23 Feb 2016

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider episode 1 – how not to take photos

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In 2010 I was busy preparing a photo report (yes, a photo report – one has to start somehow…) at an automotive industry trade fair. At one stall they mistook me for a professional photographer famous in the motorcycling circles, who belonged to the same editorial staff as I did. After a while, the stall’s owner pointed at me and told the hostesses, “This is the best photographer working here” and I didn’t care too much about getting things straight. The girls immediately gathered round me to pose for photos and one of them definitely was the most interesting hostess in the whole trade fair hall. I took the photos; a week later, that hostess – Klaudia Kandziora (currently Klaudia Danch, known as Kala) – found me on a social network website. We had a chat and I decided that it was high time I did a full-blown photo shoot, or at least something that would resemble it a bit. That was a breakthrough… my first photo shoot. I’ve only described it because I’m going to refer to it in some of my oncoming posts.

I had taken photos of some girls before, but it had nothing to do with a photo shoot. Anyway, the photos described here were just a substitute, too, but this is how it all started. At first I wanted to dress Klaudia up as a commando, but it would be hard to get all the necessary accessories. Since in my opinion she resembled Lara Croft very much, this became her final role. The make-up was to be done by Renata Jackowska.

Lara Croft

It’s probably irrelevant to explain to you who Lara Croft is. She’s the main character in a series of computer games and two movies.

Bits and pieces – part 1: Lara Croft was initially planned to be a man, but the creators concluded that it would evoke too strong associations with Indiana Jones. She is an archeologist who visits various corners of the globe and solves mysteries as she goes. She communicates with most of characters on her way via a 9 mm Beretta.



Nikon D90 | Nikkor 50mm 1,8 D | F/2.2, 1/60 | ISO 400

Lara Croft’s looks are different depending on the part of the game (for the newest parts, they contained themselves when it comes to the character’s bust size, too). The styling in my photos was largely based on the movies. I bought pistols and holsters on the Polish counterpart of eBay, but it wasn’t easy. They did have plenty of thigh holsters for the right leg, but virtually none for the left one (let alone the type that I wanted). The guns were hard to get, too: wrong models, wrong colors or, when I finally found the ones I desired, small-scale replicas. I had to wait two weeks until those I needed were delivered. Klaudia took the rest of the clothing from home, but she didn’t have the right vest, so on our way to the photo shoot we visited a shopping center. We searched in virtually all stalls until we finally managed to buy the right top, i.e. a black one with no printed designs or markings.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Nikon D90 | Nikkor 50mm 1,8 D | F/2.2, 1/60 | ISO 400

Bits and pieces – part 2: Lara’s original outfit (worn in the years 1998-1999 by Nell McAndrew) was sold at an auction for 4400 GBP and the sum was transferred to UNICEF. Our outfit cost a lot less.

The photos for which the styling is based on characters from games, movies and comic books are called cosplays. Their point is the same as that of fashion shots: they show styling, but it must resemble the original one as much as possible (and so must the person wearing the outfit). One could probably call cosplays a subcategory of fashion shots that has nothing in common with what one can see in fashion magazines. Anyway, cosplays are not only shots because what matters is the dressing up as the characters, while taking photos is an additional thing.

To take the photos, we went to the cement works located in northern Poland. I have been there many times: the place is really cool because it occupies a large and quite diversified area. Shifting the frame by a few meters yields a bit different scenery, though the atmosphere remains similar. Particular segments of the cement works differ more from one another, but (officially) one can no longer enter the place because it is totally ruined.

The light

When it came to lighting, I wasn’t entirely sure of my activities at the time. In fact, I didn’t have the faintest notion… I only knew that the person had to be lit so as to prevent it from being a black patch. I didn’t know what hair lights were and wasn’t able to provide them anyway because I had only one light. These photos result from coincidence more than skills.

The setup was simple: one light directed at the person (Metz 48 controlled manually with CLS by Nikon, i.e. I set the light power in the camera) and the background filled with the available light coming in through holes in the wall and the ceiling.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Nikon D90 | Nikkor 50mm 1,8 D | F/2.2, 1/60 | ISO 400


I didn’t know at the time that RF remote release would be much better and that adjusting lights manually is a basic photographic skill, not a torture. I didn’t have any RF remote release, anyway. I bought the majority of the set described in the newest post later. I also possessed a 180 cm sunreflector that had virtually no effect in that darkness, so one could easily skip it. Instead of trying to reflect the flash, I tried to reflect the available light coming in through the hole in the ceiling.

I used a 50 mm 1.8 Nikkor lens on the Nikon D90 camera. The person stood in a darkened place, lit by the abovementioned Metz light through a transparent umbrella. The stand was positioned in front of the face (the photo in profile) or to the left, so most of the light was cast on the cheek invisible in the photo, while the visible cheek was in the shadow. Lighting that very side is really important, though I wasn’t aware of that at the time. Such setup yields completely different photos than the one with the stand on the other side (lighting the visible side of the face). In the former case, cheekbones and facial features in general are greatly highlighted; in the latter, everything looks flat and glamour-like, which equals boring. Remember: we don’t like glamour shots! It is so obvious to me now that I feel embarrassed writing about it, but I didn’t think about such things during my beginnings: I wanted enough light and that was that.

The photo below presents the model in that more glamour-like light and retouched with such a plastic result that it’s a shame to publish it now, but here you go:


Nikon D90 | Nikkor 50mm 1,8 D | F/2.2, 1/60 | ISO 400


OK, let’s assume that I set the lighting correctly – by accident, but correctly. Well, acceptably… Sadly, the rest is totally wrong, so today’s post is about how NOT to take photos…

How not to take photos

First of all, these photos should have been taken with the aperture value of at least 3.5. They would look better because now the person is too much separated from the background. Still, if I had increased the aperture value, I would have had a problem with lighting the surroundings due to the available light; I could have made up for that by prolonging the exposure time, though. Second, if I were taking these photos once again (which I did, anyway, but I’ll describe it another time), I would add one or two hair or rim lights. The hairstyle would look much better and so would the whole person. Third, have I mentioned that all I wanted to achieve using the light was lighting the person so as not to make it too dark? Well, I didn’t manage to do that! The outfit was underexposed and I needed to lighten it on the bust, which destroyed the quality. If I were to retouch it now, I would probably do it some 100 times better, but my skills were totally different then. Such are the results of assessing a photo on a display instead of a histogram. Anyway, I kept taking underexposed shots for one more year… Fourth, skin retouching was inept: it further worsened the quality and skin texture disappeared (I thought then that one should retouch using a stamp and I associated dodge&burn solely with tools available under the “O” button). People thought that this poor skin retouching had been done on purpose to make a more “game-like” impression. Well, if so do you, the better for me.

So much for the basic flaws. There is also one huge mistake there unrelated to the setup: one doesn’t hold guns with fingers on the triggers. It is another issue (I’ve already lost track of their number) that seems obvious now and that I wasn’t aware of back then.


The photo shoot was carried out thanks to a lot of luck and to the fact that Kala, the hostess met at the trade fair, was able to pose in an excellent way. Anyway, she started participating in photo shoots afterwards and has done it until now. I have photographed her many times myself since then. I even read once on a blog run by a certain make-up artist that Kala was my muse :). Taking into account the fact that photos with her as the main model once constituted a half of my portfolio, one could agree that there was some truth in it. After this photo shoot I finally had something sensible to publish on my profile on MaxModels and plucked up courage to write to girls who had some experience as models (MaxModels is a Polish website gathering models, photographers, make-up artists and other people from the industry – an improved version of ModelsMayhem.com). It took a few more months before I started taking shots regularly, but it was gradually becoming easier. I currently take much better photos, so feel invited to view other photo shoots :).

Bits and pieces – part 3: The movie “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” was banned in China due to infringing the country’s reputation since it was shown in the state of chaos, without a government and under control of secret organizations.

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I have taken beauty and fashion shots for a few years. I publish the results of my work on this blog together with photo shoot descriptions, setups, backstage photos and everything that is significant while photographing. I try to diversify the equipment I use during my photo shoots.
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