Part II, because I just can’t write succinctly. If you read the original massive post then this is just the latter half of that, because it’s so big it keeps breaking things. NOW I BREAK IT! HA!
Light, it’s our only hope, and our worst enemy. We complain a lot about being indoors and having to deal with low-light and noise and all sorts, but bright outdoor sun? Just as bad.
This is an invaluable tool for when your eyes fail you, especially if you’re outdoors, the glare is too much and you can’t tell from the LCD screen on your camera if you’ve got your shot exposed right or not. This tells you if you have or not using SCIENCE
Your camera will have this graph hiding in options somewhere, as will Photoshop or your choice of photo viewing software, this ‘ere is ACDSee, but generally you want to check it on your camera ’cause by the time you’re home to download it it’s too late to go back and fix!
So this graph, it’s a visual representation of how much of your image is dark or light. Ignoring colour (though many histograms will show you individual colours too) and just showing brightness: how much of your image is dark (left side) or light (right side). You can completely ignore the overall shape of the graph, all you need to care about is the ends. The histogram shows you all possible light values your camera can handle, anything off the left edge is too dark to record, and will be set to pure black, anything off the right is too bright, and will be set to pure white.
MY EYES THEY BURN
See that graph? MASSIVE spike on the far right, that graph just slams into and splats up the side like a tin of tomatoes thrown at a wall. That tells you that a lot of this photo is so bright, the detail is gone, lost, forever, not coming back.
Some cameras will give you a visual warning too, and flash those areas black (or white for underexposed) so you can see what areas you’ve lost. In this case maybe you don’t care much about losing sky but, you should :P also you may not be so lucky with what’s been lost..
So this is much better, hello sky! But the graph still looks pretty far to the right, no? That’s fine. We don’t care about the overall shape of the histogram, only that it hasn’t slammed against the end. You can see a sharp drop on the very right touching the bottom by the end, that means a lot of the picture is very bright, but nothing hit pure white, the detail is still all in there. You might want to darken it anyway but at least here you can, the detail hasn’t been lost forever.
Other side of the coin, too dark is still too dark and you lose detail in the shadows, sometimes you’re fine with this but it’s worth knowing when and what you’ve lost.
The issue with a shot like above is chances are the bright areas are just so bright (direct sunlight) and the shadows so dark, that your camera sensor simply can’t cope with both, no matter your settings one side of the histogram is splatting up the side. When it comes to that, you need to change the setting itself, either move the subject, move yourself, or get some lighting assistance in.. Here I’ve changed where we’re standing and look at the beautiful cliff-edges on that histogram!
An example of the blown-highlight warning on the back of some cameras, here the photo looks fine, BUT IS IT? We can now tell we’ve lost some of Angelphie’s hair and most of her left hand there.. That detail is GONE
Got ourselves a JessChii here, all looks peachy surely? NOPE, WHERE’S HER ARMS AND THIGHS, HUH?
Here’s where it can catch you unawares, sometimes you won’t mind but remember if you’re going to do any post-processing work, lost detail will haunt you.
This is how light works, simplified x1000.
Direct light, particularly on sunny days, gives very harsh shadows, and tends to blow out your highlights very easily, so your photo simultaneously ends up with bits too dark and too bright! Here we’ve totally lost Yuka’s collarbone! Gone forever, lost with the sky T_T This is the same with any single light source, but the sun is the obvious example.
Soft light is where the light is indirect, either ricocheting off everything else in the vicinity or scattered by a diffuser of some sort – perfect examples of this under tree cover, or the sun covered by cloud. Shadows are softer and lighter, highlights are softer, generally things are more flattering and easier on the camera sensor. The lesson here is most of the time GET OUT OF BRIGHT, DIRECT SUNLIGHT, also that a light but cloudy day is perfect for photography, not a sunny day without a cloud in the sky like you’d imagine!
A quick side-by-side, the only difference here is our Hitagi here is standing about two meters further back and thus under partial tree cover, much more detail is present, the whites are clearer, but we’ve clearly lost some of the light and the picture on the whole is darker for it.
Here we have a direct flash, this is pretty much your main option for all built-in flashes in cameras, straight ahead!
Flashes drown out all other light in the scene under any typical setting, so is the same as any single light source, harsh sharp shadows, in this case so directly behind our Rorshach here that it’s hard to tell where the coat ends and shadow stops!
This is where you’ll get the most red-eye, which is caused by light directly bouncing off the retina and back into your lens, the closer and more direct the flash is to the lens, the higher the chance of red-eye, so compact cameras which have mere centimeters between the two will cause red-eye a lot, while DSLRs with external flashguns sit the bright light part a good few inches away from the lens, and cause it far less often.
Anti-red-eye measures can help but if you can help it, avoid them. They range from red beams to pre-flashes and they can confuse or annoy your subject, or other photographers! Many cosplayers will see the preflash and assume the picture is taken, moving before the real deal happens.
Only feasible if you have an external flash and a remote trigger for it or hotshoe cable, but can be used for some interesting effects, casts heavy shadows but from an angle that can add a very dramatic effect, but is rarely flattering unless you know what you’re doing.
This is going back to the cloud-cover idea again, a translucent white material or plastic which scatters light as it passes through, this reduces the amount of light that reaches your subject but scatters it in all directions, shadows are much softer, contrast is reduced and is generally much more flattering than direct flash, but the pictures will obviously be darker. I’ll talk in a little bit about different diffusers you can use
This is mostly (see later) for external flashguns with angle and/or swivel functions, pointing them directly up (and rotating if shooting in portrait, not all flashguns can do this), the light bounces off the ceiling and essentially rains down much like natural or ceiling lighting, the scattering of the light is very similar to diffusers and this all but erradicates shadows from your subject and can give a very natural, flattering look.
This does however depend on the ceiling being there for you to bounce off of! Again because you’re firing it off somewhere else and waiting for it to come back after scattering, you do lose light here too.
If the ceiling is too high, or too dark-coloured, the light is absorbed or scattered too much to register and while your camera expects a bright picture as it knows the flash fired, it gets very little back and you end up with photos like this.
Ceilings too low can also give issues with clearly lighting the top half of someone far above the lower half, you also have to pay attention to the angle of the ceiling, if it’s not flat then your light is probably bouncing off in some other direction! I’ve also made the mistake of shooting under a wooden-panelled ceiling.. Thing about wood? It’s brown. White light goes up, brown light comes down. BROWN LIGHT IS NOT KNOWN FOR ITS FLATTERING PROPERTIES!
Another example, this technique doesn’t work for wide or long shots, as the spot of the ceiling directly above you will be far brighter than in the distance. This works well to darken and obscure the background from your model but in this case it’s clearly worked against me! Aiming the flash further forward can help but you have to be careful not to get the brightest spot in shot as it looks very unusual!
Mixing the two! This can help with awkward ceilings as some light is scattered forward instead of mostly up, but can be tricky as you often end up lighting only the top half of your subject if you’re not careful!
Here’s another way the sun can annoy you, by being in the background! Suddenly your camera is very unhappy, the background is amazingly bright, but our Rail Tracer here is made quite dark to compensate.. If we were to up the exposure he’d be clearer but the background would be even more blown out!
TIME FOR FLASH OUTDOORS IN DAYLIGHT
A hidden gem of using flash, is using it to fill in shadowed areas. While flashes drown out most light, the sun is a tad too bright for that! Drop the exposure on your camera and flick the flash on low powered, and overall the two bright sides reduce down to within a nice viewable range!
Works well for when the light is dropping for the day, it can all but erase dark shadows in groups like this!
A side-by-side of how the same photo changes just with physically tweaking the flash itself! Notice how the shadows get softer and softer, but with bounce only some darker shadows appear under Odangochan’s brow as most of the light is coming from above, bounce and diffuse fills it in but you can see some faint shadow has returned. Adjust to taste.
Right for all those stuck without detachable/aimable/expensive flashguns, do we have any recourse of action? It’s a bit of a hack, but the principle is exactly the same. A simple piece of paper held over the flash, if it doesn’t diffuse well then try folding it over, don’t fire your flash in quick succession using this method, due to less light getting through the flash will fire as hard as possible and with the added insulation it can get very hot very quickly, it will also likely make a much louder POP sound when firing.
For the bouncing, use thicker or doubled-up paper and use a 45 degree angle, it’s tricky to hold but it does work. Along the bottom there are some random ebay finds of various bits and pieces you can strap to your camera to get differing (and cheap) diffusion on your flash, even for compacts or the built-in pop flash on DSLRs. Even white card rubber-banded to the back of a flash can change the shape of the flash and deliver light differently, feel free to play with anything that can change your light to suit your needs.
One stage, three nightmareishly different lighting conditions. Distant and orange, middle and DARK, close and white. No way any one setting is going to cover even two of these, either you’ll need flash to even the playing field, or you’re going to be ditching that middle ground and changing settings back and forth all masquerade as people walk up and down!
While flash can be a godsend at times I always recommend trying to get away without it, you can take photos much quicker and with less intrusive flashes of light! Some events will even ban flash photography so falling back on higher ISOs and a wide-aperture lens to get the most light out of that stage is ideal.
There is one other option, Auto Exposure Bracketing, your name may vary, but it’s a mode where you change the exposure slider into three parts, the next three photos you take will then be underexposed, normal, and overexposed according to those three markers. This can be used when you’re not sure which marker will be right at any given time (changing lights, etc), or for when you know your lighting is impossible and you need to get photos in different settings.
AEB is most often used for HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, but use it however you want!
Two people in two different lights, we can either get Alias.com correctly exposed, OR Leadmill, not both! Flash or three-exposure bracketing and praying they don’t move are the only way out of this. You could later HDR the three or photoshop together the properly-exposed individuals into one photo.
LIGHT – DARK, just them bending over can change your settings requirements!
Beware the auto modes, focus on something near-black and your camera may decide it should really be a light grey and then lower shutter speed enough to brighten it up that the world becomes a nightmareish blur!
The eternal masquerade dilemma. Do you get the safe photo of the cosplayer walking down (and staring at their feet) before they flounce past you, or do you save that flash charge in case they give a special flourish right in front of you? Go for the safe one and your flash might not recharge in time for that perfect flourish (as above, and got me this murky version instead!), but if they don’t do one, you’ve missed them entirely! Flashes charge much slower with lower quality batteries, or batteries that are near the end of their charge, or purely because the flash unit is heating up.
Smoke machines! Dare to use a flash aiming even the slightest bit forward, and you get a misty FWOMF back in the face making everything look like it’s dancing in talcum powder. Neat trick is to fire flash directly UP, that same annoying mist of floating particles will rain that light back down like a soft ceiling of cotton wool for you.. but should that smoke start to clear and you’re in a high ceiling ballroom, you’ll only be lighting their heads! Gotta keep an eye on that smoke..
Again with high ceilings.. Vampires don’t work well with the HOLY LIGHT FROM ABOVE look, so aim it away, get that shadowy candle lit look instead.
Without flash, with. Both good looks, soft and flattering or bold and impactful, depends on the character you’re shooting.
ENOUGH FLASH! Learning to get away without needing it is always handy. Here’s some magic-hour wonderousness. Around sunset and sunrise for roughly an hour, the sun is low enough on the horizon that the atmosphere alone diffuses it beautifully with the golden colours we associate with pretty photos aplenty, make use of this short time period to get some beautiful warm light on your subjects.
Can’t afford a fancy flash, or want results that are a little more clear to see without test firing all the time? Grab a passing congoer and shove a reflector in their hands – these are inexpensive sheets or discs of white, gold or silver reflective material, often lightweight and foldable for transport you can find these anywhere. While they seem ridiculous in person, the results speak for themselves. The idea is to bounce back your light source (in this case the sun) onto your subject from a lower angle, this fills in the shadows under the eyes and chin and really draws attention to their face – have your impromptu assistant aim it roughly between the sun and your subject and wiggle it until they can tell where the reflection is aiming, and to point it around the chin of your chosen cosplayer.
As you can see on the left we have poor Amy-Lou again with no reflector, the light is COLD and UNFORGIVING, and there are shadows all down her face even at the late afternoon it was taken. Second up we have a white reflector, this bounces and diffuses the light so it’s nice and soft and neutral, no matter where you use it the light will naturally be the same colour as it was to start with, already you can see those shadows lit up and it’s already a far more appealing photo! Finally on the right we have a golden reflector, these are often creased and crinkled to give almost a water’s surface effect and the gold colour basks your subject in a warm radiance that’s perfect for outdoor shots, although taken at the same time of day, look how much warmer the photo seems, this is the best option for flattering outdoor summery or warm-evening photos.
Silver reflectors are similarly crinkled, they don’t diffuse the light like white reflectors do but they too do not change the colour of the incoming light, they simply project it back but much harsher than white would, so you can get some hard shadows still from the reflection but it can often give a cold feel to a photo, especially with the watery-surface effect. This may be your only option in lower-light situations, especially indoors where the lighting will be orange-coloured and you ideally want to keep all lights the same shade to not mess you up further down the line!
Mostly used for overly fancy trickery but it can save the bacon on many an occasion if used right!
So here I’ve tried to take a photo of TheKillingDoll as Tony Stark, and we wanna show off that arc reactor in all its glowyness. I take a shot – too dark. I take a slower shot – better but I’m hitting camera limits and it’s still dark and very shadowy.. Let’s try flash! Great, but.. where’s the glow from the arc reactor? The flash has drowned it out!
Let’s try again but slower shutter speed.. huh? No change at all?
Imagine taking a photo with flash, your shutter is open for, say, 1/200th of a second, but that flash only lasts maybe 1/1000th of a second, and is another form of automatic metering. If that flash is on-board or set to ETTL (electronic through-the-lens) then it will only fire as much light as it needs to.. So even if you change the shutter speed within reason, that flash is going to auto-compensate. You can go manual but it’s tricky!
Now slow that shutter speed way down, say 1/25th, or 1/10th as we already saw a while back that’s relatively quite a long time to be open, but we still set the flash off. Now you have a slowly exposing photo, but where for a fraction of time, everything was better lit!
Tune your settings to only just record the scene at all without flash and you can in essence isolate bright areas of a photo – in particular glowing LEDs on costumes! You take the photo, the flash lights up the room and you get a split second of everything well lit and visible, then for the rest of the entire time, that glowing LED is leaving more and more of an impression on your sensor while the relatively dark or black background isn’t adding anything at all. Result? one glowing arc reactor on a flash-lit Tony Stark. Nice.
A quick success-failure list, this the first time we’d tried shooting this technique and you can see how we progressed! Flash just burnt the backpack lights out and cast some nasty shadows, no flash too dark, no flash and long exposure, not enough, still too dark and with added blur! Fourth picture is someone else’s pre-flash lighting her up from the side, a softer flash looks good but gives some very odd shadows at that angle!
Final result on the end, how did we manage this? 1/10s speed, holding very still, and diffused flash. How did we diffuse the flash given this is the built-in popflash on an entry-level DSLR? We sellotaped paper to the flash. Pros, us.
It makes sense to us now but back then? This was CRAZY TALK, but we tried it anyway. Never be afraid to try something if you think it will help, taping things to expensive cameras doesn’t sound like the best thought of plans but that kit is going to waste if you don’t make the most of it! You look at cameras used by real pros, they’re beaten, battered, worn, duct-taped, all that matters is the internals working and you getting that shot, not worrying about how clean the camera looks!
Another quick way of changing lights in your scene is to mess with ISO or to an extent Aperture, as ISO changes your sensor’s sensitivity, upping it will make it see more light, and decide to fire the flash at lower power, so ambient lights get more of a chance versus the mighty power of your flash! See here with RoseStar how all I’ve changed is the ISO setting but all that seems to have altered is how bright the lamp is? The ETTL flash balances out the increased sensitivity to give us an identical exposure on the lass herself, but the self-lit lamp is another story!
This also helps if you want to pull in some of the ambient colour in the light around you, but can be a downside if you want things to stay a neutral white light but orange light starts creeping in because that’s what you’re surrounded with!
Here’s how you can get a little funky with it, moving lights can turn into light paintings with longer exposures, but not too long!
One tip if you intend to try light-painting style stuff, look for a flash option called Second Curtain. Remember waaaay back when I was talking about cameras having two shutters, also called curtains? First curtain is the default mode, it fires the flash the instant the sensor is in the open. Second curtain fires it the instant before the second shutter starts to close, normally the difference is entirely negligable, but now we’re taking long exposures it means the flash goes off AFTER the exposure, not before!
Note that many cameras will still fire a preflash to correctly meter the scene, the second flash is still the only one recorded in this mode.
So why do this? Imagine a car driving down a road at night, it’s a photo effect we’ve all seen, the brake lights trail behind the car giving an illusion of speed. Got that? Right, now think if the flash goes off first, then the glowing lights are recorded. As the car drives forward the lights trail ahead but the flash froze the car at the start! you end up with a photo that looks like your car is speeding in reverse! Same principle applies, you want the cosplayer frozen in time at the end of the display, not the start!
Also you can use this to give small lights a chance to act big, get people to hold especially still and you can flood even a dimly lit scene with a single light, back come those harsh shadows from a single light source but for the photos above, that works just fine.
Might be tricky to see this without me flicking back and forth on a screen, but there’s how different zooming with your camera can make a picture look. Here all I’ve done is zoom OUT by 5mm on my lens, and taken a few steps forward. Lex-is-evil as Kozue here hasn’t moved an inch, let alone grown a foot or two in the interim! Things in the foreground seem to grow much larger while the background shrinks in comparison, just due to perspective.
Lens distortion! Nearly all lenses will suffer this to some extent, particularly cheaper lenses, and the more zoomed out they go, the more they suffer it! This photo is taken with the standard lens most DSLRs come with, zoomed all the way out.. Something seems off (besides the angle, we were in a cramped corridor okay?), a quick google shows a value to plug into a distortion correction plugin or bit of software for my particular lens and SCHLOOP, suddenly our Amy-Lou has lost quite a bit of weight she never had in the first place! Be careful when shooting as wide as you can and filling your view with cosplayer, you might be blowing out their proportions and not doing them justice.
A bit more on perspective, while we’re on the topic. These sorts of shots are great for showing off magnificent prop weaponry, they make BIG GUNS into HUGE GUNS, but get the angle wrong and HUGE SWORD becomes.. small grey stick?
Check out GAINAX’s Sephiroph sword of ridiculous size! But just by changing angle, and not giving many frames of reference, we can make it look almost any length, even tiny dagger size! Blessing and a curse, as always.
Basic composition rule of thumb, if in doubt, mentally split your field of view into a 3×3 grid (some cameras will overlay this for you), now aim to fit points of interest onto those intersections, or the lines themselves. It seems a very formulaic way of taking pictures but the results are consistently good and if you’re unsure on your composition it’s a very safe bet to aim for this.
As you can see in both I’ve sort of missed, our Horo on the left there is a bit too low for her face to hit the upper intersection but otherwise the way she’s offset to the right gives a nice feel to the photo, and an open spacey feel on the left of it. To our right we have two intrepid Lara Crofts, but while Rachel in the front lines up nicely, I’ve sorely missed with Genevieve in the background, had I moved her (or changed my angle ideally) to fit her on the opposiing intersection, it wouldn’t feel like an empty gap is on the left there and the picture would be more complete.
Got lines in your picture? Walls, railings, paving slabs, stairs, anything. USE THEM, or they’ll make your picture feel plain, placing cosplayers at the end of the lines or at a central point or using them to emphasise perspective will really make things pop out of the picture for you, they draw the eyes of your viewers, so make sure they lead them somewhere interesting!
The ever lovely Jenn shows us three places your subject can look: at you, near you and damn near anywhere else.
At your lens creates a personal, intimate photo, they’re looking at you, at the viewer, there’s a connection and the eyes make it.
Looking elsewhere makes the photo more like a fly-on-the-wall, a snapshot of what’s going on which you the viewer aren’t impacting on or changing, we’re quite used to this in pretty much any film or anime, but it really helps to have them look like they’re doing something that simply doesn’t concern you or the viewer, to them you’re not even there and this is a sneak peak on their life story.
At some other photographer near you.. is that magical YOU’RE IN THE WAY look, like they’re trying to talk to someone else and you’re making them feel uncomfortable, it’s not a good look!
The answers are simple, you want one of the first two, if you’re in a photographer huddle, those mysterious semi-circles that form around any pretty girl in cosplay at random intervals, either become ‘That Dick With The Big Camera’ and ask them to look at your camera for the shot, or.. find someone or something else for them to look at, distant enough from you to get a looking-away angle instead of awkward-nearish-you angle!
In practice with Pokethepixie: at camera, someone else’s camera, and off-screen entirely. Only a slight difference in each but enough to make the outer two look like good photos and the middle feel a bit awkward.
Amy-Lou steps up again: At Camera, Someone else’s Camera, Blinking (DAMMIT AMY), and Looking elsewhere. Which has magically spawned a tree. Yeah.
While they work in reference photos for character and costume design, flat-on angles are boring and unflattering, you want that magical 3/4ths angle to capture a little bit of depth and the side of your cosplayer, while still capturing all the detail of the front and of course the cosplayer themselves. Rear photos are often welcomed for capturing detail many photographers miss, but flat-on just looks like you snuck the photo when they weren’t looking! Get some of that beautiful looking-back-over-their-shoulder action going on and the result will be much nicer. Also mirrors help here.
Leave unimporant parts up to the imagination, even with her fan behind her there’s no doubt of its size and construction, yet the difference is we can see the Temari cosplayer herself too!
If you’ve got costumes that are impressive even at a distance, and costumes that shine more close-up, then make the best of both! Get that close-up one in the foreground and the impressive one in the background, if you leave it the other way around the one that needs close attention might end up being ignored!
Also here we learn not to put the giant purple dog in the front of the group – put large costumes at the back, particularly if they have large areas without detail, feel free to have those covered with others in front of it.
Also in the corner there, a cardboard sword shoved up in the camera just goes HEY LOOK AT THIS, ITS MADE OF CARDBOARD.. but hide it out of scrutiny like our Afro Samurai here, and the thought doesn’t even come to mind to doubt the material construction of the sword, sure we know it’s not real or he’d be being arrested right now, but with that neat touch, a dozen complaints have been silenced.. Out of sight, out of mind.
The height of your camera determines how tall or short viewers percieve the cosplayer, if there are no other frames of reference. On the right we have a Taiga cosplayer who seems to have shrunk by a foot in an instant, when all that changed is how high I held the camera!
Top left we have two Kiminozo characters supposed to be of wildly differing height, pick poses that destroy all reference of height between them to erase any problems there! Bonus points for this pose for feeling like they’re of different heights yet their faces are close together!
Baby Prime – Mummy Prime – DADDY PRIME
Taken mere seconds apart, at increasingly lower angles!
Got 3-5 people in a group? STAGGER TIME
Arrange them so there is no linearity in their positions, in any dimension – no two people on the same level horizontally, vertically or in the z-axis from your point of view, and no straight lines in any of those directions either, then have them angst in different directions and you have yourself an instant artbook page pose! Also CD single cover pose. Works great in stairwells too. It’s sort of like playing sudoku with cosplayers. Only not.
More of these please! Just be patient, and encourage your cosplayers to be too. There will be laughs, there will be embarassment, they’re not professional experienced actors, just bide your time and encourage them to keep trying, even after a mistake get right back in there for another attempt.. After all:
You only need to capture that single perfect split second.
…then they can go back to laughing.
The camera lies, and often! Hide your assistants and secret supports! then get photos like this to show to people and laugh about it.
Never take photos in front of giant sandwiches. Ever.
You as the photographer, are in charge of how the background looks, only you can see through that viewfinder, and changing the angle, or aiming differently, or just patiently waiting for background bypassers to do that passing-by thing, makes so much difference. Less busy backgrounds, fewer crowds, and nothing in the background to distract the viewer from what you want them to look at.
BEAUTIFUL COUNTRYSI- a traffic light?
THIS IS A DARK FORBODING DAY
ACTUALLY ITS QUITE NICE OUT. A mere tilt of the camera cut that joyful sunshine right out of view.
WHAT BECAME OF THIS LONG FORGOTTEN LAND?
MY BAD, THE LIGHTS ARE ON.
I don’t advise relying on photoshop but sometimes those little tweaks make a big difference.
Ever pass by a random loading bay and think THIS WILL MAKE A GREAT PHOTO? No? Most wouldn’t, I do.
So that’s all I’ve got for you right now, I could add more but JEEZ THIS IS LONG
Hope it helps you guys out, and feel free to comment on anything I should add in future, or is HORRIBLY WRONG right now.