, you’ll be using colored paint for this step.


5. Repeat from #1, if necessary

After you’re finished painting your miniature to adjust for the needed contrast (based on your black and white photo assessment), decide whether you need to re-take the photo for another round.

This may be a cyclical process until you’re satisfied with the result. Make sure to take your miniature into different lighting conditions to check for any areas that may need more work.

Try this process on a recent mini. If it’s mostly all the same tone of grey, then you’ll need more contrast, probably!


Summary

Using black and white photos of your work-in-progress miniatures is a quick and easy way to decide where, and if, you need to add more contrast.

Contrast is the key to a beautiful paint job. Even as a speed painter who works on hordes of miniatures, you can get really great results with a high contrast paint job.

It takes practice, of course, to paint well. And, sometimes extra tools at your disposal can help you climb the learning curve that much faster. Once you’ve got a “eye” for contrast, you’ll soon find that you will need less and less technical aids to make your paint jobs more interesting and impactful.

Other example images of 3D printed and painted miniatures with object source lighting (OSL)

Use Photos to Paint High Contrast Miniatures (5 Steps)
The Object Source Lighting (OSL) effect from the blue fireball (left) is clearly still available without color in the black and white photo (right).

The images above were photographed in a light box designed for product photography. Check out how a photo light box can help you photograph miniatures better.

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Use Photos to Paint High Contrast Miniatures (5 Steps)
Using the technique of assessing a black and white photograph is useful to finding out where high or low value (bright or dark) colors should be added. This is especially important when painting special effects such as non-metallic metal (NMM) or object source lighting (OSL) effects.
Use Photos to Paint High Contrast Miniatures (5 Steps)
Notice the OSL effect (the glowing green spear) in the colored image has a similar value (i.e., brightness) as the highlights in the flesh/skin, as shown in the black and white image (right). But, the darker value shadows in the flesh, e.g., under arm, below the belly, along with the warmer color adds the high contrast to pull-off the green-glowing effect, nicely. Contrast makes every miniature paint job more interesting and gives them an extra “pop”. Try it for yourself! (Image credit: Chris Spotter)


This miniature painting article for painting with high contrast using photographs is sponsored by “The Spotted Painter“.

Use Photos to Paint High Contrast Miniatures (5 Steps)

Feel free to share your work with Chris Spotter and remember to follow The Spotted Painter on Facebook!


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1 thought on “How to Paint High Contrast Miniatures with Photography (5 Steps)”

  1. Pingback: How to Paint High Contrast Miniatures with Photography (5 Steps) — Tangible Day | Ups and Downs of Family History V2.0

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