How I Shot It – Lilith Aensland by FiveRings

In case you haven’t heard, Tim Vo of FiveRings Photography has retired from shooting cosplay; he’s now kicking back as COO of But when he had a chance to shoot with Shiya Wind in her Lilith Aensland cosplay, he jumped at the opportunity and came out of retirement to shoot again. Read on after the photos for setup details to learn how these images were created!

Shiya will be unveiling this cosplay at Fanime 2012, but here’s your exclusive first look at it:

Hey everyone. Tim here with a little look behind-the-scenes of this shoot for you. First off, I just wanted to say that it’s a great pleasure to get a chance to shoot with Shiya Wind. This is actually our first cosplay shoot together and she was incredibly fun to shoot with. We had done a fashion shoot together late last year, but that wasn’t nearly as fun since fashion shoots always feel a bit stuffy. Thanks Shiya! On to the setup…

Most of the interior shots were done the same way. The basic setup for those were two hot shoe strobes behind 43″ white shoot-through umbrellas on either side of the subject at approximately 45 degrees from camera. I used a Canon 580 EX II on one side and a 430 EX II on the other side. They were triggered by a Yongnuo RF-602 wireless trigger set. The flashes were manually set for an exposure of 1/160, f8, ISO 200. Why ISO 200 inside? It means I can set the flashes 1 stop weaker for a slightly faster recycle and longer battery life. It also gives me a little latitude in exposure without having to touch the flashes. I can drop to ISO 100 or even ISO 50 if I wanted to go to f/5.6 or even f/4 for a shallower depth of field. The additional noise from ISO 200 is indistinguishable and not a factor. All the interior shots were using the Canon 24-70 f/2.8L. Normally, I like shooting with mid-range telephoto primes, but my studio space is pretty small and you can get some neat angles with the 24-70 range. My subject is standing/laying on a white comforter against a blue wall. Fairly straightforward here, just blast a lot of light at your subject.


The exterior shots presented a few different challenges. First off, these shots were done at 1AM, so darkness everywhere. I could have tried for some ambient light shots in the dark, but for the backgrounds I wanted, there just wasn’t a good light source. I also didn’t have anyone to help me hold reflectors to direct any ambient light, so strobes it is. I just prefer shooting with strobes anyways. This part of the shoot really put the high ISO and focusing capabilities of the new Canon 5D Mark III to the test. For all of the exterior shots, I was shooting at ISO 1600. I set up the Yongnuo triggers and went to take a shot, but realized that RF triggers don’t work well near bodies of water. (Pro-tip!) My backup plan is to mount the Canon 580 EX II on the camera hot shoe and use it as a master to control a 430 EX II slave off camera on a light stand. I wanted the harder light of a bare strobe so having line of sight for the Canon IR system was not an issue. Something to keep in mind here is that you can turn off the shoe flash as a light source. It will only emit a pre-flash for TTL metering and not actually contribute to the final image.

For the red and blue images, we found this large fountain which rotated through a rainbow of colors that I wanted to use for my background. I used the Canon 135 f/2L to constrain my background and really separate Shiya/Lilith from the background. The wider f/2 aperture also let me keep my ISO down a bit. Exposure settings for these shots were 1/100, f/2, ISO 1600. As a safe rule of thumb, you want to shoot at 1/focal length to help reduce possible motion blur from camera shake. I fudged this just a little bit down to 1/100 so I could get the amazing colors from the fountain to really come out. Also, I was sitting or laying on the ground for these to help reduce the chance of motion blur. The fountain itself was fairly bright so you can really see the colors from it. Then it was just a matter of waiting for the right color to light up. As Lilith is blue and red, those are the colors I went for. The flash was bare, about 6-8ft out from the subject at about 90 degrees. Since I was using the 580 as the master, this let me use ETTL metering and made adjusting the flash much easier. And by easier, I mean not setting anything and letting the camera figure out appropriate flash power. (Note to self: spring for some wireless ETTL triggers that work near water.)

For the green image, we wanted to have Shiya use her wings to fly a bit since that’s what Lilith does. Unfortunately, Shiya can’t fly so we had to pretend by having her run and jump. I set up my flash on a stand about 15 ft out from Shiya, camera right, about 9 ft high. For this shot, I manually zoomed the flash to 105mm so I could get a narrower beam of light. The background is just the ambient light and Shiya is lit by the flash. I could have used the Yongnuo manual triggers here since we had moved away from the fountain and found a loading dock, but I already had everything set up for the Canon IR system so I just kept using it. I turned the shutter speed up a bit to 1/160 to try and stop Shiya’s motion in the air. I was still at ISO 1600, but the light around the loading dock was really dim with this dirty yellow/green color. Also, my background wasn’t quite what I wanted with the 135mm so I switched to an 85mm f/1.8 and kept it at f/2. Shiya was a great sport and did her jump a couple dozen times. Apparently, jumping and posing with giant wings on your butt while wearing heels and not breaking your ankle is difficult? How do you think she did? The 5D Mark III has 61 AF points, 41 of which are cross-type points with wide aperture lenses like the one I was using. I chose a single AF point close to where Shiya was moving to and the focus was really accurate on it. I also considered having another flash camera left to rim light and really separate her from the background, but I felt like that might be too much and it would look like she was composited onto the background. Nope, she does all her own stunts.

Finally, the purple image was shot in a dark alley at almost 3AM…because we’re fearless! I used the 24-70 f/2.8L for this shot at 24mm, f/2.8, ISO 1600. I considered going to ISO 3200 as I was now a full stop slower than previous shots. Instead, I kept it at ISO 1600 but slowed my shutter speed down to 1/60.  There was no real ambient light here; A little bit of light camera right coming out of the building for effect. Slowing to 1/60 let in as much ambient as I could muster. What little ambient light there was in the background here comes from a dirty tungsten light so I gelled my flash to 1/2 orange (CTO) to match. I probably could have gone with a full CTO here. I corrected it in post and it’s still a little bit off if you really examine the background, but it’s fairly muted and I don’t feel that it’s so far off as to be distracting. Lighting is still a 430 EX II on a light stand, but this time I used a 43″ white shoot-through umbrella as well. This was about 3ft from Shiya about 45 degrees camera-right and 6ft high and gives a nice soft light all around.

That’s it for the setup. I hope you enjoyed the photos and the behind the scenes info. Feel free to send me a message on facebook if you have any questions or comments. Thanks!


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Tim is the principal photographer for FiveRings Photography and co-founder of Cosplay Photographers. When not shooting cosplay and writing about it, he's busy photographing engagements, motorsports, and fashion. He can also be found playing Diablo 3, Starcraft 2, World of Warcraft, or Bejeweled when he should really be editing photos.


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    Great article! Learned a lot about the type of flash usage. Heh.

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