Nicole from Redhead Cosplay as Sansa Stark

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Morning all. It’s been a busy few weeks/months for me this past while, hence the scarceness. Hopefully it calms to a panic shortly.

I recently had an opportunity to do a quick shoot at the Neigh-Bours Magical Medieval Fayre with Nicole from RedHead Cosplay, in her portrayal as Sansa Stark.

Shoot was done using a 50mm prime and natural light only. I’ve done some quick edits which I will upload once approved.

Renderosity Archives

Updating my Facebook Page recently, I started uploading some of my old Renderosity work into an archive album.

Looking back at some of my old stuff on Renderosity has been both amusing, in terms of how bad it was, and nostalgic, as I saw the beginnings of a time when I really started ‘seeing’ through my camera. I lost that, I think, and am working towards getting back to that point.

Granted, I had a lot more time back then, to be creative, but on the flip side of that argument, I had far simpler kit, in fact, very basic digital cameras, old analogue film kit and a scanner.

Something to ponder on…

Mortal Kombat!

We had a shoot today at one of the local data centres, using the basement parking area and outside settings for Mortal Kombat themed photos. I didn’t take any photos, choosing to be behind the scenes, helping with lighting, etc, but I can say that the photos I’ve seen so far look amazing.

Expect some epic photos from Kali Kitty Cosplay and Akami Photography.

If you aren’t already following them, go give these two pages a thumbs up. They deserve it after today’s efforts.

And lest I forget, special thanks to CR Makeup Services for her epic special FX work.

Project MUSE

One of my more recent creative experiments has been to create a community of local cosplayers and photographers that I’ve met and either worked with or would like to work with.

That community is “Project MUSE“.

At present we’re about 100 members strong and while there isn’t much happening at present, it has been growing as fellow cosplayers and photographers add peers or people hear about the group and request to join.

Next year, at Cosxp, I will be hosting a stand as ‘Project MUSE’ and I would like to showcase some of the talent of the group members and recruit additional members from amongst the con attendees.

Within the group, we share ideas, requests, offers, etc. It is, perhaps, no different from any of the existing Cosplay groups in existence but I hope to grow it and give models and photographers a forum in which to discuss ideas, plan shoots and provide feedback.

If you’re interested in being part of the group, head on over to the page and sign up and myself or one of the admins will approve your membership.

Musings of a strobism noob…

Try strobism, they said. It’s easy, they said.

Okay. So I bought some kit. Now what?

I got to ‘play’ with my new kit this past weekend. And by play, I mean, I spent most of the day frowning while looking at my camera LCD, fiddling with flash settings and moving light stands. Oh, and cursing my luck as it seems I have a dud flash on my hands after only a few fires. Seems I’m not the only one that has had this with Yongnuo YN560-III’s.

I did, however, learn some interesting lessons; about flash power output settings, manual mode shooting (thanks to Shevaun), and why gaffer tape is a must on set. I didn’t have, so substituted duct tape instead, especially when my backdrop, pole and stands, decided to come crashing down around me.

So, dud flash aside (it works… but the charge cycle time makes it unusable for now – luckily I have my Canon EX to fall back on!), I took a few snaps against the backdrop to see how it works.

12033096_980397695336126_7651550336317428615_nLesson no. 1 – Raise the backdrop as high as possible

I saw this was going to be a problem as soon as I tried to photograph Shevaun who stands just a wee bit taller than I do. Ok, maybe more than a wee bit. The lass is tall and it’s not often I meet a girl who is taller than I am. Capturing a waist-up shot of her, I could see the top of the backdrop behind her. Oops!

In my defense, I was running low on ceiling clearance space above the stand but even a hands-breadth or two would have helped.

Lesson no. 2 – Put something down under the backdrop material that ends up on the floor.

Washing a 6×3 meter long piece of material and then folding it up again afterwards was not exactly easy. And it needed a good wash, less from foot traffic on the surface but more from dirt and dust from the floor it was lying on. Also, a blanket or two under the canvas might make for a more comfortable experience for barefoot models or anyone wanting to sit/lie down on the material – I have a maternity shoot coming up so this seems doubly appropriate.

Lesson no.  3 – Play with lighting (and RTFM when need be)

Shevaun was kind enough to give me some pointers on rim lighting and I’ve gone out and bought myself “The Digital Photography Book, Part 5: Photo Recipes”  by Scott Kelby in an attempt to educate myself a bit.

However, on the day, I decided to wing it (never a good idea!) and see what the outcome was.

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For the curious, you can see some of the photos (both from the studio experiment and the rest of the AWX cosplay workshop) here.

I still have a lot to learn and I look forward to learning from some of my more knowledgeable peers in the weeks/months to come.

I may be jumping the gun a bit, but I’d like to add a green screen and black backdrop to my kit as well, and maybe some RGB LED strip lighting for some special effects… but all in good time. Now to get back to reading that book.

Your digital persona and how to begin securing it (Intro)

If you’re reading this in an electronic format, you’re part of the wired world; i.e. you’re online.

If you’re online, there is a fairly good chance that you’re part of one or more digital communities, the most common of which tends toward the variety of social media platform choices available to the curious netizen.

If fact, come to think about it, curiosity is no longer even a factor… these days, you’re almost required to have some form of social media presence in order to get information that was traditionally transmitted via e-mail. The unconnected are viewed as pariahs, somehow dysfunctional and to be excluded henceforth from all communication considerations.

I’ve seen it amongst my peers. No sooner does one deactivate their Facebook account and suddenly they’re no longer a part of the collective. You can’t invite them to events/groups, you can’t share that funny joke or tag them in those awkward photos that probably shouldn’t be shared with the world anyway. They’re effectively invisible to you within the confines of your chosen digital lifestyle. Yet, realistically, they’re still there. Sure, it may require a Tweet or, if you’re really feeling the need to communicate, an e-mail, to achieve the same gesture, but it can be done – it just requires a bit more effort.

Whatever the reason for using or avoiding social media platforms, the usage thereof comes with an unwritten and sometimes heavy burden: the creation and maintenance of a digital persona. I say persona (referring to one’s public image) because many people act one way in view of the public (displaying the persona) versus their behaviour away from their peers (revealing the personality or inner self).

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Without getting into the psychology of it all, it’s fair to assume that many of us exhibit this behaviour to some degree or another and we can become fiercely protective about guarding these carefully crafted and tailored creations of ours. In many cases, the personae we create are a way to be the person we want to be, be it in the form of a selective mirrored-image or an utter fabrication.

Now (dragging this discourse back on track before I wander completely off-track), what happens if the safety and integrity of your persona is jeopardized? Let’s call it what it is; it’s an attack on yourself, both digitally and emotionally. YOU, regardless of persona or personality, are being attacked and made to feel threatened. At this point, the attacker’s reason or motive becomes immaterial and your first recourse should be defence.

Often, defence comes after the initial infiltration or probe. You get burnt once or twice and this necessitates the need for fortification. In the social media space, these range from rather rudimentary methods such as basic privacy settings, content restriction controls and better passwords as quick examples. Later, as the attacks increase in frequency, you add additional layers, such as trusted contacts, 2-factor authentication, session control and granular permissions where available.

If your attacker is intelligent, well-informed and persistent, they might find a way through your defences, no matter how diligent you are about maintaining them. However, with a little vigilance, you can mitigate the worst of the damage, trying to keep ahead of the curve by shoring up defences as new gaps appear and re-evaluating the overall state on a regular basis.

For some though, this just becomes too much of a drain on one’s time and emotional well-being, and the choice is often made to just let go… You’ll try and deal with the fallout later (by creating a new account and re-establishing the persona) or walk away entirely and hope that the situation can be rescued with friends and family with the minimum of drama.

The latter is a drastic option for many and not without repercussions. I hope to show you an alternative path (in the posts that will follow up on this one), one discovered by a bit of trial and error, with some hard knocks and bumps in the road adding experience that, quite frankly, I could have done without.

Switching gears

Today was the first day back after the better part of 10 months on site at one of our local banking institutions where I had been conducting a security assessment.

I’d gotten into the habit of working on a singular task for hours on end, day after day, trying to deliver against some pretty tough deadlines considering the true scale of the project once I’d done some proper reconnaissance.switchinggearsToday, I was all over the place. And somehow I got less done in the almost 12 hours I was in the office, than I should have done in half that time. Between phones ringing, burning client issues, jumping between pre-sales, consulting and support… I feel like a wreck.

It’s going to take me a day or two to readjust to my office environment.

Balance or the lack thereof…

For those that know me, you’ll know that I sometime battle with juggling certain priorities in my life. More often than not, work wins out over pretty much everything except for family (blood and non-related) emergencies. If anything, this blog and it’s corresponding social media couterparts are evidence of that work/life imbalance.

I work as a full time IT security practitioner, wearing both consultant and engineer hats as and when required. Our industry is renowned for last minute “panic stations” emergencies or, more often than not, poor planning by the various hands that move the chess pieces about the board. This often results in some sleepless nights and excessive caffiene intake on the part of the ‘techie’, which, as we get older, requires exponentially longer recovery periods before we are safe to be let out in public again.

Why am I explaining this? Well, I’ve had a few of those emergencies happen over the last while, which meant that I’m not exactly jovial company at some events I’ve attended and may have come across as a bit of a grumpy old git. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to be there, or not participate. Getting involved, be it as one of the shutterbugs, or just being part of a conversation, means I don’t have an excuse to hide away in the proverbial corner and be my normal reclusive self. If need be, lure me out of my corner with coffee 🙂

So, this is me, saying thank you to all those who plucked up the courage to come and talk to me and ask me for photos; those who took the time to come check on me or keep me company when I do wander away from the crowd. And to those that have sent me notes after events, thanking me for photos I’ve taken or the support I try and give whenever and wherever possible.

It is much appreciated.

Regards,
Tim

*tap tap* Is this thing on?

Oh, hello…

So… I’ve gone and done my usual no-update for months at a time trick. Sorry about that. I’ve been a tad distracted by keeping the lights on elsewhere… elsewhere being my Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/LensboxZaNet and a Facebook Group, called Project MUSE (a little endevour that I am keeping closely guarded for now).

I have been uploading photos to the page for public sharing. I had thought to post them here too but honestly, the effort involved for the number of photos outweighed any benefits I think I might gain from the additional exposure.

As you may recall from my last post, I’ve met and subsequently gotten quite involved with the local cosplay community. Great bunch of people. Honestly have fun at the various gatherings of geeks.

I’m trying to help out where I can, either by taking photos, offering what little advice I can (considering how little I know about their craft) or simply supporting from the sidelines.

Last night, however, I had one of my usual insomnia inspired epiphanies… and ended up posting this tonight after putting thoughts down and trying to structure them a bit:

So I was thinking last night while trying to fall asleep (a regular early hours of the morning occurrence)…

Would you folks be interested in doing online character planning discussions with input from other cosplayers that may have played the same or similar characters and then get input from the photographers and videographers amongst us about how you might pose, etc.?

It might work something along the lines of this (please excuse the 3rd person perspective referencing for the sake of the example):

Margeaux​ says she’s working on Orianna, for example, and wants help with poses.

Tim offers to do a little research and get back to her with ideas (which I did, out of band).

Tim does some research and stumbles onto the background info for Orianna on the LoL Wikia (http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Orianna/Background) which talks about her, her dreams/ambitions, etc. and her demise and subsequent resurrection by her father as a clockwork construct, etc. More specifically he reads the bit about her being seen as a soulless and empty killing machine, etc. while her father still sees her as the perfect daughter. A deadly marionette.

Tim mentions this to Margeaux who likes the idea of “soulless eyes”, etc.

Considering that effective posing is more than just technical positioning, requiring emotion to help convey a story to the audience, we want to consider the following when planning some shots:

1) Poses will be largely drawn from Margeaux’s dancing background and she will provide most of the technical accuracy herself (it’s not like I have the training, nor the frame, let alone the required flexibility to have her mirror me during a posing session!). Ballet dancers, by nature have “legs like steel, bodies like silk”, meaning, if I were to hazard a guess, that their legwork has to be the foundation of everything they do, providing the strength, support and dynamics of the pose, while the rest of the body has to be far more fluid and elegant.

So we have the basis of the dance poses down and now we can tweak the character portrayal…

A clockwork construct, by its nature, is unnatural. It doesn’t move or behave 100% like the thing it’s meant to emulate, no matter how skilled the craftsman. There will always be a rigidity to some of the movements; ratcheting of internal workings, as gears move and stop, etc.

We’ve seen it in many portrayals from various robotic characters in Doctor Who, Robocop, Terminator, Star Wars, etc. A movement started is often ended in a visible termination of motion as internal workings attempt to arrest inertial forces. There is very little ‘flow’ to the movement and the jerkiness of movement is often exaggerate depending on the size and weight of the part being moved. To show Orianna’s clockwork construction, we need to depict it with more than just the outfit and makeup/special effects, etc.

Now, for motion capture (video) that is perhaps easier to do. You exaggerate movements and then forcefully stop them through muscle clenching/tensing, etc. You would also overact subtle movements. Like motion tracking, for example. Rather than moving eyes to track a moving target, you may turn your head and upper body, etc. continuously orientating on your prey.

To photograph this is perhaps more difficult because you don’t necessarily want to show muscle tension. But, you can remove some of the natural fluidity of a pose by ‘straightening’ certain parts of the body that we may normally curl instinctively. Hands, specifically fingers, unless they’re holding onto something. Feet. Think of an artist’s mannequin and pose that as you would the dancer and you’ll see what I mean. There is only so much twist and bend to ball and hinge joints before something doesn’t give. We don’t realise how soft and flexible we are until you try and act like something that isn’t.

2) The next aspect is facial expression. Now normally, for portraiture, you don’t want to stare down the lens as it creates an unnerving effect for the audience. In this case, however, we want that. Imagine a soulless marionette gazing, perfectly expressionless or perhaps with a serene porcelain smile (just the way her father remembers her), directly into the lens. The thought certainly gives me the chills (yes, dolls creep me out!).

3) For finishing touches, other than the outfit which needs to accommodate the pose requirements and of course any props required (such as The Ball), add some lenses, a picture perfect styled wig (no loose strands, etc) and smooth pale makeup to add to the doll illusion and you’ve got a pretty damn convincing portrayal…

So how do we photograph this?

There are multiple elements waiting to be captured here.

Firstly, the character herself; from the outfit, to the makeup, there is a lot of detail that we can capture to show the technical aspects of the cosplay construction. And for this, all we really need is good light and maybe an appropriate bit of background to shoot against. The character doesn’t necessarily lend itself to ‘cute’ pictures so lower angle shots to create a statuesque feel may work best to capture the essence of the champion.

Then we have the dynamic poses. Action shots, be it combat or dance. Victory or defeat shots with other LoL characters. Resting shots; perhaps she gets curious about something and stops to inspect it further. Or something that shows a bit about her past before she becomes a champion and was still human.

These become a little more challenging because you need to frame both the action and the character in a manner that doesn’t detract from both. For combat poses, this may require focus stacking or shooting with smaller apertures to keep everything in focus, which in turn means that you may need to hold a pose for a bit longer than a second at a time. Angles will also come into play here. Looking at some iconic action shots, a lot of them have the model turned 3/4 to the camera, and shot with slightly lower angle shots (think of some of the classic Bruce Lee shots).

For dance shots, if you want to highlight the dance pose itself, you could do any number of shots (e.g. backlit silhouette, side-lit low-key or omni-lit high-key full body shots) and all of them should work but they will highlight the pose instead of the character so you need to decide if that is your intention or not.

Now this entire interaction has been between two people and based purely on a brief bit of research that did not include gameplay or source video footage which may add additional inspiration or negate all my theories about the posing.

Now add in, for example, Allan​, who is my resident strobing guru. He may shoot down all my lighting theory or he may expand on it and help me capture some truly unique dance motion of the character through some subtle changes of lighting setup. Then along comes Lelanie​, with advice on which contact lenses (and surrounding eye-makeup) to use for the intended effect. She might also suggest some attack-stance behaviour of characters with certain stylized contacts (i.e. vertically slit irises tends toward ambush-type predators where as round-irises tends toward predators that run/chase their prey down). Anneke​ then adds some input regarding special effects make up (maybe showing some exposed clockwork workings, etc). And so on…

Get where I am going? It forms the basis for discussion… And it might not all come together in one evening, let alone one week, etc. But I hope that as people take part and start adding to the conversation, options open up for the cosplayer that originally posted requesting advice.

Now, as with all things, there may be some criticism (preferably constructive) amongst the advice and feedback, but hopefully everyone that chooses to participate can remain civil and be helpful to eachother 🙂

Let me know what you think. And apologies for the TL:DR wall of text. See, Justin​, I told you I was verbose…

I’ve gotten some interesting reactions. Most of them about the length of the aforementioned rambling wall ‘o text. But also some interest in the idea.

Let’s see if the seed germinates or not.

Jan–Feb 2015: A (Creative) retrospective

Hello world. How are you doing? Has 2015 been treating you as you’d hoped, so far?

I’ve had an interesting start to the year. For the first time in what feels like a very long time, I’ve had a chance to get out and explore some creative pursuits.

The first of these, I happened upon on my way to and from my most recent consulting assignment; a derelict shell of a building in the Johannesburg CBD:

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I’ve been looking to shoot in an old abandoned building (warehouse, farm, anything really) for some time, so this was a great find. If anyone knows of more sites like this, please drop me a line with details. If anyone wants to tag along, let me know and we can plan the details from there.

The next was another first for me; a local cosplay event, hosted by one of my favourite stores, AnimeWorx:

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For more, please visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/Maoukami-Cosplay/1577092782504337?pnref=lhc
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For more, please visit https://www.facebook.com/nixie.lab
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For more, please visit https://www.facebook.com/Kimi.chan6?fref=ts
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For more, please visit https://www.facebook.com/justinekosuplay?fref=ts
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For more, please visit https://www.facebook.com/Cazibunii?fref=ts
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Hopefully I get to shoot with these crazy cats a little later this year. I enjoyed this event and would like to improve my skills and help portray these young artists in the best light possible.

And finally:

I attended my first Chinese New Year celebrations at the Nan Hua Temple in Bronkhorstspruit, managing to capture some detail for later exploration:

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A geek's view on the wired world while exploring metaverses, personal creativity and working in the IT industry

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