Continuing from Part 2 on this article...
I put a lot of effort in to writing these posts. Every line and code hand crafted in notepad plus plus. It's slow but it's important because I want full control of the design, code and layout of my pages. None of the social media and portfolio platforms out there meet my requirements. A picture is a story telling device and places like Facebook and Flickr just doesn't deliver.
In my photography I enjoy developing my skills and delivering high quality pictures in any environment. It is why i love photography. People spend decades mastering the art and there is always something out there that'll blow your mind away.
A dedicated website with comments serve as a learning journal and reminder of the things you've tried. I learn from text books; picture galleries; other people's work; camera settings; lighting; positioning of subjects or models; exposure; composition; meta-data; but more importantly I learn from others by seeing or reading about how they created their work. When this is absent, i try to visualise the set up from my own experience, and picture in my mind where the intensity, shape and position of the light is, amongst other considerations.
Practice is a no brainer. If you don't practice or challenge yourself, then you're not improving your tradecraft.
Technical competency behind a camera aside, you still have to learn to direct assistants, minions and models; as well as all the challenges (and obstacles) of running a professional studio / photography business. Cosmetics, costumes, hair, photography permits, insurances, legal consent, licensing, and the list goes on...
This weekend I watched Kris on his set. I listened to Issac and Raymond in their panel. I observed many photographers and videographers do their thing. I played with Noel's Nikon D4+300mm f2.8 (Oh my god it is AWESOME!). I met a lot of professional photographers and videographers and have gained a great deal of experience through this event. SMASH isn't just about cosplay or anime/manga for me. It's about meeting new people, networking with other creative professionals and discovering new challenges to push me forward.
It's also a lot of fun! :)
And so... here are the next set of images from my collection this weekend.
Motoko Kusanagi & Iroquois Pliskin: Pred Atorette & Jack Action
This shot was a candid moment because I was shooting Brad against my wall. Kitty appeared out of nowhere and pressed him against the wall! So we decided to shoot just that. Kitty arresting Brad for obstruction of justice or something. I pictured in my mind something out of the mean streets of New York. An officer is pushing a baddie against the wall and reading his rights. Only this is for two characters in completely different worlds.
Set up: Obviously the originals were shot in colour but as I was post-processing this image i thought a high contrast black and white look would suit this image. The one-flash setup meant that the image was a bit flat. I had to manually paint in highlights and hide non-essential or distracting detail in the foreground and background. The result is something that is compared to cinematic film noir, which emphasizes cynical attitudes and sexual motivations.
Taskforce 232: Vira
So I've shot a lot of Taskforce 232 this afternoon. We were hanging around outside the main lobby of the convention centre and it's also a group of people I've met on numerous occasions at various events. Vira is in urban warfare. I pictured a scenario from Battlefield 3 or 'Fish' Modern Warfare with the soldiers stacking up against a concrete block. In retrospect I think I could have used a second light on camera right, to fill in those shadows against the left side of his face.
Without the second fill light, I've manually brushed in a yellowish highlight on the section of his jaw that I think the light should have been in post. I have a special brush in my Lightroom software called "Iris Enhance". It is a special one i created originally for manually enhancing eyes and sometimes lips. I used the brush as a digital gradient filter instead of a brush and enhanced the entire bottom half of the image to create the high contrast and high clarity look on the weapon finishes. I then added a green-blue gun metal like tint to the weapon prop.
I have discovered a new workflow with regards to skin tones and blemishes. The outcome is a seamless approach that is quite flexible. It cuts down a lot of manual clone stamping and spot-healing. It does however depend on the quality of the image as shot. The pictures in this set are high quality and ultra sharp. I can pick out individual strands of hair and eyelashes on a person's face when i zoom all the way in. The new workflow essentially degrades the quality of an image so it should only be used selectively, and sparingly.
Taskforce 232: Kyle
It was near the end of the day. The light was fading fast and my camera auto-focus was beginning to struggle. My light metre saved me from this point on. As my eyes were adapting to the fading light, my camera's built-in light metre was not doing so well. The Sekonic L308S light metre is a cheap option for any photographer working in this kind of environment and wish to get their exposure correct!
The basic use of a light metre is to place the measuring sensor on the subject or model, and point it in the direction of the strongest light source. In this instance it becomes the strobe light to camera left and you can see the hotspot on Kyle's right face where the light is projecting. This light is less than half a metre from his face. So if you're working with manual settings and wish to get the flash exposure correct, use a light metre to take out the swearing and frustration out of your photoshoot. You also appear more professional to other people waiting in line.
Next time i'll bring a small torch to give to my models if my auto-focus becomes a problem. I don't fully understand how Canon's auto-focus (AF) works. You can go read their manual online or some technical journal about that. I'm not an engineer and technical manuals bore me. I know what kind of environments my Canon 6D AF excel and struggle in. In low contrast the camera can get confused with the subject and the background. It essentially seeks out a bright pixel to lock focus on that particular point. Since i only use the centre auto-focus point in 93.7% of my images a small torch near the subject's face should be all that is necessary for AF to get a lock. When I'm shooting at f5.6-f8.0 the depth of field is pretty good with everything in focus.
In post, the weapon props were given the same treatment as Vira's profile shot. It brings out the gun-metal finishing on these high quality weapon props that the boys have spent so much time with.
Erza Scarlet, Fairy Tail: Anita
I played around with a couple of different poses for Anita and Norm. But i'm most satisfied with their profile shots. Anita is representing Erza Scarlet, one of my favourite female protagonists in any fiction. Erza is essentially a proud, strong, guardian-type protagonist. A crusader. She draws upon her magical abilities and pulls out thousands of variations of swords and armor to suit any combat situation. How awesome is that?
Working with female models is not something I'm fully comfortable with yet. I was having trouble communicating my ideas to Anita about how she should position herself in front of the camera. I knew the basic premises of what i wanted to achieve in camera but it's quite daunting for someone who is camera shy or have not modelled before. There is also the consideration of breaking that 'personal space barrier'. It's essentially the difference between the title 'working photographer' and 'convention creeper' as explained by Ardella, Eve and Kitty.
Every new person you meet at a convention has different buffers for 'personal space'. Sometimes when I'm working I have to breach that trust in order to position someone in the correct pose for the camera. In this instance it was a delicate balance between getting the shot done, and communicating as effectively as possible without scaring her away. In hindsight i think it would have been better if i got her to stand up straight, hands on her waist and a little distance away from the wall.
In post processing I manually brushed out distracting elements and increased the saturation on her costume. That purple really stands out after pushing the saturation and highlights up.
Despite the challenges above, Anita was a pleasure to shoot with. :-)
Juvia Lockser, Fairy Tail: Samantha
Samantha was very fun to work with. She knew how to work the camera and came up a couple of different poses for this character. It makes the process a lot smoother when the cosplayer knows what they want to portray for the cameras. We worked with two different poses. One was a 'serious' in-character profile shot. Then we had a happier denmeanor shot. Both turned out brilliantly.
In post: I added the teal blue gradient fill to match the character's magical school - water magic. The original shot was very sharp and slightly over exposed on the face. I brought back the highlights and shadow as well as added warmer skin tones to Samantha's face. Next time i need to pay more attention to detail as Samantha and Anita's lips were quite dry. It tends to be a bit of a pain to fix in photoshop as opposed to asking your models to drink some water / put on some lip balm. This is my fault and it's one more consideration to have at the back of your mind when doing photo shoots.
Sabre, Fate/Stay Night: Shiki
This is a series i'm unfamiliar with but Shiki definitely knows what she is doing!
This was the last shoot of the day and there are dozens of awesome photos of Shiki that i've yet to process. This one stood out from our shoot. Originally i asked her to press against the wall like i did with Cameron. But Shiki managed to pull off a look like she was laying flat on the ground. Because i was previewing it, Shiki saw it from the side angle and said that this image looked great from her perspective. You know - she was right!
This ends Part 3. One more part to follow.