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As a beginner I did a bit of research on the various options available. I worked with hot lights in the beginning – these are bulbs that are specially manufactured to give out extremely bright lights but have a very short life (~8hrs). I often feel dangerous working with these, and I don’t really like their burn rate. Also they give out very harsh lights… didn’t know about special softboxes at that time.

Then I worked for a very long time with sunlights. Sunlight is free and works quite well, but it’s a bit hard to control, and they tend to cast very harsh light and shadow on the subject.

When I moved I no longer have access to a well-lit area for photography, which prompted me to search for another setup. Thanks for FilmMkr’s help I was able to pick a reasonable priced setup that is capable to producing pictures that far exceed the standards of the ones I’ve taken before. Here is an outline of the setup:

Flash assembly:
Alien Bees B400 Flash unit
LS3050 Light Stand
SB2436 Medium Softbox
The flash unit is the life of the setup. The consensus of the amateur photography community is that Alien Bees offers the best bang for the buck. The B400 is about $220 at the time of writing. It will supply more than enough lights for photographing models… even at the lowest setting! You need a medium to soften the light, a reflective umbrella would work at < $20, but I went with a softbox ($99) as it seems to offer more control.

Finally you’ll need a stand to hold the flash and softbox. The one I bought (with 10ft pole) is not recommended for use with the flash+softbox assembly, but I decided to live dangerously and it kind of works… it really isn’t stable however

Backdrop A non-reflective material with a neutral color would work best… wrinkle-free is a big plus I got mine from the local Jo-Ann’s. I wanted to find a grey fabric since it tends to affect the balance of the pics less than colored materials.
Reflectors:
Mirror
White Cardboard
Foam Board with viewport
Since I have only one flash, I needed to have a few reflectors to bounce off lights. In fact, recently I’m relying almost exclusively on them to deliver light, as the flash light is very strong, and tends to overwhelm the details of the model.The mirror gives the strongest source of reflection. While the white foam board is also a good reflective medium, it is more diffused. I use it to give light to the front of the subject. For the longest time since I started working with flash, I could not find a way to get proper lighting to the models on the front. Usually photographers have a backfill flash to generate light for that area, but I’m too cheap for that . Tried many ways, and settled on making a square view port in the foam. This allows the camera to poke through, while the foam board will reflect enough light on the front of the model. Now my kits are much better lighted. Finally, the white cardboard is the least reflective of all, and is used to balance out the right side. This way, the model will be better lighted on the left, which is ok since having the model uniformly lighted on all sides is a bit monotonic.
Turn table I usually photograph models on a revolving base that I got from Tap Plastics these days. The turn table allows me to photograph the different views of the models easily, and I find that quite indispensible. I have no problems with the minor “aesthetic aberration” it creates.
Camera:

Canon G3

You don’t really need a fancy camera for models. The things I look for are:
  • Has manual shooting mode – being able to adjust the shutter speed and aperture allows you to have the maximum control over the photos
  • Has good macro – I photograph a lot of 90mm (~1/18) miniatures so macro is very handy. Larger figures typically don’t need that.
  • Remote control – this is not too important as you can do a 2 second timer. Basically you just don’t want to shake the camera with you hands while shooting. Canon offers an IR remote controller which gave it the slight edge over contemporary Nikons.
  • Good USB support – being able to control the camera from the PC is pretty handy, because sometimes you really can’t see what’s wrong with the shots on the LCD screen. With the USB feature, I can drive the camera from a laptop, and the shots will go directly to the PC. The only thing I don’t like about the G3 is that the USB1 port typically mean it takes about 7-10 seconds for a picture to get transferred to the PC. More recent cameras would not have this problem I assume.