My Photography Setup

Lacking anything more productive to do on this cold, wet holiday, I decided to reshoot Kokoro, being that my earlier pictures were particularly hideous. While I was at it, I thought that I’d provide a look at the “studio” in which I take my figure pictures. It’s not a particularly complicated setup, although it certainly is a mess.

This isn’t a particularly large area; I’ve got maybe a little more than two square feet available to me. It’s an annoyance to have to clear off the area whenever I want to take pictures, so I don’t get as much photography practice as I would like.

I ordinarily use two or three lights to take pictures, but for white backgrounds, I use up to five lamps. You can see three of them here; one of them is cut out of the picture up top (although you can see the clip) and the other is hidden by the Kleenex box that I’m using to block light. There’s nothing special about them; I bought them for eight to ten bucks at Lowe’s or Wal-Mart, and I use ordinary daylight fluorescent bulbs (either 60W or 100W equivalent; for a shoot on a white background, I usually have the brighter bulbs lighting up the background with the dimmer bulbs lighting the figure). Being lazy, I don’t use a standalone diffuser to soften light; I just tape paper towels to the front of the lamp. I’m thinking I might try Kleenex or tracing paper or something less opaque, though. I constrain light by taping paper right onto the lamp; I’m using red construction paper here that I had bought for a diorama idea I had a while ago. Like many of my ideas, it went nowhere, but the construction paper proves useful nonetheless. I also sometimes use packing invoices to block light; I just fold them in half and tape them to the side of the lamp. They tend to let more light leak through so I don’t use them as much as of late. I also use solid objects; I’m using a box of tissues here, but I’ve also used sandpaper, other figure boxes (very useful, since I have a bunch of these and they come in various sizes), and books. I don’t use my camera’s onboard flash since it kills the battery, and I have not the slightest clue how to use an external flash.

I used to use various sheets of fabric as a backdrop; my earliest pictures featured a ratty blue curtain, and I also experimented with various colors of cotton sheets (as seen in my earlier Kokoro pictures). I switched over to using black fabric and that worked much better, but I now use foamboard most of the time. It’s cheap and stays in place fairly well, whereas I had to use a ton of duct tape to tape the black fabric backdrop to my wall. If I want reflections on the ground, I use a transparent plastic cover sheet from a cheap poster frame. It works pretty well, although the plastic is susceptible to getting scratched up. You can get some interesting effects if you place it over a sheet of colored posterboard. For example, I placed some red posterboard under the poster cover in this shot of Sheryl.

For Kokoro, I used a large index card as a reflector, but I usually prefer to use a comic book backing board. I also usually prefer to prop it up on my favorite can of sliced pears; this can’s been with me through half of college and expired last year. I’m kind of afraid to open it, so I keep it around to hold things up or to weight things down. I should take a picture of it sometime; actually, you can see it in this post on for one of the contest giveaways. It’s in the photo with the Master Chief over the Matrix sentinel, over on the right; I forgot to Photoshop it out. I love my can of pears.

The box of Kleenex can also prop things up, like Meiya’s hair.

If anybody is curious about the equipment I use, I use a Canon Rebel XS, the lowest-end DSLR that Canon manufactures. I use the cheap 50mm f/1.8 lens for most of my pictures, and the kit lens (18-55mm f/3.5-5.0 or something, I think) for the rest. Most of the pictures in my recent Kenshin review were taken with the kit lens, since Kenshin was too bloody big to completely fit in the frame while using the prime lens. I use a cheap tripod that I got from Best Buy; it’s flimsy, it wobbles a lot, but it works alright. Actually, I tend to use its looseness to make adjustments to the camera position. I recently got a set of inexpensive close-up lenses to futz around with pseudo-macro shots and do depth-of-field tricks. I don’t really know whether I want to buy more lenses, but I’m sort of interested in getting a wide-angle lens to play around with.

And that’s pretty much all there is to my photo studio. All my figure pictures have been taken here, and it’s a real pain to try to fit more than one figure into this space. It’s not a very high-tech setup, but it does the job.

Meiya Mitsurugi throwing down with Barack Obama

Meiya and the president get ready to throw down.

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13 Responses to My Photography Setup

  1. Blowfish says:

    Haha its always awesome to see that in the end were all using the same makeshift setup 😛

    I am having problems when a figure is big and I want to make a full body shot though.For example my Airi shoot was hard to do.

    I should get my hands on a DSLR aswell but I somehow never save up money ^^;;;

  2. Tier says:

    I once saw a setup – I think it was foo-bar-baz’s – that left my jaw hanging. I mean, he had two cameras mounted on a support pylon and other contraptions whose function I couldn’t even begin to guess. I looked up the cost of his camera and lens and they’re worth more than my car. Sometimes I think it’d be really cool to have a rig like that, but I’m pretty happy using my ghetto setup. Other than the lack of space, anyway, which makes taking pictures of multiple figures or big figures difficult (I’m trying to think how I’m going to shoot 1/4 scale Saber, cuz I’m pretty sure she won’t fit on my desk).

    You know what piece of gear I want? I actually want a point and shoot camera. I don’t have one of those fancy phones with cameras built in (which seems to be just about every phone manufactured in the last two years, actually <.<), and my camera is way too big to fit in a pocket, so I'd like something small and handy that I can carry around and shoot random photos. I played around with an S90 at Best Buy last weekend and I couldn't believe how small it was.

  3. super rats says:

    Nothing wrong with a ghetto setup. It’s something I kind of use with pride.

  4. Tier says:

    Indeed! I wouldn’t know how to use gadgets even if I had them, anyway.

  5. Lylibellule says:

    As what it doesn’t require a modern studio to realize great photos.

    Thanks for all those explanations and little trick (especially the plastic paper sheet for reflections) that i’ll try on future shoots.

  6. Wolfheinrich says:

    I had real problem getting the adequate light on my Dollfie Dream for the longest time and had to resort to using the flash and stuff never came out right. Now that I had invested on the light umbrella set for about $100 USD, I am quite happy with what I have been able to achieve. Nice setup you got there though.

  7. ELTboy says:

    My setup is also very messy…i think a lot worst than yours…^^”.

    I am thinking of upgrading from a point and shoot to an entry-level DSLR, but it’s a big investment so i am not sure…*sigh* … I am also afraid even a DSLR won’t save me from bad photography…LOL

  8. my setup is a little easier to handle. But it’s pretty much the same thing, except that everything in the photo is contained within a box, with white sheets on all sides to reflect the light. The light sources are positioned outside the box but I can get away with using slightly fewer lights.

    As for cameras, I currently use a point and click but it’s really hard to do closeups on it because it’s really hard to focus, so I end up having to do a much wider shot than I would like.
    Will need to save up for one of those micro 4/3 cameras. Maybe the Olympus EP-1 (or EP2). The Lumix GF1 is also good and has a built in flash but lacks built in anti-shake features. That and I don’t want to be thought of as a sheep and buying one just cos Danny Choo uses one…

  9. Tier says:

    >> Lylibellule
    Thanks! I’m glad that tip might be helpful; I usually refrain from giving out advice or suggestions because whenever I do something, most likely I’m doing it wrong.

    >> Wolfheinrich
    Yeah, I don’t have much experience lighting up lots of figures (the few times I’ve tried it, the results have been pretty bad). Unfortunately I have no room for light umbrellas or even external flashes, I think.

    >> ELTboy
    That’s actually one other reason I’m interested in getting a little point-and-shoot camera, I’m curious as to how much worse it is compared to a DSLR when taking the same photos. I’ve got the feeling that the difference isn’t all that large, although admittedly, I usually take really dark photos and that’s one area that P&Ss don’t seem to do very well in.

    >> gundamjehutykai
    I used to use something similar, but I threw it away since I don’t have a lot of space to store a large light box, and it wasn’t big enough to take pictures from multiple angles. I’ve seen some really nice results from people who’ve used that sort of setup, though.

    Heh, I think I know what you’re talking about in that last respect. I’ll be honest, if I wanted a Lumix, I’d go ahead and get one, regardless of popular opinion; I’m too old to give much of a damn about what some kids on the internet think.

  10. @tier: True, but when the 2 are so evenly matched, any point for or against will be considered!

    The EP1 might get a pricecut soon due to the EP2 anyway! Bet the lumix won’t get cut tho…

  11. Tier says:

    Ha, screw what other people think. The E-P1 looks pretty cool! And uhh, really, really expensive. I’d love something like an S90 myself but I guess if I were going to spend $425 on camera equipment, I’d probably be better off getting a new lens for my main camera and a cheap P&S instead (not that I can drop that kind of scratch on a camera now being that I need to replace my computer really soon).

  12. meronpan says:

    ghetto setups ftw! if it weren’t for piles of cardboard boxes & desk lamps i never would’ve gone down this terrible road of photography ^^;

    probably my biggest incentive to upgrade from my old setup was that it took like 10 cardboard boxes to get all the lights and reflectors & everything in the right place ^^;; now i just need 2 as a makeshift table.

  13. Tier says:

    Indeed! Setup is definitely annoying, particularly since I have my laptop and a bunch of figures on my desk, and I have to move them all off to clear space to snap photos.

    I need to find my supply of backing boards, I’ve misplaced my favorite reflector and now I’m having to use an oversized index card. It sorta does the job but it doesn’t work so well for anything bigger than 1/8 scale.

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