My photography setup (Part 1)

In my latest video I show off my equipment and setup for shooting miniature figures. I thought that I'd add a bit to what I talk about in the video.

My Camera

When I first started my YouTube channel I was using what I had available to me to shoot video. At that time I had an old flip phone and a web cam. You can still see those early videos. They're pretty bad, quality-wise, but it did get me started on my way and I was still able to convey information with those tools. I did have a nice still camera, though. I bought my first Nikon DSLR in 2005 or 2006 (a Nikon D50) and later upgraded it to an even nicer one (a Nikon D300). I have been working on my miniature photography skills for a lot longer than I'd been doing YouTube videos so the still camera had always been a priority.

At some point I realized that people were starting to shoot real video with their DSLRs and that perhaps I could kill two birds with one stone. My D300 didn't shoot video. It was a wonderful still camera and I really didn't want to give it up, but since I couldn't justify owning two cameras I sold off the old camera and bought a Nikon D3200. Sadly, I was never completely satisfied with this somewhat lateral move. Yes, I could now shoot video with the new camera. Yes, I could shoot still photos on the new camera, but the whole thing just felt clunky.  I was satisfied with the final product that I got with both my still photos and my video but in both cases it felt like I was constantly fighting with the camera's controls.

Since my still work at that point had become almost entirely miniature photos, getting used to the new user interface didn't take too long for that purpose as once you get things set up you rarely have to change anything. Perhaps most of my complaints come from it just being different from the last camera (plus it was missing some of the mechanical functions that got buried in the UI). It was really the video that constantly seemed to vex me. Problems like not being able to adjust the aperture or shutter speed on the fly while the video was shooting. It's little things like that that just add to the overall time it takes to get the work done that really bother me. On top of that I don't think that I ever fully got used to the menu system. I would end up spending a lot of time looking for that one function that I know that I had seen before... it was annoying. It was really sad because of how much I had loved my previous camera.

About a year and a half ago I spotted a video on one of the photography blogs I follow where a pro photographer was going on and on about the virtues of the Sony A6000. I'm sure it was a placed feature created by Sony to promote the camera but it intrigued me. The A6000 is one of the now numerous mirrorless digital cameras on the market. In case you don't know, the mirror in a camera is what gives you the ability to see through the lens of your camera (via the viewfinder) before you shoot a photo. It adds a lot of bulk to the camera. Mirrorless camera's are much like your cellphone (or most point and shoot camera) in that they do away with the mirror to save space. The downside is that your viewfinder is only as good as the video display of the camera. The upside (aside from space savings) is that you should be able to see exactly what your picture is going to look like before you shoot - which is something you don't get through a traditional viewfinder.

On top of the mirrorless benefits, the camera had a bunch of features that you generally only see in cellphones. the ability to upload to social media sites directly, apps, and even the ability to view the shot and shoot from your cellphone. The other thing that they touted was the simple UI. The menu system did seem like a big step up from what I was currently using. 

A few months later I sold my Nikon and bought the Sony A6000.

It's been a year now and I'm not even thinking about upgrading. Well, that's not entirely true. I'm still considering a dedicated video camera. Let's face it, a thing built to do a specific task will generally be better than I thing that does that task in addition to the thing it was primarily built to do. I am satisfied with the Sony. It fixed all of the problems that I had with the Nikon, save one. Both had a 20 minute cap on shooting video before you had to push the record button again. I'm not sure why. In any case, you have to keep that in mind while you're shooting or you could (as I have) waste several minutes before you realize that the camera stopped recording. Still, the UI is nice. I can generally find what I'm looking for quickly. I can change settings while the video is recording, it's super-light and not at all a pain to take places and the photos and video that I get from it are fantastic.

It's funny, though. when I used to take out my old DSLRs in public you would sometimes get various looks from people because they're big and seem to make a statement that you're serious about what you're doing. With the Sony not only is that absent, but people who think that they know about photography will generally write me off when they see my camera. At first glance it's a crappy point and shoot. They don't know that it's every bit as good as that bulky thing that they're carrying.

My Lights

There's not too much to say here. The lights I'm currently using are these tabletop studio lights that I bought from Amazon. I was previously using some cheap floor-stand studio lights that also worked fine but I thought that the tabletop lights would save on space. I'm currently having to rethink how I set things up whenever I shoot because I'm still adjusting to the change. I feel like there must be a better, more flexible lighting system out there somewhere but I haven't yet found it. 

5000 Subscriber Giveaway

When I first started doing my YouTube channel I don't think I ever imagined that I would end up with hundred, let along thousands, of subscribers. Yet as I write this I am 2 subscribers away from 5000 (actually, the stats lag a couple of days behind so technically I've already gone over 5000 but my stat page won't register this until tomorrow).

Anyway, once I started picking up subscribers I thought about acknowledging certain milestones but I never really paid much attention to the stats that often so it never seemed like quite the right time. Last year I realized I was on track to getting 5000 subscribers which really just seems bonkers. That seemed like a reasonably cool milestone that I could mark with some sort of even - which is what I've now done.

What I decided to do is a giveaway. The idea is this. A month from now I will do a drawing. The lucky winner will get to pick a single miniature with a retail value of $40US or less. I will buy that mini, then paint that mini to the best of my ability. That is, I will make that the best-damned version of that mini that I am capable of doing. That means spending a great deal more time on that mini that I would normally think reasonable.

Want to enter? It's really easy. Go to the video for the contest. Watch the video. Comment on the video. Like the video. Make sure that you're a subscriber to the channel. By doing some of those things (being a subscriber and commenting) you'll be entered into the drawing (the other things don't matter, but do them anyway). BTW - You have a better chance to win if you are a Patreon subscriber as well. Patreon subscribers are automatically entered and get two entries. By commenting they get another entry for a total of three. This is the only way to get multiple entries.

That's it. Go enter.

KDM Videos... why have they stopped?

As many of you probably know, I have been chronicling my progress on a Kingdom: Death Monster painting project on my YouTube channel. In fact, not only had a been really prolific with these videos, they've been really popular which helped fuel my desire to do more. Then they stopped coming. What happened?

In short.. a serious brain fart. I had decided to save up some of my video for a couple of days before downloading it and editing it together. I did that for two days. Then on the third day I did what I normally do and formatted the memory card before I got started - completely forgetting that I still had video on the card. The video that I shot after that trying to recap everything that I'd erased felt rushed and.. bad. So I scrapped it.

On a more positive note I'm currently working on another Kingdom Death: Monster project and I'll use that to cover some of the models whose footage was lost the first time around. That should be coming within the next week.

I'm really enjoying the KDM models so I hope that you enjoy hearing about them (and seeing them).

Kingdom Death: Monster - Thoughts on the minis

Yesterday as I was building my first batch of Kingdom Death: Monster miniatures I was struck by a couple of thoughts. First, that they were really nice minis. Second, that I can imagine a large number of boardgamers who are going to be incredibly frustrated as they attempt to build these things. These thoughts were so strong I recorded a video about it:

After I recorded the video I continued working on the models. What I decided after completing my first batch is that overall the minis are actually harder to build than I first thought.

One of the minis that I hadn't gotten to yet was the Watcher. This has similar problems to the Phoenix that I mentioned in the video. Lots of small pieces and not instructions to help. Now, I don't think that this one is quite as impossible to assembly without assistance, but I think that you'll end up having to do what I did and really study how other people have put it together. You'll also realize that while many of the pieces have a clear home, some of them are open to interpretation as no two photos of the Watcher seem to agree on placement on some of the pieces. In the end it's no big deal as there are any number of ways you could put the detail pieces on and have it look good.

The White Lion ended up requiring a lot of sanding to get rid of the seam lines between the pieces. Even with as careful as I was in assembly and gluing there were a couple of decent seams in the back end. Not a lot of work, but worth mentioning anyway. The more annoying seams were actually around each ankle where the feet attach since those pieces have a lot of recessed detail.

The Butcher, the Hand and the King's Man all had some fairly challenging bits. My biggest problem with all of the models is the use of joins with no positive connection points. That is, when two or more pieces can go together in an effectively unlimited number of ways. The King's Man's legs are like this. The rear half of the White Lion had this issue as well (which is why it needed so much sanding). The difference with that is you could easily see where it should go even if there was nothing in the design of the pieces helping you to get it into position.

The survivors are probably the easiest to assemble overall. I mentioned the small feet and the possible problems of those connection points on the base. Well, it was worse and better than I thought. Worse because the models are meant to be mounted to special bases that have sculpted faces on them which makes trying to find good connection points for the feet a little tougher than normal. Better because the plastic cement seems to hold them to the base just fine (even with the tiny feet and sculpted bases).

I'm probably going to be doing more videos on this project because there seem to be a lot of interested people out there. Not surprising considering how well the Kickstarter did.

Knight Models Display Models - like a blast from the modeling past

 Knight Models 70mm Iron Man Miniature

Knight Models 70mm Iron Man Miniature

I recently got a commission to paint up some of Knight Models' large-scale superhero models. The group consisted of Iron Man, Batman on the Batpod, and the Sabertooth vs Wolverine vignette.

I started with Iron Man. When I opened it up I was immediately struck by two thing. First, there were no instructions - and the model had a LOT of small parts. Second. The casting was not ideal and was going to require a lot of work.

At this point I was actually kind of mad. Seriously annoyed. I had to break out the Dremel to start the cleanup as some areas actually required grinding. There were also areas where there was significant pitting or textured (which usually comes from having the metal at the wrong temperature while pouring). Then I had to refer to all of the photos that I could find of the model as the front view on the packaging was the least useful view of the model for assembly. The back is full of little veins plates and such. anyway, it was a lot of research to figure it all out.

Here's the funny thing, though. At some point I really started enjoying the process. I was brought back to my earlier years of painting. Instructions were a rarity, casting was dodgy, and part of the modeling process was making the best of it all. I should also mention that all of these kits are made from an old-school lead-based pewter. So that helped bring the whole nostalgia feeling to life.

Don't get me wrong. I don't really miss "the good old days." I LOVE a well-cast plastic mini that just falls together with a minimum of work. On the other hand, there's something to be said for being able to overcome the problems that these kinds of kits present. I get to see how far I've progressed as a modeler as well as a painter.

 Knight Models Batman on Batpod

Knight Models Batman on Batpod

Another bit of adversity that I needed to overcome was the fact that Wolverine was actually missing most of his teeny, tiny claws. I had two choices. Try to contact the manufacturer and wait possibly weeks for replacement, or replace them myself. I went for the former solution. What I did was to take a small piece of metal (I think it was a door panel from a 15mm tank), pounded it thin with a hammer, then used a pair of clippers to cut some rough claw shapes in the right size. I glued them into place and then shaped them with files and sandpaper. The results was fantastic. I think that they're even more sturdy than the original one I was given. It didn't even take that long to do.

Batman didn't really have any issues, but the Batpod required some research as well. Sadly, there are few photos of the finished model online, but find pictures of the original prop was easy to come by and that was all I needed to figure out how the thing went together.

As I type this only two of the three sets are complete, but I've already really enjoyed this project quite a bit. Sometimes even an imperfect model can be a lot of fun to finish.

An unhappy ending

If you've watched my latest vlog then you know that one of my two projects from September was particularly fraught with problems. From missing pieces, to lost pieces, to involuntary destruction... the hits just kept on coming.

It turns out that the delivery was pretty much the last straw for this project. The package actually made it to the porch of the client at which point IT WAS STOLEN. No joke. At this point I'm thinking that perhaps these miniatures had angered an ancient god at some point because it seems like if there was anything that could fail in this project, it did.

I cannot say how bad I feel for the client. This was not an inexpensive project and the minis were nearly in his grasp. The police say that there have been people stealing packages in his area and somebody was seen driving slowly through the neighborhood. The likelihood of the minis showing up again is pretty slim, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. If you live in Washington and happen to see anybody trying to tell some dark metallic with red and orange Convergence minis for Warmachine let me know. Maybe we can get them back for him.

I'm selling some decals

If you look above this page to the navigation area you'll notice that I've added what I refer to as a "store". It's more like a yard-sale, though. At least at the moment.

What I'm selling are some decal sets that I used to produce several years ago. Most of them are Alps-printed decals that I was able to do at home in the store. A few were actually professionally screen-printed by Microscale Industries.

I really miss having the ability to do decals. When I first started it was, like so many other businesses that I've gotten in to, something that I wanted for myself. The Alps printers were still pretty new and people were talking about making decals with them and so I invested a couple of hundred dollars to pick one up. Shortly thereafter I was printing and selling decals for models and miniatures.

My most popular decals were always the ones that I did for Space Marines. At the time GW was rather stingy with their own decal offerings so when I started printing up similar markings people began to snap them up. That went on for a number of years before I got the dreaded "nastygram" from GWs lawyers. To be fair to them they were pretty reasonable about the whole thing. I stopped selling all of the markings that were clearly based on their IP but I kept doing the ones that they had taken from heraldry or other publicly available symbology.

Sadly, Alps stopped producing the printers and as time went on they got harder and harder to replace. These days it is possible to find a printer that you could use to do this but they cost more than 10 times the price of the Alps and it's hard to imagine being able to recoup that investment.

In any case, the decals I'm selling are in mostly limited quantities. Snap them up when you can.

A few new eBay auctions

Every now and then I decide that it's time to go through my miniature collection and part with the things I'm not using. At the moment, that means Warmachine an Dropzone Commander minis.

So, for Warmachine, I have a number of Retribution minis. All painted, of course. For DZC, it's the starter UCM force - also painted.

You can see the auctions here.

Using a Silhouette Portrait to make Palm Trees

I'm sort of rescuing these images from the oblivion of Tumblr. I posted these there about a year ago and I periodically fine myself needing to dig them up again to share with somebody. I thought that they might be easier to find here.

What you're seeing below is the process I used to create some palm leaves using a Silhouette Portrait. It's a kind of craft cutter/plotter that some folks have been using for model-making projects. Think of it like a poor-man's laser cutter. This project just used heavy paper but it can do card stock, vinyl, and even thin styrene plastic. There are a lot of guys out there doing interesting things with it.

I had meant to do a full video on the process of making these things, but like so many of my other video ideas it never actually happened. Still... some day...


Painting Halo Fleet Battles minis

My last two painting videos covered the techniques I'm using to paint my Halo Fleet Battles ships. You can check out the videos themselves by scrolling down.

I have to say that I think that Spartan Games did a stellar job (get it? stellar?) on these ships. The detail is great, assembly isn't a problem, and the final product can be amazing with a minimum of work.

The nice thing about painting the 2 player starter is that the two sides are so different in pretty much every way. The UNSC ships are blocky, militaristic, and their colors should reflect that. The Covenant ships on the other hand are smooth, elegant and colorful. Of the two I find these the more satisfying to paint. It's not often that I love a paint job that I've done but I will frequently find myself just staring at the beauty of my Covenant ships.

How's the game? We're still getting used to it, but by our second game we were really starting to figure out strategies. The first game took hours, the second game took about half the time and we were using pretty much everything in the box, so you can see that it probably is a reasonably fast-playing game once you know the rules.

The rulebook could have been better... but that's for another post (or video... who knows).


I had a day off today...

So, I had a day off. Of course, a day off means something different when you work for yourself. My day off started with going off to get shipping supplies, then packing up a couple of orders, then doing some quotes, then going to the post office to ship orders, then taking some pictures and back to packing orders. Then I took a break. That's what a day off for me is usually like.

The funny thing is after all that I decided I wanted to clean the shop. When I'm in the middle of a project it gets pretty messy. I'm one of those people that seems to thrive on chaos and the shop tends to reflect that no matter how much I try to keep in tidy. Anyway, about half way through that I sat down and started painting minis. Specifically, the Covenant minis for my Halo Fleet Battles game. I had done a test of the colors for the UNSC ships last week, but I had an idea about how I wanted to approach the Covenant ships while I was cleaning and found myself drawn back over to the work table. A couple of hours later I realized that I was painting on my "day off". 

So, here was my takeaway from this.

The fact that even when I was trying to take a break from work that I was doing the thing that I do for work was a good indicator that I'm doing the thing that I should be doing. Not a lot of people can say that.

Minis in the wild

Every now and then I get a photo of miniatures that I've painted in their new home. This is one of those photos...

This is Roy's ever-growing collection of Dust models. I think that Dust vehicles may be some of the most fun things to paint. They're a little bit historical, a little sci-fi, and you can have a lot of fun weathering them. I can't think of anything better.

Review: Warcolours Paints - Show Notes

Below you'll find my video review of Warcolour paints.

It's long. Longer than I expected it to be. The thing is, I really wanted to cover the paint fully. At least, as fully as I could after using it for a day on two minis. So, anyway, sorry about that.

The TLDW version would go something like this:

The paints are inexpensive. For us US Americans it works out to $1.80ea with price breaks for buying 5 or 10 bottles. Shipping is a reasonable flat rate considering they are coming from an island in the Mediterranean.

The paint is smooth - lacking chunks or grit. It takes quite a while to dry. This could make it good for wet-blending.

The paints come in 4 translucency levels from opaque to transparent. The bottles should indicate this level (they do not - unless it's transparent).

Definitely worth picking up... which you can do here.


Testing out a new online store

If you've been one of my painting customers recently then you know that I've been trying to move all of my payments from PayPal to Square. I started using Square when it first appeared - mostly for taking payments for the store at conventions and such, but when I started doing the painting thing full time I realized that I didn't want to be depending on PayPal.

I should say that I've actually never had a problem with PayPal. I have heard all of the horror stories though and I knew that it was possible for everything to go wrong and for my money to be tied up indefinitely. With Square they never actually hold your money. It goes straight into your bank account so that fear doesn't exist.

Another nice thing about Square is that when they first started it was a fairly simple offering of "hey, you can take credit card payments!" and that was pretty much it. Over time they've been quietly adding more and more features to the point where you could use it as a simple POS system for a business and, more importantly for me, they've added online sales.

So, I'm going to give it a try. For now all I have is a set of practically brand-new 40K rulebooks that I'm selling from my own collection. They're going for $60 with free shipping in the US. Just click the link if you want to pick them up. You get a nice set of books at a great price and I get to see how well the online store function works. Everybody wins!

Is it June already?

May was a pretty crazy month, painting wise. It was actually going to be a somewhat light month. I would have worked a normal 5 day work week and begun getting things into a regular routine. That's not how it ended up, though.

The first week went well enough. I painted the Tantive IV and managed to create three videos following its progression. Because of the videos the project took a little more time than it needed to (as is normal when I do videos) but since the next two projects weren't overly large this wasn't a problem.

The second week is when the month took a turn. As I was looking over the miniatures for the Myth project I noticed that the box had a lot more minis than were on the original quote. It turns out both myself and the client hadn't been a observant as we should have been in the initial quoting phases so there were some discrepancies about what I thought I was painting and what he thought I was painting. Once sorted I decided that I was going to fit the whole project into the same time-frame rather than giving him the second batch two months later. This meant that my light month turned into my crazy-busy month.

Over the past 5 months I've realized that I can paint until about 7pm and then I'm done. It doesn't seem to make a difference when I start. This means that I generally get out in the shop at about 9 or 10pm and paint for 8-10 hours. When the project ballooned I started getting into the shop at about 6-7am and working 10-12 hours. Although I didn't find the hours a problem in terms of my painting, it did cut into some of the things that I would generally do in the morning (chores, e-mails, web surfing). I found it to be manageable but not desirable. In the end I put so many hours in that I managed to have a few days off at the end of the month. It felt like a vacation and I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to do with my time. Surprisingly enough, I spent some of it painting minis for myself!

June should be a pretty normal month. Which means that I should be responding to e-mails in a timely fashion again as well as getting in that much needed web-surfing.

Myth Minis on the Weekender

I will admit that positive reinforcement like a drug to me. Hearing somebody ooh and ah over my work is one of the many reasons I love doing what I do. I don't kid myself that I'm the most talented or skilled painter out there, but I recognize that my work is a fair bit above average. It's not uncommon for people to say nice things about my work - and I never tire of hearing those comments.

Every now and then I get recognized in a more public forum. For example, today the guys at Beasts of War decided to devote almost 15 minutes of their latest Weekender show talking about the Myth Miniatures project that I completed this month. Needless to say I'm a bit overwhelmed.


Review: Liquitex Professional Matte Spray Varnish

Like most miniature painters, I have a love/hate relationship with matte spray varnishes. They are temperamental, inconsistent, and can sometimes ruin a perfectly good project. It is for this reason that I pretty much stopped using canned matte varnishes altogether. I've switched to airbrushing Vallejo's line of varnishes. In fact, if you use an airbrush, I highly recommend them. 

This month  was different, though. This month I ended up painting more than 140 miniatures for the boardgame "Myth". If I had used the airbrushing method it would have added a lot of time and effort to doing that final step. The problem is that the soft plastic boardgame pieces tend to fare poorly with most spray varnishes. The chemicals in the varnish will react to the plastic underneath causing the varnish to never fully cure. This will leave the minis tacky - which is not a desirable end result. It is because of this that I decided to order a can of Liquitex's Professional Matte Spray Varnish.

Like pretty much everything from Liquitex, this is a water-based acrylic product. This is why I wanted it for this project. No problems with tacky minis. My first quick test on one of the pieces confirmed this fact. Some other things I noticed right away about the varnish were:

  • It really is matte! This is one of those hit and miss things about matte varnishes. One man's matte is another man's semi-gloss. In this case, you get true matte or flat. 
  • It dries pretty quickly. Honestly, it's about the same as other matte sprays I've used so at least there's no extra wait time. 20 minutes to a half hour after painting (on a somewhat humid day) and I could handle the minis.
  • It smells like house paint. Liquitex calls it "low odor" but to that I have to ask, "compared to what?" It's not the odor one expects from a varnish. Instead, it reeks of fresh latex house paint. You won't be using this in the house.

I went ahead and coated the entire run of minis with this and I couldn't have been happier with the results. Well, I suppose I could have. With this style of mini I don't mind just a bit of gloss, but that's neither here nor there. The truth is that the varnish performed as well as I could have hoped and better than I expected. In the past my favorite spray varnishes have been Floquil's (now extinct) "Figure Flat" and Testors Dullcote (and sadly Dullcote hasn't been the same in recent years). I think that there's a good chance that this varnish is going to end up on the top of the list. Now I just need to try out the gloss and semi-gloss versions.

July Now Full

I never even had a chance to let people know that July was available for commissions before it was no longer available for commissions.

I've tried to schedule July a little light as I will be attending Gencon that month. I'll be doing demonstrations of Iwata Airbrushes at the Black Knight Games booth who are officially representing Iwata at the show.

I did this last year and it was a ton of fun. Gencon has really grown over the past 10 years. Demonstrations were pretty much non-stop through the entirety of the show.

I don't usually like to schedule things more than two months out so if you are thinking about having me paint for you be sure to contact me in June.