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.
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.