Field Tutorial: The Orbis And Shooting Firestar

At Comic Con, I was given the opportunity to photograph a lot of talented and wonderful people dressed in their cosplay garb. Jessica Caitlin Foley was one of the attendees that stood out the most. She hails from Virginia and dressed as the Marvel superhero Firestar. As per recent reader requests, this is the beginning for a new type of posting here at ThePhoblographer, detailing Field Tutorials and how the equipment is used in the field. My apologies beforehand for the lack of Strobist photos and diagrams but we will be more careful in the future to do those.

Gear Used

Canon EOS 7D

Orbis Ring Flash Attachment Kit

Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Wide Angle Lens

Location

For those of you that have been to the Javitz Center in New York City, you’ll probably know of the lower level with the small Starbucks stand with a line that never seems to end. Jessica was sitting down on the ground near her boyfriend just hanging out. Myself and Will Greenwald approached her and started a quick, friendly conversation. I loved her costume. As a kid I used to collect all the Fleer Ultra Marvel Comics cards and to this day I still have them in a box safely packed away.

Firestar’s card always stood out to me. And no one dressed as her at the Con. Coupled with her sweet, kind face and confident personality, I asked if I could shoot a couple of photos of her. She agreed.

Right behind the Starbucks stand, there is an area of large glass doors and an archway overhead outside This doesn’t allow in much light and can cast shadows when shooting. So I moved Jessica and her boyfriend, Morgan, to an area where these glass doors/windows were on my left  and the open area of the convention center with oogling fanboys and girls were on the right. Behind Jessica was this unique gray wall that you don’t really see anywhere else in the Javitz Center. Above her were some of the typical studio type lighting that one sees in convention centers but they were very high up and giving off a nice soft light.

I asked Will to block my right side off in case more people wanted to interrupt the quick shoot. Wedding photography has taught me that there are times where you need to ask everyone around you to stop taking pictures for around 30 seconds or so in order for me to do what is needed. A person’s flash from their point-and-shoot can mess with an entire lighting setup.

Morgan (who cosplayed as Iceman) held the Orbis and 430 EX II camera left: which as a reminder is where all the natural lighting was coming in. Why? Because there was a lot of convention light illuminating her left side.

Ideas

Jessica and I quickly started to come up with ideas for unique poses. Since she’s obviously a fan of the character, the important thing to remember is to get your subject into character. This is a psychological process that an actor does when they need to become someone else, like Christian Bale becoming Batman.

I asked her to give me a pose that Firestar is well known for on collectible cards and in photos. She immediately gave the pose in the opening image.

Afterward, we got a bit more playful with the body language, expressions and looks.

The Shoot

For the opening image in this story, her boyfriend once again was camera left and holding the 430 EX II with Orbis attached. After turning the infrared transmitter to face the flash, I positioned him and the Orbis to give off lighting that will spill onto her entire right side but still provide enough lighting to almost evenly light her. Then I asked Jessica to look right into the lens and smile the way she would at her boyfriend. For reference, the 7D was set to only trigger the off camera flash and not be part of the exposure.

Despite the hard shadow behind her, the resulting image looks wonderful.

Then I asked her to try another pose: hands on the knees, right leg out, look out into the convention center and bend forward a bit. At this point, I realized just how much the pose required a changing of lighting positioning. Below is the mistake I made.

Now most photographers would never ever publish mistakes that they’ve made, but this is a tutorial and needs to be totally honest. Here’s how I corrected it.

First off I needed to move back a bit. The reason for this is because the shoe details and the language in her feet really needed to be shown off in the photo. Additionally, her posture is just a bit different but enough to change the feel of the photo. Then the lighting needed to be readjusted to bathe Jessica in that wonderful Ring flash strobe. The result is the image below.

In this image, we get to see more in her eyes, the color of her red shoes, and the reds and golds pop quite a bit more. Very importantly, we also get some of the heart shaped necklace which is a really nice subtle touch to the entire photo.

At this point I’m going to once again say that Ring Flashes can be used very effectively like this to give off some really nice lighting off-camera. Sure, they are typically meant to be used around the lens but the most important thing is getting the shot.

At this point I asked her to start giving me another pose. I asked her to put one arm behind her head and have the other touching her neck. Morgan was asked to come around camera right and position the Orbis close to her and facing downward but still at an angle to illuminate the shadows on her face. Then I asked her to think of the funniest joke she knew. That didn’t work and so I changed tactics.

The above photos are from the new tactic. Being of Indian descent, I’m confident enough to be able to make Indian jokes that always crack people up. That worked. At this point the 7D was switched into continuous burst mode and I just caught her laughing at different points. The result is the photo below.

There was actually very little adjustment of settings throughout the shoot. It was done around F/4-F/7 and above 1/60th of a shutter speed.

At the end of it all I decided to be really nice and get a shot of them both. The Orbis was placed underneath the lens when I shot this.

Post Processing

The photos were brought into Lightroom and processed a bit for noise, detail in the noise, sharpened a tad, radius bumped up a bit, and detail level also bumped up a bit.

To be fair, these could use some retouching to be absolutely perfect, but that would require a whole new posting. While she has very good skin, there are some slight flaws that could be touched up a bit.

A personal thanks to Jessica, Morgan and Will.

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