The Ideas That Didn’t Work

When I started doing figure photographs, I stuck with plain-colored backgrounds: first a hideous blue curtain and then a lot of black and white. I got pretty bored of doing that so now I try to do weird stuff. However, being that I’m not a very experienced photographer, a lot of my ideas don’t turn out very well. Some of them are salvageable with some modifications or liberal Photoshopping, some of them require some re-thinking before becoming viable, and some of them are just so bad that I look back at them and wonder what in the world I was thinking in the first place. They say that there’s no teacher like failure, so this post is a tribute to the value of education.

Before I got Kureha, I figured that her pictures ought to involve water, and I hatched this idea to have this plume of water arcing up behind her. To achieve that, I hung her upside down from a wood plank above a plastic milk jug and poured some water behind her. Unfortunately, getting such an arc using a squared-off milk container doesn’t work very well, and aiming the stream of water was a lot harder than I expected. I’ve found that random water splatter looks really bad in photographs, so I had to keep the stream close to Kureha so that it wouldn’t be completely blurred out but it still had to be far away enough from her that it wouldn’t splatter all over her or worse, pool up under her hair or in her armpits or cleavage. I was also using a white background, but the light reflecting off of the foamboard backdrop blew out the water. After giving it a couple dozen tries, I gave up and thought up an alternative plan, which was to pour water right on the figure. That gave me a couple of decent pictures that I used in my review.

Even before I got Kureha, I showed my unusual infatuation with water in one of my Momohime photographs. I was thinking that she’d look nice in front of a waterfall, as her base depicts rocks and flowing water. Now, I’ve poured a bucket of water on my desk before for a picture, but it’s kind of annoying to do, and there’s also that not-inconsiderable risk of screwing up and accidentally quenching my monitor or computer. Since I don’t live near a waterfall, and I didn’t want to pour water on my desk again, I decided that the next best thing would be to try to shoot this picture at the nearest water source, which was in the bathroom.

I made a special base out of some extra plaster cloth I had laying around, taped up a bunch of black posterboard onto the wall, set up my lights, and turned the shower on. Unfortunately, I quickly came to understand that I hadn’t quite given this idea enough thought. I didn’t realize how flaccid and impotent my showerhead is, I didn’t think that maybe spraying water near a couple of battery-powered flashes isn’t all that smart, and I didn’t remember that tape doesn’t stick very well when it gets wet. So with my posterboard falling off of the tiles and my flowers falling back into the tub, I called it quits and took the image into Photoshop. I edited the hell out of the background, jacking up the color saturation and cloning out all the tape and wet spots. In the end, I didn’t like the picture too much so I never published it on this site. On a whim, I uploaded it to Tsuki-board and people there seem to like it, but when I look at it, I’m reminded that if I’m going to spend a couple hours in the bathroom trying something crazy, I ought to stop and think about what might possibly go wrong.

I originally shot the Lineage II human mage in front of the ugly blue curtain. When my skills improved a bit, I decided to re-do her pictures using some fake flowers and plants that I had bought at a crafts store. When I saw the pictures, I was pretty happy with how they came out, particularly this one. The lighting was eye-catching and the background illumination didn’t look completely divorced from the foreground, which is something I often struggle with. The thing I liked the most was that it looks like the mage is looking back at the viewer; if you own the human mage, you know that her eyes are strange because her pupils are indistinct, but in this picture, her eyes look normal and they have a sparkle that looks almost life-like. I was really happy with this shot, until I noticed her necklace.

I immediately cleared off my desk to re-take my pictures, but I couldn’t duplicate the lighting. Finally, I decided that nobody would ever notice that the necklace was askew so I said the hell with it and used the picture as the lead-in image. Looking back through my archives, I’ve got a lot of pictures that if I ever needed to re-do them, I know that I wouldn’t be able to get a shot that I like as much as the original, and this is definitely one of them.

I was interested in playing around with white balance settings when I photographed Mio; unfortunately, I was shooting in JPEG mode and when I realized that I didn’t actually like the results very much, I didn’t have an easy way to revert the balance settings. I wound up doing a helluva lot of tweaking in Photoshop to try to get nicer, less-sallow skin tones than what I got, but I don’t like many of the pictures that I took of her. A few months later, I overcame my distrust of bundled software, installed Canon’s DPP application, and switched to shooting in RAW format. Now I shoot everything in RAW, even throwaway shots; I like the increased dynamic range a lot, but what I like the most is that I can change the white balance in software and push the exposure by a stop. I really wish that I had shot in RAW earlier; I’ve got a lot of pictures that I don’t like but could have saved if I could tweak the white balance.

When I got Kurisu, I thought that it’d be cool to bounce up a droplet of water so that it’d be positioned between her eyes. This would also give me an opportunity to practice taking a picture of a drop of water – sort of a trite thing to do but I’d never done it before so I wanted to try it out. So I put a Tupperware tub of water in front of Kurisu, got an eyedropper, and dripped water in front of her.

The first thing I found out was that it is really, really hard to get the water to land in the right spot. I was holding the dropper in my hand so I was using my best guess to aim, and my guesses were frequently way off the mark. Then I tried suspending a yardstick above the tub to align the dropper. This worked better but still wasn’t perfect; I was holding the dropper about a foot above the water, and if the drop splashed down a couple of millimeters to the left or right of Kurisu’s centerline, the picture wouldn’t be usable. Angling the dropper less than one degree in either direction was often enough to screw things up.

Undeterred, I kept on taking pictures, since I figured that it was just a matter of luck getting what I was trying to get. Back when I did pictures on a plain black background, I usually needed about fifty or sixty shots to get a dozen or so usable pictures. Nowadays, I tend to shoot about two hundred or so per figure. How many shots did it take to get a usable picture of Kurisu? About 1,500. Admittedly, my camera shoots eight frames per second and I was in spray-and-pray mode the whole time, but that was still a lot more than I had thought it would take. I wound up buying a larger memory card just so I wouldn’t have to interrupt the session by having to upload my pictures when my smaller card ran out of space.

In the end, I wound up with this picture, which I’m pretty happy with. I wasn’t initially too pleased that the splash point was offset to the side but I think it looks better this way since if it had landed right in the middle, the water droplet would be covering her mouth, which wouldn’t look that great. It’s funny how sometimes the pictures I like the most are made completely by accident.

There’s something about Kurisu that just makes me do dumb things. I had this other idea to have some rocks and dust spraying out from behind her towards the camera while she passively perches on her rusty throne of gears. To make this happen, I tried her to a plank and stood it up sideways and put my camera on the ground so that she was looking straight down at it.

I then found out that Canon’s remote shooting utility isn’t very user-friendly, but after some effort I figured out how to operate the zoom function in live view so that I could focus on her. Then I covered up my camera with some plastic to protect it and grabbed some plaster shards that I had left over from the backdrop I constructed for Yoko a while back. I crumbled them up, grabbed my remote shutter release, dropped the shards and started shooting away.

When I took a look at the pictures in DPP, I realized that one, I didn’t realize that the light from my flashes would be sufficient to illuminate the ceiling, even though I had my lights shining on the figure. Another thing I didn’t realize is that gravity works really fast and that even eight frames per second wasn’t quite enough. And yet another thing I forgot about was that I had re-used Yoko’s backdrop for Leina, and as I had wanted a colder, wintery look to those photos, I covered the fake ground with baking soda to simulate snow. So when I dropped those plaster shards, all that baking soda billowed out in a fine white mist, obscuring pretty much everything.

Oh noes!

This shoot was such a pain to set up that I didn’t bother trying to do another take. I also figured that dropping a bunch of chunks of plaster onto an expensive camera wasn’t very smart, even if I had it wrapped in plastic with a UV filter screwed to the lens. I dismantled everything and didn’t do anything with the pictures. It wasn’t the first time one of my ideas didn’t work out, and it definitely won’t be the last.

This entry was posted in Photography and tagged , , .

45 Responses to The Ideas That Didn’t Work

  1. kfrooster says:

    I did not realize the amount of effort you put into your figure photo shoots. Thanks for making them a lot more interesting than the run of the mill figure reviews out there.

    • Tier says:

      Thanks for the kind words! It takes me a lot longer to take pictures now than it used to, but I enjoy learning about photography so I don’t mind. It’s odd how I’ve stuck with this hobby for so long after giving up on quite a few other ones.

  2. softz says:

    It’s nice to share the thoughts and ideas. We all know that you put in lots of effort in shooting your figure. I guess your photos are one of the reasons I started collecting figures too. Well, keep the creativity juice flowing. Keep up the good work!

    • Tier says:

      I’m always happy to hear that I’ve helped people spend their money XD I read that consumer spending is the way to revive the global economy, so I’m glad to do my part to help save the world.

  3. Ashlotte says:

    Aye failures…Unlike you Tier I delete mine and try to forget about them. :p

    You always start off with these big ideas and how perfect something might be while completely forgetting logistics…Taking a shot of a figure on a small rock outcropping? Awesome! Thinking you can stand on a tiny sliver of ground nearby to shot it without falling backwards into the lake never occurred to ya though stupid did it… *sigh*

    • Tier says:

      I’ve got this odd packrat mentality … I hate throwing away stuff, physical or virtual. I was sorta horrified to learn that there are television shows devoted to people who hoard things, cuz sometimes I think I could be on those shows.

      Yeah, you always think that you’ve got a shot planned out well, and then something happens that you didn’t account for. I wish I’d taken a shot of Ikaros with the two dudes that drifted by in a motorboat in the background.

  4. Nemphtis says:

    I always love reading about people’s failed attempts at things just as much as the successful ones. You really go for some crazy effects, makes me want to try some shit myself instead of the plain backgrounds I currently use.

    • Tier says:

      I think I enjoyed writing about my failed experiments more than I would have about my more successful shots. I laughed a lot while going back through my directories, trying to find some of the wackiest stuff I had tried. There are some other details I forgot to include, like how in the final photograph of Momohime, I was holding those flowers up in one hand because the bathtub was so wet the tape wouldn’t stick to it.

  5. Aka says:

    I always knew you put in a lot more work than I do. I’m just not willing to get dirty I guess, and don’t often have time to produce elaborate setups. I wish I did because you tend to get far better results than I’ve managed. I like how that Momohime one turned out.

    I now have a bigger room than I used to, so I should potentially have more options for making a mess and elaborate setups, I’ll probably need to consult you when I do to get some ideas.

    … I can’t beleive it took 1500 shots for that water drop, it turned out great but wow, effort!

    • Tier says:

      I’m trying to get a reputation as the craziest figure photographer around. super rats is sorta the godfather of the hobby, and the foo-bar-baz guy probably does the nicest even-lit pictures … I want to be the crazy guy.

      Looking back, yeah, 1,500 shots … man, I’m glad DPP lets you mass-delete pictures with a certain rating, because it would’ve taken hours to cull otherwise. I did those shots over three sessions and I definitely learned a lot about water drop photography and how problematic diffraction can be.

      • Aka says:

        I would love to be able to shoot like foo-bar-baz, and more so the creativity superrats and you have. But as I lack creativity most of the time, foo-bar-baz is my aim. I wish he’d publish some kind of tutorial so that I could at least see his setup.

        • Tier says:

          I think I remember seeing a picture of his setup once; he had brackets and light stands all over the place. You know, I’ve been shooting figure pictures for a couple of years, and I don’t think I’ve actually ever tried going for a foo-bar-baz-style picture; I almost always go for heavy shadows with a bunch of stuff blocking light from hitting the background. Maybe I should give a shot at getting more evenly-lit pictures.

        • Ashlotte says:

          http://www.dannychoo.com/post/en/16595/Figure+Photo+Setup.html

          Granted that was more then a year ago, but yea…the guys crazy…

          • Aka says:

            Thanks Ash, I thought I remembered seeing something about how he did ’em but as I couldn’t find it I figured I must have been wrong.

            That’s a bit overkill on the stand, but it’s interesting to see he does some things very similar to me, though with proper gear.

            Wonder what his post is like.

          • Tier says:

            Ah, yep, that’s the post I remembered … I thought it was odd that he had a dual camera setup, I’m still not sure what the second camera is for. Thanks for finding those pics.

  6. koni says:

    nice site, i was looking for fate stay night figures and google sents me here, your pictures are amazing. sorry for the bad english.

    • Tier says:

      Thanks! And your English is fine, I’m always amazed at how well so many people living outside of English-speaking nations can speak and write the language.

  7. I rather like my plain backgrounds. After spending whatever amount of time it took to paint my kits, I think I’m more of the kind of person who wants all focus to be on the kit and not the effects. Some pretty cool ideas you had tho but I’m someone who likes the simplistic charms!

    Plus, I only have a 4GB card and I’m too lazy to go through and delete all my pics after each shot or buy a bigger one!

    • Tier says:

      Yeah, a simple background makes sense if you’re trying to show the work you put into the kit. For PVC figures, I like doing weird things; if I were going to shoot them all on boring backgrounds, I might as well just redirect traffic to the relevant Hobby Search or Amiami product page so people can look at the pictures there. And since there are already so many figure review sites, there’s not much motivation for me to shoot pictures the same way as everybody else.

      • I hear ya on that! having pics of a figure which are so similar to everyone else who bought it wouldn’t be very interesting or motivating since the subject is pretty much identical!

        Despite that, you don’t often get collectors spreading their creative wings too much, certainly not to the same level you do on some of your shoots!

        • Tier says:

          Yeah, I like to try to show some things that you don’t often see elsewhere, particularly with stuff like doujinshi or vmf50 dolls or figures that a lot of other people might not buy, but with the stuff that everyone preorders, it’s tougher to stand out.

          Speaking of kits, I’m still trying to scratch together some funds to get an airbrush setup. I’d really like to give a shot at trying to build some of the kits I have stashed under my bed.

  8. Chag says:

    Your stories of failure are both hilarious and eye-opening. 1,500 shots? Wow. Now I have image of a man tightly braced against the buttstock of a machine-gun-like camera in my head XD. The hiccup with Human Mage is something that I know all too well. Nothing’s quite like finding out a bunch of model shots turned out wrong because a part was misaligned/missing/damaged after cleaning up the entire setup. Though my lighting is never sophisticated, I often can’t afford a second session, since I usually only have 1 day per week to shoot photos, so it’s also pretty frustrating.

    The work you put into your shots has definitely paid off. It’s no coincidence that your shots regularly win picture of the day/month awards on MFC. Do big Japanese sites like foo-foo-baz ever link to you? I sometimes see him linking foreign sites like Kodomut and whatnot, and I can’t imagine he’d exclude your innumerable gems. It would be nice if a Japanese reader would throw the dude a head’s up — those Japs are being deprived of all that bondage harness and mothra larva goodness — a Goddamn crime if you ask me.

    As for me, I feel a mixture of envy and inadequacy after. My circumstances concerning my hobby are a little complicated and not completely within my control, but I also know full well that I rarely fully invest my effort into my photos. I may be be a slacker, but I don’t want to think of myself as so lazy that I can’t even put my heart into my biggest hobby. Argh, this comment has turned into a bit of a downer, and I don’t really know where I’m going with this anymore. But yeah, HURRAH FOR HARD WORK AND GUTS! Your stories would make for a great esoteric movie. Think Rocky, but with little plastic girls.

    • Tier says:

      I hate having to re-shoot, though it’s become more frequent recently because I usually don’t have a clue what I’m doing when I take pictures. Looking through my picture directories, I think I might have to write a follow-up to this post because there are a lot more pictures where my ideas just fell completely flat.

      Nah, I don’t get a lot of traffic from Japan, though I did get linked from this one blog that seems to be titled “Foreign Reaction” and appears to be dedicated to examining how English-speakers react to Japanese popular culture. I think I got linked by foo-bar-baz once. Actually, I don’t get a ton of traffic from other figure sites; I keep a relatively low profile in the community, I don’t think a lot of people who are active on Tsuki-board or a lot of the older figure websites are aware of my site.

      I do notice that there’s sort of this link between figure collecting and figure photography, where people who buy figures feel compelled to take pictures of them. It’s kinda interesting to see how that’s developed over the last few years. It’s also interesting to see how even though figure collecting is as popular now as it’s ever been, there are a ton of figure review sites that I follow that have stopped or drastically slowed down on updating. Kinda weird how that’s happened.

      • Chag says:

        I haven’t been paying too much attention to newer review sites that’s been popping up, but I certainly have noticed a drop in activity amongst the one I am following. It doesn’t really surprise me, though, since I imagine most people who do what we do are 20-somethings or younger. Long term commitment to a project tends to conflict with the fickleness of youth. Besides, there’s the worsening economy and exchange rates to consider, which may very well act a roadblocks to existing and prospective bloggers alike.

        • Tier says:

          Yeah, I’m enjoying my mini-break myself, though I meant to do a photo session today that unfortunately got bumped back because I didn’t notice the time while playing Sengoku Rance. And I wound up breaking one of the props I wanted to use. Whoops. I guess I’ll photograph that ninja girl from, uhh, Ninja Girls instead. Man, I can’t ever remember her name, it’s something like Kagame or Kagari or something.

          That is all true, though I sorta expected a new crop of figure websites to emerge. I remember there were a bunch of older sites that I followed when I first started collecting, and I started this blog right about the same time as a bunch of other people almost two years ago, but I haven’t seen too many new ones pop up since then. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough. Or maybe people are losing interest and running out of money; I think there’s definitely some point where a figure collector sees living space and checking account dwindling and decides that it’s time to bail out.

  9. GREW says:

    Even your “failures” looks better then my stuff!

    I only need to find good light sources…

    • Tier says:

      It took me a really long time to figure out the basics and I’m still learning. Good light is definitely important, as you say; I see a lot of figure pictures that would be massively improved by lighting it up with a desk lamp or something.

  10. BioToxic says:

    Reading your tales of failure really makes me want to splash out on a DSLR so I can try out things such as shooting in RAW and changing settings that my compact doesn’t let me access. I’ve been working with CMOS image sensors recently so this has also peaked my interest in imaging. I wish I could think up some of these crazy ideas, even if they didn’t work all the time.

    That’s some patience you have with taking over 1.5k shots of Kurisu. You got the shot in the end, and it definitely payed off. Too bad the dust cloud wasn’t as successful xD.

    I like the goal of your blog – crazy figure guy. Well when I see your posts pop-up in my feed I’m usually thinking “What crazy situation has he put this figure in this time”. Your doll posts in particular are mind blowing with the outfits they wear – you don’t really see them on figure.fm.

    • Tier says:

      I try to stay away from talking about equipment – it always bewilders me when I visit other sites and boards where people talk about their camera stuff and people are all like “OMG you have such a nice camera and an expensive lens, you must know what you’re doing” … I mean, it’s the person’s pictures that provide evidence of ability, an expensive camera only provides evidence that the person has a job. In this case, though, I really would advocate getting a DSLR for any kind of serious photography. Admittedly, I haven’t used a point-and-shoot other than my ancient Powershot A40, but I’m guessing that modern, full-featured ones still don’t give you quite the creative flexibility even an entry-level DSLR will.

      Yeah, I was really sad that dust cloud didn’t work out. I had the shot all pictured in my mind – I usually work that way, trying to imagine what I want and then working backwards to figure out what I need to set up the shot, but in this case, I clearly didn’t quite think everything through. It might be an idea I revisit in the future, though, since I’ve preordered a few figures that it might work okay with, like maybe one of the Nanoha actstas.

      I gotta get Yumi prepped up for her time in front of the camera. And I’m hoping some of my other doll stuff gets here soon. Some of it is all kinds of WTF.

      • BioToxic says:

        I agree that it’s not just the equipment that makes for a good photo, but then I’m no expert. Cost is the biggest turn off at the moment with DSLRs, especially if I’m only curious as to what I can do with them. I struggle to think what else I’d do with it other than take figure photos – which would be such a waste of an expensive piece of kit in my case.

        Rent-a-DSLR, that would totally suit me just so I can mess around with one for a bit.

        • Tier says:

          Yeah, DSLRs definitely aren’t cheap and unfortunately, renting one isn’t really cheap either. Lens Rentals Canada has T2is for rent but they’re like $60 for a four-day rental (I’m assuming Lens Rentals Canada is a decent place to rent from since the guy who runs it also runs the Canon Rumors website). I guess there’s also the preowned route; if you really want to try one on the cheap, KEH has a 10D for $162 XD

  11. nuo2x2 says:

    okay, the problem that I usually got in my figure photography hobby is, usually my second or more shots looks worse than the first one T_T

    note, so that’s how you managed to create that Kurisu’s blood drops effect, superb….

    • Tier says:

      There were a bunch of other problems too … the biggest one besides aiming the drop was trying to get both the figure and the drop of water in focus. I stopped down to something like f/25 or around there, and then I ran into diffraction problems, which I’d never seen before. The narrow depth of field also complicated aiming, since I had to aim the splash point close enough to Kurisu to keep it reasonably in focus but not so close that the splashes would splatter Kurisu (or so that the drop would hit her directly). Man, remembering all this stuff gives me a headache … in retrospect, I can’t believe I went through all that trouble for one photograph. At least I think it’s a good picture, though; a lot of times, I’ll look through my old pictures and cringe when I see some of the things I tried to do.

  12. Luth says:

    Thanks for the article! I’d been in a creative slump with my own photos until recently and its crazy pictures like yours and seeing how they come about that have inspired me again as well as motivating me to learn more about photography. Definitely will have to attempt pictures of water droplets someday although I’m sure some of those will be my own tears while I struggle.

    • Tier says:

      Thanks for the kind words! Hopefully it won’t be too hard, though for water drop photography, I would absolutely recommend using a camera flash if you don’t already use one; I’m not actually sure if it’s possible to freeze close-up motion using normal lighting (other than maybe the sun). I’ll look forward to seeing your work!

  13. Definitely not a surprise that you had to take so many shots! Your efforts definitely show in your end photos – and they certainly pay off. I can’t even begin to imagine the time spent setting some of these shots up – time is a luxury I just don’t have with a baby. LOL

    Can’t wait to see some of your new reviews this month, I’m sure you’ll have lots with all the figures being released this month (and some probably delayed till January). =)

    • Tier says:

      Haha, yeah, I’d imagine having a kid to take care of pretty much annihilates your free time. And sleep pattern. And probably your checking account too, sooner or later. Me, my excuse for my recent laziness is Sengoku Rance. Though there’s a good reason I’m playing that. My other excuse is that the Boston Celtics have been on TV a lot so I watch those games when I can. I meant to take Kagari’s pictures tonight but the Celtics/Knicks game was so good that I forgot about it. Heh. At least I’ve got the written part mostly done.

      I’m hoping that not too many of my December orders get kicked back, I’m looking forward to Samurai Tamaki a lot since I saw a picture of her sans waist armor. There’s also K-On-style Kyou which I guess I won’t be too sad if she gets delayed, since I’m sorta thinking I might cancel her, and Alphamax Mai Shiranui, which I guess I also won’t be too sad if she gets delayed cuz she is crazy expensive. Maybe I won’t mind if my remaining preorders get kicked back after all.

      • So you ordered the AlphaMax Mai too? I’m really looking forward to that one, finally a decent Mai figure. I’m not looking forward to the payment though, but I was really impressed with AlphaMax’s work on Spica (sexy sofa) and I do like Mai’s character – so I guess it’ll be worth it in the end. =P

        • Tier says:

          Yeah, I ordered it back during the summer to take advantage of Hobby Search’s half-price shipping, so hopefully that’ll take a bit of the sting from her price tag. She’ll be my first Alphamax figure and I’m not quite sure what to expect, but I have high hopes. And I really can’t say anything bad about her butt from what I’ve seen.

  14. motaku96 says:

    Your so called failures are still amazing to an average guy like me. Man, I want to pick up photography as a hobby. But DSLR’s are so expensive. >.<

    • Tier says:

      They are 🙁 Then you’ve got the price of lenses and lighting equipment and accessories. It adds up really quickly. It is a ton of fun though; I’ve got this huge stack of unplayed video games because I shut down most of my older hobbies when I kicked off this site and got interested in photography.

  15. JessyP says:

    Great look behind the scenes. I very much enjoyed it!

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