Home News Hello! Atricles Contact

This article is not intended to be THE answer to photographing Meccano
it is simply how we do it. I will try and add more detail to these pages as time allows

If you want to ask anything or you have anything to add to this article
please feel free to do so by e-mail or use the FEEDBACK FORM


Hand-held with on-camera flash wide open aperture to reduce the depth of field. The subject is in focus and the rest of the model is soft focus


This is how we photograph our Meccano modelsWe were asked how we shoot the photographs that appear on this site and to pass on any tips. Let me say right from the start that we are not ‘professional’ photographers. Photography is only a part of what we do. Most of the photographs we take are for reproduction to illustrate the books, magazine articles and other literature we produce. Loosely, we take ‘product shots’ and step by step runs as well as what our American publisher calls ‘beauty shots’ these are the full page photographs that precede a new chapter or section of a book.

M&S Digger
The M&S Digger shot using studio flash and the Nikon D200

Over the years we have had thousands of photographs published going right back to the '70s when we were using monochrome film and the only colour used was for front cover work. Back in those days we were photographing and writing about plastic models and model railways, mainly for a specialist military book publisher called Almark Publishing who, in the early ‘70s, also published a magazine called Modelworld. We later worked with Airfix Magazine and a magazine called Model Trains (also published by Airfix).

Today we are heavily involved with woodworking. I am currently Editor of The Woodworker, first published in 1901 and still today one of the most popular woodworking magazines available.

What equipment do I need?

Not a lot really. Today’s digital photography is extremely forgiving and the only thing you really need is a camera! Lighting will depend on what you are trying to achieve but a lot can be done without buying anything special.

Canon Powershot nice little camera





Use a hand to provide scale
Just about as cheap as you can get, this little Olympus must be a few years old now and could be bought on ebay for a few pounds It is only 3.2 mega pixel but is Good enought for the web
Nikon D40x
Sue's Nikon D40x The baby of the Nikon range of digital SLRs. Set up here ready for use at shows. The lens is over-the-top for this little camera but the VR (vibration reduction) feature is useful.
Screw-on macro lens - this is for very small stuff!

So, what camera?

If you want to make a few prints and publish your pictures on the web you do not have to get too worried about pixels. Virtually any camera available today will produce a good image. If you are serious about taking good photographs then look at getting a digital SLR (Single Lenses Reflex) camera. These can be purchased second hand for a fraction of the new price.

Our work-horse the Nikon D200

Having said that, it is not essential to spend hundreds of pounds on equipment to achieve a good result. The photographs on this website are a mixture of our ‘studio’ shots as well as shots taken with our little compact and you may have seen (or fallen prey to) Sue at the shows clicking away with that little DSLR that she loves. Unfortunately it takes the same lenses as all our other cameras ... Even our posh cameras are not that posh. We use semi-professional Nikons for most of our work but this is just because we have used Nikons for years and the thought of using another brand is just not on the cards. Not that there is anything wrong with other makes.

Taking pictures

OK here is my number one rule; Construct the photograph in the camera – do not rely on ‘adjusting’ it later using image manipulation software. Because of the day job we have professional graphic software at our fingertips but we very rarely use it for the pictures you see here. In fact I don’t think any of the pictures on our website have been Photoshopped. This is probably because most of our photography was originally done on film and it had to be there or thereabouts as retouching film was time consuming and very expensive. We still adopt the same methods of work now with digital cameras as we did when using film.

No matter what camera you have you will be able to take perfectly acceptable pictures of your models. It is not all about the camera. Composition, framing, angle of shot and, this may sound obvious, deciding just what to photograph are all more important.

To light your model you can use natural daylight, artificial light or flash. Without getting too complicated all these lighting set-ups render different light values and in the old days you had to use the appropriate film or filter the incoming light by using a screw-on filter that covered the lens. Digital cameras will adjust for these conditions automatically or the appropriate setting can be selected from a menu or just dialled in. Much of this depends on the sophistication of the camera and you will no doubt be fully conversant with the workings of your own camera. 

I am not going to get too tied up with the technical side of photography here as this is not about the equipment but more about technique, besides I am no expert all I am attempting to do here is to pass on some of the tricks and methods we have discovered over the years. Our sort of photography is not glamorous or high profile; consequently it does not attract obscene fees meaning that there is not a bottomless pit of money available to support rampant equipment collecting.


When we build Meccano models there is always a lot of stuff about. Unless you are trying to put across the atmosphere of the build it is far better to clear away the clutter so that the subject of the photograph is obvious. We all like to look into the background of photographs and that is fine in its place but not when it takes the eye away from the subject making the image confusing to the observer.

Try and photograph models or stages of the model with a clear background where possible. Leave a few parts or a screwdriver in shot if it is a stage of building. This will instantly indicate that there is more to do. However, when photographing a finished model, try to keep the background totally clear concentrating the viewer’s attention on the model underlining the fact that this is the finished model.

The photographs below show the roof of one of the cars being constructed for our model of a Ferris wheel. The first picture is taken without any thought to clearing up the area. As you can see the roof is perfectly visible but all the clutter makes for a distracting composition – it just looks messy. Now look at the second picture. All I have done is to clear the space around the roof leaving just a spanner and some nuts and bolts. This looks better but the edge of the table and the bottom of a made-up car are still encroaching on the image. By cropping the picture and removing all the distractions the viewer is left in no doubt what the subject is nor are there any fringe distractions to muddy the water.

A picture of bolts taken with the old Olympus compact camera

The picture below is part of the picture on the left. This too was shot with that little compact Olympus using the built-in flash, not a bad result for what is no more than a snap-shot!

Shot with 3.2 Mp camera

Cluttered shot
Too much Clutter

Uncluttered shot
Clutter removed makes an improvement


Cropped picture
Cropped and slightly enlarged makes a good shot

Close-up photography

With an SLR camera you can use a supplementary close-up lenses screwed to the front of the main lens to shorten the closeup
focussing distance enabling a larger image of a smaller area to be captured by the sensor. Alternatively there are special macro lenses that have a close focussing facility built in. This is all very well if you are a keen camera buff that enjoys messing with photography. What if you are just a Meccano enthusiast that wants to take some nice shots of the detail to show the rest of us? Well, even that is possible today. The new cameras – even the compacts are supplied with ever more sophisticated sensors. It is not unusual to find cameras with upwards of 8 Mega pixel sensors. Our little compact Canon is rated at 8MP and was used to take the shots of the roof. The close-up shot is just a section of the original shot cropped from the full size image. Other pictures we have shown here were shot using the old 3.2 mega pixel Olympus.

To do this always set the camera on the finest setting and the largest size. It will cut down the number of pictures you can Close-uptake on one card but with today’s memory cards that will not be a problem. Even if you do fill the card it is easy to download the pictures or use a second card.

The final picture in this section shows the set-up used to take the shots you are looking at. The Canon Power Shot A580 sitting on a lightweight tripod and that is it. Lighting is supplied by the built in flash, nothing fancy and a perfectly good result can be achieved just on the work table.

Nothing fancy just a small compact Canon

Background and lighting

Stepping up a gear you can make a seamless backdrop by laying a piece of coloured paper across a horizontal surface and up a vertical, such as a wall. The paper should be matt finish so it does not create any reflection. With this simple set-up a photograph of the car roof will look even better. Again the picture shown here (below) was shot using nothing more than our little Canon and using its built-in flash.

Mini set-up
Simple setup can give a good result using a compact camera , hand-held with its built-in flash - setup shown below

Anglepoise lamps and makeshift reflectors made from white paper, tinfoil or expanded polystyrene sheet can all be used to enhance the amount of light available.Set-up By setting the camera to ‘auto’ it will probably compensate for white balance  (a subject that will be explained in you camera manual) as well as exposure. However you are deep in suck-it-and-see territory when it comes to depth of field of focus. The front of your model may be in focus while the back is not. The depth of acceptable focus is usually twice as much behind the point of focus as it is in front. For this reason it is advisable to try and focus at a point approximately one third of the depth of the shot. The smaller the aperture, the greater the depth of field will be. In automatic mode the brighter the lighting the smaller the aperture so add lighting if you are not getting the whole model in focus.

Getting more serious

The methods described above will render good results, as you can see. However it is limited. To produce even better images you will need to get a bit more serious. That does not mean mortgaging the family assets but you will need to invest in a better camera, some lighting and a light meter. So what is that likely to cost? New, a few hundred pounds will sort you out with a set of portable studio flash lights and a good but basic digital SLR. Studio lighting is getting cheaper and if you are only intending to photograph small items then look at some of the table-top kits.

Second-hand equipment can save you a lot of money especially when it comes to cameras. They are changing and improving almost monthly. What was a good camera last year is still a good camera today, especially for what we want to use it for. Look on the internet for second-hand camera retailers where you can go and look at what you are buying. Taking a flyer on the internet by risking an ebay purchase is not to be recommended for the novice in DSLR purchasing.

Accessories are a different matter, close up lenses and radio triggers are a good buy. When it comes to meters, buy the best one you can afford. And I would recommend buying new. Do it right and you will only do it once. Rolls of backdrop paper can be supported on stands or hung from brackets over worktables to provide larger continuous backgrounds. Reflectors and other accessories are available in abundance but there is a real temptation to get carried away with the ‘Stuff’ and before you know it you have blown your Meccano budget on camera equipment!

Our set-up

Most of the ‘studio’ shots you see on our website were shot using older Nikon DSLRs. Our stock camera for a long time was a Nikon D70 and a D70s. Both these cameras would serve well

Nikon D70
A couple of our older cameras are still used today - A D70 and a D70s

today and can be purchased second-hand at very reasonable prices. The standard lens, usually, supplied with this camera is the 18-70 zoom and is ideal for this sort of work. We have upgraded to a Nikon D200 but even this is yesterday’s model.

The current work-horse a D200 - even this is yesterday's technology

For lighting we use two flash heads on stands with umbrella reflectors and a third head fitted with a soft-box to light the background. The flash is controlled by a radio trigger fitted to the hot-shoe of the camera. This saves having lots of trailing leads and again can be purchased fairly cheaply on e-bay. The brand-name radio triggers can cost as much as the lighting and is not worth the investment for hobby use.

Hoya Close-upThe only other accessory we use for shooting Meccano models is a close-up lens that is screwed on to the front of the zoom lens and allows you to focus much closer to the subject.

At shows and club meetings we tend to use simpler cameras. Sue has a really neat NikonD40x. This again is yesterdays model but it does everything Sue asks of it. It is smaller than the other cameras and is not as easily adjustable for manual use having no LCD display screen and using the preview screen as a menu as well as the function display. None of this is a problem; Sue will slide a speed flash onto the hot shoe, 'borrow' the best lens she can find, set the thing up on one of the programme modes and off she goes... Pointing it at bemused people and every model she can find. She is often mistaken for the local press photographer by the odd person that does not realise that Sue is a modeller herself who also enjoys photography and a good natter - so next time you see her at a meeting or show, ask her if she is still borrowing my new lens...

Taking these sorts of photographs is more about composition than anything else. A common mistake is to get too high over the model. Taking a shot from the standing position is really successful unless the model is huge. It is far better to crouch down in front of the model and shoot on the level.

Further reading

Finally here are a few links that you might find useful:

Ken Rockwell is a mine of information and what’s more he keeps the information on his site right up to date with the latest developments from Nikon and Cannon you can find his website here: www.kenrockwell.com
For second-hand camera equipment take a look at Aperture Photographic. This small second hand camera suppler has a small stock of cameras at reasonable prices and although based in Museum Street, London will supply mail order. Sue and I have used them for a few years now and have always had superb service. There website can be found here: www.apertureuk.com

There are lots of lighting suppliers around today, a search on Google or eby for “Studio Lighting” will keep you busy for a few hours…

All of what we have shown you here is not intended to be a cast in stone method of working it is just how we do it. Others may have different ideas and necessity is the mother of invention. If you have found something that works for you, let us know and we will try and pass it on.

Ralph & Sue

…Sue, can I have my lens back yet?


Articles index page>>>

Home page>>>

Back to top>>>