Essays / s /


So a couple of weeks ago, I did a cosplay shoot. Yes, I've done a couple before, but this is probably the first time I've felt like I really hit the mark. Especially with the Little Sister (Bioshock) cosplay.

Firstly we did some Doctor Who cosplay. Matt Smith did a photo shoot a while back on seamless white, what an easy one to replicate.  Not just a replication though, we decided to play with it a bit and have a couple of shadows (The Vashta Nerada).  Lighting wise it's pretty basic, a beauty dish up front (two on either side for the ones with two shadows).

Next we did a bit of Link (Legend of Zelda).  This one was a little tricky as it was late in the day and the sun just disappeared way too quickly.  Damn you winter!!! *shakes fist* 

Basically the trick was balancing the ambient light to the strobes (in this case a 70cm Phottix Luna beauty dish).  To make this look like daylight (due to not being able to get the shutter duration quick enough to hand hold) a lot of work was done in Lightroom.  Firstly it was warmed up considerably, brightened the shadows a whole lot, then some graduated filters for brightening selective parts of the image.  Some got there, some not so much.

Finally the Little Sister (Bioshock).  I've shot in this location MANY times, so I knew the spot I wanted to shoot in.  Being nighttime, it was very dark and creepy too.  Lighting wise, I had it set out in my head that I wanted a spotlight effect with really harsh shadows to make it even more creepy.  

Turned out this worked perfectly as it hid the graffiti in the background which wouldn't work for a location such as "Rapture". 

So for the spotlight effect, I knew I needed a grid on my light and for it to be hard (sharp shadows), I needed a small light source.  So in the end, an 18cm reflector with a grid shot from up high.  Due to it being so dark, I had to put my Nikon SB-600 on my camera for its focus assist beam (unfortunately the D3 doesn't have one built in), so I also used that for triggering by setting my Quadra pack on slave mode and pointing the SB-600 flash head towards it as best as possible (set on manual and on the minimum setting as not to affect the shot itself).  A few mis-fires, but overall it worked pretty well.

Photoshop wise, these required a bit of work for the eyes.  I used the smudge tool to push the whites of the eyes over the iris and get a bit of rough shape to them in those areas, from there a Hue/Saturation layer masked to the eyes, and with a yellow colour.  Then layer styles for inner and outer glows.  From there Colour Efex was used to get the Tonal Contrast to make everything look really "gritty".  Finally a vignette was added to enhance the existing spotlight effect.

I'd like to thank the lovely Chaos Elixir for her modelling and outfit creation skills, and as always my lovely wife Stacey D Makeup Artistry for her skills in makeup.

Photoshoots on the cheap - feat. Samii La' Morte

I often see on the internet other photographers complaining about a lack of gear (and money to buy the gear) to get the results they want. To be honest, this is absolute crap. You don't need a lot of money at all, and yes, while expensive gear lets you overcome some limitations (such as shooting in the middle of the day on a sunny beach), with a bit of creativity, you can come up with some amazing results.

For starters, you will need a DSLR. Beyond that, I'd suggest getting a 50mm f/1.8 lens for it.  That wide aperture (remember lower numbers are wider apertures) will open up a world of possibilities, and a 50mm lens is nice and cheap.  Add to that a nice large folding reflector (look on ebay, something larger than 1m in size) and you've got enough to create one of my favourite photos of Samii La' Morte from this year (admittedly this wasn't the 50mm lens, but you would get a similar effect with one).

Samii on the boardwalk122mm (full frame) - 1/400sec - f/4 - ISO200

That photo was taken at sunset on a summer's afternoon with Samii's husband holding the reflector off to the left.

Ok, so that'll all well and good when nature is playing well with you, what about when it's horrible weather?  Well, from there, you'll need artificial lighting and a nice indoor location.  Lighting doesn't need to be expensive, a couple of cheap Yongnuo flashes (I use the YN-460II as they're nice and small) from ebay, some triggers (once again Yongnuo make decent-for-the-price ones, although I've move on from these myself), a couple of stands (I grabbed mine from Image Melbourne, but once again, ebay has some amazingly priced ones), umbrella holders (I use Phottix ones) and umbrellas (once again, Image Melbourne for me).  You're looking at around $200 for a setup with two flashes and umbrellas for this.  Yeah, not super cheap, but definitely within the price range of pretty much any photographer.

The following photo was done with a very similar setup (only difference was a Nikon SB-600 on the left rather than a YN-460II, but at the end of the day, they're pretty much the same light output).

Samii Boudoir50mm (full frame) - 1/200sec - f/2.2 - ISO200

I had some cheap gels (essentially coloured plastic) covering the flashes to warm the image, but at the end of the day, these were unnecessary as I could have just tweaked the white balance of the image in camera.  This setup was two lights, one to the left of the bed, and one to the right (and slightly behind the model).  The left one stop (twice the power) brighter than the right.  Shot at a very wide open aperture (f/2.2) on a 50mm lens to blur the background nicely.  This could be shot in pretty much any bedroom that you can fit the stands in.

Other cheap accessories that you can look at are pieces of material from craft shops (eg. Lincraft or Spotlight here near me in Melbourne), cheap curtains (similar places), cheap bed sheets (the photo above was shot on a $10 set of sheets I provided), etc.  If you can afford $100, plus stands (about another $100), white seamless paper is amazing (I get mine from Image Melbourne) as you can light it to go pure white, or you can leave the background light off for grey (move the model and lights back and forth to adjust the intensity of the grey) and with enough space, you can even make the white drop to pure black (I'll do a technical post on the inverse square law in a future blog post).

So when looking for gear I have a few favourite sources.  If I need it quickly, I'll head to Image Melbourne as I can just pick up whatever I need and have it that day.  Ebay is always another good option if I'm happy to wait a few weeks on delivery.  Finally if I'm after something that I know the quality of (yes, it's pretty good) and they have what I'm after, I'll head to Phottix (I have been using their gear for years, haven't had any issues and their customer service is amazing).

What about editing the photos I hear you ask?  Well at the time of writing, you can pick up Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom for $10 per month from the official site.  At that price, there's no reason to go without, or even think about pirating it.  Yes, it takes a long time to learn Photoshop, but even just starting in Lightroom and playing with the sliders, you can do quite a number of edits that will clean up your images and make them pop.

So next time you see someone complaining about a lack of gear, keep in mind that in reality they're complaining about a lack of creativity to work with what they have.

Model Photography Part 5 - Boudoir

Boudoir. After starting with glamour, this seemed an obvious place to go as it can be quite similar in many ways. For me, where glamour has quite a sexual nature about it, boudoir is a lot more sensual and intimate.  Many people consider boudoir to be a lot more artful than glamour, but I disagree. I think both are quite different and can be done artfully or tastelessly (I actually thing the same about pornography, which I don't shoot myself, but it doesn't have to be totally tasteless even when explicit.  I'm at odds with a lot of photographers on that one!).

Outfit wise, you're looking at very similar to your typical indoor glamour shoot.  ie. lingerie or less.  What really separates the two is the shooting style.

When it comes to glamour, it's all about seeing everything, so deep depth of field (small aperture/high aperture number), full body length (or at least 1/2 length), etc.  Whereas boudoir is the opposite.  You want to hide parts of your model with either blur (shallow depth of field) or behind sheets, cropping, etc.  Typically with boudoir you'll be photographing from a fairly low down angle giving your viewer a bit of a "in bed with the model" type feel to it.  You don't necessarily have to focus or include the face too, there's nothing wrong with a nice bottom being your point of focus showing off the lovely patterns and shapes of the lingerie or body.  Don't forget props can be of use too, things like sheets, teddy bears, etc.

Alternatively, boudoir doesn't necessarily be shot in the bedroom.  A couch can be a great location, or anywhere soft and sensual.  Many boudoir photographers often put a couch out amongst the trees outside for a bit of an unusual look.

One advantage of boudoir is that it can be done quite cheaply in the way of gear.  Lighting wise, natural window light can be amazing during the day, but even if you're lacking that, speedlights (say a cheap Chinese branded flash or two), umbrellas (I prefer the shoot through style) and stands are more than enough.  Camera wise, all you need is a basic DSLR (even a bottom end one) and a cheap prime lens (35mm or 50mm f/1.8 are a fantastic choice).  I'll go more into this in a future post as I did a shoot like this recently, deliberately shooting it with fairly cheap gear.

Once again, you're in a very intimate setting with your model, so maintain that respect of your models space, respect of the model themselves, and your attitude towards the shoot (many photographers can forget this).

Model Photography Part 4 - Glamour

Glamour is such a hard style to define. So when I say glamour, think Mens Magazine style. Glamour can be an all encompassing term however, so be careful of the context used.  This guide is very feminine poses, so won't work with your typical male model.

When shooting glamour, the first thing to keep in your mind is sexy.  The case of glamour is you're "selling" the model.  There's a photographer saying - Fashion sells the bra, glamour sells what's in the bra.

So while keeping sexy in your mind, you need to go for what defines that.  For starters, you want a relaxed model (see the previous post).  A model that is tense is never sexy.  From there, you're looking for curves.  Not necessarily in the model's body shape, but in the way your model poses.  Try to avoid every straight line you can.

Expression is a large part too.  Some people love the bedroom eyes, some love a nice smile.  I like a bit of both, so I'll shoot both.  It also really depends on the model as to which looks better.  Some people just really can't give a genuine smile in front of a camera.  Also be VERY careful of the biting the lip or finger look.  Yes, in person (or on video) it can be extremely sexy, in a still image, it's a VERY difficult look to pull off without it looking strange or stupid.

For a basic standing pose, think arched back, butt out, point toes.  Bring one knee across the other to give that nice womanly shape (often called a basic "S" pose).  Arms can cross over the front lifting breasts to give some nice cleavage.  Heels are always good even if not shooting full length as they stretch the legs and lift the bum.

The model lying on her back can also work extremely well in a bedroom shoot.  It's quite a flattering pose for the larger model if you get your camera down low enough (you almost want your viewer to feel like they're in bed with the model, or right next to the bed).  Lay their hair out behind them possibly with it hanging over the edge of the bed.  The trick with this one is for them not to wrinkle their forehead when looking across at the camera (so definitely watch out for this one).  Turning their head to the side can often help with this.

Kneeling shots can also be very good too, if the model is facing towards you, the thing to remember is you want to see a glimpse of the edges of their feet so that your model doesn't look amputated.  If they have their bottom on their heels, make sure it's not fully rested there and they lift it up a little so they're not squashing and pushing out the side of their bums (this can be very stressful on their leg muscles so shoot this quickly and give them a rest).

Other ideas can be crawling on the bed (make sure you don't have their feet in a perfect line, split them a bit), back towards the camera head over their shoulder for a nice bum shot, lying sideways towards the camera with a very arched back, and I'm sure you can come up with many more.  Looking through mens magazines can be a great source of posing ideas (seriously honey, I'm buying it for research!), and to see what poses are popular at the time.

Things you want to avoid are unflattering poses (obviously), so things like a hunched back, wrinkles along the side above the hips (this can easily happen even with the skinniest model, get them to stretch that side out to avoid it) and a pushed out stomach are all quite unflattering.

It can often help to ask your model what they consider their best feature and making sure you include that in your shots.  For example, some models LOVE their bums and others hate it.

Remember to keep it classy, and maintain your respect of the model.  Yes your model may be writhing around in front of you in lingerie, bikini, or even less, but you're doing a job, don't become a creepy story.  Have fun with the shoot, experiment (pixels are free) and hopefully you'll come out with some amazing images.

Model Photography Part 3 - Working with models

Your very first photo shoot with a model can be quite intimidating. The thing to remember, when it's their first shoot it's exactly the same, everybody has to start somewhere.  The biggest thing to remember however is RESPECT.  The industry itself is not very large (especially here in Melbourne) and word gets around very quickly as to who is decent and who is dodgy.

Now in my opinion, a photographer should rarely touch a model and NEVER without the model's consent (even just a quick "do you mind?").  The only time I do, is when a model is struggling to fix their hair, or tuck in a tag.  Never for posing.  Now I know a lot of photographers will disagree with this, even some quite famous ones, but you should be able to demonstrate and vocalise any position you want the model to move into.

When talking to your models, remember once again, RESPECT.  You're not there to ask a model on a date, you're there doing a job.  However, you also want your model to relax, so keep things light hearted (even just making small talk if you can't think of anything else) and happy.  This will show though in your photos.  As you work with each model more, you'll get more of a feeling of how you work together, so you'll be able to vocalise your poses more, and depending on the model, with less please and thanks (although, always remember your manners).

Remember to keep talking throughout the shoot.  A lot of photographers will say "beautiful", "great", etc after each shot.  Personally I find that to be a bit fake.  What I tend to do is just chat generally while shooting, and then if I see something in particular that stands out through the viewfinder, then I'll praise it after the shot is taken.  There's nothing worse than a photographer that doesn't talk.  I often hear from models about other photographers, "oh, that photographer comes up with great shots, but the silence is really awkward".  Also make sure that throughout the shoot, you show your model some pics on the back of the camera, this will help them see what you're going for, and to fix any little things you may have missed.

If you are having trouble getting the model to relax, you can try a few things.  One that I have found that works well is props.  Give your subject something to play with in their hands, a hat to play with something to pose against, etc.  Music can also work well too, letting your model dance along and just snapping away getting something along the lines of what you're after.  You can try clearing the room of all assistants/bystanders and see if that helps.  Or get some in so it's not just the two of you.  Just try everything you can think of.  An awkward model will mean the number of good photos from a shoot will drop significantly.

Another thing to remember is that even though you may have discussed a concept before the shoot and the model has agreed, when it actually comes time to shoot it, your model may not actually be comfortable with it (this can often happen when shooting art nudes where a model has never done it before).  Just pay attention to their expressions, and emotions to see if they start becoming withdrawn.  If this happens, forget your idea and move on (possibly coming back to it later in the shoot or rescheduling).  Never push a model into doing something they are uncomfortable doing.  Always have some backup ideas in your head just in case.  Pretty much every model has a story of a photographer that tried to get them to do something they're not comfortable with.  Don't become one of those stories.

Finally, remember photo shoots are meant to be fun, so keep the whole shoot that way!

Model Photography Part 2 - Starting out

Now this is the path I followed to get to where I am, but feel free to ignore this and find your own way.

My biggest suggestion is paying to do a photography workshop. Yes, this is even before you buy anything beyond a camera, the experience you'll get out of this is invaluable, and will help you a lot more than gear ever will.

I did a few workshops with Dave Reid & Ed Hor, as well as Tony Ryan which gave me a pretty good base and understanding of my shots, as well as working with models (believe me, this part is extremely important, but more on that next week).  The other advantage of this is that it'll start your portfolio with a bang improving the models you'll be able to work with on your first solo shoots.

Once you have done some workshops, sign up to the various networking sites.  Model MayhemStar Now, etc.  Make yourself a Facebook page too (even if you don't use/hate Facebook), the majority of models are on there, and it's often a first point of contact.  Put up a casting call, but have a bit of an idea on where you want to start with your shoots.  In my case, beach bikini at sunset.  It doesn't have to be in depth, but have some example photos on hand that you can show any models that respond to your casting.  

Don't be disappointed if you get a response, then nothing further from the model, it happens, frequently, especially when first starting out.  It's not personal, and yes, it's difficult not to take it to heart, but don't start bad mouthing the models.  Even the ones that set a date/time and flake on the shoot.  It turns into a witch hunt and makes you look unprofessional and petty.  Nobody wins and word gets around quickly.

Next is gear.  Personally, I received a nice tax return before I started that let me go with a fairly high end Elinchrom Ranger RX system (started with a single flash head and a Octabox).  You don't have to start here though (and future posts will have doing this on a budget), but let me say, it's easier to learn and get great photos on good gear, once you get an eye for it, it's much easier to go back and get great results with cheap gear.  A very large softbox (in my case an Elinchrom 135cm Rotolux Octa) is the easiest way to get a decent photo, just point it in the general direction of the model, and snap away (obviously there's things like balancing ambient with strobe light when outdoors, but once again, that's a future post). However, if working indoors, small speedlights with an umbrella or indirect natural light (through a window) is also pretty easy to work with.

Whatever your gear, I suggest that shoot wise, keep it simple, keep it clothed (nude photography adds additional pressure and even for the photographer, can be quite intimidating the first few times), and suggest to the model that she/he has a friend there (even if they don't, it's a good sign that you're not going to be sleazy - there's nothing worse than a sleazy photographer, and pretty much every model has a story, don't become one).

Next week, I'll be writing about the shoot itself, and how to deal with your models.

Model Photography Part 1 - Preliminary Steps

Getting into the industry where you're photographing the most beautiful people in your area requires quite a number of steps. This is my guide, pretty much the journey I followed. It certainly isn't the only way, or even the "best" way (if there is such a thing).  This post is about where to start.  Now a lot of visitors here will know a lot of this, but trust me, this is stuff that needs to be gone through.  My next post will be actually starting in the industry itself.

Firstly I'm assuming you own (or are looking to buy) a DSLR or Mirrorless camera (ie. something with an interchangeable lens). Now yes, technically there have been photoshoots done with simpler cameras, but these, more often than not are a gimmick (eg. the various phone camera shoots).  Now, you don't need to go crazy here if you're actually looking to buy one.  Even a bottom end camera from the last five years will give amazing results.  Don't let anyone tell you that one brand is better than the other.  This ultimately comes down to personal preference and ergonomics.

The first step is learning your camera and the manual and semi-manual exposure modes.  If you learn these, all of a sudden, you already know more than quite a number of "professional" photographers (they like to think they are, but usually end up giving poor results and their "business" will shut down as quickly as it sprung up).  A full guide on is out of the scope of this, but there are plenty of sites out there that will help you learn the exposure triangle so you'll be able to nail your shots.

Personally, up until recently, I still used aperture priority (A on Nikon, Av on Canon) on some natural light shoots, but after having to deal with a number of shots where the exposure was all over the place (due to light and dark background, where even the various metering modes couldn't get it right), I'm now pretty much using manual for everything.  That way, if this exposure is slightly off, you can fix them in bulk in Lightroom/Camera RAW, etc.

Step two is learning basic composition practices.  Things like the rule of thirds, leading lines, framing, etc.  Once again, there's plenty of sites to teach this.  Yes, they're not really "rules" more guidelines, but once you learn and understand these and put them into practice, you'll be at the stage of being able to "break" them and understanding when and why.  A lot of artists break the "rules" and say it's part of their art, but in reality it's an excuse for not learning them in the first place.  These have been around forever, and refined over hundreds and thousands of years of art.  It's not specific to photography.

Step three is to go out and shoot.  You'll notice I haven't mentioned models in any of this.  It's all about the building blocks of an image.  So go do some research and put it all into practice.  The more you shoot, the better you get.  Landscapes, still life, macro, pets, etc.  It'll all help.  Once you get used to it, you'll look through the viewfinder and naturally start composing things in the frame without even realising.

Once you get home from taking photos, put them up on your monitor full screen, then critique them, point out (and possibly write down) what works and what doesn't.  It doesn't matter if the shot itself fails, the point is to know WHY it failed and how you could have made it work.  Myself, I have learned more from failed shoots than anything else.  From there, take your best shots, put them up anywhere you respect peoples opinion (ie. ignore the haters, only listen to those who actually have valuable information to give).  eg. various forums, Facebook groups, Flickr, etc. and ask for critique.  

Yes, you'll get a lot of people saying "great shot" and the like (especially friends and family), these aren't really that useful apart from boosting your ego.  Get used to critiques, yes, they may be harsh, and make your work feel like it's not worthwhile.  Just keep in mind they're not personal attacks, and ultimately will help you improve.  

Get used to critiquing others work also, but keep in mind, unless they ask for it, don't give it (also learn how to critique properly, don't just point out the negatives, point out the bits that work also).  Recently I have been watching a lot of YouTube videos giving portfolio critiques, I have found this reasonably useful in things for myself to watch out for.

Step Four (and the final for this post) is to make sure your work is constantly growing and evolving.  You always have something to learn, and no matter how good you think you are, there are areas you can improve.  I see a LOT of photographers stagnate thinking that their work is amazing (when in reality it's actually quite average) and even in some cases, start to go backwards in the quality of their work.  Stay down to earth and keep your ego in check too.  Nothing worse than a photographer that thinks they're better than everyone else.

Starting Fresh

Forgive me internet for I have sinned, it has been six months since I last blogged. Yes, this is really bad. I've never been 100% happy with the way it has been set up since I moved the site away from Wordpress to Koken (which I must say, while still in beta, it's going from strength to strength). The blog is still running on it, but it doesn't match, so I figured this was as good a time as any to leave that one behind (but it'll always be available at and start fresh, maybe with a slightly new direction.  We'll see how I go.

This new direction I'm planning is more of a "how to get started in the industry" style thing.  So I'll be writing on subjects such as where to find models, how to interact with them, cheap lighting & gear, tips & tricks, interviews and I'll probably throw the odd shoot write up in when it's something a bit non-standard.

I will attempt to write something here weekly, but no promises.  Feel free to yell at me if I start getting slack though!

On that note, I'll sign off for now, so keep an eye on this space!

- Sam