Category Archives: Shot Breakdown

Shot Breakdown – Tomo Asama

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. That’s partly due to me not being satisfied with a lot of my photos, and it’s also because I’ve used a lot of the same techniques over and over and I didn’t think the shoots were interesting enough to write about. However, I used a new set for Tomo Asama and I figure that even a basic setup can be interesting to talk about. Here’s how I shot Tomo.
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Shot Breakdown – Satsuki Shinonome

It can be difficult to come up with an attractive way to shoot a figure like this. Satsuki isn’t exactly what you would call exciting or dynamic, but she does have the advantage of having an unusual backstory. That led to the idea for the main shoot, which was to put her up on a stage with a big election banner behind her. It didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped it would, as is often the case when I haven’t thought things through. This time, I didn’t adequately account for the glare coming off the background, and the wood panel serving as the backdrop doesn’t look that great, either.

When I photograph a figure, I often try to use at least two ideas. This lets me inject some variety into the post (albeit at the cost of consistency) and more importantly, it gives me a fallback option in case one idea doesn’t pan out. It also gives me the opportunity to do something unusual, unexpected, and in many cases, to learn to do something I’ve never tried before.
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Shot Breakdown – Lacia

Lacia shot breakdown

I originally wanted to shoot Lacia in front of a printed sky backdrop, as I did with Charlotte Yeager some time back. Unfortunately, it looked terrible and after giving up on that idea, I did what I usually do when that happens, which is to panic and get depressed. When an idea of mine fails, I fall back on what works, backdrops that I’ve previously used that I know how to light and how they will look. For futuristic, sci-fi figures, I like to use this backdrop, which comprises an abstract, geometric design – not particularly eye-catching but I think it does a good job complementing those sorts of figures.
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Shot Breakdown – Miku Append

Photography can be a funny thing. You sometimes hear people – and camera companies – minimize the difficulty of photography. After all, all you do is press a button and bam, you’ve got the shot. Much easier than, say, drawing or painting, right?

Well, no, or at least, the case is not as clear cut as it may appear. The illustrator starts with a blank sheet of paper and has full control over what goes on it. The photographer, in contrast, has much less control. When you put a camera to your eye to make a picture, you’ve got dozens of decisions to make. How should you arrange the elements of the picture? Where do you focus? What goes into the frame? What gets left out of the frame? Then there’s lighting. Color. Perspective. And then there are the technical factors: what shutter speed? What aperture? And if things are moving, you’ve got to worry about shooting at the right fraction of a second. With all the factors that go into a good photo, it’s a wonder that we aren’t paralyzed before snapping a shot.

A skilled illustrator can usually draw a picture pretty close to what she originally envisioned, and if whim and imagination carry her vision someplace else during the process, she can account for that. However, even a world-class photographer will encounter difficulty capturing her initial vision in a RAW file. Sometimes things just don’t work out and you have no clue why. It happened to me just last evening. Last night, I shot off a couple dozen test shots, tweaked exposure, shifted angles, moved my lights around. I switched from a wide angle to a telephoto to a zoom lens racked to somewhere in between the two primes. It wasn’t working. I powered lights on and off, went from a big softbox to a small one to no softbox, put CTO gels on, took them off, and finally, sat down, a quizzical expression on my face, studying the image playback on the camera’s LCD, while all this time Lacia scowled back at me as if to say, “Bitch, you ain’t taking my picture.” It happens. There’s a lot that goes into a photograph.

Sometimes, though, things work out pretty well. Maybe not exactly as you had first planned, but that’s the thing about photography. When things don’t work, you’ve got to be able to reverse course and come up with another idea, sometimes in an instant. But when things do go well, you think, “Man, this is pretty cool stuff.”
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Shot Breakdown – Sasara Kusugawa

When I shoot figures, I try to come up with an idea that will make them look interesting. My ideas often fail; sometimes they’re beyond my abilities to create, sometimes they don’t look as good I had hoped, and sometimes some unforeseen problem comes up that prevents me from getting the picture that I want. However, with Sasara, I mostly got the pictures that I had hoped to get which, frankly, surprised the hell out of me. They weren’t all exactly what I envisioned before I started but the general look and mood were close to what I was trying to achieve. Here’s how I made the first shot.
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Shot Breakdown – Triela

I always like it when a figure reveals some aspect of its personality in its sculpt. Not many of them do; for example, Junko Hattori sports sort of a generic angry anime girl expression, Kiriko Hattori has a satisfied, happy look, Dizzy has kind of a neutral, unemotional expression, and Heat Blade looks like a robot. If I didn’t know a thing about those characters, I couldn’t tell you much about them – I probably couldn’t even make a first guess as to what they are like. Triela, however, conveys a strong sense of detachment and loneliness. It’s easy to guess that she hasn’t had an easy life, and unlike Cryska, the way she hugs her gun suggests it’s more than just a prop to her. The mood that her look invokes informs the way I want to photograph her, unlike Junko, Kiriko, Dizzy, and Heat Blade, where it was much more difficult for me to figure out how to shoot them. All this is to say that I am lazy as hell and I really like it when a figure gives me ideas right off the bat, rather than being forced to actually think about how I want to shoot a figure.
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Shot Breakdown – Super Sonico

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.
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Shot Breakdown – Gotou Matabei

There’s a couple of ways you can take figure photos. One uses traditional studio lighting techniques; you place the figure in front of a nice solid or patterned background, place your key light offset by maybe 30 degrees or so and your fill light on the other side, and trip the shutter. If you do it right, you can make a picture that clearly illuminates the figure, showing it off as it is.

Another way to shoot a figure is to manipulate the lighting and setting to achieve a desired effect, and this is how I prefer to photograph figures. Many times, I’m trying to convey a mood or establish an atmosphere rather than show how the figure looks. I readily concede that my pictures aren’t that useful for assessing what a figure looks like or whether it would be a worthwhile purchase, but that’s not what I’m trying to do; my goal is to make my figures and my pictures look as good as I can.

I should mention that a third way to take a figure picture is to take it outside. Definitely a valid approach, but I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically impressive or beautiful about a figure photo taken outside, and as I’m not very good at it, it’s not something I’ll be talking about here.
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Shot Breakdown – Rin Tohsaka

Even after shooting something like 20,000 figure photographs these last couple of years, photography still has a way of surprising me, and I thought it would be interesting to document how I take certain shots. This is the first post in an occasional series of articles in which I’ll describe what I was aiming for in a particular photo, what I think of it after I’m done, and what I could have done differently.

I like how the image above turned out, and I’ve gotten some nice compliments about it. The funny thing is, I did not intend to use it in my Rin review. In fact, it wasn’t a serious picture at all and I initially felt that the composition was so hopeless that I didn’t bother taking any more shots in this vein. It wasn’t until after I took the shots into DPP that I saw I could do something with it. Why did I dislike this shot so much? Why, because it originally looked like this:

Oh my.
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