Having looked at the physical properties of light and at some of the tools commonly used to shape and control light, we’ll now put everything together in some simple, easily-performed shoots. The objective here is to demonstrate how you can take nice pictures of figures using some fairly basic setups. To that end, the lighting equipment for all of these shoots is composed of two ordinary desk lamps and a simple homemade softbox. Obviously this post and the preceding posts don’t cover every aspect of anime figure photography – we haven’t talked much about composition or post-processing – but I hope that these posts have given aspiring figure photographers some ideas and insight on how to creatively control light.
We’ll start with a very basic setup. The key light – the Hobbylink Japan box – is off to camera left, lighting up the figure’s right side. We also have an overhead light, which is the silver-colored lamp at the very top of the setup photo. I taped some tissue over it, since I want to knock its brightness down so that it’s not much brighter than the key light. I want the key light to be aimed at Solange’s face, and Solange is a pretty tall figure, so I’ve stacked the softbox on top of a couple of other objects. I’m also going to add a little bit of fill light by placing a white box in front of Solange; I’m only going to be shooting Solange from the thighs up, so this box won’t be visible in the photo.
After a couple of adjustments in Lightroom (chiefly to correct color balance – fluorescent lights tend to be green in color, even if they are “daylight” balanced), we get this picture; the subject is illuminated nicely, there’s a good sense of direction as to where the light is coming from, and the quality of light displays a pleasing look. I think it’s a good starting photograph; it’s not extraordinarily (or even slightly) impressive, but the lessons we used here are easily applicable to more complex setups. Indeed, this is one of the very basic looks I often use.
When I photograph a figure, I usually try to come up with a few words that describe it, particularly with respect to the emotions it conveys or the themes it embodies. With Solange, the obvious word would be “afraid,” being that fear and shock are evident in her expression. Another word might be “adventure,” as Solange is frozen in mid-stride, carrying a big sword and dressed in an exotic manner. Solange is obviously not a typical princess, and when I think of an atypical princess, I often think of a princess trying to escape from her castle, and these concepts are why I thought that an outdoor-type set would suit her well. (We’ll disregard that she seems more appropriately dressed for a wild night in bed than a nature hike.) That’s how I photographed her for her review post. Let’s explore this idea of theme a little more.
Here we have Sora Kasugano, whom I photographed years ago. I had much worse equipment back then and no real understanding of how to light a figure, but among all the figures I’ve photographed, this is still one of my favorite shoots. It helps that Sora is a really easy figure to shoot; she has a very simple pose and a very simple color scheme, but I’ve found that both of these things open up a lot of possibilities.
The first word that comes to my mind when I look at Sora is “mysterious.” This was true even back when I first saw Sora, before the Yosuga no Sora anime aired and before I knew anything about her personality. To me, she seems to be hiding something, and her angelic appearance seems to be feigned. (Then I saw the anime. Before it aired, I already knew a little bit about what the game was about, having seen some of the images, but man, I really did not know what a nasty, randy girl Sora is.)
Sora means “sky” in Japanese, and when I look at her, I tend to think not of a cheery blue sky but either a cold, gray day or a warm, beckoning sunrise. I went with the latter approach when I photographed her for her post, but since I honestly can’t remember how I made those pictures, I’ll go with the gray theme here.
Again, the key light is set to camera left, lighting up her right side. Instead of an overhead light, I’m using the second lamp to light up the background. This time, I’ve placed this light very close to the backdrop; what I want is to have a very bright area at the top of the photo that rapidly transitions to darkness towards the bottom of the frame. I’ve placed the key light very close to the figure because I want the light to fall off rapidly, such that the far side of her body is shadowed. In particular, I like the contrasting duality manifested in Sora’s hair, with one twintail lit up white and the other darkened by shadow.
And here is the result. I’d spend a little time brightening up the upper part of the image so that her head is a little brighter, but for the purpose of this post, I’ve not done too much in post-processing aside from bumping up the exposure (I dislike using a tripod so this picture was badly underexposed) and cleaning up the color balance. The combination of the long focal length and relatively wide aperture setting renders the background a blur, giving us a gradient from light to dark, and that seems to suit Sora’s piercing gaze and hidden feelings. Note that her towel has confounded my plan to have the left side of her body remain shadowed; it’s serving as a fill source, which is why her torso is fairly bright while her left leg shows dark shadows.
Let’s look at something a little different. We have Rei Ayanami here, whose post went up back when this site received no comments. Obviously, Rei presents a problem in that she’s lying down. How do we light her? Well, if you want to use a split light approach with a figure that is standing up, you shine the light horizontally; being that Rei herself is lying horizontally, maybe the right approach is to set up the light vertically, using an overhead light.
The above image shows the basic setup, enormously overexposed so that it’s a little easier to see what’s going on. Not that there’s much to see; it’s just one light with a long snoot taped to it.
I don’t think that looks too bad. Rei can handle hard light, particularly when she’s dressed in her plugsuit, and that hard light gives us a dramatic look that focuses attention on her right eye. What bothers me is that the floor is washed out by the glare coming from that overhead light; the red color is muted and the reflection is hard to discern. But I like the rest of it. Let’s see if we can get the floor to stand out a little more.
This time, we’ll position the key light to camera right. I want to constrain the light so that Rei is lit up but the surrounding area remains dark; this will enhance the sense of isolation and aloofness that Rei typically conveys. Instead of using a softbox, I’ve just taped a paper towel to the front of the light; this will still give us a soft light (though not nearly as soft as it would be with the softbox) while being easier to place very close to Rei.
I’m using two flags with the key light; one flag is placed in a typical position, between the light and the background, preventing significant light spill from falling onto the backdrop (note the sharp dividing line between the lit and dark sections of the floor). The second flag is placed in a somewhat unusual position; it’s actually right in front of the light, blocking the bottom part of the lamp. This will keep that light from lighting up the floor; instead, the light skims right over the top of Rei, lighting her up but keeping the floor fairly dark.
Here we get a really strong reflection, courtesy of the darkened floor (and a sheet of transparent acrylic). Rei’s face is nicely lit, but there are still strong shadows that reveal her feminine form while preserving that sense of mystery and loneliness that so suits Rei.
But is this a better photograph than the first one? Honestly, I don’t think it is. The composition is worse, particularly since the strongest element – the eye contact between Rei and the viewer – is lost. Also, I really do like the split light look, particularly with Rei; it’s the sort of look that works really well with her, given the sense of outward vulnerability she often expresses. Frankly, if I were going to use this sort of photograph for anything, I’d probably just use the first picture and clean up the floor in Lightroom.
With Dizzy, I can’t really think of any words that would govern the way I photograph her. She is, however, one of my favorite characters and one of my favorite figures, so the imperative here is simply to make her look good. To this end, I’m going to set up a lighting scheme that includes a key light and a rim light. I want the background to be dark but not completely dark, so I’ve flagged the key light but not the rim light. I felt that the light from the key light was wrapping around Rei a little too strongly, so I placed a second flag to block a little bit of the key light, so that the shadows on the far side of Dizzy’s body would be just a little bit darker.
And here’s the shot; very simple and straightforward but still appealing, I think. I’ve gone with a broad light configuration since I think it works better with the way Dizzy’s body is posed. Aside from color balance correction, this is pretty much straight out of the camera (some people value that; I am not one of them).
This concludes the figure photography lighting guide. Lighting sometimes seems like a very cryptic, intricate process, but I hope that these posts have shown that it’s really not that hard. I also hope that these posts have provided some useful tips, and that they provide some useful knowledge and perhaps some inspiration for your own shoots.