Introducing a new series of articles where we take a unique, interesting, or challenging photo and explain how it was shot – the thought process behind it, the lighting setup, or simply the story of how it came to be.
For this first installment, I’ve chosen this shot of EclecticManiac as Butterfly Rarity done at Fanime 2012:
Kelly messaged me late in the afternoon on the second day of Fanime asking for a quick outside shot of her Butterfly Rarity cosplay to show off her wings, so this was rather impromptu and had little/no pre-planning behind it. (Usually, I like to at least know what character I’m shooting so I can pretend to know what I’m talking about and have some idea of an appropriate location.) I wrapped up another shoot and met with her at just outside the convention hall.
When I saw that the wings were mostly transparent, I immediately knew that I wanted strong back lighting to shine through them. We moved to the nearest street corner where I had some room to work and open sky. As it was about 6PM (Fanime takes place on Memorial Day weekend, the weekend before the last Monday of May in the US), the sun was fairly low and I used it as my back light. You can see it peeking out just to the right of her head. I knew the sun would be an incredibly strong light source and I tend to shoot in Aperture Priority (Av) mode to deal with constantly changing light conditions. Knowing these two things, I dialed in +2 1/3 exposure compensation to let the light of the sun blast through the wings. This was the first shot I got:
Two things I’ll point out: 1) I had a 50mm lens mounted on my camera at the time, so I just went with it. 2) My subject is too dark. You’ll notice that there’s a lot of background clutter. To try and minimize this, I switched to an 85mm lens to constrain my field of view. (As pointed out in my lens selection article, use the proper lens to control your background field of view.) At this point I was basically laying on the ground and shooting up in to the sky, directly at the sun. I shifted slightly to the right and aimed slightly left to avoid the tree you see there. For my second issue, I was still in Av mode and cranked it up to +5 EV to let the camera know the image should be brighter and that I want my background to wash out completely white. Even this was still not bright enough and I switched to Manual mode and added another stop of exposure compensation. This would let the sunlight wash through the wings and wrap my subject, thereby lighting her properly.
Another issue with shooting directly into the sun that isn’t obvious in the small test image is that your camera will have trouble focusing with an overpowering backlight such as the sun (shooting into stage lights or any other strong light source will likely cause the same problems). The test image here is slightly out of focus. I had to switch to manual focus to dial in the final shot.
Lastly, even though I used my subject to block any direct sunlight, there’s still a LOT of light directly hitting my lens. This results in all the colors of the final image being very washed out. I had to increase black levels and saturation in post processing to bring them back.
All together, I took 8 shots including the test with 5 minutes of planning on a street corner in downtown San Jose. I think I was able to achieve the look that I wanted from the wings and show off Rarity as the magical
being pony that she is, as well as do justice to EclecticManiac’s wonderful craftsmanship of her cosplay.
I hope you found this article informative. Please leave a comment if you have any questions or send me a message on facebook and I’d be happy to answer any photography-related questions.
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