How to Photograph Figures: Teach Me, TOM Senpai! [#tomphotocon3]

How to Photograph Figures: Teach Me, TOM Senpai! [#tomphotocon3]

Due to manufacturing times and so on, it may take a while for a figure to arrive at your door after you’ve ordered it – but the wait will make you even more excited for your figure to arrive.

As a figure lover, you might be thinking, “I can’t wait to take pictures and brag about it!" or "I want to take cool pictures, but how should I do that?”

Well, right here is a great place to start. I’m a photographer at TOM and I've put together a few examples and explanations of what you can do when taking photos of your figures!

Today I decided to shoot the Shibuya Scramble Figure - Megumin 1/7 scale figure that is currently available for preorder. This figure features a shot of Megumin, one of the heroines in KonoSuba: God's Blessing on this Wonderful World!, using her signature explosion magic.

The following image is a photo that I took.

Keep reading to find out how I achieved this!

Part 1: Come up with a procedure when photographing figures.
Part 2: Think of how you’re going to photograph the figure.
Part 3: Problems may occur before you’re able to consider location and props.
Part 4: Take some actual photos.
Reminder: TOM Photo Contest

Part 1: Come up with a process for photographing figures.

If you’re strapped for time, feel free to read this section only. First, here’s my figure photography process.

1. Research the character’s background.
2. Picture what I want the photo to look like.
3. Come up with a rough idea of what kind of location, props, and style I’d like to shoot with (including whether it’s outdoors or indoors).

Shooting the figure:
4. Prepare the spot where you’re going to pose the figure.
5. Decide how you’ll frame the photo.
6. Adjust the background and props to match the framing.
7. Take pictures and keep making minor adjustments until you think it’s perfect.

And we're done!

Very easy.

The preparation part is extremely important. Deciding if that figure/character is in a certain situation will greatly change the response you get for the picture. Also, thinking about it before shooting will enable you to take a better shot. Please try it out the next time you’re shooting.

Keeping this process in mind, I’ll explain how I took this photo of Megumin.

Part 2: Think of how you’re going to photograph the figure.

First up is the preparation part. Let’s look at the figure I chose.

・Her pose is of the moment right before she releases her signature explosion magic.
・Her wand has an explosion magic effect on it.
・The base has the magic circle that appears when she’s using magic.
・Her familiar, Chomusuke, is on her head.

A loyal representation of how Megumin's depicted in the anime, this figure is also the culmination of everything great about her. Using the details I listed, I came up with an image of the finished photo I wanted to take.

Look at the figure from different angles through your camera’s viewfinder. Get close to it, pull back, turn it left and right, up and down… And when you find the perfect angle, it’ll bring forth the image of the photo you want to take.

When you get a specific image of the picture you want to take in mind, the actual photo can generally be sorted into one of two categories:

1. A photo of the character
You’ll use portrait photography to focus on the character’s charms.

2. A photo of scenery and the character
You’ll use landscape photography. This is especially good for outdoor shots that recreate anime scenes.

The picture on the left is an example of a portrait and the right is a landscape shot. Even though the subject and the background are the same, they are very different pictures. By keeping in mind what kind of photo you want to take, it’ll be easier to convey the message you want.

This is my usual process. At this point, I usually choose the props and location with the image of my finished photo in mind, but in this case, I couldn’t check this Megumin figure through my viewfinder ahead of time. That’s because...

Part 3: Problems may occur before you’re able to consider location and props.

I was in trouble. Why? This figure wasn’t on sale yet and this was the only prototype in existence. Not breaking it was of utmost importance, so I had to carefully photograph it at the office of its manufacturer, eStream. There were also other figures to photograph that day, so my time was limited. (If that wasn't enough, I was also unable to see the figure in person until the day of the photoshoot.)

Faced with the following extra constraints, I had to come up with a different approach to photograph this figure.

1. It had to be photographed in one of the office’s meeting rooms.
→ Since it would be an indoor shoot, I would build a set for it.
2. I couldn’t bring too much equipment into the office, so I was limited in how I could build up the photo.
→ I had to think of a way to make it as cool as possible using only the background and lighting.
3. I had a time limit.
→ I decided to use a video light instead of strobe lights to decrease the time needed.

Since I would be shooting in an office and not in an elaborate set featuring the town or countryside (like we'd see in KonoSuba, I decided to take a portrait that would get up close to Megumin and focus on the exact moment that she casts Explosion.

These are the tools I use when shooting. You can find them all at online shops for relatively low prices, so feel free to give them a try. (I personally bought them on Amazon.)

・SLR (single lens reflex) camera
・4 panel lights
・Packing tape
・1 backdrop (wine-red velvet fabric)
・Heat-resistant colored cellophane
・1 tripod
・2 lighting stands
・1 backdrop stand

Having at least two panel lights will increase the variations of shots you can take, so I highly recommend it. You can’t go wrong with lights that use the camera battery and allow you to adjust the intensity and color temperature.

Also, it wasn't something I used this time, but big sheets of white and black paper can be priceless in photoshoots. Remember that for your own figure photography adventures!

Now that I had all my stuff, I went to eStream’s office.

Part 4: Take some actual photos.

It was finally time to shoot. As I explained earlier, this is how my shooting process goes.

1. Prepare the spot where you’re going to pose the figure.
2. Decide how you’ll frame the photo.
3. Adjust the background and props to match the framing.
4. Take a picture and keep making minor adjustments until you think it’s perfect.

Prepare the spot where you’re going to pose the picture.

When she uses her explosion magic in the anime, everything we see is bathed in red and orange light. First I wanted to create the area that would be lit up by that light.

1. I set up the backdrop stand over the office table and draped the backdrop over it.
2. I set Megumin’s figure on it.

3. I roughly decided where Megumin would be facing and where the camera would be.

4. I aimed a light that was wrapped in red cellophane at Megumin, from the direction where the explosion would be taking place.
5. To create a blue aura behind her, I aimed a light wrapped in blue cellophane from behind her.

That’s how I set up the area that would be lit up by the explosion. However, at this point it just looked like Megumin was standing in a space lit up by the explosion, so she didn’t stand out. This time, I added lighting that would make the focus of the photo stand out.

6. While looking through the viewfinder, I aimed a white light at Megumin’s face.
*Make sure that the shadows on her face don’t look too weird.

Now I was ready to start taking photos.

Deciding on the Framing of the Photo

You can decide on the framing by making small adjustments to the rough angle you chose. I wanted to show a lot of the details while still showing the overall figure, so I made sure to zoom in as much as possible to have Megumin, Chomusuke, and her wand in the frame.

I suggest using a telephoto lens for shooting, as it makes the subject look much denser. You can also put distance between the figure and the scenery to blur the background, making it easier to create a scene focused on the figure.

I didn’t do it for this photo, but often when I’m shooting, I buy items to use as props from home improvement stores, trinket shops, Amazon, and so on to create a scene from the world of the character. When shooting with a set like this, the telephoto lens creates a photo that has a nice atmosphere without too many stark or obvious details.

This is how to photograph the same subject using a telephoto lens and then a wide-angle lens. To keep things simple, I won’t explain it here, but please research it if you’re interested.

Make Minor Adjustments to the Background and Props to Match Your Chosen Framing

As you check through the camera’s viewfinder, keep adjusting the positioning of the tools and figures until you find their best position. Moving something even a few millimeters can make a huge difference, so it’s a task that requires persistence.

For this photo of Megumin, I made minute adjustments to:
・The angle of the figure
・The height of the camera
・The positions of the lights

Another very important item is the tripod. By fixing it in place as you take pictures and make adjustments, you can compare the small changes made to choose the best positions.

Take Pictures, Make Adjustments, and Repeat

Take a picture, make a minor adjustment.
Take another picture and make another minor adjustment.

Increase the quality of your photos by repeating this cycle. For Megumin’s photo, when making adjustments, I ended up lighting up the wand effect. In the end, my equipment looked like this:

All done!


What did you think? This may not have left much of an impression on you. Maybe you’re even thinking something like, “You didn’t even do much.” However, I wanted to let everyone know that you don’t have to do much as long as you have the right approach in place to take a great picture.

An example that people often use is that of a swan gracefully gliding along the water; you can’t see it, but beneath the water’s surface, its feet are kicking away. Similarly, a truly interesting part of a good photo is the process that’s taken to get to the final product. Once your favorite figure arrives at your home, please consider taking some photos of it!

Also, the #TOMSenpaiNoticeMe tag on Instagram is full of great pictures of fans showing off their love for their favorite figures and characters, so please check it out here!

TOM Photo Contest

Lastly, a quick reminder: the 3rd TOM Photo Contest is already underway (March 1-28, 2021). First prize will win $500 in TOM points! It’s very easy to enter; all you have to do is follow us on Twitter or Instagram and post using the hashtag #tomphotocon3 , or directly submit your photo with our Google form. Please consider entering – if anything, it's a great way to pass the time at home!

Find more details on the contest here
Find Twitter entries here
Find Instagram entries here
Enter directly here

This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article by S. Takemori.


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