A hazardous introduction

Feeling somewhat comfortable working with flashguns during these past few years 2015 will mark a new beginning when heading into ambient territory and trying to get a better understanding working with continuous lighting.

To kick things off we’ll venture down the path of exploring fire, an element that resembles water in terms of being unreliable when in motion with the difference in that fire emits light, light we’ll try to control in the shooting ahead. For our subject we’ll use Good Smile Company’s Tsukihi Araragi, a 1/8 scale figure released back in April last year that sadly went unboxed for the longest time only to be exposed to flames once released. Kindness is clearly a forte of mine.

Ever since pre-ordering this figure I had the basic concept of celebration in mind with the character sporting a traditional yukata. Unsure of how to pursue that concept the idea was put on hold until roughly a year after receiving the figure.

Trial by fire

We’ll start by placing our subject on a dark surface in order to eliminate as much light as possible from being reflected. One flashgun, acting as our key light, is placed directly to the left of the figure ensuring that our subject is adequately lit. One could add a reflector on the right side to rid of some of the heavy shadows but in this case we’ll leave them as be. Rim (back) light on the other hand is desired and this is where we’ll utilize our ambient light.

Playing with matches

To give an illusion of a sky filled with fireworks going off we’ll make use of a few sparklers and distance ourselves about 2 meters / 6.5 foot from the subject. In my case when working with a macro lens changing the aperture value will barely change the depth of field so I have to make sure that the physical distance between subject and sparklers is sufficient.

Trial by fire

One of the first few test shots reveal several issues with the current setup.

  • The surface material, while dark, is shiny enough to reflect the majority of light coming from the sparklers.
  • Having the room lit up by the sparklers is not wanted.
  • With the white stand removed the figure manages to tilt the entire climbing frame.
  • There’s too much light coming from the flashgun effectively overexposing several areas of the figure.
Trial by fire
  • Replacing the current surface material with something matte minimizes reflections.
  • Cutting exposure time by around half results in a more controlled scene.
  • Rotating the image during post-processing seems a wise choice to deal with our leaning subject.
  • Slightly reducing flash power gives a more satisfying exposure.

The rim light is still not anywhere near where I intended it to be and further tweaks will have to be made in order to get a decent result.

Challenging Fibonacci

There’s plenty of uses for sparklers, one of them being to paint light patterns while using a longer exposure. For instance, one could go for something abstract (as seen in the presentation shot of this post) or perhaps a shape or even some text. Because of its size the latter was out of the question so I went with a circular pattern surrounding the figure.

With that said this also poses a bigger concern when it comes to scaling in where our ambient light can overpower the subject completely.

Trial by fire

Nothing to see here. Literally. There’s plenty to learn however, especially when it comes to the appearance of the sparks. The faster you move your sparklers the cleaner and sharper your sparks will appear, going slower will result in a trailing blur. For this particular shot I had to rotate the sparkler as fast as I could during the two second exposure. As shown above that was far from being quick enough.

Trial by fire

Increasing the exposure time and reducing ISO regained some control of the light being cast all over the shot. Getting a decent outcome would take quite some trial and error which is one aspect of photography I enjoy the most.

Trial by fire

It’s been a while since I had this much fun with figure photography, exploring an element I’ve had very limited experience with. Sparklers are a gentle introduction to fire and will encourage you to experiment while still being reasonable safe (they will still trigger a fire alarm). Next time, lighter fluid.

Finalized images


Trial by fire

I’m fond of the contrast in this picture showing something joyous in dressing up for festivities yet the character has a troubled look on her face. The rim light, while very subtle, does highlight areas of interest such as the figure’s back, backside and mask. In the end I decided against showing the bottom portion of the climbing frame as I felt it drawing unnecessary attention from the viewer.

“Fire spiral”

Trial by fire

This image was the most fun to create even though it’s more chaotic than well-composed. It felt imperative to have the figure’s face as the main focus despite the ambient light being very close to overpowering the subject.

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