Friday, April 28, 2017

Katsucon Wrap-Up (very long post)

It has been several months since Katsucon 2017 wrapped up, so I can review my work with fresh eyes.  This year I had 21 individual photo shoots book and still managed to do several hall shots. In total, I ended up editing 1,508 photos from two and half days of shooting this year.

Before I get into some more statistics and talk about a few of my favorite shoots, let talk about what Katsucon is for those unfamiliar with the event.  Katsucon is a 72-hour Anime convention that focuses on anime, Japanese culture, art, music, and is a premier event for cosplayers in the National Capital Region.  The reason it is loved by cosplayers and photographers is the convention grounds; it held at the Gaylord National, which has a lovely atrium and the beloved gazebo.  (No, I do not know why the gazebo is loved.)  There are some rules for photographer at the convention. You must have a valid badge, everything must be hand held, and you cannot use light stands or any free standing equipment inside the convention center.  Now usually the convention center is crowded with photographers and cosplayers jockeying for the perfect spot because it is freezing outside.  Although, this year it was different because it was in the upper 60’s during the day compared to the usual 30’s or less.  Thus, everybody could go outside. However, do not think this makes it less crowded in the convention center or at prime shooting locations; the number of people stayed the same it was just the crowd was a little more dispersed. Now that you know the situation let’s talk some gear, photo stats, and favorite shots.

Taken around noon on Friday. The convention was just warming up.

This was my fourth Katsucon and third one doing one-on-one shoots.  This year I was shooting with a Canon 70D with an 18-200mm lens, two 450 RT XIII speedlights, a mini-light stand (for outdoor sessions), and bounces attachments for the flashes.  I was able to do several of the shoots outdoors so I was using two speedlights, one on camera for fill and one off camera as the main light.  For indoor shots, I used one speedlight on the camera with a bounce and no light stand mounted light. (I believe in following the rules.)   Overall, I shot at either 100 ISO or 400 ISO, with 77% of my photos taken at focal length between 18-20mm, 87% with an aperture of 4.5f, and 24% with a shutter speed of 1/50-1/60s.  Now let’s talk about some of my favorite session/shots from this year’s convention.   Remember I had 21 individual sessions booked so I’m only going to talk about eight.

I have worked with Miguo Cosplay before and think she is a great cosplayer thus was happy to work with her again.  For this session, I actually did several high key shots; because, I was lucky enough to get time in front of the wavy wall and her Sheryle from Macross Frontier was perfect for high key.  The wavy wall is perfect for high key because it is all white, but has a texture so you can subtle texture to background. I was able to capture this lovely shot by using the flash mounted on my camera and a flash lying on the floor pointed at the wall.  The second shot was only possible because it was still very early in the morning and very few people were up and roaming about. Even though only a few people were up, I only had a couple minutes to get the shot I wanted.  I was at the top of the balcony/stairs looking down to the floor below.  I knew the light from the flash on the my camera wouldn’t reach her, so I sent my husband down to her level to point a hand-held a radio controlled flash set to  about ¼ power at her at.   I zoomed my lens to 90mm and used an aperture of 9f with a1/30s shutter to capture this image. 

This is the first instance I worked with Krazed ChaosCosplay, and have to say she is fun to work with. She did a very nice Daenerys from Game of Thrones.  I love this image; it is actually was taken off the convention grounds along the path that runs along the river. Because this was outside and off convention grounds, I used an off camera flash mounted on a light stand to add a little pop to the image.  

I am a big Sakizo fan, and was very excited to be able to shoot Anime Layer Cosplay in her interpenetration of Sakizo’s Muscat of Alexandria.  I have two favorites from this session. The first is the mirror photo. I love using mirrors for cosplay because it lets you see more of the outfit, especially if the outfit has details in the back.   I shot the mirror image by sitting on the floor so I would be out of the shot, and lit the cosplayer with the speedlight mounted on my camera.  The second image was taken outside and was light with two lights to account for the back lighting provided by the sun.  I used a speedlight mounted on my camera and speedlight placed on the ground pointed up at the cosplayer.  I did post process the image to fade it slightly and give it more of an antique look that I felt matched the cosplay. 

This year, since it was not freezing outside, I was able to take a few of my cosplayers down to the Awakening Sculpture. The sculpture comprised of four pieces; a foot, a hand, an arm, and a face, situated to look like a giant man is coming out of the ground.  I like this image of Ginger Liz Cosplay as Cinder Fall from RWBY because she follows the curve of the arm. I also like this second image because it portrays the power of the character. Both photos were taken with two lights, one on camera and the second placed on the ground pointed up at the cosplayer. 


I had the pleasure of doing two photo shoot sessions with Angels n Demons Cosplay out of Canada. Yes, she came all the way down from the great north.  The first photo is an action shot of her in her Archer Rin cosplay from the Fate/Stay Night series.  I had her do a jump squat to make it look like she was landing from a higher jump and get movement in the skirt (photo #1).  I shot this with one speed light mounted on my camera with a bounce. I did edit the photo in Lightroom by darkening it slightly, increasing the contrast, and adding some vignetting. The second session I did with her, she cosplayed Reaper from Overwatch, and got several excellent images. I’m going to highlight one of my black and white photos.  I would say 99% of cosplay is shot in color to show off the costume, but I do like to switch over to black and white if it works for the character.  In this case, it did; because it gives the photo a grittier edge and does not make it look like it was shot on a bright sunny day. 

I do like working with cosplayers that create their own characters, especially if they fall in the realm of fairytale fantasy.  I had the pleasure of working with Cosmos FoxCosplay with her own design called Midnight Rose Couture Faun.  She designed and made the whole costume herself. She was lovely to work with because she gave very good face.  For her shoot, I found this lovely little weeping tree to use as the backdrop.  I was also able to use a speedlight mounted on a light stand, because we were outside, to light the image. 

My final session of the convention was with Krazed ChaosCosplay and Arya Fae Cosplay who were cosplaying a Jolteon and Spark from Pokemon Go.  They were fun to work with because they were up to for doing things like running around a tree so I could get some action shots of a trainer trying to catch a Pokemon.  I also put them in tall grass because everyone knows Pok√©mon hid in the tall grass. I also did some individual shots of each of them. For this session, since it was outside, I used a speedlight mounted on a lightstand with a bounce attached to brighten up the models.  I did edit the photos in Lightroom by increasing the contrast and upping the saturation of the color of the color, and increasing the clarity. 

I was also able to squeeze in a few hall shots in-between sessions, but did not do as many as I normally would.  If you are wondering, I was up at 6:00 AM on Friday and Saturday of the convention to make sure I could eat, and get ready for the day since my first shoots of the day start at 8:00AM. I made sure I had a 2-hour break for lunch and dinner and I wrapped up for the last shoot of the day by 10:00 PM.  On Sunday, get up early to make to load the car up before the first shoot of the day. I schedule the last shoot to of the convention to end by noon to beat the rush leaving the convention.  I will tell you I’m usually physically, mentally, and creatively exhausted by the end of the convention.  It is not uncommon for me the catch a cold the following week, the dreaded con-crud, because I will push myself hard during it.  In the end, it is worth it to capture amazing cosplays and interact with some great people.

You can see all my 2017 Katsucon work here

Friday, January 20, 2017

Film Noir Shoot

ISO 400, Aperture f/4.5, Shutter 1/160s

The term film noir is French for “black film” or “dark film” and was applied to generally black and white mystery and crime drama films produced the in 1940 – 1950. The cinematography in these films was usually dark, gritty, and contained heavy shadows, which is very similar to a low-key photo. When a person says film noir thoughts atomically go to old black and white films such as “The Maltese Falcon”,  “Murder, My Sweet”, and the “Third Man”; however, there is no rule saying photos inspired by the genera need to be straight black and white.  Thus in this series of photos I tried to recreate that feeling of film noir of the 1940s and 1950s; but using a more modern take on the coloring of the photos.

My other inspiration for this set of photos was the femme fatale character found in several noir films. My goal in these photos was to capture the hidden strength and hidden “bad girl” streak as seen in characters played by Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth. I also used elements of the classic Hollywood glamour photo to create these images.  

This shoot contained both studio and outdoor/on-location shots. For the studio shots, I used a large grey backdrop, two light stands, two 430EX III-RT speedlights, 28-inch rectangular soft box with egg carton grid, a narrow honeycomb grid modifier, and a large gobo mounted on a C-stand with boom arm. I also used props to include a large brown couch, table, a martini bar set, martini glass, and a dark wood chair.  For the outdoor shots, I used one 430EX III-RT speedlight, painter’s pole, and an assistant (my husband). For both the studio and on-location shots, I used my Canon 70D, an 18 – 200mm lens, and a Canon radio trigger.  

I used a two light set up for the studio shoot, with the main light being the square soft box with egg crate and the other being a straight flash with a honeycomb grid modifier attached.  I started the shoot with the main light a little more than 90 degrees to the subject’s left, while the straight flash was a little less than negative 45 degrees to the subject’s right.  (Note directly behind the subject is 0 degrees.)  For the outdoor shoot, the light was placed above and in front the subject to match the light coming from the streetlights.

I took 296 photos and kept about 60% of them for editing purposes, but after the final edits only delivered 173 photos of which several were duplicates photos that were edited/styled differently (i.e. black & white verse color).  Below are a few of my favorites from the shoot while you can see all of them here.

The first two images I like because the eyes say it all. The shadows hit perfectly, and the light just crosses across her eyes with the intense stare. To me this says classic noir.  

ISO 400, Aperture f/4.5,  Shutter 1/160s
ISO 400, Aperture f/4.5, Shutter 1/250s

The second photo I love in both black & white and color is this profile. This says classic Hollywood elegance to me. It captures the grace and beauty of the model.

ISO 400, Aperture f4.5, Shutter 1/100s
ISO 400, Aperture f4.5, Shutter 1/100s

This is the one of my favorite outdoor shots, which was taken on a staircase with one streetlight. To me this looks like a classic noir movie scene.  It begs the question is she walking away from something or waiting for something.

ISO 400, Aperture f/4.5, Shutter 1/125s

This final image I actually struggled with, because in the color version the shadows overpower her face. However once I converted it to black & white with a sepia tint it brought the image to life. I also lighted the shadows on her face slightly so you could see her eyes more clearly. In the end, I think this photos works.

ISO 400, Aperture f/4.5, Shutter 1/160s

Overall, I am happy with how this photo session turned out.  The model Orisen Cosplay was wonderful to work with. I loved her long lines, gracefulness, and how she was able to portray the femme fatale character.  

Friday, January 6, 2017

Photography Plans for 2017

It is the New Year, so it is time for some new photo projects and goals.  I still plan to do work with the DC Cosplayer and Photographer Group and do convention shoots but want to expand beyond that. This year I would like to do a few more personal projects and increase the number of shoots I do outside of conventions.   To reach this goal I have developed a list of photoshoots I would like to do this year.

A film noir shoot. This shoot is based on classic noir films like the Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, and Casablanca. This would be a shoot based on 1940’s and 1950’s styling, focusing on old Hollywood glamor, and be very low key or dark shoot.  This shoot would be in the evening and be a mix of studio and on location, since all the locations I’m thinking of are within short walking distance of the studio.  Ideally, I would love to do this shoot, as a couples shoot, but singles are good too. You can see my pintress idea board for this shoot here.

Girl in a Cherry Tree.  Last year I did a wonderful shoot with Neirdheim Jen, by placing her in a cherry blossom tree.  I want to do a few more shoots like that, since this will most likely be the last year these cherry trees will be accessible (blame construction plans).  Therefore, I would love to do at least few more shoots, placing a model in the tree, preferably with a long flowy dress or something that is cherry blossom appropriate.  I would love to shoot with a dress called “endless fire” or the “magenta orchid parachutedress” located on dream shoot rentals.  My other thought would to be place cosplays based on Sakizou, Hannah Alexander, or Nene Thomas designs.

Arboretum Shoot. I would like to do a shoot at the National Arboretum.  This one does not have a specific theme, but I would be looking to do something that is a bit elegant or fashion oriented. Basically, no superheroes.

Night Shoot overlooking the city. This shoot is geared towards superheroes, because the idea is to place the background below behind the model.

Random Shoots:  I do have a permit to shoot within the Fairfax County parks and there are a few locations I would like to shoot. In addition, I’m hoping for some snow so I can do anther snow shoot. I will also be keeping my eye out for new and interesting locations; I might even make it up to the GraffitiWarehouse in Baltimore.  

To those who are interested in working with me on any of the shoots listed above (which will be TFP), please message me through my Facebookpage: Munchkin Photos by Heather.  

I will also be offering all cosplayers 90-minute shoots (in studio or on location) for 45-dollars, which would include a CD/thumb-drive of all the edited images from the shoot as well as an online gallery.