Back when I talked about photographing Gotou Matabei, I talked about trying to establish a mood. That’s not an approach I take for every figure, though. Quite often, I’m just trying to make them look pretty. Such is the case with Orchid Seed’s Super Sonico. She’s dressed provocatively but has a surprised, perhaps even timid expression, and I didn’t have any great ideas for photographing her until I bought David Hobby’s Lighting in Layers DVD set. One of his shoots positioned the model in front of three tall, rectangular panels, and I really liked the geometry and texture of the backdrop. I decided that a 1/7 scale version would work pretty well for me, too.
This is the basic setup for the shoot; the floor is a wood panel, the same one that served as the wall for the Matabei shoot. The backdrop panels are painted in haphazard manner with layers of red and black paint to give them a more interesting look. There are actually three of them, two standing behind the front, center-positioned panel. I could’ve just gotten one big panel to serve as the rearmost part of the backdrop but that would’ve cost more money so I didn’t even think about that.
I planned to shoot three groups of pictures – one with Sonico fully dressed, one with Sonico minus her jacket, and one with Sonico fully cast off – and I wanted to make them visually distinct. Looking through my older posts, sometimes I see a couple of pictures that look very similar and I think to myself, “Why did I include two pictures that look so much alike?” And then I realize that the figure is clothed in one picture and has her breasts hanging out in the other.
I’m pretty lazy though. I didn’t prepare an alternate background, so I’ll just differentiate the shots by changing up the lighting. First, here’s the basic setup for Sonico while fully-dressed. She’s not fully-dressed in this shot because I forgot to take one while I was shooting that set, and I barely remembered to take this shot before I wrapped things up:
This is a three light setup. The key light is positioned on that peculiar contraption in the foreground. That thing is called a Manfrotto Magic Arm and it’s something that I acquired very recently. One of the drawbacks of flash units versus desk lamps is that they’re a little more difficult to position them where you want them. Desk lamps typically come with flexible necks that make it easy to get the light where you want it, but flashes don’t have anything like that, which is why I like the Magic Arm; it mimics the neck of a desk lamp, albeit at a much higher price. The key light has a snoot wrapped around it to constrain its spread. The overhead light has a Softbox III to give it wider spread and a softer look; basically I didn’t want a big highlight on the background or the reflection of the flash head on the floor. The third light has a grid spot fitted to it and is positioned to the left; it’s firing across the backdrop, behind the the wood panel in the middle but in front of the two in the background. The frontmost panel casts a pretty dark shadow on the rear panel, obscuring the paint that I spent so long (about fifteen minutes) painting, so I want to use a low-powered, directional light just to brighten it up a bit.
I’m not very happy with the result. The snoot gives too much of a spotlight effect, darkening her legs so the fishnet detail can barely be seen. The guitar also looks strange, with the headstock and neck lit well but with the body fading into shadow. I try to use a variety of lighting setups and I keep a mental record of what works and what doesn’t, and this definitely goes into the doesn’t-work category. However, maybe it could work on a different figure or for a different background, so I’ll also keep that in mind. On the plus side, I do like how the overhead light looks, so that will stay.
Next, here is Sonico without her jacket:
The overhead light and the background light that is firing sideways are still there. The two new things are an LumiQuest Ultrasoft modifier on the key light and a reflector that serves as a fill light.
I picked up the Ultrasoft a while back because I wanted a modifier that doesn’t take up a lot of space. A softbox protrudes from the front of the flash head and takes up a considerable amount of room but the Ultrasoft is meant to stand vertically with the flash tilted at 90 degrees. However, I often try to control light spill from the key light and the Ultrasoft isn’t quite as good for that as a softbox is. That property actually works for what I’m trying to do here, though; I want the background to be visible so the spill doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I’m shooting at f/11 to bring out the background details, which is about as narrow as I like to use since diffraction effects start becoming visible if I stop down much further.
Incidentally, I sometimes see people shoot figure pictures wide open to minimize depth of field and maximize bokeh visibility, and I often don’t think that that’s a good decision. Bokeh is like Auto-Tune for pictures; it can be a good thing, but more often it’s used to mask problems or general cluelessness. Take a look at my Nadeko pictures for an example of such.
Anyway, back on topic. I typically don’t use a fill light in my pictures because I like deep, dramatic shadows. However, that sort of thing doesn’t work too well for Sonico, so I’ve placed a fill reflector against my beloved, always-useful can of sliced pears. Astute observers may recognize the “fill light” as being Sonico’s instruction sheet.
Here’s what Sonico looks like without the fill light. The right side of her body is darkened, and the area around her crotch is particularly shadowed. I like the images with fill better, and it’s something I’ll have to remember to use in the future – when appropriate, of course.
For Sonico’s topless shots, I switched to a 35mm lens to exaggerate the distance between the figure and the background. In the previous pictures, the background looms large and Sonico looks as if she’s positioned very close to them. Now, the wood panels look skinny and further away, even though Sonico’s position hasn’t changed very much.
I’ve still got the Ultrasoft on the key light and the Softbox III on the overhead light. One thing you might notice is that the overhead light has a flag along its bottom edge to cut down on some of the spill on the background. I do not actually remember what I was trying to accomplish with that; I suppose I was trying to darken up the background just a bit compared to the figure. I’m not sure if that flag is actually doing anything.
The main difference here is that I’ve taken the third light off the background and now it’s serving as a rim light.
The rim light puts a faint outline on Sonico’s right side, but it’s not very noticeable. I decided that I wanted something more dramatic, something that will separate the cast-off shots from the clothed shots.
I kill the overhead light and remove the fill reflector, and place two flashes with snoots behind Sonico and flanking her left and right. I’m using the white pieces of paper as gobos for the flashes to stop them from flaring into the lens; laying there in front of Sonico, they might reflect light up at her, which isn’t what I want. These rim lights will outline her body with hard light.
Just like this. The hard light gives her a sculptural look, highlighting the contours of her body. If I’m trying to highlight body lines or muscle, I like to use hard light, because they will bring those out. I tried to do that with my Darth Talon review.
I try to do different things when I do a photo shoot just to see what will happen. I like some of the things I tried to do here and I don’t like some of the other things. Even the things that didn’t work out were worthwhile though, because I learned something from them, and that perhaps has more value to me than the shots that came out okay.