I always like it when a figure reveals some aspect of its personality in its sculpt. Not many of them do; for example, Junko Hattori sports sort of a generic angry anime girl expression, Kiriko Hattori has a satisfied, happy look, Dizzy has kind of a neutral, unemotional expression, and Heat Blade looks like a robot. If I didn’t know a thing about those characters, I couldn’t tell you much about them – I probably couldn’t even make a first guess as to what they are like. Triela, however, conveys a strong sense of detachment and loneliness. It’s easy to guess that she hasn’t had an easy life, and unlike Cryska, the way she hugs her gun suggests it’s more than just a prop to her. The mood that her look invokes informs the way I want to photograph her, unlike Junko, Kiriko, Dizzy, and Heat Blade, where it was much more difficult for me to figure out how to shoot them. All this is to say that I am lazy as hell and I really like it when a figure gives me ideas right off the bat, rather than being forced to actually think about how I want to shoot a figure.
This is one of my favorite images that I’ve ever shot, though it’s not technically all that impressive nor did it require a complicated setup. However, I think it shows some important features about this figure – Triela’s sad look, her impressive shotgun and the way she hugs it, and her diffident posture and body language. One thing I’ve been trying to do – that is, trying to remember to do – is to position figures off-center. It’s not something I’ve done much of in the past; for a figure review, one typically expects the figure to be centered in the photo frame, and that’s what I’ve usually done. However, the center is often not the most interesting place to position the subject, and that’s particularly true for a profile shot. By placing Triela up against the side of the frame, I think her blank gaze becomes more evocative; now it looks more like an empty thousand-yard stare. The right side of the frame also acts as a metaphor as she leans against it, emphasizing her solitude by suggesting that her back is against a wall.
This is technically a five-light setup, though one light is basically just triggering the other lights, three lights are just illuminating the background and the key light isn’t actually a powered light at all. There are two flash units visible in the picture; a 580EX II hanging sideways on the left with an UltraSoft modifier attached to it, and a YN-560 hanging overhead on a tentacle-like Manfrotto Flex Arm with a small snoot wrapped around the head. There are three flash units behind the backdrop, firing through the windows. Those windows are covered with toilet paper, which conceals the flashes behind them and diffuses the incoming light.
Here is the lighting diagram. Note that the 580EX II is not displayed here. I originally tried to light this scene with the 580EX II as the main light. It was firing right into Triela’s face, but I did not like the result:
Throwing the light at Triela’s face produces a conspicuous and very ugly glare spot on Triela’s eye. Maybe I could remove that during post-processing, but I’m not sure if I can. It’d probably be easier to just adjust my lighting setup, which is what I did. Also, note how different this picture looks with the tighter framing and Triela’s face positioned closer to the center of the image.
Instead of using the 580EX II as the key light, I placed a reflector in front of Triela, and this reflector now becomes the key. In this case, I think the reflector is a printed invoice from a Hobby Search order, which I’m leaning against a roll of toilet paper (always handy inside and outside of the bathroom). The 580EX II is now set to its minimum power setting of 1/128 and at an aperture of f/10 with a dome diffuser and a bounce modifier attached, it’s contributing no light to the scene; all it’s doing now is triggering the other lights. I shifted the overhead flash, which I intended to use as a hair light, so that it is now striking Triela at an angle. The light skims Triela’s head, giving a hard, high-contrast look, and then bounces off the reflector back to her face, softening considerably in the process. Now there’s a combination of hard and soft light – hard along the back of her bangs and her crossed arms, soft across her face and the lower part of her coat.
I like the final picture a lot, but I wish I’d stepped back a bit more and given more space in front of her. I also wish I’d done a better job building the background, which is crooked in a number of places. I also wish that I’d noticed that one of the lights wasn’t firing for about half the shots I took.
Note the soft, cushy, backside-friendly texture of the left window. Looking at the images on the camera’s LCD (I’m an inveterate chimper), I thought something was wrong but did not realize it until I had already taken a ton of shots.
It turned out I had the left-most flash set to on-camera mode so the optical slave sensor could not trigger the unit. Oops. Incidentally, I probably could have used just one light here if I had turned it around and bounced the light off the wall, but there wasn’t much space for the light to expand so I figured I’d just use three.
I don’t experiment much with black and white photography. I don’t think figures are great subjects for black and white; human faces have numerous shapes and textures that can be dramatically emphasized by removing color, but anime figure faces are comparatively flat and featureless. Nonetheless, I like how this duotone rendition of the picture turned out. I got this idea – okay, I ripped off this idea – from David DuChemin’s Lightroom book, which I recently bought and found to be very helpful in experimenting with Lightroom, which I also recently bought. Experimenting with color – or the lack thereof – is something I’m interested in trying, so this is something I may be doing more of in the future.
This is the second shot I will talk about, and I like this shot a lot as well. Triela’s melancholy mood is still evident, but what I like most is the visual contrast, particularly how her gun divides the frame diagonally into brighter and darker halves. I probably could’ve killed the rim light to present a more somber tone, and I wish I’d thought of that at the time, but I didn’t. On the plus side, the rim light does separate Triela from the background in dramatic fashion, which isn’t an unappealing look.
Here is how the setup looks. I won’t bother with a lighting diagram, since it’s more or less a straightforward setup. The key light is the YN-560 balanced on my wallet on the left. It’s got an UltraSoft bounce modifier attached and is positioned very close, just out of the frame. The rim light is positioned to the right and slightly behind Triela. It’s got a snoot with no diffusion, which will deliver a harder light. The background light is difficult to see; it’s behind the YN-560 on the left and is pointed directly at the background, where the big glare spot is quite obvious.
The key light is positioned behind Triela, lighting up her right cheek. This type of lighting – where the light source illuminates the far side of a face – is called short lighting. I’ve done very little deliberate experimentation with this type of lighting, but I like how it looks here. By lighting the far side of Triela’s face, the shadows fall towards the camera and create interest and drama.
The opposite of short lighting is called broad lighting. Broad lighting is where the light illuminates the side of the face closest to the camera – in this case, the left side of Triela’s face, where you can tell where the key light is placed by the ugly shadow cast by her gun that falls along her cheek and ear. In terms of comparing both styles, this isn’t a fair trial; this image was rejected for usage in the review, I haven’t applied my usual rigor of post-processing to it, and the shotgun makes it difficult to use this technique with Triela facing the left side of the frame. However, I think it is instructive for demonstrating how one can emphasize a mood and generate tension just by shifting a light around. For example, here is another picture with the key light shifted to hit Triela more or less straight on:
Note how the drama diminishes in the second image; the heavy shadows are lost, and so is some of the depth in the image. Notice how the ammunition holder on her gun’s stock loses a lot of its implied three-dimensionality in this image compared to the short-lit one. On the plus side, it’s easier to see the details of the figure, even if some of the visual interest is lost. I don’t think this is a bad image, but as I rejected this one and used the short-lit one, I like the image with the pronounced shadows better. Also, this second image lacks the rim light, and now that I study both pictures, I think I’m glad I kept it.