Spotlight: Figure Photography

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Hello all! I’m here to talk a little about how I photograph figures for some of the toy reviews we’ve done here on Pop GO. I’m not going to get real detailed because there are plenty of resources online on how others light and photograph their figures/toys/products. When you do the research, you’ll pick up a lot of different techniques and setups and try them all to work towards your own style and comfort. I just want to give you a little insight to the method of my madness when photographing our little collectibles.

Read onwards!

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MG Strike Freedom ZGMF-X20A

For this write-up, I’m going to use my most recent photo session I did with a Gundam model kit that I just finished painting and detailing. My setup consisted of two desk lamps with fluorescent bulbs, a couple of soft boxes I fashioned using cardboard and white tissue paper — the kind usually used for stuffing gift bags, and a flat black (not glossy) poster paper board that I smeared gold glitter craft glue using a flat edge. Now for the background, you can use any color or material that you think works best with your figure. If you want to just accentuate the figure, I would go with a black background or white depending on the lights and darks of the figure. If the figure has mostly dark colors, I would go with a white background and vise versa for a figure with mostly lighter colors.

Some people may prefer strobe lighting, but it could be a little overboard for photographing little things like figures. This write-up is mostly for the budgeted mindset who want to take nice photos of their collection. Search “Product Photography” to see what others do for lighting and setup. If you search “product photography” on Amazon, you can find already made equipment and accessories to help you with figure photography.

The poster board background is just being held up by a clip attaching it to a makeshift carboard "stand" on the other side

The poster board background is just being held up by a clip attaching it to a makeshift carboard “stand” on the other side. You don’t have to use poster board for a background. You can use a fabric and create different textures if you like. If you want, you can push a table against a wall and pin the fabric to the wall and drape it over the table if you don’t have any proper background stands.

There’s not much to say that hasn’t been touched on in the many resources concerning lighting, so I’ll just start out with where I start out with my lights. And with that, it’s just as simple as lining each light to face each side of the figure. This kind of lighting gives a good general product photography like image. If done right, you won’t have shadows on the floor. With a dark background, shadows are easier to hide. With a light colored background, if I don’t want any shadows on the floor, what I would do is suspend a glass panel over the floor and model the figure on top of it. Try using a mirror also to make the image a little more interesting with a prominent reflection.

The lights don't have to be set up like this all the time. Move them around and try different angles for different looks. One pose can be turned into different images with different looks just buy changing light positions and photographing at different angles.

The lights don’t have to be set up like this all the time. Move them around and try different angles for different looks. One pose can be turned into different images with different looks just buy changing light positions and photographing at different angles.

I like to use the live view feature on my DSLRs when doing figure photography. If your camera allows you to, I’d recommend that you utilize it, though it may drain your batteries a little faster. With live view, its pretty much “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG). Invest in a nice sturdy tripod as well. The one I used for this session wasn’t my strong tripod, but it did the job. First compose your shot, then there should be a function on your camera to zoom into your focal point, and I’m not talking about a lens zoom. It’s a digital zoom that happens in the screen of your camera so you can get in real close to see your focal point and adjust the lens to fine tune the focus on your focal point. To avoid camera shake, I would set the camera time to 2 seconds or you can invest in a remote trigger for your camera.

The zoom buttons for the LCD screen zoom are normally indicated by a + or - next to the button. The rectangle on the screen represents your focal area and can be adjusted usually by the arrow buttons normally found on DSLRs. Once you compose and frame your photo, move the focus box to where you want the focal point to be. If you have the lens set to auto, that rectangle is where it will autofocus. Using the zoom buttons on the camera will zoom into where that rectangle is placed.

The zoom buttons for the LCD screen zoom are normally indicated by a + or – next to the button. The rectangle on the screen represents your focal area and can be adjusted usually by the arrow buttons normally found on DSLRs. Once you compose and frame your photo, move the focus box to where you want the focal point to be. If you have the lens set to auto, that rectangle is where it will autofocus. Using the zoom buttons on the camera will zoom into where that rectangle is placed.

There’s a lot of noise (digital grain) in the following image, but that’s because I used a high ISO setting. But in the image, you can’t see too well, so I shifted the lights a little. The light, at photo right, is shifted closer towards the background whereas the other light is pulled closer towards the camera. Depending on the position of the figure, you can get a nice frontal sidelight with edge highlights in the darker not-so-lit parts of the figure. This can give you a dark dramatic image with visible details and outlines of the dark areas from highlights.

I didn't initially make the glittered out background for this figure and photo session. It was actually for another photo project on Bokeh manipulation which I'll talk about in a bit.

I didn’t initially make the glittered out background for this figure and photo session. It was actually for another photo project on Bokeh manipulation which I’ll talk about in a bit.

Resulting image from the set-up above

Resulting image from the set-up above

Editing… that’s a mouthful, but each person has their own style and flow. Again, I’m not going to go into super detail, but most if not all of my photo edits are done in the Adobe Bridge Camera Raw editor. I do the adjustments on the “Basic” tab and play with curves in the “Tone Curve” tab. The only time I mostly open up the image in Photoshop is when I apply the watermark, resize and save for web. When you upload your low resolution images onto the web, you may notice some quality loss. There are tutorials online that show you how to save your images at low resolution but good quality for web viewing.

I hope you were able to take something useful from this spotlight. Like I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of other great tutorials out there and people have their own ways of going about studio figure photography. This article is just how I have gone about with the subject. If you go back to some of our past toy reviews, this was the general setup I used to do those. If not the home made soft boxes and desk lamps, it was bigger florescent lights with umbrellas diffusing the light. But with those, it was still mostly a two light set up. I’ll list a few of our articles where I did the photography:

Sleeping Cat Puzzle (Nyanko Nabe)
Chibi-Arts Perona
Transformers Masterpiece MP-13 Soundwave
Doctor Who Titans Vinyl Figures
Real Action Heroes Lupin the Third
Howl Nendoroid 
“Akira” Film Poster

Here are some of the images for the Gundam photo session. You can see more photos on my FB Photography Page or Flickr.

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I mentioned in of the image captions earlier about manipulating bokeh. Below are some images I did using a home made bokeh filter lens cap and custom bokeh shapes that I cut out by hand. I intend to incorporate bokeh manipulation in Cosplay Photography, but first I wanted to try it out on a smaller scale. I borrowed some of my girlfriend’s figures to test out my cut outs. I wrote up a tutorial on how I made my bokeh filter lens cap on my Tumblr. Below are some of the images I have come up with using the filters. To see the rest, check out my FB Photography Page Album or Flickr.

This set up used one main light, a glass panel suspended over a mirror, and a string of LEDs

This set up used one main light, a glass panel suspended over a mirror, and a string of LEDs

Date Masamune Nendoroid

Date Masamune Nendoroid

Boa Hancock Chibi-Arts

Boa Hancock Chibi-Arts

D-Arts Mega Man

D-Arts Mega Man

Sailor Moon S.H. Figurearts

Sailor Moon S.H. Figurearts

Sailor Mercury PETIT Chara

Sailor Mercury PETIT Chara

Link Figma

Link Figma

Sailor Moon PETIT Chara

Sailor Moon PETIT Chara

Sailor Venus PETIT Chara

Sailor Venus PETIT Chara

Mike Amos

Mike Amos

Part-time Toy News Contributor, Event Photographer (joined 09-2010)

As a wee young lad, Michael grew up watching the usual Saturday morning animation line up. Eventually he expanded his animation repertoire with the introduction to Japanese Animation. From there Michael gradually immersed his fandom in the world of Animation, Sci-Fi, Toys, Movies, Technology, and all other things he enjoys that are Geek and Otaku related.

Mike Amos

Snow White
Read my Wondercon write ups at http://t.co/4Qs2S7USdM. I’ve uploaded cosplay photos at… http://t.co/q840dukwKm – 1 hour ago

Mike Amos