Collecting 101Collecting Memories

How to photograph model cars

Part One: Start with the basics

So you say you want to sell a model on ebay? It’s pretty easy to list a model, but it won’t get much attention with a lackluster product shot or five. Here’s a few tips on how to photograph model cars for fun or profit.

I’ll show you how to make a proper backdrop for your photo. We’ll discuss cameras, lights and tripods too. However it’s the backdrop that is the most important. So….

Start with the backdrop

In this digital age, we’ve all seen images of a photo shoot. With humans or objects, photographers have a basic toolbox that starts with a clean backdrop. For video, that’s probably a green screen. For photography, it’s white or a neutral color such as beige. Model cars work best on white. White also reflects light to cut shadows back.

You can make a pretty good backdrop for around $25 or so. The one here also folds flat for easy storage. 

You’ll need to get two 20″x30″sheets of 1/2″ thick white foamcore board. This is best obtained from a physical or online art store. I doubt you’ll have luck at your local arts & crafts store. What you will probably find at the arts & crafts store will be a roll of white paper, at least 28″ wide or so. If you find a wider roll, you can always cut it down as needed.

Also grab a roll of 2″ wide duct tape in your favorite color. Lastly, you’ll need a utility knife or similar with a sharp blade. A dull blade will snag the foamcore rendering a poor result.

Study these instructions very, very carefully. You will be graded.

how to photograph model carsSlice one of the foamcore sheets into two 15″x20″ pieces to form the sides of the backdrop box using your sharp utility knife (1). Several light cuts will do a better job than one heavy cut. CUT FOAMCORE ON A SURFACE YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT! You will leave marks for sure. Some kind of straightedge will help get a perfect edge. Or just pencil in a line on the back of the foamcore sheet and cut slowly and carefully. Watch those fingers or they’ll be calling you ol’ nine digits.

Place the larger piece of foamcore facedown with the back facing you. Place a strip of duct tape along the short end, half on and half off the foamcore. Trim off the excess tape (2).

Flip over the foamcore so the adhesive side of the tape is up (3).

Place one of the sides on top of the larger piece. Line up all edges. Fold up tape to form a hinge. Press the duct tape firmly in place (4).

Repeat for the other side. Add additional strips of duct tape either side of the first ones to reinforce the hinge.

Stand up u-shaped contraption as shown (5).


We’re almost there, sorta

Find a nice flat surface to shoot on. A desk or table are perfect. Pop your backdrop box on the nice clean surface. Grab your white roll of paper, already trimmed to a width to fit into the box.

Lay the front edge of the paper onto the front edge of your work surface and tape into place as shown. Blue painter’s tape is ideal as it leaves no residue nor trace of it when removed later on.

Unroll the paper and position as shown with excess paper draped over the back (6). The paper should have a curve at the base so no shadows appear.

Lastly, position a model in your chosen scale at a 30º or so angle (you can be precise or guesstimate this) (7). We’re working with a 1/43rd model here, but any scale works the same way. Use a pencil to place small pencil marks where the rear tires are. This will be the spot and angle you’ll shoot most of your models at.

In Part Two:

Lights, camera, photos. Or something like that. Go straight to part two here.

More Collecting 101 tips here.

More car crazy stuff here.