Mad Moxxi Cosplayer

Manchester Comic Con and Off-Camera Flash

Sam and I visited Comic Con in Manchester on Saturday (20 July) to have a look round and take some portraits of people in fantastic costumes. I felt like I needed to introduce Sam to the realm of the geek, too.

Mad Moxxi

Mad Moxxi, Borderlands

In the end we didn’t go in to the convention itself after talking to some people who’d queued for 2 and a half hours. Sam has more patience than most adults, but I felt that would be pushing it. So, instead, we hung around outside admiring the costumes and chatting to cosplayers.

I’d brought along my new lens and my two flashguns. One is a Nikon SB-400 which lives on my camera’s hotshoe in place of the built-in flash; I find it recycles much faster and doesn’t drain my camera body battery. The other is a Nissin Di622 mk2, which is an utterly inconsequential fact except that it can be triggered optically from another flash and therefore used off-camera. I wanted to try using this technique to give myself some new creative opportunities.

For example, for the portrait above of Mad Moxxi, I had the cosplayer stand with her back to the sun so she wasn’t squinting. I used my on-camera flash to add some light to her face to match the background (essentially so her face wasn’t in darkness). I then held the off-camera flash to my left (I use my right hand to operate the camera) and facing square on to the side of her face. I used a very low power – 1/32 of full – just to add a small amount of extra light. This created the nice shadows on her face and made her make-up appear more white. And the end result was something I was really pleased with.

Configuration of camera and flash

Camera and flash set up

Similarly, in this portrait of Alice (from American McGee’s Alice) I had the camera face on to the cosplayer with on-camera flash, and asked a passer-by to hold the second flash to my right (remember my right hand is operating the camera!).

Cosplayer dressed as Alice (American McGee's version)

American McGee’s Alice

This had the effect of keeping one side of her face in relative shadow, while providing highlights for her hair and half of her face. Again, I was really pleased with the finished product.

Speaking of highlighting hair, one cosplayer was dressed as Jareth the Goblin King from Labyrinth, so her costume just lent itself to this technique.

Jareth the Goblin King

Jareth the Goblin King

So for this portrait, I had the cosplayer again stand with her back to the sun so she wasn’t squinting, but then I had her turn a tiny bit clockwise so the sun caught her hair, which you can see on her right hand side. I then asked her friend to hold the flash off to her left which then lit the left hand side of her face. I think the result is pleasing and helps separate her from the background while illuminating her costume.

Let me know what you think of these portraits, or if you have any similar techniques or experiences. The rest of the cosplayer portraits are here: