For such an involved shoot, the actual planning for the execution only took a short time. Will asked for a shoot for the cosplay of the EVA Provisional Unit 05 (as seen in Evangelion Rebuild 2.0), which was his entry into the 2013 Sydney Madman National Cosplay Championship. Since I didn’t actually go backstage during Supanova Sydney 2013, or watch the competition stages, I only knew about the costume from post-event photographic coverage. When I heard that the shoot would be at Will’s garage, I knew that I would be working to maximally control the light. I could use a telephoto range to restrict focus to just the Evangelion itself, but the epic type shots would require going in wide and close – which meant minimising light bouncing around the small space and illuminating things like shelves, boxes and Will’s collection of cosplay swords.
In preliminary discussions, we had agreed to use the smoke machine for additional effects, as well as sparklers to get those skidding effects. But as with any complex type lighting situation, the trick is to work with layers. That is, we’d start with a standard lighting scenario, refine it to prior to the final “look”, then introduce the light painting element, i.e.: the sparklers.
While I started off with a gridded reflective umbrella softbox, it did not give me the amount of control I needed, so I went into gridded-and-zoomed speedlight mode. I had brought along four light stands, and that was still not entirely enough: there was one light stand with two lights on it to provide fill for the body of the Evangelion. The picture below shows the key light for the Evangelion, as well as the two fill lights. All were gridded and zoomed, drastically reducing coverage area, allowing high control over just which parts are illuminated.
The smoke was used entirely for texture and general environment – we built a pretty nice coverage of it within the garage, and in the darkness, only the smoke which is lit by directional light shows up in the photos.
Once the basic stuff was completed, and we did shots from a variety of angles, it was time to play with longer exposures. I blacked out the window using cardboard and black cloth to totally kill off ambient light from the afternoon sun, which then allowed me to use longer exposure times. As a result of the longer exposures allowed, the light from the Evangelion’s pylons became much more visible, an effect which was amplified by the ambient smoke.
And when it came to using the sparklers, keep in mind that most light painting type shoots require at least one other person as assistant. In the case of the shots we envisioned, optimal would be two other people as assistants. While I had a tripod, I did not have a remote handy, so I was basically trying to perform the roles of three people. I first tried to put sparklers on the floor near the feet of the Evangelion, but it didn’t work, except for burning Will’s floor. The most simple solution turned out to be the correct one: use just one sparkler at a time. But quickly, I found out a big problem with using sparklers was that I would inadvertently “paint” the light during the exposure, resulting in light trails when I brought the sparkler into the shot, and another trail when I moved the sparkler to the second location in the shot.
In other words, while light trails were often the goal for light painting, it was something that I needed to avoid. To tell the truth, it hadn’t really occurred to me that this would be an issue until I was sitting on the floor of the garage looking at this:
Then I recalled a technique used by some photographer for landscape and fireworks photography: the “black card technique”. In landscape, the black card technique was used in place of grad ND filters: a black card was placed over the lens right where the sky is to reduce the effective exposure time for the sky in order to balance it with the significantly dimmer landscape. To blend the sky and landscape exposures, the photographer would rapidly oscillate the card up and down during the exposure (without touching the actual camera/lens, of course) to blur the edge of that exposure difference.
In the case of fireworks, the camera was set to a longer than normal exposure: the black card would then be removed from the front of the lens for a certain set of fireworks, replaced in between, and then removed again for the next set. This once again reduces the effective time the sensor is exposed to the scene, allowing multiple fireworks over a longer period of time to be captured within the single frame, without problems such as the smoke causing over-exposure of the picture.
Basically, the black card technique allows the use of a virtual shutter and multiple exposures – in a single frame.
Since I did not have a black card at hand, I ended up using black cap hanging in the garage to cover my lens. The shoot then turned into a sort of coordinated performance art on my part:
The biggest issue was doing it all quick enough to allow for that final exposure with the flashes, and also not mixing up the workflow.
All in all, it was a challenging shoot. We were working in a smallish space, mostly in the dark, and the garage soon became filled with not just the smoke from the fog machine (not the most pleasant of things at the best of times) but also the irritating smoke from the sparklers. Will on his part had to hold very still for prolonged periods of time (around 10 seconds or so). But I think for the results we got, it was worth it.