Category Archives: tutorial

Photographing models part 3. – small studios

So now we have the camera chosen, and the lenses sorted out; what else is needed for taking photos of your models?


Studio setting

Getting a dedicated light box is not really expensive any more. You can get a collapsible light box with two/three light sources for less than £30.


The bare minimum should be two light sources; the white sides of the box diffuse the lights a bit, making the illumination less harsh, softening the shadows. (If you can install it, a third, overhead light source would not be a bad idea, either.) You don’t actually need a box; if you fabricate a diffuser you can put in front of your light sources, it works fine as well.


The background -normally- should be something neutral, which does not take away the attention of the viewer, and which allows for the most visibility of the object in the foreground. Used to use the colored cloths that came with my photo-box: black (not ideal, too dark), blue (OKish, but darker than should be), and red (not ideal, weird). These are admittedly less than ideal solutions, but on occasion they are the better alternative (lightly colored parts show up better against a dark background). The best option I found was to use colored papers from craft stores (but real velvet works well, too -something I will need to spend some money on). You can get them in many different colors: you would ideally need to buy a few that would allow you to choose the most optimal one depending on the model in question. White is an OK choice although the contrast can be too stark. Light grey is a better option; however it always depends on your subject. A white-washed tank, for example, might be better photographed against a bit darker background. (After all, the whole point of the white-wash was to blend the tank into the light background.) Make sure you don’t pick strong colors -again, I say this with the understanding that a lof of my photos were taken using precisely these colors. (As I said before I am an unashamed hypocrite.) If you gently bend the paper you can make the background and foreground blend seamlessly. If you photograph sprues, I found that the cloth background was better than the paper- it eliminated the dark shadows under the sprues.


Choosing a light source is also an important as we mentioned it in the first post when we talked about white balance.


Taking photos under natural light is one option; however you will need to wait for the perfect conditions (slightly overcast sky, soft lights) which is not always an option. You should avoid direct sunshine: it makes the contrast really high between shadows and light areas. (Unless you are photographing spacecraft where a stark contrast is actually quite realistic.) The best times are usually early afternoon, with the sun covered by a reasonably thin cloud cover which diffuses its light.

Artificial light sources

The easiest artificial lighting source is a lamp. Or more, to be exact, as you need more than one light sources to avoid deep shadows and uneven lightning. Normal desk-lights are good enough (if you set the white balance of your camera -see below), but the best option is to use bulbs that mimic the sun’s light (sunlight/natural light bulbs). The setup should be something similar that is used in studios; at least two lights (a so-called “main” and a “fill”), 45 degrees from the subject.


Most cameras have built-in flashes but these are absolutely useless when it comes to macro photography; they are simply too far from the object, and they are not designed with macro photography in mind. (The camera/lens itself casts a shadow on the object, for one. They also are too strong for close-up work.)


Another option is to use flashguns separated from your camera (we’re talking about expensive DSLRs with multiple expensive flashguns) similarly set up as the LED lights on the above photo; keep in mind that you definitely will need to use diffusers with them. This solution is not very economical as proper flashguns can cost £100 minimum (each), and you’d need at least three of these. (And they need to be remotely triggered, so you need the shoes holding the flashguns and a remote control, too.) Here’s a pretty good article on studio photography; it applies to scale models as well. (I guess a model is a model…) The flashguns are set up similarly to the lamps we discussed before -for obvious reasons.

If you do a lot of macro photography, you can get a ring-flash that goes around the objective, providing appropriate lighting for the objects photographed, but these things are costly. I mean really costly. There is a cheaper alternative with LED lights -these are not flashguns, but they do provide extra light for your photographs, so they might be a viable option. One good thing they have going for them is that you can see your subject much better, so focusing is easier, since the LEDs are on all the time. They do eat up batteries, though. If you choose to buy one of these units, they will come very handy if you decide to go outside and start photographing insects and other small critters.

A tripod is also a useful thing (and again, an expensive one if you want something that is stable); and if you really want to go all-out a macro focusing rail also comes handy; but with a decent camera set up properly, and some proper light sources, you should be doing fine. It really is just a matter of practice from now on (and time you’re willing to spend with photographing).
I hope these posts helped to start with macro photography; I do believe it’s one of the most interesting aspects of photography, so I encourage anyone to experiment with it. In no time you will be trying to take portraits of jumping spiders I bet…


Photographing models part 2. Lenses and other alternatives

In the previous post we discussed the cameras and basic settings; we did not cover anything in great detail, but I hope it was enough to provide some help on what you need to focus on when learning and practising photography. (Again, these posts are more of a “do as I say don’t do as I do”, rather than me talking as an expert.)

So we now have the cameras covered; let’s talk about lenses and other options.

“Macro mode”

This is an option on virtually all cameras, not just DSLRs. What this mode means is simply a preset set of values of aperture/shutter speed/ISO that is deemed to be optimal of getting the best close-up shots using the optics of the camera; that’s it. It does not change anything in the lens itself. For larger models (I mean scale models, not camera models), it is a perfectly usable option. Any kit lens (18-55mm) can normally do closeups that are good enough for a 1/35 tank. But that is where the usefulness ends; for true macro shots it will not suffice. If you want to zoom into smaller details, like a 1/35 (or 1/72) scale face, you will find that you need something extra.

Front Lenses


These lenses screw onto the front of the lens, like a filter. The good news is that bridge cameras and certain compacts can mount them, too, giving you some extra flexibility that you would expect from a more expensive DSLR setup. (You can find telephoto and wide-angle attachments as well.) These lenses are normally quite cheap, and produce acceptable results. (I took these sunflower photos using a 10X front lens and the D3300 Nikon with the kit lens mounted.) They come in sets, and are stackable to increase magnification; I tend to use them if I can’t be bothered to change the lenses, or if I don’t want to bring a heavy macro around for a hike. (They do affect image quality negatively, but for scale model photos to be published online they are perfectly fine. Amusingly though they do turn your camera short-sighted; you will lose the ability for infinite focus…) The real drawback is that the edges of the photos are not going to be as sharp as the center of the photo – most of the time it’s not noticeable, but if you want to photograph a big, flat thing (stamp collection), you will see the issues with sharpness.

Bellows and extension tubes

These sit between the objective and the body of the camera, lengthening the distance between the sensor and the optical elements. This allows a closer focus than the normal minimum focusing distance of the lens, making the subject larger -essentially turning the lens itself into a macro objective. The tubes are sold in sets allowing the length to be adjusted incrementally, while the bellow -obviously- does the same thing in a gradual fashion; the principle is the same.

There are problems with this solution, though. One problem, the most important one, is that less light reaches the sensor; and in photography light is everything. You always want to maximise the amount of light you have; this is such a big issue in microscopy, for example, that they use immersion oils between the optical elements and the subject to get every little photons possible onto the sensor (or photo-multiplier tube, but this is a different topic altogether).

When photographing scale models you are in complete control of the lightning so the question of light is less severe, but you still want to have as much of it as you can. (This is a more serious issue for other types of macro photography; especially if you are working outside trying to chase down small insects.) The bigger issue is for us that normally neither the extension tubes nor the bellows have any electrical components that can transfer signals from the camera body to the lens, rendering the lens into a full manual one. Again, if you are happy to fiddle with the settings in full manual it’s not such an issue, but it does get old real fast. It’s good to learn to use the camera in full manual, but you really want to simplify taking photos as much as you can. Especially if you decide to expand your vistas and go on photographing wildlife- while a tank model will wait for you to find the appropriate settings, a spider might get bored and go off somewhere else if you can’t get the shot in seconds.

Bellows and tubes costs more than front lenses; and they cost significantly more if they can transfer electronic signals to the lens. I found that these high-end versions actually cost as much as the cheaper, second-hand dedicated macro lenses, even though they do have the severe disadvantage of taking light away from the sensor. Since they seem to cost about the same as a superior solution, I never really bothered with them. There is no shame in buying a second-hand lens. (Just make sure it’s not scratched, there is no dust -or mould- in it, and the motors work properly. My Tamron, unfortunately, only works in manual focusing mode, because the focusing motor does not function.)

Inverted lenses

There is a budget option to turn any lens into a macro objective. This is an interesting solution, but not very practical in my opinion. (Again: let’s simplify things as best as we can.)

Dedicated macro objective

Well, this is the real deal. A lens that produces closeups, and can also be used as a portrait objective. True macros have a reproduction ratio of 1:1- meaning that a 20 mm long object will be 20 mm long on the sensor. (Here’s a good tutorial on macros that is worth reading.) Several companies put the word “macro” on their objectives without them being “true” macros only giving you a 1:2 magnification. These are decent enough objectives but not true macros (but they may perfectly suit your needs nevertheless). True macro or not, objectives are -obviously- not cheap (my dream objective costs about 300 GBP and it’s not even expensive as lenses go), but they produce the best results. (Here’s a good guide on choosing one.) I use a 90mm Tamron objective; it can be very useful in wildlife photography as well. The 90mm focal length allow you to be suitably far from your subject, so bees and other critters don’t feel like you’re invading their personal space. (Which is a mutually advantageous thing, believe me, especially when we’re talking about bees.) The quality is simply incredible.


Macro objectives are not the perfect solution for all, though; with larger models you will find that you can’t fit everything into the frame, and the depth of field will be an issue, too. Be prepared to use a combination of lenses: sometimes a kit objective with a small aperture and a tripod will be enough. When you need to focus on the small details, you will need to break out the front lenses or the macro objective.

If the constant discussion about it was not enough to hammer this point home, using higher magnifications you will notice that your depth of field reduces significantly. (Now you learned something you can use with portrait photos as well: set the aperture large, and you will blur the background of your subject by deliberately by decreasing the depth of field. This will focus the attention on your subject efficiently.) However for us, it is a bad thing since only a small portion of your model will be in focus. If you work with microscopes this problem will be even greater; take a look at this micrograph I took of some human cells back in the days when I was working in as a researcher: at 63X magnification even a wafer-thin edge of a coverslip is not in complete focus.

You can go around the problem by simply taking a photo from further away in the largest possible resolution and then crop the photo (this is how digital “zoom” works, by the way). This is a perfectly valid solution; you may even use a telephoto lens to zoom onto you model. Telephoto lenses compress the perspective which will be visible on the photo, but the entire model may fit into their depth of field, which is a definite plus.

You can also decrease the aperture (and use a tripod to steady the camera) to increase the depth of field as much as possible, or, if you absolutely must have the largest possible depth of field, you can do some image stacking. It’s possible to do manually in Photoshop, but there are programs freely available. (I probably should make a short post about this.)

So here are some examples of the same model using different methods (tried to do overall shots and closeup shots as well).  Everything else remains the same; the camera needed to be re-positioned as the focal point changes with different setups.

Depth of field (wide aperture vs small aperture)

Mobile phone camera (Huawei P10 light)

D3300 kit lens (18-55mm) zoomed in

D3300 kit lens (18-55mm)+ 4X front lens


D3300 kit lens (18-55mm)+ 10x front lens


D3300 kit lens (18-55mm)+ 2x, 4x, 6x, 10x front lens stacked


D3300 telephoto lens (55-200mm)  – I had to stand about 2 meters from the tank…


D3300 Tamron 90mm macro lens

Overall it can be safely summarised that if you don’t want to zoom into the model, even a phone camera does reasonably well; however you do need a bit more serious equipment if you are interested in showing off small details. Even though the detail and quality is significantly better when using a dedicated macro objective, for the purpose of scale models it’s a definite overkill; the extra quality you get comes for a very steep price.

The next -and last post- will be about lighting and basic studio settings… keep tuned in.

Photographing models part 1. Cameras and settings

This post will be somewhat long, but hopefully useful. I’m trying to cover a lot of things from equipment to settings; I do hope it will be clear and easy to understand regardless. I try to mention the basics and provide links for further reading; this series is meant to be an introduction to key concepts rather than a comprehensive tutorial.

As a disclaimer: this is how it should be done; it does not necessarily mean my own photos are the epitomes of perfection…

Photographing models is essentially studio macro photography. You can do it cheap, even with a reasonably good phone camera, or you can go the whole nine yards, and use a DSLR with a dedicated macro lens -or choose an option in between. I’ll try to list all the viable options so you can make a decision easier. Macro photography is is an incredibly interesting branch of photography, and not just when it comes to plastic. It is essentially the photography of small objects. (Shameless self promotion: I run a blog on macro photos, too.) Things that you learn by taking photos of your placid and immobile models will enable you to take some pretty cool photos of the less than placid and definitely not immobile wildlife living in your backyard.


Painting and photographing models

There’s also a related issue to mention which is less technical, and more philosophical. The camera sees things differently when it comes to macro photography. Tiny irregularities, mistakes stand out incredibly well on a photo- simply because the camera’s point of view is much closer to the model than you eyes’. While you look at the model as if you were looking at it from a distance (one reason for factoring in the scale effect when painting the model), the camera “looks” at it as if you were standing right next to it. The level of detail, the weathering, everything will look different. This can be used to your advantage: you can take photos of the model during the build and check for problems; issues with seams, uneven brushstrokes, etc.. Things that you hardly notice when you look at the model, will stand out like a sore thumb.

It also affects how much weathering you want to do. There’s always a question of how much is too much, but apart from personal taste, it’s worth keeping in mind that your model will look different on a photo than in real life thanks to the above mentioned effect. To put it strongly you can either build for the camera or for the eye. The camera essentially brings the observer close to the model- therefore subtle weathering, which is hardly noticeable when looking at the model with the naked eye, will stand out more; and weathering that you thought looked great and natural on the model when you looked at it from hand-length will look over-done.


(My Churchill Gun Carrier is a good example of it. It does not look anything special with the naked eye; just a green piece of resin. When you look at the photos, it looks pleasingly weathered and dusty. The effects are subtle, but visible.)


There are several options to capture the light coming from your model. You can use film cameras (not suggested, but certainly possible), or you can choose from the wide range of digital cameras. In some respect it does not really matter which one you choose (within a range, of course); but it’s important to be aware that DPI does not really matter when choosing an option. Same with megapixels (which is the common unit for smartphone/DSLR resolution). There is more to a camera than just the resolution: the sensor and the optics are the two fundamental things that will determine the quality of the photos.

Smart phone cameras

Smartphones caused a revolution in photography; now everyone and their aunt are taking photos like mad. Newer models of phones are equipped with cameras of remarkable quality; for photos destined to be published on the web these cameras might be just enough. Keep in mind, though: a 12 megapixel phone camera is not going to take better photos than a 9 megapixel DSLR; just the opposite. A phone camera’s sensor is fraction of the size of a decent DSLR’s; the optics is also going to be severely limited by the very small optical parts. A DSLR will have larger sensor, better optics; it will always come out with better quality photos. Same is true to a lesser degree with compact and bridge cameras: optics and sensor size matters. A lot. As I said, for web-only publication it might not matter that much, but the difference is always going to be visible. Sometimes when I can’t be bothered to set everything up, and I snap in-progress photos using my phone. This is a less-than-perfect solution, and it’s quite obvious which photos were taken with my phone and which were taken by the DSLR I use. (If I had space to have a permanent photo corner, I would not be tempted to use the smartphone at all.) That said, the photos taken by phone cameras are not horrible at all.

Compact cameras and Bridge cameras

These cameras are perfectly capable of taking good quality photos of models. The sensors are smaller than the DSLR sensors, the optics are usually not that good quality as a £1000+ Nikkor objective’s, but the question is: do you really need that good of a lens for this job? (You might, but most of us do not.) For the laymen (meaning: you and I) these cameras will be perfectly suitable. You can set the most important things yourself: ISO/shutter speed/aperture/white balance, and they can also shoot RAW. (Most photographers shoot in RAW format, because even though these images are gargantuan in size they offer the best option for post processing; they also do not lose information like JPEGs do. I use RAW for almost all my photos, except when I photograph scale models… JPEG is perfectly suitable for web-publishing.) These cameras also normally have a dedicated macro setting (which really is just an aperture/shutter speed setting that was deemed to be “optimal” for macro), and can do most of the jobs you need.

Bridge cameras, as the name suggests, are a transition between compact and DSLR. They give you almost as much flexibility and almost as good quality as DSLRs, but they are smaller and easier to use. They normally have one monstrous zoom lens that can give you a wide-field photo as well as a 300X telephoto option (for which you’d need to spend at least a grand in DSLR lenses to achieve), and can take front lenses (discussed in the next post) to give you even more flexibility. To be perfectly honest I’m jealous of the 300X zoom on the Fuji bridge camera my wife has; my paltry 200mm telephoto cannot hold a candle to its sheer magnification. (However the image quality is vastly superior.) When I took a photo of the last supermoon with my fancy D3300 (OK, it’s not fancy as far as DSLRs go, but it is fancy as far as this comparison goes), 200mm lens and a tripod, and then switched to the 300X zoom held in hand, it was infinitely easier to take a great-looking photo of the moon using the Fuji. I managed to shoot a great photo without fiddling with the settings – whereas it took me several tries to find an aperture setting where the bright moon did not oversaturate the photo on the Nikon. I honestly can say that a bridge camera is perfectly good for most amateur photographers like myself; I just had a DSLR fetish I needed to satisfy.

“Real macro” -meaning 1:1 image production- might be out of the league of these cameras, but you rarely need magnification that large. As mentioned bridge cameras (and some compacts) can mount front lenses, which can bring you to this realm, though.


Well, these are the “serious” cameras. Expensive pieces of equipment, interchangeable lenses, large sensors. There are different classes within the DSLR world, of course: medium format, full-frame, APS, etc. based on the sensor size. If you decide to invest in a DSLR, you probably should read up on these; for our purposes it’s enough to say that the smaller sensor DSLRs -like the Nikon D3300 I use-, are cheaper and smaller, and are perfectly enough for our (and most) purposes. (Not to mention the lenses are cheaper, too.) Don’t forget, bigger is not always better; you actually have to carry that camera around, so you need to consider your needs real carefully before you blow your money on medium format body.

If you have limited resources it’s better to spend on the objectives than on the camera body. If the glass is good quality it does not matter much if the photo was taken using a D3300 or a D5.

The real advantage of a DSLR is the high quality and the flexibility; you have a lot of options to produce macro photos -see in the next post. (Not all of them are expensive.)

Mirrorless cameras are essentially the same category as the DSLRs. Large, high quality sensors, interchangeable lens, amazing quality. They are smaller and lighter (no bulky prisms and whatnot), but they are considerably more expensive, and you don’t have as wide range of lenses available for them as for the DSLRs. I do often wish I had a mirrorless when sightseeing and doing touristy things.

(Tip for choosing cameras: Pentax cameras in general are very much compatible to all K-mount lenses produced from 1975 onward… this opens up a very cheap source of high quality glass; the only downside is that most if it will only work in manual mode.)

Camera settings

These settings can be changed in most cameras -even in some of the smartphone models.

Aperture/shutter speed/ISO


This is the trinity of macro photography (or any photography, really, but they are especially important when it comes to macro). If you want to delve into macro photography, learn the phrase: depth of field. You want as much of it as possible; but here’s the catch: the larger your magnification, the smaller it gets… so you need to tweak your photos a bit. (This issue of inverse relationship between magnification and depth of field is exaggerated  even more with microscopy, obviously.) Photographing small subjects you will need learn to juggle with the amount of light you have (with closeups it’s smaller than normal), and the the depth of field.

Aperture is simply put the opening between the lens and the sensor. (It works essentially like the pupils in your eyes.) Its size can be adjusted, and this is how you control how much light should hit the sensor. This, obviously, have ramifications: allow too much light in and your photo will be overexposed; allow too little, and it will be underexposed if you don’t adjust the shutter speed and ISO. It also effects, as we discussed, the depth of field: if the aperture is small, it will allow very little light in, requiring longer exposure, but the depth of field will be larger; if the aperture is small, it will allow more light in, with a shorter exposure, but the depth of field will be small. It goes from a large number (small aperture) to a small (large aperture).


Shutter speed: as the name implies, it is the amount of time the sensor is exposed to the light. If the aperture is large, the speed will be high, since you need to expose the sensor for a shorter amount of time with more light, and vica versa. If it is too low, you will need something to hold the camera stable- a tripod, ideally.

Playing around with these two settings you can achieve different effects: choosing a large aperture and fast shutter speed allows you to “freeze” motion (for example droplets of a water fountain, the cliche of photography students), or you can make it look “smooth” if you choose a small aperture and longer exposure.

ISO: describes the sensitivity of the sensor. In the film era, you chose films with certain ISOs for certain tasks: ISO100 was perfect for outdoor photos, 200 was normally chosen for darker, indoor photos. With digital cameras you can change the value at any time. The low ISO setting will give you nice, crisp photos, for the price of lower sensitivity, so you will need more light for those photos. Higher ISOs give you more sensitivity, but the photos will be grainier, noisier.

Depth of field

As we discussed, if the aperture is wide (small number), the depth of field will be small, but you allow a lot of light to the sensor (and use faster shutter speeds and lower ISO); conversely, if you set the aperture small (large number), you maximise the depth of field -but this means you decrease the amount of light hitting the sensor, so you need to increase the shutter speed, and the ISO (sensitivity) of the sensor. The more you decrease the shutter speed, the more stable you need the camera to be (tripod and a timer may be necessary), and the more you increase the ISO, the more noise you introduce to your photos, and they will look grainy… so it’s a balancing act, especially when taking photos of small objects. You want to hit the ideal combination of these three factors. There are good calculators available which can help you choosing the right settings. Normally shooting at aperture f/10-11 in aperture priority mode gives you the best compromise (relatively large depth of field, and you can still hold the camera in hand), but this is not an absolute rule. At large magnifications apertures f/22 can be used when necessary to increase the depth of field -but this will increase the shutter speed dramatically. (Aperture priority mode means you set the aperture manually, and the camera chooses the shutter speed.) ISO should not go over 400 because the photos become visibly noisy (grainy), but then again; it may be the price you pay in macro photography.

White balance

Most light sources will modify the color of the object they illuminate, unless you are using special studio lights. (Please see this article for a very good explanation.) Incandescent, neon, LED, etc lights all have their own temperatures, that is to say, colors (just think of the sodium lights on the streets; they stain everything yellow. This -to a lesser extent- is true for most other light sources, too.)


Normally your brain corrects for this effect, and you will see colors similarly under different sources of illumination regardless of the light source’s color temperature. However these differences will show up on your photos, so you must account for them. The best is to get a “natural light” bulb for your light-sources. (If you paint miniatures in the evening it’s a good idea to use it in your desk light as well… it can be really disappointing to see your previous night’s work in the daylight.) The other thing you can do to account for the different sources of illumination is to set your camera’s white balance.

Most digital cameras you can set the white balance to automatic, which works well in most cases. If there is some funkiness going on with the colors (for example you have a couple of different types of light sources that confuses the camera), you can use a white sheet to set the camera to your own lighting conditions. Your camera will adjust the photos it takes based on the white color you “show” it. (It’s quite important to set it properly in order to reproduce the colors faithfully.) If you shoot in RAW (that is you save your photos in RAW format), you can adjust the white balance later in an appropriate software (Photoshop, for example); however it takes time and effort, so it’s always better just to take the photo right at the getgo.

1/35 Zvezda Panzer IV (Sd.Kf.z 161/2) ausf H. part 1


I have built Dragon’s offering of the Pnz. IV., so obviously I was curious what Zvezda came up with. They come from two very different philosophies: DML crams in as much detail as they can with PE, individual links, metal barrels, and the whole nine yard in a highly complex, high-tech kit. This comes with a higher price tag and a much higher part count. Zvezda, on the other hand, goes for a more budget option for both time and money with their newer kits. They provide good detail for a much lower part number and much lower price. The build is much faster and simpler; the price you pay for this is a couple of compromises in construction and options. In short: this is a perfect model if you don’t want to spend too much money or too much time on a build, or if you are only getting into “serious” building and don’t want to bother with PE and individual tracks yet. It seems like Zvezda spotted a gap in the present market: good quality, cheap and easy to build models. With the present trend of expensive, highly complex kits, newcomers to the hobby (who are usually young and have no income on their own) are usually left out of the equation; it seems like Zvezda’s offerings might make it easier for them to stay in the hobby.

Zvezda’s offering is a bit strange in one respect: the side skirts have very nicely textured Zimmerit, however the hull lacks it completely. This leaves the model builder with two choices: either apply Zimmerit to the whole of the tank, or buy/fabricate new side-skirts without the coating. I chose to go with the latter as I personally don’t really like the look of Zimmerit. (If you decide to dress the hull up, there are alternatives: PE, resin or even home-made one using putty.)

Overall the model is quite accurate as far as I could determine, with some issues of the drive-wheel. There is little flash on the parts (the only case I found was on the drive wheel), and the detail is quite good. The weld seams are reproduced very well, the lettering on the rubber rims of the road wheels is visible (although not as sharp as on the DML and newer Trumpeter models), and the no-slip surface of the mudguards is very well done. The Zimmerit pattern on the side skirts is reproduced very well; the problem is that now you have to apply Zimmerit to the hull if you plan to use them. Another issue is not specific to the Zvezda model: the side skirts are given as one unit, all the armour plates moulded as one part. If you wish to depict them in a more realistic position, you will have to separate the different plates (shouldn’t be a problem). The thickness is quite out-of-scale, too, but once assembled it should not really be that apparent.


Since I have a Tank Workshop interior for the PnzIV ausf H I decided to build it with this kit. I was planning to get a DML offering, but facing another 1000+ part build was just too much. The Tamiya kit is showing its age, so Zvezda it is. (I wanted to avoid the problems of the Tamiya model: rubber tracks, detail, gun barrel- all issues that would require aftermarket products.) Because the interior set is designed for the Tamiya kit sometimes the fit is not the best. The interior set itself is OK, but there are more detailed options out there -Verlinden’s for example. With the current bonanza of full-interior kits, resin sets became somewhat of a last-ditch option.

Since the turret basket and the gun is actually quite nice in the Zvezda kit, I am using the plastic parts instead of the resin; most of the Tank Workshop set goes into the hull instead.

The ammo storage is quite rudimentary: just pieces of rectangular resin. The driver’s and radio operator’s station is quite well detailed; the problem is that the transmission is largely hidden by the model’s upper front plate. None of the front hatches can be opened; I think I might try to cut open the large middle hatch.

The radios’ backs are also featureless; these were placed into a metal rack, which should be visible when you look at the back of the radios. Thought about fabricating something, but then I just skipped this part.

The transmission is actually quite nice; can’t wait to see it painted and weathered.

Well, this is it so far… next step: finishing up the interior, painting and weathering it. Keep tuned in.

How to paint chrome -easy option

Unless you’re prepared to use Alclad II (which IS amazing), there’s not much out there that can simulate a shiny chrome surface. I personally don’t like to use anything that has strong organic solvents (enamels and similar products), and the only other option for acrylic users is Vallejo’s new Metal Chrome. Simliarly to Alclad it’s not easy to achieve good results, especially if you only need to paint small parts.

Well, enter the Molotov- Liquid chrome pens. They are literally markers which dispense a very reflective, very realistic chrome colored paint. There’s also a very good video on their website which is worth watching.



Unfortunately the pen is not suitable for large surfaces (the paint does not even out completely, so there will be marks left over), but there is a refill available. It might be possible to use the paint in an airbrush; the paint is alcohol based, so isopropanol should be perfectly fine to dilute it for spraying.

In this form- as a pen- it’s perfectly fine for smaller details like headlights and other surfaces.

How to make leaves for dioramas

Well, after a three week hiatus (even scale model builders get married sometimes), here’s a quick post on weathering.

There are several options and many products for making leaves. They can be used anywhere: on dioramas, and even on individual vehicles. They are great and subtle way to increase the level of realism: a brown, crumpled leaf on the floor of a vehicle, or stuck between tool boxes make a model look more real.

There are punch-sets (pretty good ones), PE and amazing laser cut, and other aftermarket sets, but there’s a free, and pretty convincing alternative, too, courtesy of the common birch.

From wikipedia:

The flowers are monoecious, opening with or before the leaves and borne once fully grown these leaves are usually 3–6 millimetres (0.12–0.24 in) long on three-flowered clusters in the axils of the scales of drooping or erect catkins or aments. Staminate aments are pendulous, clustered or solitary in the axils of the last leaves of the branch of the year or near the ends of the short lateral branchlets of the year. They form in early autumn and remain rigid during the winter. The scales of the staminate aments when mature are broadly ovate, rounded, yellow or orange color below the middle, dark chestnut brown at apex. Each scale bears two bractlets and three sterile flowers, each flower consisting of a sessile, membranaceous, usually two-lobed, calyx. Each calyx bears four short filaments with one-celled anthers or strictly, two filaments divided into two branches, each bearing a half-anther. Anther cells open longitudinally. The pistillate aments are erect or pendulous, solitary; terminal on the two-leaved lateral spur-like branchlets of the year. The pistillate scales are oblong-ovate, three-lobed, pale yellow green often tinged with red, becoming brown at maturity. These scales bear two or three fertile flowers, each flower consisting of a naked ovary. The ovary is compressed, two-celled, and crowned with two slender styles; the ovule is solitary. Each scale bear a single small, winged nut that is oval, with two persistent stigmas at the apex.


There was a reason I hated plant taxonomy at university. Anyhow, it boils down to the following: some parts of the seed pods (not a scientifically correct name) look like maple leaves.

Birdch seed

Mix some white glue with water, and use it to attach these to the surface of the model (or diorama); the seeds themselves can be mixed with this glue, and used as amorphous plant deposits in crevices.

The effect is pretty convincing, and if you live in a country where the tree grows, it’s free. I’ve been using this on the T-62, the Zrinyi II, the D7 dozer I’ve made, and in general, most 1/35 models I’ve been building lately. The one downside is obvious- it looks like my models live in a very uniform forest populated by a single tree; so I’ll be buying some punch sets in the future, that’s for sure.


Painting lights and lamps using Citadel Technical paints

This post is just a short summary of what I’ve learned using Cidtadel’s Technical paints. These paints are marketed for painting gemstones. (There’s also a traditional way if you’re interested.)


Anyhow; aside from painting gemstones (which I will do as I paint the odd WH40k figure here and there), I was interested in how these paints function for lamps and warning lights. I’ve used the SU-122‘s interior light and the Electric Mule‘s warning light to test them.

Interior lights

I’ve simply painted the base of the transparent light fixture with silver, and applied the Citadel paint on the top of the light. The paint flowed around the raised details depicting the protective wires, so I did not have to paint them separately, and also gave a nice, blue glass finish. It’s a perfectly good way to stain transparent light fixtures if the surface is not too large. Even with dedicated, transparent paints it’s a pain to achieve uniform coverage, so don’t expect perfectly even finish on large transparent parts. Since the depth of color of any glass object (such as a headlight lens) depends on the thickness, this uneven coverage actually produces quite a realistic effect.


Warning lights

In this instance I’ve used a yellow base color with the red technical paint applied. The effect, again, is pretty good, since the yellow + red gives a nice, uneven orange, which looks quite realistic as a translucent warning light.


In short: if you have these paints lying around, they are perfectly good for colored glass lenses, screens and warning lights. I’m sure Tamiya’s and other manufacturers’ transparent paints do the job similarly well, though.

How to open stuck paint jars

This is going to be a short post: this is how I open the paint jars that are hopelessly stuck.

It happens with most paints which come in glass jars with metal or plastic tops: paint gets between the top and the glass, and glues the jar shut. I know I’ve picked an alternate color several times simply because I could not be bothered trying to pry a certain paint open. It’s quite prominent with Testors and Gunze paints, but Tamiya is not immune, either. (Tamiya has a better grip on the top, so it’s easier to force open.)

The solution is simple. Glass and metal/plastic have different expansion coefficients. So we’ll use physics.


Get a small, shallow cup, and fill it with hot water to about 1-2cm deep. (The water should not be boiling; 60-70 degree Celsius should be fine.

Put the paint jar into this water upside down. Only the cap needs to be submerged.

Wait for a minute or two.

Pick it up (carefully), turn it back (obviously), and using a piece of cloth, open it.

It’s as simple as that.


The only drawback is that this tends to remove the label as well, since you can’t make sure nothing else but the cap will get wet during the process.

Making Rust p.4 – the sponge


An ongoing project of exploring the creation of rust.

Here are some previous posts:

  1. Lifecolor’s rust washes
  2. Iron containing paint and oxidizer
  3. Windex chipping, hairspray chipping

And now the good ole’ sponge method. I’ve used it on the T-62 wreck I have just finished.

The method is simple: get a piece of sponge/the green stuff on the top of the sponge, dab it into the paint, dab most of it off on a piece of paper, and then apply the sponge in a dabbing motion onto the surface of the model.

This can be used in several ways. Either, as I did here, you depict a badly rusted object with some paint still clinging on the surface. In this case the base coat is a mixture of rust colors (which, incidentally, were also applied using the sponge).

There are a couple of things to keep in mind: use a lighter shade of the color the item was supposed to be painted with; the sun fades everything over time (after all the vehicle in question had to be sitting there for a long time to rust like this), and the final color will darken anyway, since you will be using filters and washes on the vehicle. It’s also a good idea to use several tones of the base color -green in this case. Start with larger patches of the lightest, and use consequently darker shades with smaller and smaller patches.

You can do it the other way around as well: depict some rust spots/chips on a painted surface. In this case you use rust colors (and make sure you use different tones, along with the lightened version of the base color) over the base color of the model. In this case make sure you have hardly any paint left in the sponge, and also be sure not to use it in the same position (so that the created spots are not uniform). I’ve used this method with the SU-122 and SU-76.

If you want to make it a step even further, use a lighter color of the base to create somewhat larger chips, and use a brush (or keep using the sponge) to fill them in with much less rust color -this way you can depict a moderately chipped surface easily. (The method used on the mudguards of the T-44 -a combination of sponge-on-sponge -for the mudgards- and brush-on-sponge -for the smaller chips.)


Of course, you can just let go of the sponge, and do everything with a fine brush; you get more control, but you have to be careful about being random, just like in the case of this T-55.


All of these techniques should be done sparingly, and in several sessions. (It’s useful to come back and take a look at what you’ve achieved with a fresh eye.)




Obviously, these techniques are better used combined; with the T-62 I used the hairspray technique, the sponge, filters and brush. I’ve also used rust washes (with an airbrush), pigments mixed with Tamiya’s flat coat (coming up later), and oils blended with brushes. And yes, I did use some dedicated AK Interactive products, too, like different dark washes, and the light rust wash. (I’m turning to the dark side here.)





I’m making a difference! Awesome 🙂

Someone got inspired to try this technique based on this post.


Making rust -using rust

Nothing looks more like rust, than, well, rust.

Back in the US I had a brilliant product: a two-part rust effect product. One flask had suspended iron particles, the other was an activator (an oxidizing reagent). You applied the metal suspension to the surface, and after it dried, you added the activator. After some days (or hours, depending on how much activator/iron you used) you got a very realistic rust effect. (It was rust, after all.) You could play around with different reagents to get different colors- after all any acid or hydrogen peroxide would work very well, and produce slightly different mixture of the different iron oxide variants. (Being in Florida, it was also a very viable option to simply leave the model out on the patio… the 100% humidity and high temperature was quite effective rusting anything, anyhow.)

The armor of my orc warrior was done using this method. (In this case the rust effect was used to depict a rotting leather armor; the same product was used on the ground as well to simulate dirt.)


Modern Masters and Porters Paints have similar products, but they cost an arm and leg.

However, you can make your own rust pigments, and quite easily at that.

Simply use scratch brite (metal, of course). Put some steel wool or scratch brite into a cup, add vinegar or peroxide (or any acid of your choice), and stick it somewhere safe, where nobody will disturb it. Let it stand for a month or two, and wait for the liquid to evaporate. (If by the time it evaporates parts of the iron are still unoxidized, simply refill the cup.) You can even experiment: depending on the strength and nature of the oxidizing reagent you use, you will get a slightly different colored mixture of rust particles.


The result will be a brown mess; if you break it up in a pestle you will have finely ground iron oxide, ready to be used. As the orc warrior has demonstrated the pigments have more uses than simply depict rust: they have a nice, brown range of colors which can be used in groundwork, deposits, etc. (Some of the rust I’ve made this was was used to simulate deposits collecting in the nooks and crevices of the T-62 wreck I’m building.)