How to photograph Hot Wheels, Matchbox and other model cars

Hot Wheels ford woody sportsman surfs upThere are three things to consider when photographing your model Hot Wheels, Matchbox or other small scale car.

First, have a goal in mind for the photograph. Are you doing it because you plan on selling it on Ebay? Or showcase as a presentation piece to be printed and mounted on a frame? Perhaps it’s for a catalog or online website? Each have it’s own setup, meaning the background used with the car. For eBay or an online website, a plain white background is the traditional method used for a background. However, for a presentation piece a white background or other real outdoor location shoot can have a more creative effect.

Once you decide on what type of picture you need for your model car, the second part is using the right camera. It’s not necessary to use an expensive Digital SLR, a simple Compact Point & Shoot camera will do, however a DSLR will also work. For the picture on the left of the 1946 Ford Woody Sportsman, scale 1:64 by Hot Wheels, I used a compact Canon G12. My goal for this setup was to create an image that I could print and hang in my room where I had all my Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars.

I chose to use the Canon G12 for several reasons, first it had an articulated LCD screen, which meant I could get down low to the ground very easily. By using the articulated flip out LCD screen, shooting at a low angle is very easy. The G12 also has a Macro function, which is essential to getting an image like the one above. I’ve found that the more important function to look for in a camera is the Macro feature. On a DSLR, you’ll need a lens that is also has the macro feature on the short or long end of the zoom if it’s not a prime lens. I only recommend using a DSLR if you already have one and don’t need to buy an additional camera, or if you plan to shoot many images of cars for a long period of time. Otherwise a Compact Point & Shoot will do the job.

Finally, the last thing to consider when photographing your model car is the lighting. I recommend two light sources. By this I mean, not just the flash on your camera. If you are using an on camera flash, have a second source of light on the left or right of the car. For a smooth, sharp, no shadow photo, have the two flashes positioned to the right and left of the camera pointed to the car. See Figure A for a sample of the setup (the “man” should be the car).

Lighting setup for a simple Hot Wheels photo shoot
Figure A: Lighting setup for a simple Hot Wheels photo shoot

For the setup of the 1946 Ford Woody above, I used two light sources, the sun coming from the upper left and my on camera flash which is positioned slightly to the upper left of the camera lens. Camera settings were: f/6.3, 1/500th sec, 12mm focal length and an ISO of 80. I then cropped the image on Photoshop (you can use any image editing software). In this case, the goal was to create create an image of the car as if it’s light from natural outdoor light. However if I didn’t use the online flash, the hood and front grill of the car would have been too dark with the shadows created by the bright sun. The on camera flash fixed that problem. This left me with a nice photo with shadows in the right place, in only the ground! I used one of the Online Photo Services to print a large photo which I now have hanging on my wall.

So photographing your Hot Wheels, Matchbox or other model cars is not as difficult as you may think. Plan, prepare and have fun. You’ll be surprised at the results you can achieve with your little cars!

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