In which I talk about pictures I took, and ramble about how and/or why ** I shoot larp a lot, but not exclusively ** Expect geeking about gear, techniques and lighting, and the flailings of a mathematician trying to 'get' art ** Hobbyist, and pretty new at it, so feedback very welcome ** New picture daily, except when I get distracted.
National Living History Fair - shot with an old manual camera (Nikon FE with a period 50/1.4) and developed and scanned myself.
Shallow depth of field is one thing, but perhaps taken a little too far here. Next time: Push processing. I could happily live with some more grain, and getting down to f4 or so at a workable shutter speed is worth the trouble.
Happier with the film scanning process, too - which is good for anyone who wants to see my work on the internet… wet printing is working nicely, but I’m still being a lot pickier about what I’ll print than what I’ll scan.
Nausicaä cosplay - and if I need to explain that, then you have no soul (or, more likely, need emergency Hayao Miyazaki, stat).
Costume made and modeled by Martha Hawker (well, except the musket - I borrowed that from a larper, and had real trouble persuading MArtha to give it back when we were done…)
The lighting is pretty simple, here - one gridded speedlight on a VAL (Voice Activated Lightstand, i.e. person - in this case Martha’s mother, who was visiting, and put up with the insanity with good grace) for the shots with the L shaped tree in, and natural light for the rest - I was going to light the two high-key shots, but decided I quite liked letting the background wash out.
Location was… interesting, in that I looked at a tree I would cheerfully scramble on, and didn’t twig that not all cosplay boots are necessarily as grippy as mine, nor all models as mad. Still, with some egging on, we got her into and out of position with no mishaps.
I’d been thinking I should shoot more cosplayers - and this totally counts! Turns out that actually setting out to do a thing is a good way to get it done, who knew? Vaguely looking for a couple more in the Cambridge area, on that note…
A few more Forgotten pictures - these notable for being ones I’d normally have deleted due to artefacting - but felt were in keeping with IC photography at a horror game.
Oh, and a self-portrait, just because.
And, while I like these pictures, and reckon the high-ISO capabilities of the X100s have done sterling work elsewhere… I’m really coming around to the view that digital grain just has nothing on film.
Next time this sort of thing comes up, I reckon I’ll be trying to get ISO 3200 out of some B&W film, probably by push-processing. And then scanning it - because grain is way more pronounced on scans than prints (maybe that says something about my enlarger, but I can see the grain pin-sharp when focussing it, so I suspect it’s a property of the paper).
Nothing makes a Mythos game quite like good props and ephemera. When the game is about tea, investigation and occasional pants-wetting terror, it’s likely the case that the investigation will take center stage - unless you want to really dilute the horror.
So, yeah. Here you see much of the paperwork for a weekend-long game - since I was there, and photographing, IC, I had every excuse to want to record things - and it really wasn’t hard to idly leave props in shot to enhance the effect.
Real dedication from the team running the event - there’s a lot of love put into some one-use props, and a lot of small details to be extracted (the organisers deliberately made it a pretty tough challenge, and the players did indeed miss clues and chances, and were punished for it…)
As for the photos, X100s, light cropping and straightening, and postprocessed from raw - mostly to sort the exposure out. Going for the obvious period feel; hope I hit it (well, better contrast and tonality than you get in period prints, but they haven’t sat in a box for 90 years…)
Portraits taken before time-in at a 1920s Cthulhu larp called The Forgotten. Second game in a row where I’ve done that (as well as previously at Odyssey), and I’m really liking it as a thing to offer at events.
The challenges here were all to do with where I set the shot up - and that was all decided on after I scouted the site for a decent location.
In the end, I moved the chair next to the fireplace, and put a few props on the table. The room’s lights were an awful colour, and concentrated in the upper left, so I turned them off, and ran almost entirely on flash.
The main light is a gridded softbox camera left, but I’ve angled it down, to feather the light falling on the wall above the lintel, and the white shelves behind the chair (this lights up the floor more than I’d like, but handily the table hides that).
There’s a (gold) reflector camera right, low, to provide some fill, and there’s also a light against the wall, at the height of the fire, camera right, that is gelled red, and gridded - that’s providing a bit of a red glow in the shadows pointing at the fire - which is an attempt to mimic the ‘natural’ lighting one might expect.
The fire, incidentally, was a pain to get going at a proper glow, and these are shot at 1/4 to 1/8 to try and let it show up properly - the subject is entirely lit by flash, so the long exposure, handheld, was no danger when it came to getting them sharp.
Not too complicated a setup, but one I could build in half an hour, unassisted, starting from a modest amount of kit.
The rest of the weekend was shot with the X100s (the one I snuck into the portraits, actually), so I could have gone incredibly light if I’d chosen to - but once I was taking the lighting gear, it wasn’t much hardship to take the 7D as well, just for the sake of interfacing more easily with the flashes.
Tortoise at Shepreth Wildlife Park. And another tortoise (no, really, it’s there).
This chap was sitting in his tank, under a heat lamp - this crop just avoids the lamp above, and a distractingly light pile of rocks on the left. Funny coloured light, too, which is one reason for the monochrome.
I had to mess with various contrast and curve settings to keep the detail on the shell, and the rocks at the top-right, and also get the fade I wanted on the sand - but what you’re left with is what I saw.
Good argument for carrying a camera around, no? (The zoo visit was a change of plans after we’d already set out - the X100 was in my jacket just in case… and is hardly perfect for a zoo, but hey, I like this).
Ornithocracy again. This particular Intermission was set in the very-slightly-alternate history versions of 1930-35 or so, and is, as you may know, something of a high-concept game.
I still don’t think I get it enough to play, but another option presented itself: Play a Dreamer - a human, probably one of note, who considered this to be all a dream.
The timing was too perfect, so I went in as the dream of Henri Cartier-Bresson (oft-regarded as the father of street photography, started around 1930, with an early 35mm camera). Pretentious, but hey, it’s that kind of game.
Anyway, if everyone else can get carried away with high-concept larp, I can photograph it in an odd fashion - my (cursory) research suggested that Cartier-Bresson had other people develop his films for him, and made a point of not cropping his photographs for display. In short, he did everything in-camera.
An interesting challenge, I thought - and as such, the above are all jpegs taken directly from the X100s (fixed 35mm equivalent lens), with no postprocessing at all. Oh, and monochrome, obviously.
I’ve been trying to think about composition, and the final frame, as I shot for months - but having to get it completely right, live, really forced me to think about the finished shot, then and there.
And no, they’re not quite as polished. There are plenty of places I’d apply a little cropping, rotation, etc if I wanted a tighter finish - but that would defeat the spirit of the challenge.
And as I continue my spiral into a fully analogue/manual process, I think it’s something I’ll be needing to get better at…
I’d talk about individual shots, but suffice to say that I thought I was being clever when I composed each of them - and these are the better results.
This was actually the shot that convinced me a wide normal lens was something I actively wanted to use on occasion, rather than just being what I did if I couldn’t stand back far enough.
I really love the way it gives a sense of the size of the clearing, and how relatively big and loose the forest is - as well as a bit of an aerial view of the people on the ground.
A telephoto would have compressed the background, for a dense forest shot, and required me to crouch, removing most of the ground from the shot, and losing the lovely framing patch of grass. A workable shot, but less fun than this.
Sadly, this isn’t a favorite„because of that distracting bag in the background - random monster kit dump, I think. “Getting it all in” being the danger, as well as the blessing, of the wide normal. Tempting totry ‘shopping it out, I have to admit.
At any rate, pretty sure this was a nontrivial contribution to my getting the X100s, so there’s that.
Here’s a shot that did not ‘just happen’ - I stalked this one.
The first element was the… well, it’s either evening fog, or it’s a smoke machine being used on overdrive. I thought the former at the time, but in retrospect, it was probably all just smoke from an adjacent linear (quest, mission, whatever. This was the fourth Empire event, so whatever they call linears there.)
It wasn’t incredibly dense, but I had a 100-400 fitted, so I had all the reach I needed to get a background much further away, but still at reasonable size - and that distance would give even thin fog plenty of room to work.
So, I had this fog - all I need now are a subject and a background. Handily, I was looking down a long stretch of… well… we’ll say ‘path’ between one of the big camps and the rest of the site - and it was pointed straight at a ritual circle (triangle, whatever) full of people.
The fact that the path was pure mud meant people were crossing it slowly - no bad thing, as you can probably tell from the motion blur on the back foot - it was properly evening by this point.
So I hung around the path, moving back and forth a bit to catch everyone who crossed in front of me, and position them against the ritual circle.
No face in this one, but it’s a friend, instantly recognisable to those who know the character, and quite an iconic everyman even to those who don’t.
Eh, atmosphere. Even when it’s happening, you still need to think about how you show it.
At Ornithocracy, there were only two people I actively dragged out of the IC area and over to my portrait setup. One was the game’s organiser, because he gets way too busy - and the other was the subject of this shot (@trisshawkeye, your ears might start burning about now).
I do like seeing real instruments at larp events, and while I have the greatest respect for those who learn and/or obtain period appropriate instruments especially, I think the rest are great, too. In this case, it was just a moment of “omg, squee, goth bird with clarinet, must obtain picture!”
One reason this didn’t make it into yesterday’s photoset is that it’s the wrong shape (tumblr messes up portrait oriented shots when you do the funky grid layouts - that’s starting to really annoy me), but the other is that I wanted to take some time on the postprocessing, now I’ve got everything up.
One of the nice things about a static light setup is that you get used to it - this was a very quick shot to make, and most of that time was spent with my moving the subject around, against a plain wall. (The further forward I brought her, the less fill light would bounce off the wall, and the narrower the key lighting would be).
So, I’ve completely re-done the treatment of the shadows (I brought the lights down a lot, and the darks up, because I wanted to get a lot more detail out of the midtones without doing too much different to the shadows and the highlights) - I also re-cropped a little, to frame the shadow and the end of the instrument properly, brought up the oranges and purples (skin and feather), brought down the yellows (some of the bricks). Finally I smoothed out the makeup on the face, brightened the eyes a bit, and cloned out the most distracting marks on the walls. Oh, and I tweaked the toning slightly.
Because yes, you can production-line this stuff, but some final polish still makes a difference.
I left a camera, set up for this, set up in one corner of the OOC area, and collared people as they were free - I think I got about two thirds of the characters that way.
I don’t know that mandatory character portraits are good, even for those systems that make nominal use of them - but offering this sort of thing feels like a nice thing to do for your playerbase, quite aside from being a decent way to showcase the system.
The setup here was a single gridded softbox and a white corner - everything on full manual, same setup. As such, postprocessing was fast, since everything got the same settings applied, and it was just a case of cropping (I like 4:3 for portraits in either orientation).
Why black and white? The shooting I was doing IC was that way, so I was thinking about that sort of light. There are some (literally) colourful characters at Ornithocracy, so I shot raw, but I currently value consistency in a photoset, so I’ll do colour portraits separately, if at all.
I ordered all the bits to process my own (black and white) films last weekend, and the last of them arrived Thursday - but I was busy, so I took a camera along to the CUTT squash, and borrowed a couple of people to give me an exposed film to try them out on.
This was… well, see for yourself. I’m losing detail, compared to professional processing, and my mishandling has scratched a few places (and left dust and fiber particles on the film in others), but it’s basically functional.
I’m pretty sure I underdeveloped these - I’m using developer that you dilute 1:31 with water, and I don’t think I stirred it properly, so there was quite a lot of developer left on the bottom of the jug when I poured in.
These were all shot with a 50/1,4, usually not far off wide open, as I wanted to run the film at ISO 400, and the light was only just up to that. Even so, I’m pretty sure I’m losing detail, compared to the professionally developed ones I have.
This is one of the very few times I’ve worked with someone who’s modeled seriously - it was before a DuD game, and she was costumed for a shoot with Oliver Facey, but he was running late, so she was kind enough to pose for me while waiting.
This is all natural light work, by comparison with the planned studio stuff, and we wound up using a bench outside as a handy setting. This is all shot with a 100mm macro lens, so I was too far away to direct the wider shots easily.
The great thing about working with Amy, though was that she then went through a series of poses by herself, holding each for a few seconds, and moving on.
I can’t claim much of the credit for the composition of the top picture, but I do love it. Face and hands on major lines, leg parallel to the torso, and the bright corset leading the gaze to her face.
To be honest, many of them are a disappointment to experience, and tend to be an imposition on play, due to safety concerns, faff, running behind schedule, or all of the above.
By comparison, here’s the start of a summoning at Mythlore. The circle itself is on the left. This is actually a ‘captive’ rocket, running along a piece of taut wire - the player reactions are the fun bit, since this was the first they’d seen of it.
The effect continued with a second captive rocket heading to the same destination (a great ritual circle physrep, specifically), then what amounted to a string of firecrackers on the near side of the circle, followed by a couple of smokes, out of which a concealed Big Bad walked.
Anyway, yeah. Rocket over the heads of the players, catching them by surprise.
What’s interesting about this photo? Mostly just that I caught it at all. It’s almost as if I’d talked to the effects guys at some length, and knew what would happen, when, and where.
That kind of planning is… well… not absolutely essential, but you’d need crazy doses of luck otherwise. Here, you can at least compose the picture first, and hold down burst fire at the right moment. Meaning you only need some luck.
The pyros at Mythlore were done by larp-fx.co.uk - great bunch of guys. I understand they’re available for other events. They’re also running a Cthulhu mythos game of their own, first weekend of November. I’ll be there. Dunno what they’ve got planned yet, but I look forward to finding out.