Painting Light with a Monk

Last summer, I did a modeling shoot for a girl named Christina. It seemed like any normal shoot with a pretty young lady. However, she is a huge nerd. I mean that in the best way possible. She’s avid World of Warcraft player, enjoys a library of video games and other similar hobbies. One hobby in particular is cosplaying. For those of you who might not understand “cosplay”, cosplay is costume play. People create a costume or outfit that replicates a popular character from a video game, anime, or whatever. Almost anyone can participate and share their affection for that particular character.

Christina is a good cosplayer. Like really good. She’s created a few elaborate costumes and that have garnered some serious attention. For a few years, Christina has participated in the Blizzcon (Blizzard Entertainment‘s annual convention and its contest for cosplaying) . Her costumes competed well (finalists in 2008 and 2009), but did not take home the grand prize until this year. Her costume was the female Monk from Blizzard’s upcoming game, Diablo III. The contest was aired on television and when the results were in, gaming blogs across the internet shared the news.

After winning the contest, Christina wrote this article about her cosplaying and how she made the monk costume. I find cosplay fascinating. Maybe because it’s a big huge moving photograph of a video game character. The level of work and detail that went into her costume (and many others), is just awesome to me.

Since I was thrilled to hear that one of my clients had won the contest, I wanted to do a shoot with her and her winning costume. Pictures of Christina as the monk were already everywhere, so I needed to be creative. That’s when I got the idea to shoot her with light painting. Since video game and anime character often use magic, super powers or special abilities, light painting is a natural fit. Backgrounds can be controlled well so the whole photo can take on an other-worldly feel. When I told her my idea, she didn’t need much convincing, so we went for it.

My favorite from that evening

The basic technique was a flash with an reflective umbrella that was camera left and radio triggered. We attached small LEDs to her weapons and her foot. After that, it was a trial and error (but not much error this evening). One of the great things about her costume, unlike some other ones, is that she could move around in it. The monk is supposed to be a master of martial arts. So having a costume that actually allows your to kick and punch is great.

Overall, we were both pleased with the shots we took. If you’d like to see more of Christina and her other costumes, go to her account here and her deviant art account here. You should definitely see her other costumes. I know I’m looking forward to seeing more of what she can do and I’m eager to shoot with her again.

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  1. Posted January 14, 2011 at 4:05 pm by him | Permalink

    Hi Chase.

    Great shots! I’m fairly new to making shots with strobes (although I’ve directed many studio shoots). Just curious what the specifics were in making these. What hardware were you shooting? Shutter speed? Aperture? I’m guessing you were near f/22 to keep ambient as low as possible and to maximize the light trails? And the manual flash trigger… Did you time it or was it pretty much trial and error — a different amount of time before you popped the flash for each shot?

    • Posted January 16, 2011 at 12:11 am by Chase Hoffman | Permalink

      Thanks! I was shooting with a 580 EXII for the strobe. The shutterspeed ranged from 8 to 20 seconds, but that’s relatively unimportant. The aperture is pretty constant on 5.6 or 6.3. You don’t need to shut out a lot of light when there’s so little light around you.

      As far as the triggering, it was pretty manual and it was definitely trial and error. Watching Christina kick and move in the dark and then trying time an incredibly bright flash is hard on your eyes. Honestly, the key ingredient is experimenting.

  2. Posted December 27, 2010 at 10:15 pm by Stephen | Permalink

    I found your photos on

    You wrote, “The basic technique was a flash with an reflective umbrella that was camera right and radio triggered.” Based on the shadow cast by the model, the flash appears to be camera left.

    I also presume your flash was in manual mode and remotely triggered by a Pocket Wizard or similar device?

    Thank you for reading.

    • Posted December 28, 2010 at 9:28 am by Chase Hoffman | Permalink

      You’re right. An honest mistake on my part. The flash was on manual mode and triggered by a pocket wizard.

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