Araragi Karen 1/8 scale
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ISO 100, 1/100th, Sigma 180mm f/3.5 macro, Canon 5D III
With this photo I thought I'd try something very different from my usual, and perform no post-processing on the photo at all. The photo above is a straight-out-of-camera JPEG. The background is my attempt to match the Bluray cover of Nisemonogatari, shown on the right-hand side.

Creating the bee shapes

So how's that background made without post-processing? Well, I started by measuring the diameter of the end of my lens (80mm), then I headed over to Ponoko to laser cut some custom aperture disks. The disks look like this:
The four disks have been laser cut from a single "P1"-sized sheet of 0.8mm black polypropylene, with a total manufacturing cost of $8.70, plus shipping. I left out the bee's legs and antennae from the disk designs, because I was unsure if they'd survive the laser cutting process.
I set the lens's aperture to wide open (f/3.5), then added one of the disks at the front end of the lens. Because this bee-shaped aperture is more restrictive than the one inside the lens, it becomes the new aperture stop for the entire lens system. Out-of-focus points of light in the photo will take on the shape of this aperture stop.
Just like closing down the len's aperture, the image is darkened by adding this aperture disk in front, and depth of field is increased due to the restricted aperture. I found that the second-smallest bee was about the right size, the larger bees had the tips of their wings clipped off in the photos, and the smallest bee was a more restrictive aperture than I needed.
If I focus in front of the figure, you can see how the bee-shaped aperture affects all of the out-of-focus areas, with a bee even appearing at the tip of her hair!
Now I just need to create some points of light!

The background

I began by by hanging up a 32"x40" sheet of 5mm white foamboard. Here I'm using a $10 adjustable garment hanger I found at my local homewares store as a background holder. Using a pair of nail scissors, I poked a series of holes into the background, leaving some unpunctured space which will be covered by the silhouette of the figure. Then I took a string of 50 white LED Christmas lights and poked them through the holes from behind.
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I varied the brightness of the bees slightly by adjusting the depth of the LEDs in the holes (pulling them back further dims the light). The extra unpopulated holes don't harm the final image, because they're so out of focus that they blend into the rest of the sheet.

Lighting setup

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  • Front view
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The base

Underneath the figure is a glossy black bathroom tile I picked up from a local tile store (for $10). The tile gives cleaner reflections than you get by using glass, because glass also reflects from its lower surface, adding a second weaker reflection.

Main light

The main light is the flash on the right side of the figure. It's a Yongnuo YN-565 EX in a cardboard box, firing at 1/8 power. I've covered the open front of the box with paper towels in order to diffuse the light.

Rim light

On the far-left side of the figure is a Yongnuo YN-468 II with a blue gel and a mini "speedlite softbox" attached, firing at 1/8 power. This provides the blue highlight on the left of the figure.


I've attached a small square of printer paper at the front-left of the figure, at about eye-level. This fills in the shadows on the left side of the face, without adding too much light to the steamroller.

Background light

At the back is another YN-468 II, firing with a blue gel at 1/16th power onto the background foam sheet.

Okay, I couldn't help myself

In the end I also ran some shots through Lightroom and Helicon Focus for focus stacking to increase sharpness. For more information on that shooting process, please check out my other shooting tutorial. About 8 photos were stacked together to produce this post-processed version:
Compared to the unprocessed photo in this article's introduction, this focus-stacked version achieves a little more sharpness for distant details like the tip of her hair.
I hope you learned something useful from this behind-the-scenes detail! If you have any questions about it, feel free to get in touch with me!
You can check out some other figures in my collection, though the lighting on those is mostly much more boring than this one, I'm working on updating them. Or if you're a fan of macro, check out my insect gallery!
Gokou Ruri "Nekomimi version" 1/8 scale
You may also want to check out my tutorial on tin-foil backgrounds and focus stacking, which I used to create the background you can see on the figure on the left.
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