Photography: My Studio

Some of you may recall this little post from March 11, 2009. A modest little setup that I used for quite a few reviews. Since then not much has changed, I no longer use my desk but beyond that it’s been a progression.

Over the year and three quarters that this site has been online the basic concept behind my miniature studio hasn’t changed much. A couple of times in response to comments both on my site and others I’ve described the setup and materials used however I do not recall producing a formal post on the topic. And so, in response to requests recently this post today will explain my lighting setup in general as well as a few specific pictures further illustrating how certain effects are achieved. Hopefully I don’t explain anything too obvious or come off as a hack lol.

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Essentially my entire general setup consists of a large sheet of paper and some lights.The lights I use aren’t anything special, they were the cheapest lights I could find at Home Depot, Hampton Bay 1-Light Clamp Lamp in satin chrome, I bought three initially and followed up with a fourth. Home Depot doesn’t appear to sell this particular lamp anymore, however they do have white and black models though they cost more now than what I paid for mine. The lamps are rated for 60 watt incandescent bulbs and with that limitation in mind I bought 23 watt CFLs (1600 Lumens) or 100 watt incandescent equivalent. I wanted as much light as I could get without causing a fire, figured this was probably a safe way to go about it and so far has proven to be. Lastly, I bought a roll of paper for $5. Total cost is somewhere around $70 CAD after taxes, a pretty cheap setup in terms of photography anyway, where a single clamp can cost you $56 USD.

My initial setup above differs only slightly from my current layout, I now have 4 lamps vs 3, and I have more space and no longer use my desk. The desk setup was a great start though quick to setup and the clamp lamps all held it together. The paper is laid out such that there are no corners or hard edges, this creates an infinite horizon. The downside however was the limitation of available space, since the depth of it was so shallow and the distance I could get away from it limited, I was forced to place the items closer to the back. This caused all kinds of trouble with lighting as shadows would fall on the backdrop within the frame and beside the figure. Another issue was it’s limited height, getting upskirt shots under angle shots meant you’d see the contents of my shelf. Numerous times I fixed this with photoshop, time consuming and annoying. I do miss that backdrop though, when done right it did create a pleasantly toned light grey.

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In this example you can see how limited I was with camera angles and how I covered for them using Photoshop. Still visible however is some shadowing of Rin’s arm across the backdrop.

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Lighting Placement

These two shots have identical processing & camera settings however incorrect lighting on the left really illustrates the difference as well as the shadow issue faced in this limited setup.


Moving on to today my little studio has progressed into a more permanent station off my desk and onto a larger and deeper surface. The surface is produced from the spare wooden shelves from my Billy Bookcase system from IKEA as I replaced them all the original shelves with glass shelving instead. The wood shelves also provide a surface on which the lights can be clamped upon around all edges. The extra depth these shelves provide over the surface underneath or my desk insures no shadows appear behind the object like in my initial setup and those examples above. Overall however the basic idea is the same, paper and lights. In this revision of my setup I’ve removed the over head light and added the fourth lamp mention previously. The concept in this implementation is to further overexpose the background into a more pure white while still exposing properly for the subject. The rear most lamps expose the backdrop to a similar level as the front most lamps do the subject, however the front most lamps also facing rearwards further push the backdrop into overexposure. This combined with the curvature of the paper towards the back creates an infinite horizon allowing the observer to focus upon the subject.

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The key difference in this iteration is the plexiglass base used. The plexiglass comes from some old large picture frames stored in the basement and were originally discoloured due to storage. They’re not in great shape, and placing hard objects upon them like figure bases scratches the surface extremely easily, but against the white paper these scratches are mostly invisible. It is for this reason that I no longer do coloured or dark backgrounds, the scratches show up so easily and photoshopping them is a nightmare. Other problems the plexiglass causes, edges. The plexiglass has very hard and obvious edges that will show up at many angles and requires distance from the camera, a proper aperture as well as proper lighting to hide them. Occasionally you’ll still see them in the backgrounds or sides of photos, but generally they’re well hidden using these methods.

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Proper Lighting

In these two examples you can see how proper lighting affects the visibility of the plexiglass sheet as well as the infinite horizon.


Despite the larger size of my work area I still run into issues with regards to it’s width. The paper is ~60 cm / 24 inches wide and depending on the number of subjects, the size of the subjects and the lens used I easily run out of horizontal space. In these situations I again rely on the magic of photoshop like my angle issues with the original iteration. Moving to my latest lens, my Sigma EX 105 mm f/2.8 DG Macro, has mitigated this problem a little bit due to it’s narrower angle of view, 23.3° vs my 50mm’s 30° angle of view.

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Some Photoshop Magic

Simply using the clone tool in Photoshop I sampled the plexiglass and painted over the rest of the picture.



Like my setup, the processing of my photos has progressed overtime but the basics remain consistent. Throughout I’ve used Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for the basic photo type edits such as white balance, contrast, vignetting, exposure correction etc… Additionally it manages my photos for me storing all sorts of meta data for easy searching. One of Lightroom’s most powerful tools is the ability to batch process files as they’re imported. It’s using this option that I attempt to keep a consistent white balance and processing across all pictures so that a figure is at the very least consistently presented though ideally properly presented as well. For more specific fixes, like photoshopping out my shelves as mentioned above in previous iterations of my studio, I’ve used Adobe Photoshop.

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First Post

Here you can see what the picture looked like before processing and after processing. Being my first review I wasn’t very good. First off, the picture was framed poorly, not only can you see the edges of my backdrop, but also the desk. The black backdrop also doesn’t appear very black at all, and Horo’s fairly bland and boring. Running the picture though Lightroom I cropped off the edges, increased the black clipping, upped the clarity, changed the white balance, used three graduated filters to further darken the back drop, added vignetting, and lightened the darks on the tone curve. The short of it, I cheated.

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Second Photo Set

These photos were actually taken before the photos above but were not used until much later, four months later in fact. As such they further illustrate my failures in the beginning. The changes between these two are not as severe as the black background only adjusting the tone curve and white balance, however the change is fairly dramatic.

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Getting Better

As of this post I’ve written 67 figure reviews, one would hope that they get better over that much time and effort, and I think that I have. I’m no where near perfect but the adjustments I tend to have to make now are so minor they’re automated upon import as they’re always the same, since my lighting system rarely changes. With these two photos the only adjustments made are now my standard adjustments, white balance to a preset of 5600K +30 with black clipping adjusted from Lightrooms default of 5 to 15. That’s it.


If you didn’t catch it above I’m going to say it again, I post-process every single picture that hits this site save for perhaps a few examples. Sometimes I feel like it’s cheating, but mostly I feel it’s developing. If I were using film, I would select certain film types that have the attributes I desire, such as Fujifilm’s Velvia with it’s high colour saturation or perhaps a high ISO film for a grain effect. So with that in mind adjusting my white balance, increasing or decreasing exposure a little bit, adjusting the contrast and even selectively adjusting the contrast in specific areas of a photo feels ok, besides, everyone else does it :P. That said, I always try to take the best shot I can from the start because a crappy picture, no matter how magnificently mastered in photoshop, is still a crappy picture. This means experimenting a lot, sometimes I’ll take a ton of pictures that look nearly the same and then from that batch of ‘the same picture’ I’ll pick the best one and only post-process that one. If I get the results I intend, I’ll go back  and shoot or reshoot the set using those settings.

Remember that consistent white balance I mentioned previously? Well… it’s not been consistent over the course of this blog. As much as I wish it had been, over time I’ve realized tweaks were in order. In the sites initial inception white balance was chosen per import based on a colour sampling of the background, eventually I realized this was pretty close to always the same and produced a white balance preset to use when importing. Eventually I realized this didn’t quite match what my eye saw under the lighting and switched it up a couple of times. Recently I learned that the inside of many camera bags is 18% grey and used mine for a white balance of 5600K +30. The range of white balances have been 5100K +21. 5200K +39, 5600K +38 and 5850K +16. I think the most used of that is probably 5600K +38.

5100K +21

5200K +39

5600K +30

5600K +38

I’ve also learned a few neat tricks in photoshop that give great results for very little effort, such as using the green channel as a contrast overlay, or using a curves layer and setting it to overlay to adjust contrast, or using a high pass filter to adjust the sharpness of a picture. Maybe I’ll go into these in another post, but here’s an example of using the green channel for contrast, it’s the only difference between the two pictures.

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  1. Blowfish says:

    Thanks for the great read!
    Its always interesting to see how other blogger achieve certain techniques!
    This reminds me that I have to finally get my ass in gear and get back to figure business!

    Im actually looking forward to more posts like this,actually I wouldnt mind some mor eon the post processing part

    • Aka says:

      Thanks! I need to get my ass back in gear as well, you can see hints of upcoming reviews though throughout this article, Sanya V Litvyak still in her box, Sasasegawa Sasami’s crotch…

      If there’s anything specifc about post-processing or any pictures on my site I’m happy to break down my process as best as I remember it. Just pick a photo and ask away!

  2. Ex14 says:

    That made for an interesting read ^^. bookmarked for future reference XDD

    • Aka says:

      Glad you found it interesting! If you ever have any questions about anything I’ve done don’t hesitate to ask!

  3. soulstaker says:

    Guess i’ll have to wait a bit to do full reviews on my figures =P

    • Aka says:

      Why is that?

      • soulstaker says:

        Because i keep thinking most people with good photography skills are good only because they have good equipment. And, as you proved with this post, it’s pretty easy to have good shots without any special equipment.

        Sure, now that you posted it, i might just do the same… but i want to think the solutions myself.

        • Aka says:

          Haha that’s insulting to those who have great photography skills! I’m not sure why that misconception continues to be perpetuated, good equipment has very little to do with a good photo. Often times people seem to confuse ‘great photo’ with ‘high quality picture’*. While a high quality picture is desired, a high quality picture of low quality content does not a great photo make. A high-end camera can aid you in producing better results, but only if you’ve gained the skills to use the camera properly. Otherwise you’ll just take really clear but utlimately poor quality photos, and people with skills and crappy point & shoot cameras will surpass you.

          I do use a dSLR camera for my shots so you could argue perhaps I have good equipment, and I would agree my camera is excellent. But it’s also 7 years old, and no where near the level of a modern point & shoot camera, let alone a modern dSLR. But regardless of it’s age, when used correctly it’ll still net you some great results. These days this once $2000 camera can be picked up used for as little as $100, and you can pick up a great 50 mm prime for $150 brand new. For $250 you can use what I used. But the reality is, any point & shoot with manual controls will net you great results with the right settings. (Save for perhaps my very first digital camera back in 1998, it only had 0.8MP and that is seriously limiting).

          * Just a note on that comment, I think people often do this with my photos. I take perhaps high quality pictures, but the creative content behind my shots is rarely present. Thus their sterile feel, perfect for reviews. I think Tier at Tentacle Armada or super rats at Happy Soda take great photos, they’re not only high quality photos, they often (always?) have superior creativity. Also on that note, if you look at super rats’ older photos he used to use a high end point & shoot camera and got great results with that, not sure what he uses now however.

  4. Quazacolt says:

    nice detailed post on sharing various tips/tricks about figure photography. definitely worth a read and bookmark 🙂

    • Aka says:

      Great! I was worried I’d be stating the obvious everywhere or explaining things poorly… haha

      I guess the only part I left out is the actual taking the of the picture and the choices involved in choosing the apertures and such that I did.

  5. Chag says:

    Ooo, thanks for sharing! I’ve always been curious as to how you manage those boundless white backgrounds, but I sure wouldn’t have guessed how simple it is! I’ll definitely give that a try when I have the chance.

    Reading this has made me appreciate your shots even more. =)

    • Aka says:

      You’re welcome! I remember Googling it years ago and finding out that it was the simplest trick possible. No corners. That’s it! Without corners there’s no where for a shadow to be, so it can be applied to any colour you want. Of course, with other colours I find it much harder, with white you just overexpose, with other colours, the lighting arrangement needs to change because you’re no longer trying to overexpose the backdrop but rather expose it in a manner consistent with the subject and your vision/idea. As such, I can never get the colour backgrounds to match how I want and always scrap the results. I envy those who can get those vibrant or subtle hued backdrops.

      If you need any help with it don’t hestitate to ask!

      Glad it made you appreciate them more, I worry to much I guess. I thought everyone would suddenly think “oh, that’s it? I can do that” and it’s true you can, but well… you know. haha

  6. Rajura says:

    So, we finally see where the magic is made!

    Nice… maybe one day I can do 50% as good as you.

  7. Ashlotte says:

    Wait why doesn’t this show up under the blog tab? Actually I can’t find it anywhere except the thingy on the front page that changes periodically. *confused* T_T

    Ah well still interesting read…and reminds why I went lazy and shot outdoors. >_<

    Amazes me some of the things you can do with photoshop though…Ahhh need to get better at using it in the worst way…

    • Aka says:

      It’s under the “Featured” section of the site, like my figure reviews. Blog section is for little posts that don’t matter much, featured is where I stick the good stuff.

      I find outdoors to be less lazy, involves travelling somewhere, finding a good location, crouching and kneeling and getting dirty, swatting bugs off you and the object…

      Photoshop really is an amazing tool, I wish I knew how to use it better.

  8. Tier says:

    It’s always really cool to see how other people do things. I’ve never tried shooting on white seamless; I started out using a white fabric background (which sucked), a fabric-covered light box (which sucked a little less), and then foamboard, which is what I use now.

    I’ve heard some people elsewhere say that they don’t want to postprocess their pictures, and I’ve never understood that mentality. People have been manipulating photographs for decades with darkroom techniques, filters, multiple exposures, long exposure times, etc. so this isn’t anything new. And for another, you are meant to postprocess one way or another; if you shoot JPEG, your camera does it for you and if you shoot RAW, you have to load it into an image editor just to view your picture. I can understand not wanting to go through the effort if the picture isn’t anything fancy or if one is just plain lazy, but for anything I want to show off on my site, it’s going through post.

    • Aka says:

      I’d be curious to see how you use the foamboard. I hate edges and corners, and I can only ever see having those with foamboard. At least with review like shots where I’m all over at every angle possible.

      I tried frabric in earlier shots, the first shots I did of Horo on a black background actually used my coat, but then I redid them with a black piece of artpaper instead. And while after post-processing the results were good, I actually think the coat worked better at absorbing light than the paper did.

      It’s not that I don’t want to post-process, it’s more, I don’t want to do what can’t be done in a dark room. Much of what you can do in Photoshop for example can’t be done in a dark room. What I’m generally trying to do is not manipulate the viewer and make things look better or worse than they are. Which is what much of the dark room trickery would be doing. I want something comparible to other photoshoots I’ve done so that one can more easily compare a figure and make a judgement.

      Though for the fancier shots, it’s more about learning technique than some sort of moralistic highground. I’d much rather get the effect in camera than in photoshop, it’s more satisfying and I learn more that way. So the fewer adjustments I need to get the effect desired, the better I feel about the process.

  9. Nopy says:

    I don’t suppose you’ve written a tutorial on how to process photos in lightroom? I think the problem I’m having in trying to achieve a pure white background is that my figures are too close to the backdrop and I don’t do any post-processing.

    • Aka says:

      I suppose I haven’t, at least nothing too specific. But to get the pure white you’ll need to adjust your white balance. There’s a couple ways you can go about doing this, you can fiddle about with the sliders yourself (Temperature and Tint), you can use the eye dropper (selecting areas of grey or as close to grey as possible until you achieve something desirable), or you can use a grey card.

      I’ve used a combination of all but in the end I selected my white balance by taking a photo of my camera bag under the same lighting conditions as the figure. Turns out, most camera bags work well as a grey card (that is, those that have grey interiors). Using that I managed to fine tune my white balance to what I felt my eye was seeing. You can see the results of that under the Processing section, with the shots of Asuka.

      The neat thing with Lightroom however is once you’ve achieved the right balance, you can make those settings into a pre-set. Then in the future when you import you photos you can apply this pre-set automatically.

      As for your figure being too close, that wont affect the whiteness of the background but rather the exposure of the figure itself. Creating more distance between the background and the figure helps separate the light sources and allows you better control over what each light accomplishes.

      Hope that helps you out some. I recommend just experimenting with the settings and learning how they affect your images. However if you need more help, ask away. I can be reached here, on twitter, or email aka [at]