Costume College 2018: Friday Photo Shoots

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I decided to do a bunch of photo shoots at Costume College this year. I thought it was time to challenge myself to see what I could produce in a convention setting on my own. I don’t typically shoot that many photos without Mike around to give advice. Frankly, I’m usually handling more of the editing side of photography, processing shots that Mike has taken. But in order to improve my photography skills, even just my editing, I knew I needed to get more practice shooting. Mike wasn’t coming with me to Costume College, so this was my chance.

On Friday I had a scheduled shoot with Rebecca. I also ended up taking photos of two groups because I happened to be free during their meetups, plus I did photos of me and Stephanie. Looking back at these, I’m happy with the results. However, comparing them to what I did later, I think I got better as the weekend went on.

Throughout the weekend, I used several locations at the hotel repeatedly, because they provided good backgrounds and light. (Though the quality of the light definitely depends on the time of day. I looked up what the sun angle would be using this website, which told me that the sun would rise on the lobby side of the hotel, and then set over the pool.) Here I’ll briefly describe my preferred spots and give each a nickname, because I’ll be referring to them over and over again:

  • The Little Poolside Park: a small grassy area behind the pool with a living wall on one side and a hedge on another. This is probably the best all-around location in terms of background, so I used it the most. It looks like a garden, without that much modern stuff to distract the eye, although there is an electrical box in the corner, some streetlamps visible above the hedge, and some metal fencing visible below the hedge. I can often frame most of that out, and I have come up with some tricks for removing what remains in the shot. The biggest challenge here is the lighting. Up until about noon you get enough shade along the living wall to work there, then in the afternoon you have to move away from that wall and deal with more dappled light coming through the trees. The sunlight is pretty harsh from about 2 to 4 PM. In the early evening the shade starts returning, but you still have to be careful about dappled light. Also, the amount of greenery in the location can reflect green onto light colored fabrics and lighter complexions. In terms of logistics, it’s out of the way, so you’re less likely to be disturbed during a shoot. But you have to walk alongside the pool to get there, which can be slippery.
  • The Traffic Circle: the front traffic circle where cars pull up to the hotel has some nice landscaping to one side. It’s in the shade for a lot of the afternoon and early evening, so when the Little Poolside Park is too harshly lit, I usually switch to here. The sidewalk is a bit modern looking, though, which can affect full lengths.
  • The Katsucon Wall: a white wall with a wavey texture that is along the outside of the lobby snack shop. Kenna and I dubbed it the Katsucon wall because it is reminiscent of the decor of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, where Katsucon takes place. This wall faces the windows at the front door of the hotel, so it has good light during the daytime. At night, it unfortunately has little light at all. I found that this was good for afternoon shoots. It is where folks line up to go to the Sunday tea, however, so you cannot use the space then.
  • The Grey Hallway: a hallway off of the lobby, where the Bargain Basement is located. One side has windows with sheer curtains that get direct sunlight in the morning. The other side is a wall with grey, slightly textured wallpaper. This is good for morning shoots, but you have to watch how close the model stands to the wall, as shadows can be visible behind them. Logistically, crossing traffic can be an issue.
  • The Restaurant Booth: there is a big round booth in the hotel restaurant, whose back faces some windows by the pool deck. The back of the booth can be used for a background if the model is seated in front of it. There is a television screen and some lights above that would appear in wide shots, so tighter shots are the way to go here. Often this corner is occupied by people sitting in the armchairs along the window, so it’s not always free. I did an in-depth breakdown of one photo I took here in this post.

As a warm-up, I started Friday morning with photos of me and Stephanie. I wanted to try working indoors first, as practice for my later shoots that would be taking place when the outdoor temperature would be warmer. Since it was morning and I knew light would be coming through the windows on that side of the hotel, we started in the Grey Hallway.

Below is the best shot that resulted. I set the camera on my typical portrait settings and had Stephanie take the photo. (Thank you Stephanie!) Unfortunately, I did not position myself quite right relative to the wall, which resulted in a hard shadow behind me. I was able to edit it out, but that was a lot of extra labor. When I get a chance, I’ll try to put up another post explaining how I did this editing. (Also, the same style of necklace as what I’m wearing here is available in my Etsy shop.)
Costume College

Next, it was on to the Little Poolside Garden for the first of many shoots there that weekend. In the morning it has larger areas of shadow that are useful for producing diffuse light.

As I mentioned previously, the downside to shooting photos in this area is that all of the green plants can reflect green tinted light onto your subject. This is particularly a problem for people who have fair skin tones. I was able to compensate for this issue to a certain extent in editing. (In theory I could also have relied solely on the white balance adjustment in my camera body, but I find that Nikon’s algorithms are finicky and usually overdo the green unless I really change things around. Since I shoot in raw format, which allows for a lot of flexibility in editing, I usually don’t bother trying to fine tune things while shooting.)

Here’s a photo of me, where you can see a touch of the green tint, particularly along the underside of my arms. I think I was able to minimize it so as not to be too distracting.
Costume College

Costume College

This photo of Stephanie was a little tougher to adjust for the green issue, because she was wearing all white and has a lighter complexion than me. I had to make targeted adjustments to the green color channel.
Costume College

And a full length. My preferred lens for portraits is a 35mm prime (~50mm equivalent with the crop factor), which is a bit long for a full length photo. Here I had switched to my 16-80mm zoom. (The photo is shot at 24mm.) As the weekend went on, I decided that I liked the look I was getting with the prime lens better, so when I had the room I just started getting way back for full lengths and sticking with the 35mm.
Costume College

Later that morning, I happened to be in the main lobby when the Adventurers group was gathering for their photo meetup. So naturally I went outside with them to take some pictures. We went to the Little Poolside Garden.

The group photo
Costume College

And a silly one!
Costume College

Taylor climbing a tree 🙂
Costume College

I saw Jen walking through the light in a way that looked like it would make a cool photo, so I had her stop for a moment to get this shot. Sometimes you’re just lucky that way!
Costume College

Kat, Jen, and Taylor
Costume College

Kat
Costume College

Jen and Mary
Costume College

Merja wasn’t part of the Adventurers group, but she happened to also be there, so I got a photo of her as well.
Costume College

My one pre-booked shoot of the day was with Rebecca in the early afternoon. Rebecca is great about trying different poses with her body position, hands, and face as I shoot. Not may costumers that I work with do “flow posing,” but Rebecca is an exception. Compared to my normal routine, I have to do a lot less direction to get a variety of poses. I just have to concentrate more on making sure I start us off in a good position relative to the light, and then let Rebecca go. I can make smaller adjustments as we progress through a series of poses.

We started indoors at the Katsucon Wall, so we could stay out of the heat for a bit. (This photo is courtesy of Katie.)
Costume College

Costume College

Costume College

Then we went outside to the Little Poolside Garden. It was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit at this point of the day, so I promised Rebecca we would be done in 15 minutes and that we could stop if at any time she felt tired or too hot. I’m proud to say that we finished our outdoor shooting in only 10 minutes!

The sun had risen farther than when I shot the Adventurers group, meaning that the living wall was now directly lit. (Compare how the green background looks in the following photos to how it looks in the Adventurers photos above. What a difference three hours can make!) To avoid such strong light falling on her face, I had Rebecca move farther away from the wall, into an area that was partially shaded by trees. I had to be careful to find a spot where Rebecca could stand so that she was in shadow with no dapples. But I had checked to see if this was possible about a half hour before, so I knew where to put Rebecca. The result is that Rebecca is evenly lit, while the background has a lot of varied light spots. It’s a cool effect, but I have to be careful about the amount of exposure and contrast I put in the photo so it doesn’t become overpowering.
Costume College

This background works a bit better for closer-in shots, as then you see less of the strongly-lit wall and more of the model.
Costume College

Costume College

To finish things off, we moved slightly over so that I was shooting with more shade behind Rebecca. It creates a moodier look, with less green highlights in the background.
Costume College

When shooting this direction, you have to watch out for some streetlamps that sneak in. I edited those out of most of my shots, but looking at this one now, I’m noticing that I missed them here. That’s one thing about photography (and costuming): you can always find something you would have done differently. That’s why looking back at your previous work and assessing it is an important part of the learning process.
Costume College

The remaining shoots that I did that day were surrounding the Friday Night Social. Stephanie and I did some photos back in the Little Poolside Garden after we got dressed for the evening. By this time, the sun had moved enough to put more of the area in the shade, but we still did not want to stand right next to the living wall so as to avoid dapples on the face. I positioned Stephanie about as far away from the wall as I did with Rebecca, but closer to the side with the hedge. You can still see some sunlight on the leaves behind her, but it’s not nearly as bright as in the afternoon.
Costume College

Early evening light in a shady area tends to be cooler looking than afternoon sun. So I had to watch to ensure through post color correction of these shots that they did not end up too blue (especially with Stephanie wearing a teal dress). It’s still bluer than what I did for earlier in the day, but I think it looks natural.
Costume College

Costume College

Stephanie was kind enough to take a couple photos of me in my new gold jacket. I positioned myself in a similar spot to where I had put her, and used the same settings on my camera. Unfortunately I did not notice that there was an electrical control box visible behind me, which I had to edit out later. (Also, as a side note, the same style of necklace and earrings as what I’m wearing in this photo are available in my Etsy shop.)
Costume College

Costume College

Costume College

I also like these versions in sepia, which I did with an Adobe Lightroom filter.
Costume College

Costume College

My final shoot of the day was with the Regency Court Gowns group. I ran into them at the Social, and they asked if I could do photographs. At this point I had lent my 35mm f1.8 portrait lens to Stephanie, so I only had my 16-80mm f2.8-4 zoom. I would normally use the zoom for group shots, since it can do a wider angle, but I would have preferred to switch to the portrait lens for other photos, since then I can use a wider aperture. Thus the one-on-one shots aren’t quite what I’d want them to be.

From left to right: Sophia, Jennifer, and Carolyn. We were working in the Traffic Circle. In the late afternoon and evening, it’s more evenly shaded from the sun compared to the Little Poolside Park, which made it easier for me to shoot a whole group. If we had gone to the Poolside Park, there would have been no way for me to position all three people so that none of them had light dapples on them.
Costume College

Costume College

Jennifer in pink
Costume College

Costume College

Carolyn in Orange
Costume College

Costume College

Sophia in purple
Costume College

Costume College

And that was my last shoot of the day. Next up was Saturday!

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