Cosplay Photographers: Thanks for joining us for our very first ever Critique Corner. Our goal is to put out a critique every two weeks or so. So we’ll take a bit to introduce our critiquers. Tim Vo of FiveRings Photography is an accomplished photographer and long time cosplay photographer located in SoCal, who has shot some amazing stuff. He’s not shooting nearly as much cosplay these days, but rather spending his time helping to elevate the skill level of the cosplay photography community through teaching posts, panels, and etc. here as a board member of CosplayPhotographers.com. Richard Bui of Bui Photos is well known for his wedding photography as well as his cosplay photography. Located in NorCal, he is another board member of CosplayPhotographers.com amd his focus these days is to help advance cosplay photography. Rachael Masako Ing of Masko Photography, known famously as the one and only Masakocha, is one that needs no introductions. She is a heavily sought after cosplay photographer and is also 2011 December Cosplay Photographer of the Month. She is our very first guest critiquer for Critique Corner.
Today we will be critiquing a photo by cosplay photographer Kaezar Kaze of Red Dot Photography.
Thank you Tim, Richard, and Rachael for agreeing to help on our very first Critique Corner Your help will immensely benefit the cosplay photography community by helping others grow in their work.
Rachael Masako Ing: No problem, I’m glad to help out in any way I can. Thanks for the invite!
Tim Vo: Definitely excited to do this. Hopefully the insights we offer will be helpful for the photographer.
Richard Bui: Rachael, since you’re our guest for this very first one, we’ll give you the honor of going first.
Rachael Masako Ing: Oh boy, haha, well I’m not thoroughly trained in photography so I just know the basics.
Richard Bui: But you’re eye and vision are better than many, so your opinions are still very much respected!
Rachael Masako Ing: I’d say this image has been shot well, with a good range of values–the highlights aren’t blown. Off the bat it looks like care has been taken in the processing, I can’t see any spot touch ups or things that stand out as being rushed in Photoshop.
Richard Bui: I definitely agree! Looks like it was shot with a fast glass and wide open as I see purple fringing on the shirt sleeve.
Rachael Masako Ing: I agree with the fringing–is that “chromatic aberration”? I use that setting in Lightroom to decrease when that shows up on highlights. I also see a little showing up on the stairs behind her. But if I was using only Photoshop, I wouldn’t know how to fix something like that, and so without knowing the software this photographer has access to they may have just not been able to get rid of it. But overall I would say your normal viewer wouldn’t catch something like that. Lastly, I think having some bounce light on her face would help–her shoulders feel well lit, but the lower part of her face and under her neck get a little dark. This is just being picky, but having that much contrast in skin value is a little distracting.
Richard Bui: Overall on initial glance, I do like the image, it certainly is pleasing. I do agree there needs to be more light on the face. The choice of stairs for background is good as it keeps from getting background distraction.
Tim Vo: Technically speaking, the lighting is soft and pleasant, but a bit…boring? Like Rachael said, some bounce light on her face would lift it a bit as well as some back light.
Richard Bui: Perhaps the issue is it’s a bit too bright on the shoulders and drawing attention from the face?
Tim Vo: Right, but I think that’s because the face is darker. If the face were better lit, the shoulder would not stand out as much. This looks like it was done with an 85 f/1.8, at f/1.8 or close to it. I’d like to see a little more depth of field.
Richard Bui: Yea. Here’s a useful tip, if the photographer doesn’t have a flash and is in an area not well lit, a reflector can do a good job to bring in some light in other areas to bring up the lighting on the face.
Rachael Masako Ing: I’m a little confused as to how the legs are lighter than the face–possibly due to processing, and it’s a good decision overall, but it emphasizes even more the fact that her neck area is in too much shadow.
Tim Vo: Maybe it was lit with an umbrella to that side, so that side (legs and shoulders) are brighter.
Richard Bui: It looks ambient to me cause I don’t see the light shadow on the background
Tim Vo: Yeah, possibly. Maybe the light source (windows or whatever) was to that side.
Tim Vo: Who’s the character, by the way?
Richard Bui: The character was not listed and I don’t recognize the character.
TIm Vo: Sheryl Nome?
Richard Bui: Do you think we should add a section asking for that info?
Tim Vo: It helps me think about how to light it if I know the character. Are they dark/evil? Are they bright/happy? Is the story a happy one? etc.
Rachael Masako Ing: I think it may be a version of Vocaloid Luka; there is a song called “Cantarella” but I don’t remember her character being in that one
Tim Vo: ahhh ok
Richard Bui: Funny, I was going to say Vocaloid… But Tim does bring up a good point, knowing the character can certainly help us decide how the character should be lit but if we can’t tell from the existing lighting, maybe that’s not necessarily a good thing?
Tim Vo: And it helps in choosing a setting/location that’s appropriate for the character. I’m going to go watch that video while we chat.
Richard Bui: I do like how the subject is lit brighter than the background. Definitely points for that.
Rachael Masako Ing: So we’re kind of heading in the artist direction now; should we finish up with the technical side of things?
Richard Bui: Tim is so A.D.D.
Rachael Masako Ing: LOL well I like critiquing it artistically also, it’s more fun. XD
Tim Vo: I am! It’s all part of the image so I have to talk about all of it at once. Ok, I couldn’t find the video anyways so if it’s Vocaloid, I’d like to see bright spotlights as is, the lighting is pleasant, except that the face can be brighter. Thanks, Richard, for keeping me on track.
Richard Bui: I think we’re all in agreement on that, the face needs to be brighter lit.
Tim Vo: To work around that, if you know your primary light source is to one side and can’t be moved (as is the case with ambient light most of the time), have the subject turn their face toward the light.
Richard Bui: Great tip!
Rachael Masako Ing: Agreed; as a last-case scenario where you can’t alter the light source, you’d have to work with it and pose differently, even if you may in return have to sacrifice something like the ideal background angle you’re aiming for.
Richard Bui: I do like the vignetting. I see that sometimes people go a bit crazy overboard with it, but it’s well used here. Naturally draws my eyes into center.
Tim Vo: Exposure-wise, it’s very accurate and well exposed. Other than the shoulder, nothing is too bright and you only lose details in the darkest areas. Well done there. Focus is spot on, being on the face/eyes – something simple that many photographers overlook.
Rachael Masako Ing: You mean the perverted ones? >_>;;
Richard Bui: Demmit, I think Rachael is talking about me again.
Tim Vo: The perverted ones always miss focus.
Richard Bui: Let’s talk about the background…
Tim Vo: I can’t talk about the background without talking about one main thing…THE TILT.
Richard Bui: Ah yes, I was wondering if someone was going to address the 800-lb gorilla in the room.
Rachael Masako Ing:But yeah, background.
Tim Vo: I’m a vocal opponent of random tilting and this tilt makes no sense to me.
Richard Bui: I often find tilted backgrounds to be too distracting. It’s fine if there is a slight tilt, but this somehow seems awkward to the eyes.
Rachael Masako Ing: The tilt is a really big player in this image, especially since the only things we have to work with are fairly geometric shapes of stairs and the cosplayer herself.
Richard Bui: Also by using the stairs with the tilt, it’s causing my eyes to exit the frame.
Tim Vo: The background itself, probably some stairs, is nice. You know how we always talk about shooting on stairs, Richard. This is exactly what we meant. Stairs make excellent places to shoot.
Richard Bui: Also I’m guilty of this on occasion, there is line running right through her neck, chopping her head off. No, I definitely agree Tim, stairs are excellent choices, but I think the tilt creates a few issues.
Tim Vo: I agree, the angle throws it off for me. I can kind of see what they were going for and the lines made by the stairs almost follows the golden triangle. But it shouldn’t be your background that follows that. It should be your subject. The tilt kind of forces it. It just doesn’t do it for me.
Richard Bui: Me either.
Rachael Masako Ing: I think the fact that the value of the stairs gets darker as it recedes is good. It puts more emphasis on her head/face and isn’t as distracting as it could have been had it been blown out. The lines don’t bother me personally, I think if it had been one or two lines it would have, but since these read as stairs and we know instinctively that they are, where they intersect on her body don’t feel harsh. If there was something the tilt contributed to compositionally (a background element that pointed back to the cosplayer, or a feeling that the tilt contributed to), I would be more inclined toward this decision. But as it is, it’s used as a tool to fill the frame (as Tim mentioned), and while that in itself isn’t bad, I feel like this shot could have been shot just as successfully if it were aligned right-side-up as well.
Tim Vo: Yeah, I like the perspective of the stairs (love shooting on stairs!). Which shows a good choice of focal length used.
Rachael Masako Ing: I agree, the depth of field really helps this image.
Tim Vo: I was saying earlier before Richard interrupted me, this looks like it was done with a 85 1.8. Maybe even a 50 1.8 on a crop camera. P.S. This is the only official shot I’ve found from Cantarella–it seems like this is the source, the other cosplays I’ve found in this costume are also of these two characters. http://www.zerochan.net/245059
Richard Bui: I think Tim mentioned earlier, and I agree, that finding a background fitting to the character is always a plus. While we definitely advocate stairs, I wonder if there was a better background that could have been used?
Tim Vo: I don’t think we should speculate on that since it’s the photographer’s choice of background. I think it works ok. We don’t know what they had available so we can’t say.
Richard Bui: That’s what I kinda meant.
Tim Vo: Well, we can’t deduct or give kudos for that since we weren’t there. You’re so mean, Richard.
Richard Bui: Someone’s gotta be bad cop. Also good quess Tim, this was shot with an 85mm at f/1.4 and shutter is 1/640th a second as recorded by the image’s EXIF.
Tim Vo: I also said earlier, that I’d like to see more depth of field in the shot, personally.
Rachael Masako Ing: Wow good guess Tim!
Tim Vo: The hand on the knee being out of focus would be better if it were in focus.
Rachael Masako Ing: I also thought so too at first. But, if it were, that would also bring her skirt on the side closest to us into focus, and I don’t know how that would contribute. If it would be too distracting to have most of her in focus while the background is so not in focus.
Richard Bui: But with more depth-of-field, wouldn’t that make the stairs more distracting?
Tim Vo: Possibly, but not necessarily. You would still get the trailing off perspective and it would blur later on. You could also move your subject forward a bit more to get more distance from your background.
Richard Bui: Actually I think Tim might be right on this one. With more DOF to bring the skirt in focus, since the stairs isn’t flat like a wall, at worse, we’re looking at maybe 2 more steps in focus?
Tim Vo: I can see that, but I don’t think you would have to bring THAT much into focus to get the hand sharper. Like, f2 instead of f/1.4. Also, 85mm lenses tend to fringe like that wide open, so stopping down to f2 would help that. Or at least clean that fringing in post please.
Richard Bui: Given that the photographer wasn’t lacking in light with a shutter speed of 1/640, he could have stopped down to as much as f/4 and still hand-hold it fine. Rachael brought up the good point in regards to software, the photographer may not have access to Lightroom/Photoshop, so we can’t necessarily ding him on that, but the suggestion to stop down to reduce the fringing is a good suggestion since we know that’s an option he can do.
Rachael Masako Ing: That makes sense; it would contribute to the image being able to see her hand, especially since there’s details like ruffle and trim in that area; and it looks like she’s wearing a ring also? So that’s a prop that the cosplayer may have wanted to be seen.
Tim Vo: Hey, if they can stamp their name on it, they can fix some purple fringing! I noticed the ring too. Another reason I would want the hand in focus to show that. It really completes the subject to have all of it.
Rachael Masako Ing: LOL, I never thought of that; I guess they do have PS.
Tim Vo: Speaking of post, I don’t think there was much done to this one. Probably close to straight out of camera (SOOC). If so, it’s a pretty good job for being SOOC.
Richard Bui: I definitely agree on that. What are your guy’s thoughts on all the stray hair?
Tim Vo: I hate stray hairs and I really need to get a hairbrush for my camera kit, but I wouldn’t knock the photog for it. That would be a lot to clean up for this shot. If you were trying to do it in post.
Rachael Masako Ing: As a courtesy, I try to clean up stray hair since long wigs like this get blown about very easily. But if he/she is on a deadline, not cleaning up (especially this much) can be overlooked.
Richard Bui: I wouldn’t suggest doing it in post. Something as simple as asking the cosplayer to run their fingers through their hair/wig would help cut down the stray stands considerable.
Tim Vo: Yeah, I try to spot it and fix it while I’m shooting, but sometimes it can’t be helped. Try to ask the cosplayer if they have a brush or something though. Oh, one thing I have to point out in the pose The arm that’s on the right of the photo. You shouldn’t pose people like that. It makes the arm look like a drum stick. Chicken leg drum stick
Rachael Masako Ing: LOL! Can we write that?;;
Richard Bui: Oh yea, I noticed that, but couldn’t figure out how to nicely comment on that.
Tim Vo: That’s something the photographer should catch. I think we should because her arm is not like that normally. She doesn’t look overweight at all, but the pose makes the arm do that, which is awkward. The subject can’t tell how that side of their arm looks, the photographer has to catch that.
Rachael Masako Ing: Maybe if she moved her hand a little farther from her body but still leaned into her shoulder, you could get the same effect but it would be a little more flattering on the upper arm.
It would also expose the neck to more light and maybe help with the heavy shadows under her chin.
Tim Vo: Yeah, or just forward a little bit. Since you’re not showing the rest of the arm anyways, you could really have it anywhere and just pull the shoulder up to get that “look”. Anything else you guys want to touch on?
Richard Bui: I find the hair falling in front of the chest to be distracting. Like it distracts me from fully appreciating the costume.
Tim Vo: I don’t agree with that. I think it’s appropriate and helps to break up that side of the body. If that hair wasn’t there, that side of the body would seem…empty. The image would feel more off balance. THE TILT already throws me off balance.
Rachael Masako Ing: It bothers me most where it overlaps the necklace. I think it’s good to have in front of the shoulders, but I would have liked to see it avoid the path of the necklace …or have the necklace dodged more so I could see it.
Richard Bui: It just feels out of place, but I do see your point about “breaking it up a bit”
Rachael Masako Ing: It’s kind of an “anime thing”–many characters with long hair have the tales in front of their body. I dont know why, it’s just a thing.
Tim Vo: So, overall, I think it’s a nice portrait, but nothing in it really jumps out at me.
Richard Bui: The image certainly has a number of things going for it, but the tilt really makes it hard to focus on all the positives.
Tim Vo: I always say that you can create separation in 2 ways: lighting or depth of field. In this case, they tried to use depth of field, but it’s not really enough separation from the background to really pull the subject out. The lighting here isn’t enough to make them “pop”. I guess I’m kind of contradicting myself, but I want MORE depth so that the subject is in focus, but less so that there’s more background separation.
Richard Bui: So the take-aways for the photographer:
a) Tilt with a purpose
b) make sure the face is the brightest spot in the image to draw attention there first.
Tim Vo: It doesn’t have to be the brightest, but it needs to be brighter than extraneous parts like the shoulder.
Rachael Masako Ing: ^yup, or lighten the shadows since they run to black. I agree that as a portrait it is shot well and is technically sound photo. The photographer knows what they are doing and can capture an image. I think now the next step is to be bold in post-processing. Figure out what they have to say about the mood or atmosphere, whether it’s related to the show or character, or just how they were feeling at the shoot. You can push this a little further and make a statement that speaks about who this character is, and have that communicated to the audience without them having even watched the show. Since this is a cosplay photographer critique, I’d like to be able to give a little more on the side related to “cosplay photography”, and not just photography in general. In the case that the photo wasn’t giving enough mood for whatever reason (cosplayer having a bad day, photog not feeling the setup or location), you can always go back in post and try to push an image to be a little more representative of what you’d like it to show. Whether that’s color or lighting, try to create an ambience that pushes the boundaries a little more.
Tim Vo: Agreed. There isn’t really enough “setting” here to really tell us about the character, so the photographer has to find other ways to do that.
Cosplay Photographers: Thank you Kaezar for being our very first critique. We hope the comments are helpful and constructive. If there is anything said that isn’t understood, please feel free to leave us a comment. Thank you again Rachael for being our first cosplay photographer guest for Critique Corner and thank you Tim and Richard for your time as well.
Rachael Masako Ing: Thank you very much Kaezar. It was a pleasure critiquing your work! This was a great image to work with.
Tim Vo: Thanks Kaezar. Keep up the good work!
Richard Bui: Thank you all!
Rachael Masako Ing: And thanks CosplayPhotographers.com for hosting this community-building opportunity.
Cosplay Photographers: If you are looking for constructive critique on your latest work and how to improve, we are always happy to take submissions by filling out form for Critique Corner here.