Today’s Critique Corner features Tim Vo and Richard Bui being joined by Cosplay Photographer’s Senior West Coast Photographer, Vince Milum, Jr. of Darkain Multimedia. Vince is a longtime cosplay photographer with a truly amazing body of work. His focus on Strobist-style cosplay shots has produced some classic images. You can check out Vince’s work both on the Cosplay Photographer’s Facebook page, and also on his own Darkain Multimedia website.
Tim Vo: Hi Vince!
Vincent Milum, Jr.: Howdy!
Richard Bui: Hello Vince, thanks for joining us today!
Vincent: Thanks; I’m glad to be here!
Camera: Nikon D7000
Lens: 50mm f/1.8
Exposure settings: 1/250 , f/4.5, ISO 100
Tim: Vince, as our esteemed guest, you get to go first, any first impressions?
Vincent: ”DARK” is what strikes me first. Parts of the image feel like it is simply too dark. The first thing to really show this is the gloves. One is showing a nice good dark blue, but the other one appears to be completely black from lack of light in that area.
Tim: That stood out to me too! Although, I think it might actually be a black glove. The black clipping turns it into a bit of a black blob.
Richard: I think Tim might be right. This particular outfit that Sheryl wears is a black glove and a blue glove, but it is slightly dark.
Vincent: Speaking of clipping, the second thing that I noticed was the white clipping in the hair.
Richard: I do like the lighting for the most part. I like how her face is nicely lit and there is also a hair highlight.
Tim: The highlight clipping on the hair is a bit much, but in the overall picture, I’m pretty okay with it.
Vincent: The hair highlighting is nice, but it also appears that it had been blown out too bright at the very top. A quick guess is that this image was shot as a JPEG instead of RAW?
Richard: Looks like sun is the hair highlight and a reflector on the face? We don’t know, but that is a possibility since the photographer didn’t pull the exposure back a bit to bring some details back in on the hair.
Tim: From looking at the image and the EXIF, I would guess highlight is sun and face is lit by umbrella at close range. 1/250 tells me he was trying to hit sync speed.
Vincent: Probably a strobe setup, yes. The face lighting is very nice and even.
Tim: Overall, it’s a nice portrait, but I get a lot of disconnects in the image.
Richard: If he did use an off camera flash with an umbrella, I do like how he positioned the light so that there isn’t a reflection in the window as that can be a big distraction at times.
Tim: I agree with Vince – nice even lighting on the face. This is something that isn’t easy to achieve in bright overhead sun, but the photographer handles it nicely. Going a stop down to f/5.6 and bumping up flash power equally would probably fix the highlight clipping in the hair. And I know the aperture might not have been a conscious choice by the photographer as he was trying to get under sync, but the slightly narrower aperture here helped him out a bit. It gives enough focus to the reflection to make it a strong compositional element as well. Most photographers would shoot this wide open and you would lose the reflection in the glass.
Richard: I like the lighting because it’s not flat lighting that sometimes we often find when people use an umbrella. There is nice smooth gradation from front of the face through the ear. I’m guessing the light source must have been brought in pretty close.
Vincent: Sometimes more flash power isn’t really an option though.
Richard: Drop the ISO. The photographer could have dropped the ISO to 50 to get a bit more out of it if the camera supported it. The lighting on the face definitely draws my eyes to her face first. Points on that you guys would like to make?
Vincent: Speaking of the face, though… Once again we have a slight issue with darkness, and that being the eye lashes.
Richard: Isn’t it supposed to be black?
Vincent: I would have liked to see a little more definition in the individual lashes, but because the black point is so low, they all sort of blend together.
Richard: I think one of the big things regarding the eyelashes is that the photographer kept the light source at a good angle to prevent eyelash shadows on the face. Maybe the photographer dialed up the contrast in post?
Vincent: Numerically black on a computer and perceptually black to the eyes is not the same thing.
Tim: I would guess moving a black slider in aperture/lightroom. Overall, the image isn’t super-contrasty, just the deep blacks. Which also explains the strong reds and blues. And it’s not that it’s “supposed to be black”, it’s that he’s losing details in the blacks.
Vincent: Yeah, the reds pop out quite a bit in the image. I also really like the soft detail of the red flower reflection.
Tim: So I was saying, for me, there are a lot of disconnected pieces in this photo.
Richard: I think the colors popping in this image are a good thing as it suits the character.
Tim: I have this pet peeve about disconnected limbs; the arms kind of come up out of nowhere. I always like to joke that it could be anyone’s arms, because they’re not connected to anything.
Richard: Should the arms be placed differently or a different crop?
Tim: I would probably go for 1 arm/hand in a different position. Backwards on the forehead or something?
Vincent: A tighter crop with the same arm position wouldn’t look too bad either.
Richard: I would think it would be too tight then. I do agree the hands do make the photo look a bit awkward and I’m a fan of tight crops, but maybe if the photographer left more room down low?
Tim: Someone linked one of those “Photoshop disasters” recently of a Target ad. And one of the models would’ve had to have 3 hands because he had 1 in each pocket, and then there was a 3rd hand over the shoulder of the person next to him. I would go for a wider shot showing close to the elbow at least. That’s not the only disconnect for me though. The space below the choker and above the hands also feels really awkward.
This is partly because of the black clipping as well. The little triangle below the black hand. The shoulder/arm on the right. And the pearls hanging from the flower head piece. That black hand draws a lot of attention.
Richard: I would think the black hands would not draw as much attention given that it’s the darkest element in the photo.
Tim: A black hole of visual attentiveness. With arms that lead the viewer off the image to nowhere.
Vincent: But with her eyes looking down, the natural direction for the viewer’s eyes is to follow the same direction So for me, I agree, the visuals go from eyes, to black glove, to arms, to nothingness.
Tim: I think having the cosplayer lower that hand completely and just keeping it out of frame would have worked for me.
Richard: I think it needs to have some hand placement as part of the composition because she’s in a prayer/contemplative pose look
Tim: Yes, just having the blue-gloved hand up in the same position would be fine.
Vincent: And with the black glove out of the way, it would add a little more color to the scene.
Tim: I was also saying the shoulder on the right. And I guess it’s kind of the same issue with the area between the choker and the black glove – it’s a large swath of skin in an unusual position. I guess I’m OK with the pearls hanging from the headpiece. I was going to say they’re disconnected from the headpiece by the hair, but I can live with it. The angle of the shot overall is good so I wouldn’t adjust that.
Richard: At least there is no ridiculous tilt in this shot.
Vincent: I thought a photo had to be at 45 degrees to be artistic though?
Tim: Actually, a shot like this would’ve been better for a tilted composition because there are no background elements to really define up/down/left/right.
Also, what do you guys think of the post processing?
Vincent: There are several aspects of post, so lets break it down: A few things I’d like to see in terms of tones. Where the strobe hit the face, I personally think it should be warmed up a bit to match the warmer sun tones coming down
Tim: There’s other ways to make colors pop without losing your black detail.
Vincent: As long as the arms are in the shot, they should be warmed up a tad too. Looks like she has gray skin! The area around the choker is a tad bit too warm for the rest of the skin tones, so maybe make this a little cooler temp?
Beyond evening out skin tones though, the other major thing I personally do in photos is try to remove distracting elements from the background. There is that very nice gradient going on in the reflection, then a very hard cut off in the top-left corner I would extend that all the way up, filling in that hole Similarly in the bottom-left corner, there is that black, then white, then grey stripe. This would also be quick and easy to extend the main background over.
Tim: I’m sure there’s a bit of extra vignetting added here. I think backing off on that would’ve been good. The white/gray thing in the lower left does kind of stand out.
Vincent: Instead of vignetting, lately I’ve been using a “brighten/darken center” tool. With this, you can place your “center” marker anywhere in the image, and expand the radius of your “center” area. Then there are two sliders, one for the center, one for the outer edge to control brightness and darkness of both.
I think that would have worked better here, because then it could be centered on the face, rather than the frame of the image.
I personally use NIX Color Efex plugin to do it (available for Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture).
Richard: Unfortunately we can’t expect the photographer in the critique to have fancy tools like that.
Vincent: Agreed, but it is still possible to do by hand with selections + feathering in Photoshop or similar tools!
Tim: Anything else you want to bring up about the post processing? Personally, I could’ve gone for less contrast on this shot. To give it a softer feel that might match the feel of the shot more.
Richard: I think this photo is really…neutral. It’s not bad, not good, it’s a very decent image, but nothing super stands out.
Tim: I think it’s close, but little things like hand position and cleaner processing would make it stand out more.
Vincent: In both the blacks and whites. There is clipping going on in both ends.
Richard: I think for this photo, the crop is too tight. There’s no sense of place.
Tim: Holding a diffuser overhead would diffuse the strong overhead sun, which would solve the highlight clipping in the hair I’m ok with the crop if the hand positions were better, otherwise, I would go with a wider shot.
One last minor detail I could gripe about would be the skin processing. I’m sure she has nice skin, but because of the way the light catches her face on the near camera side, it gives it a weird look. You could smooth that out.
Richard: Thank you again Vince for joining us and offering your insight! We look forward to another critique corner. Thanks everyone!
Tim: Great! Thanks for joining us tonight, Vince. Any last words or tips?
Vincent: Sure thing! I hope this goes to help everyone out there reading. I just wanted to say that I’m quite happy to be a part of this whole process. One of the key elements to improving in photography is to take a step back and reflect on the work that we’ve created as well as the work other’s have created. It is always nice to get some insight into other people’s mindsets when shooting and editing!