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The Fun of Experimenting

The Fun of Experimenting

Some Background

One thing I don’t really post about here on the MTA website is how I tend to a lot of photo experimenting at home. A good chunk of tends to be around light painting as I have a habit of finding random light up toys and being all “Oooohhh, I wonder what this could do.” But I also like to try out things with different backgrounds and lighting setups. Things like throwing shaped and colored light onto a background, high key backgrounds, overpowered backlighting, etc. Some of this I’ve been able to work on at home but really space is limited. And when you’re working with lighting having more space helps a lot.

Tacocat mentioned something a while back about a contest on a Sailor Moon Facebook page where they wanted people to submit cosplay pics. Now we’ve shot Sailor Moon before but for this contest they needed more recent content. As far as official art is concerned we’ve already shot Eternal Sailor Moon, Sailor Galaxia, and Super Sailor Venus. But there was one character we hadn’t covered yet: Eternal Chibi Moon. Tacocat only had convention shots of that costume… so why not do that?

We were trying to figure out how to present things in a different way compared to how we’ve done Sailor Moon before. And I got to thinking… what if we used this opportunity to do some experimenting in the studio? It was a bit of a gamble that we could get anything usable, let alone anything that could win a contest.

But as you all know we’re quite dumb.

Equipment/Venue Choices

With some of the ideas I wanted to try out I knew I needed something more powerful than either my Godox AD200s and TT350Fs. There is the AD400 and AD600... but at the time both of those were out of our budget. Thankfully since where I’d explore a lot of these ideas would be in a studio setting I didn’t need battery power, TTL, or high-speed sync. Godox had something that fit this use case perfectly: the QS400II. Really fast recycle times, attaches to the Godox X transmitter system, had built in Bowens and umbrella mounts… oh yeah, this would work well.

Since we were going to be throwing a lot of light around we knew we needed a space that tended to be dark. So we booked some time at one of our favorite places: Soundcheck Austin.

Background Lighting


One bit I’ve been considering a lot lately has been around background separation. I’ve done some bits with hair and edge lights but I knew more could be done. With the QS400II, a seven-inch Bowens reflector, and some Rosco gels we were set up to throw some interesting lights onto the background. That worked pretty well.

High Key Backgrounds


I had seen some videos where photographers did some interesting things with high key lighting. This would either involve blasting a lot of light at background paper or even sometimes setting up a large light source behind the subject. One bit I had seen where someone pretty much just hung up a bed sheet and put a light behind it. I did some testing at home with a shower curtain and some of the basics were certainly there. But I wasn’t thrilled with how it diffused light. I knew I wanted something that could be a bit ‘smoother’ about it.


Two hours before this shoot I went to WalMart and bought a king size bed sheet. Since it was folded I knew I should get something to smooth the wrinkles out. But neither WalMart or the HEB I went to had wrinkle remover spray. Nor could I quickly get access to a steamer. With this being an experiment I was like ‘fuck it’.

The overall idea certainly worked. If anything I’d like to figure out how to tone down the ‘severe gradient’ effect since the QS400II pops so much power in the middle. Some more thought will have to go into that.

A $10 Shower Curtain

A while back I was trying to figure out items that could work well for background with an eye towards high key backgrounds. At random I found this shower curtain at Target that had this neat holographic/diamond effect. And I was all “Oh, that’s something” and grabbed it.

When I did some testing at home and posted photos some of my friends were like “Is this eSports?” Which was amusing.

With my testing at home I used the 35mm f/2 (shot at f/4) at a distance of eight feet. The effect worked pretty well.


But with the 50mm f/2 at f/4 on the close-up shots it gave a nice bokeh effect. Really the only thing that got in the way was the wrinkles in the curtain. Not sure how to fix that. Though we will have to start looking for interesting translucent textured vinyl for things like this.

Overpowered Backlighting


A while back I watched a video from Joe Edelman where he ended up using a lighting setup mistake to create some neat images. When one of his lights was facing a white background but ended up at full power the result was that there was a lot of light blasted back behind his model. But it also started to give off this neat highlighting effect. He played with that some more and came up with some cool ideas.

While we did not have any white seamless paper to fully recreate the effect I wanted to see what could be done if we over exposed the backlight on Tacocat. I kind of suspected we would get something usable… just needed to play with settings and see what the results were. And we ended up with something completely unexpected.


Somehow we started getting this round ‘halo’ lighting effect on the back wall. When Tacocat and I saw that pop up on the tethering laptop we were like “HOLY SHIT THAT’S COOL!” So we kept working with it even though we had no idea how we did that. At first I thought it was because light was reflecting off of the costume but it kept the circular shape regardless of the pose. The only time we lost the effect was when I changed out the colored gel that I had in front of the reflector. If I had to guess it had something to do with how the gel was attached in relation to the reflector and because of that the gel was reflecting just enough light back since it was bigger and had space off to the sides. I’m not 100% on this so I’ll need to do more testing to see if I was correct. If so that could be another lighting trick to use.

Final Thoughts

There were a few other things we wanted to try but we ran out of studio time. Though going through this exercise did show me that we should be doing this every so often. It’s one thing to try stuff at home but going to the studio and having someone else in front of the camera helps to pay more attention to the setups and results.

We did learn quite a bit from this session and recognized areas of further study. And got some good photos out of it to boot. So overall it was worthwhile to do this.

Now if we can just locate transparent textured vinyl bigger than a shower curtain.

Weaving Together The Threads Of History

Weaving Together The Threads Of History

Make Them Awesome: Year One