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Photography: Houzouin InshunPhotography: Houzouin Inshun

Hello everyone. I’m back with another article on one of my figure photography works – this time featuring Alter’s 1/8 scale Houzouin Inshun, one of the Dark Samurais from Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls. It’s been quite some time since my last photography article – back in January, because almost every photo I came up with after that isn’t as good, or they are products of simple work.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/Trio_zpsl56knby5.jpg
This Article is regarding the photography process of this photo of Houzouin Inshun: PICTURE #1310840

Inshun’s photography process is both challenging and unique on its own, yet follows my tradition on my previous couple of photos of Hyakka Ryouran characters – Yagyu Gisen and Naoe Kanetsugu, by replicating an outdoor environment completely indoors. Inshun is the 3rd girl from this series which I picked up because I liked the character design a lot, but Inshun is one heck of a beautiful figure, but she’s standing on one leg and full of delicate and fragile parts complicating my photography process further. I actually broke the extremely thin (only 1mm thick, seriously) connection peg of her pony tail, and superglue is the only option that could save the day.

As in above, Inshun is the 3rd fgure from the series to get a photography treatment from me, with all 3 done with the intention of simulating an outdoors environment. Of course from one over another my props and techniques have improved over time. Naoe’s photo is considered pretty average to me by now that I wish I could come up with new ideas to redo her photos.

Ideas and Concept

Okay, as usual, almost every single batch of my figure photos always had an origin, a source of inspiration – and they can come from any kind of sources or media. I have taken ideas from anime, console or PC games, Hollywood movies (as in the case of Inshun here) and even Music Videos (some of you whom follow my photos probably still remember my photo of Jougasaki Mika doing a Wrecking Ball parody).

The idea I used for Inshun here is actually a plan B. The plan A was to stick to the Japanese theme. Since she hops around rooftops of buildings a lot in the series (erm, like a Ninja instead of a Samurai), the original idea was to design and make a traditional Japanese roof, with a setting and sky indicating a typical hot day during spring or summer. I could just make a couple of detailed rooftops and bring it out to a nearby forest reserve park where there is a mini waterfall in the background.

http://www.daninjapan.com/1.23/kmd_roof.jpg

However, replicating a Japanese roof with all those pillars and roof tiles is a demanding task, and I couldn’t find any suitable art and craft materials in or near my hometown that allows me to make curved yet rigid structures. I have been experimenting with polymer self-curing clay but the results aren’t satisfying. It takes too long to set/harden, very hard to manually shape it into a consistent, defined shape and curvature without a template or a mold, and doesn’t produce enough details. The heat-setting type using microwave oven would send my electricity bills high as I needed to reproduce many clay parts (after all, it’s 1/8 scale here, not figma or nendo sizes). EVA foam was a good candidate for curved roof tiles but I was having difficulty gaining supply of that material. Another factor that made me consider a plan B was that I have done waterfall shots before, and I don’t need another one.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/gi-joe-retaliation-clip_zpszli54clk.jpg

So, the plan B went by the keyword of “Ninja”. I just mentioned she was like a ninja. The first thing that came into my mind wasn’t plenty of trees to jump around, but what I saw in Hollywood movies – because I want a sense of dynamics or action in my photos, an interaction between the subject and its environment. Soon, this very scene from G.I.Joe above became the main reference of what I want to replicate in my photo of Inshun. Since she jumps around a lot a mountainous terrain is ideal.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/man_of_steel_by_visuasys-d6431v4_zpsluffydlm.jpg

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/avengers-age-of-ultron-alternate_zpsi2wzaoek.jpg

Up next was planning the composition, as well as how I want my photos to look like in terms of colors. I made multiple renders of the figure on photoshop in order to decide, and a hot spring/summer setting actually works but that kind of setting was already used on Yagyu Gisen; I wanted something unique, something I haven’t done yet. I turned to Hollywood movie posters again to source for ideas and the posters of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Man of Steel became the reference for color selection. This poster right here, Superman and Captain America have a color scheme close to Inshun (Predominantly blue and red, with some black/dark and white parts), and if he looks good in a poster with a bluish/cold looking background that is cloudy, then the same applies to Inshun. So, from a regular mountainous terrain, the final decision is now a setting of “end of winter” when snow-covered mountains are beginning to melt.

http://l.rgbimg.com/cache1twwzH/users/c/co/columbine/600/nOcBp6M.jpg

Building the Props

So, the mountainous terrains were time-consuming work – especially the sculpting and painting process, but I was already working on them a few weeks before the figure was released. It all began with gluing almost 1-inch thick pieces of Styrofoam together side by side and reinforced with nails inside, followed by shaving away all the angles and the surfaces of the Styrofoam blocks with penknives until I get the shape I want. I used photos of rocky mountains online as guides on how to shape my Styrofoam blocks. All cuts and gashes made on the surface have to be almost parallel to each other except the edges and corners.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/R20150603_182119_zpsztemutdo.jpg

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/R20150603_185144_zps5nao685w.jpg

After that, I hand painted the first undercoat layer in dark brown, with acrylic paint, to prevent melting and corrosion of the Styrofoam (that will happen if spray can paints are used), because I want to maintain the shape of my sculpting instead of melting it into an irregular form. It’s only follow up weathering shades that are being lightly sprayed with spray can paints, using grey and another 2 different shades of brown.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/R20150604_171505_zpsc0zqhjmt.jpg

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/R20150604_171641_zpsdr5gqkj7.jpg

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/R20150604_172033_zpsaezivdxs.jpg

Lastly, when all paint jobs are done, plaster of paris (POP) is mixed into varying consistencies (one bowl was very liquefied, the other bowl is more mud-like). The liquefied one was first used, poured from the top end and allowed to flow freely down guided by the grooves and sculpts I made. Then a second layer muddy in consistency is added over areas that “makes sense” – areas that snow can accumulate because it is not that steep. The POP will set and harden in an hour or less. The drier the mix the faster it sets.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/R20150619_122504_zpsjgabk2pm.jpg

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/R20150619_122718_zps8u2kqlhf.jpg

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/R20150604_175906_zpsshhmkkmh.jpg

“Composing” my Diorama

I always compose my photos first before I take the actual shots, so that I know (roughly) how my photos will look like. In an initial render of mine here using official photos of Inshun, a flat type background wasn’t appealing. It looked weird when Inshun had a dynamic pose.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/renderinshun_zpsp7fbxusj.jpg

So I had to follow almost exactly the screenshot of G.I.Joe earlier – the wall must be slanting from one side, gradually backwards creating depth of field in the process, instead of being placed as a single flat sheet behind. In short, instead of a flat-type background, I need a DOF-type background.

There are 4 main types of backgrounds in my book. Abstract, Flat, Depth of Field (DOF), and Landscape – with these 4 types have both outdoor and indoor types.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/10418414_659509280827805_7543073194799175720_n_zpsjwmoglow.jpg

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/11110170_659509320827801_7991477570867062456_n_zps8e5wzfkf.jpg

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/11149354_659509324161134_1237139163086082279_n_zpsgrnqppdi.jpg

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/11149725_659509360827797_6821635866484035669_o_zpsigve89xf.jpg

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/17291_659509354161131_8642576964729319914_n_zpspqdnp796.jpg

Outdoors

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/10639664_659509447494455_8458316299000893981_n_zpsq0haygrk.jpg

These infographics above describes the 4 types of backgrounds. Abstract means very blurred backgrounds, sometimes creating artistic effects in the process (the best example is lots of bokeh) while Landscape is the opposite – background is clear together with the figure/main subject due to narrow aperture; Flat is, well, a flat piece of background like a textured wall with windows; DOF backgrounds has an obvious linear depth, transitioning from well focused to out of focus areas. DOF is my favorite backdrop which creates a sense of action or interaction, but it’s also the hardest to make.

Here's the DOF background setup for Houzouin Inshun:

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/SETUP_A_Inshun_zpst2ntz7jy.jpg

Lighting up The Skies

The skies you are seeing here are completely genuine, including the sunlight. What I did, was to use a large sheet of white colored card (barely big enough though) and glued cotton wool all over a limited horizontal area. A round hole is then cut on one corner (with cotton wool surrounding it, in a horizontal parallel manner) . The hole is covered with a single layer of white-beige sheet of crepe paper (a very mild/thin layer of diffuser) from behind, while it is surrounded with blue crepe paper at the front.

I used 2 lamps to light up the sky – one for the sky itself from the top (table lamp wrapped with blue crepe paper) and one for the sunlight behind the hole cut.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/Skylightup_zpslimkjrkm.jpg

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/RDSC_2499_zps0pemjmlz.jpg

You can see a horizon of mountains lower down, as if there are mountains further away, because I placed another layer of irregularly-cut sheet of white card behind, which created the shadows. Lights always produces varying degrees of shadows, and manipulating these shadows in varying shades can create false impressions of depth and shape, when the reality is that the background is a flat piece. The varying shadows of the clouds in the sky, and the horizon created by just shadows, are responsible for creating a forced perspective in my photos of Inshun when combined with my Depth-of-Field type backgrounds. So, here’s how the overall setup looks like.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/DSC_2494cR_zpstqykxe33.jpg

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/DSC_2465cR_zpsd56jeuk8.jpg


Photography Process: Lighting Distribution and Setup


A total of 3 lights and a reflector is used, with some additions that limit the distribution of the key light. The key light with a diffuser lighting up the figure must not be too bright because sunlight is in the background. There are no other sources of light (including camera flashes) that are brighter than sunlight, so, the main light must not be too strong or the photo will look very unnatural. When imitating an outdoors environment indoors, the rules of lighting are the opposite of what you normally do for portrait or normal shoots – the background must (slightly) brighter than the subject instead of the other way round.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/SETUP_Inshun_zpsexhujsgd.jpg

The Styrofoam sheet surrounding the key light restricts the light’s distribution on only the figure, to avoid brightening up the ground she is standing on. A mirror is placed on the other side facing the key light to reflect the key light onto the darker side of the figure. Placing the mirror at a wrong angle will reflect the blue lights of the skies onto the figure so care is taken during the adjustment of the placement of the mirror.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/20150620_233451_zps0jx1sc08.jpg

The figure stands on another piece of Styrofoam behind the ground piece, which has a groove for her foot to slip it, and the figure is balanced by having her scarf leaning on the irregular ground structures. A balancing act.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/398/18385026873_88b358025d_z.jpg

Nikon D5200, Sigma F1.4 50mm EX DG
The settings used was: f/5, ISO100, 1/3 sec, Fluorescent WB, Spot metering.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/520/18385024543_925bfa05ee_k.jpg

Post Processing

The left one is a straight out of camera shot and the right one is after photoshop enhancement.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/compare_zps9q9lgsex.jpg

I shot with the white balance “Fluorescent” as all other settings including auto would erase a big amount of blue shade I intentionally set up to give an impression of a cold environment (which matches well with the scarf Inshun has over her neck). And then when the photo goes into post processing I reduced the blue in absolute RGB by only 5-10% (I still want the blue shades), and increasing the warm shift by ~20%, which will make Inshun’s skin tones a bit warmer and accurate to how the original figure looked like, without influencing the background’s still-bluish shades too much. After that it’s all exposure, luminosity, vibrance, contrast and gamma tweaks to get the final result you are seeing. Since the "sunlight" was directly flaring into the camera, the loss of contrast and saturation is expected in the straight-out-of-camera shot since i didn't want to use a CPL/Polarizing filter indoors.

So, that’s all for the insights into the photography process of this figure. I have an upcoming photography project after this one sometime in July, which is even bigger and badder in terms of the scale. Thank you for reading. =)
7,007 hits • 15 comments

Comments15

0pt
materix01 Lv. 10 Dictator
As a dentist and gunpla collector as well, I'm always very fascinated with the attention to detail you have for your dioramas when photographing. About to get married next year and so much to do leaving me less time for my hobbies, especially gunpla.

Is that a mixing spatula and bowl I see? I remember being tempted to pour some cast of a zaku head at the dental tech labs back in dental school. Maybe even some wax ups :P
1 year ago
0pt
Awesome, informative article! I can't wait for your July photos :-).
2 years ago
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Kirenisa I am a collector!
Wow.. I wish I had that sort of creativity that's amazing ^^!
2 years ago
0pt
DanteMagica (2 years ago) #3090379I bow my head to you!! I can't believe the hard work that went into your photo. As a fellow artist, I comment you and respect your work and process, I also love to make all my props for my display and I wish I could show you this Homura Akemi display that I've been working on and it want your opinion on how to take the actual photo and what I can do to make it better in your opinion, with composition in mind. View spoilerHide spoilerhttp://s1.tsuki-board.net/image/thumbnails/DanteMagica1434176362.jpeg
http://s1.tsuki-board.net/image/thumbnails/DanteMagica1434176356.jpeg
http://s1.tsuki-board.net/image/thumbnails/DanteMagica1434034849.jpeg


I looked through your photos, and personally, I think that if you could find a way to avoid blue and red lamps or LEDs illuminating the figure it would be much better. Have a normal white lamp, diffused, covering the figure, and keep your colored lights for the surroundings and the background. Find a way to achieve it.
For my case here on Inshun, the blue light for the sky will land on the figure if i place it too close to the figure, which is why i came up with a Depth-of-Field type background, and the mirror i placed on the far left to reflect the main light must not be placed at the wrong angle.

I like blocking the pathways of lights to limit their areas of coverage, but how do you do it is up to your creativity. This one here is taken from my FB page from Saber Alter's album (but the photo's aren't good enough to me). You can see, how i added a small piece of cardboard mounted on a mini tripod to block the path of the violet light from hitting Saber's face, but maintaining their coverage on other parts of the figure. It does have a side effect of making a photo darker so you'll have to find ways to improvise. That was an old photo so it wasn't as good as my newer ones.

http://i1029.photobucket.com/albums/y352/EXkuroganeII/1774_481633718615363_29248580_n_zpsemh3buny.jpg
2 years ago
0pt
Retro8bit Old School Gamer
Dang man, I mean WOW!!! Kudos to you my friend, you really have a passion for this hobby. :)
2 years ago
0pt
I bow my head to you!! I can't believe the hard work that went into your photo. As a fellow artist, I comment you and respect your work and process, I also love to make all my props for my display and I wish I could show you this Homura Akemi display that I've been working on and it want your opinion on how to take the actual photo and what I can do to make it better in your opinion, with composition in mind. http://s1.tsuki-board.net/image/thumbnails/DanteMagica1434176362.jpeg
http://s1.tsuki-board.net/image/thumbnails/DanteMagica1434176356.jpeg
http://s1.tsuki-board.net/image/thumbnails/DanteMagica1434034849.jpeg
2 years ago
0pt
alhaibara (2 years ago) #3090336Interested article to read there, especially on lighting & backdrop setup.
But I'm more interested on process on making the terrain. Is that the acrylic powder to use for denture just now, lol. You really good in manipulating stuff you can find. (My father work as a dentist, maybe I should take some of them for my own use. Hope he didn't mind *grins* )


Ermm... I am a dentist as well hahah, final year student. To be precise that is plaster of paris (POP), the less rigid type of dental stone and also used in making cast models for fabrication of dentures. It is also used in construction and making of plaster-type celings so u can find them in hardware or material stores. The rubber bowl and mixing spatula are indeed tools of dental origin lol.
2 years ago
0pt
Interested article to read there, especially on lighting & backdrop setup.

But I'm more interested on process on making the terrain. Is that the acrylic powder to use for denture just now, lol. You really good in manipulating stuff you can find. (My father work as a dentist, maybe I should take some of them for my own use. Hope he didn't mind *grins* )
2 years ago
0pt
Great article :) Thanks for sharing!
2 years ago
0pt
Love reading your articles, they are so in depth and interesting and I just love seeing the whole process done I really wanna learn about all this, I swear I'll do it one day. Look forward to the next one.
2 years ago
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