Cosplay photoshoot: Flandre Scarlet

Cosplay photoshoot: Flandre Scarlet

This shoot for Andi was part of the Supanova-related festivities. The weather during this period was pretty much dominated by rain but as it happened, though the ground was pretty wet when we started shooting at a *certain* cathedral it was actually not pouring, which was nice. Though rain did come and go for a bit while we were under cover.

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When the shoot for Flandre Scarlet came up, I had a fairly good idea of the treatment I wanted for this, since the previous incarnation of pireze had a focus on Japanese illustrations, and in my time, I had seen a lot of Touhou artworks (which have continued to dominate Comiket catalogues over the years). I was keen to go for a darker and paler look.

Location-wise, I simply wanted small splashes of visibility to provide context, so as long as it was somewhere generally gothic, it would work. If I had access to a gothic look library I’d probably have changed my approach.

Simply put, the hard work that Andi had put into the wings as props would do a lot of the hard lifting in terms of composition and context, and backlighting them was an obvious choice.

As it was, after doing half the shoot at the cathedral, we got booted by a clerical type, so it was off to a *certain* library where we finished up the shoot, just as rain started bucketing down, which gave a nice look to the final silhouette type shots we had planned.

Artistic intentions

Unfortunately, in hindsight, I was unable to reach the ultimate goal, which was to reach even further into the darkness and re-create the feel of Iori Yakatabako’s illustrations (and numerous other artists who use the darker-contrasty style for Touhou works).

As a photographer with groundings in illustration aesthetics but no actual compositing or illustrating experience, it is sometimes possible to over-reach in terms of the look I try to achieve – compared to illustration where the initial canvas is blank, photography has to start with reality, and certain colour treatments (particularly high contrast, desaturated stuff with splashes of colour) simply do not work well in conventional photography.

That is not to say illustration is in any way easier than photography, but the limitations are different for each medium. This is partly the reason why I am working on more integrated approaches in regards to styling, makeup and costumes for some shoots where I have a strong idea of how I want it to look.

That said, there are still numerous occasions where I fall short of what I am aiming for, usually because of insufficient planning, or lack of capabilities in lighting, making these good impetus for further polishing my skills and control over illumination.

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Gear-centric technicalities

In recent months, I have changed a number of pieces of equipment, which has of course brought with them certain difficulties, which I have now managed to resolve. Those familiar with my technical setup, or the few that I talk gear with (and there’s only maybe two or three of you, since I don’t really like to talk gear) know I have a predilection for the cheap and nasty. In most cases, this means YongNuo manual flashes, and also PT-04 type dumb triggers.

In recent months, however, the market has made it possible to get reasonably-priced (though still not as cheap as I would prefer) options in remote-controlled flashes – what I call a “dream system” with the following capabilities (prioritised top to bottom):

  • radio-based (rules out the default Nikon CLS approach)
  • remote manual power control over groups of off-camera flashes
  • high speed sync with off-camera flashes
  • TTL

The whole remote power control thing is quite important in terms of speeding up the shoot workflow, especially if you have flashes locked into modifiers like the SaberStrip (another recent acquisition) or reflective softboxes, or positioned out of the way or up high.

For a long time, the only way to do this was with brand flashes (around 600 a pop) and Pocket Wizards (industry standard, with corresponding price mark-up). Sure, others have emerged (Phottix Odins and such), but the prices were still around the same, give or take $100 or so – and still required upgrading to brand flashes because of compatibility issues.

Then YongNuo went ahead and launched its YN622N transceivers, offering the capabilities of the “dream system” for 90 bucks for a set of 2 units. And since it was YongNuo, you could be sure they’d ensure compatibility with their own low-cost flashes.

Of course, the manual cheap units still require one to run over to them and dial them down, but I already had a Nissin Di866 ii (which turned out to be compatible), and I also made a dive by getting the YN568EX flash (version 1, for Nikon. version 2 is the latest), which completed the “dream system” with three separately-controlled lights with pretty much full remote power controls. These are more costly than the manual stuff, but relatively, a steal. Plus, the prices on these will continue to come down.

To complete the system, I got myself a Nikon SU-800 control unit, which is slapped onto the YN622N transceiver, and offers an extra screen for flash control, and basically the Nikon CLS system with remote flash control. But the signals are passed through the YN622N system, basically converting the infrared-based CLS controls into radio. A bonus is the focus aiding light, which is useful when using focus points other than the central one on my D700.

So far, I am pretty happy with the system. It does have an issue in that it breaks dumb optical triggering (the flashes fire before the shutter opens, and S1/S2 modes do not resolve the issue), but it is also possible to piggy-back my previous manual trigger on them. Other limitations are that the SU-800 only allows full stop power adjustments and there is no flash zoom control. But these are not such big problems.

The SaberStrip

The first shoot I did with the SaberStrip was the Morgiana one. I also deployed it for this Flandre Scarlet shoot, but changed to gridded flash for the second half of the shoot. The main motivation to get a SaberStrip was the compact size which meant real advantages shooting outdoors, since it was much more resistant to the wind.

Over time, I have managed to figure out the light quality of the SaberStrip and where it fits into my planning. It’s a pretty contrasty light: while the light source is long, it is also very narrow. It’s basically an extreme strip light, which makes it very well suited to edge or hair light. It’s also suitable as key as long as there is balanced fill from ambient or another light source.

However, control-wise, it’s about on par with a gridded umbrella softbox: i.e.: it provides a fair amount of control but not enough for those shoots where I really need capital-C Control. It could probably benefit from a grid or barndoors but it’s too long for me to bother DIYing something. I did write to the guy who makes the SaberStrips but no response yet.

Since this particular light mod is so long with no compaction capabilities, it requires a rifle bag to transport. Its main applications for me thus are:

  • for fill light in daytime shoots outdoors where wind could be a factor
  • for situations where edge light is needed
  • for specialty situations where cat-eye catch lights are critical
  • for consideration in shoots where massive control isn’t needed

Other shoots which utilised the SaberStrip (to be blogged in the near future: Macross F Sheryl x Sheryl shoot and edge lighting for the SMASH! Maid Cafe shoot).

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