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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Cosplay Photography Techniques (3): Examples of Different Lighting Setups

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we learnt about the different types of lighting gear and the effects that they create. In Part 3, we look at light setups, and the different effects you can achieve with one, two and three or more lights. (Reported by: Suna. Model: Yu, Kanata)

Cosplay photography


1. One-light setups

As the name suggests, one-light setups use one light source. You might think that this makes the setup very simple, but in actual fact, such setups require intermediate level experience. If you are a beginner to light setups, the two-light setup would probably be easier to start with.


The beauty of a one-light setup lies in how you can use it to create shadows in your image
The possible setup methods differ based on whether or not you want to create shadows. Here, I shall focus on how to use the setup to create shadows.

Cosplay photography – 1 monolight example

EOS-1Ds Mark II/ EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM/ f/5.6/ 1/160 sec/ ISO 160/ RAW
Lighting equipment: 1 monolight (through a shoot-through umbrella)


Where you place the light source can change the look and feel of your photo
The four photos below were each shot using one light source, placed at locations A - D in the diagram respectively. Take a look at them, and note where the light falls and how the photo turns out.

1 light setup illustration



1 light - A

This was shot with an external flash mounted onto the camera. The light fell directly onto the subject from the front, which makes her look flat. This could cause the image to look boring.


1 light - B

The subject was lit from below at an angle. This has resulted in unnatural shadows on subject’s face, making it look dark. This is a lighting angle that will probably not appeal to the model nor to the viewer.



1 light - C

Here, the centre of the light source was aimed at the subject’s chest, which allows light to fall onto her entire body. Of the 4 different light placements, this setup is arguably the one with the least issues.


1 light - D

In this photo, the light falls onto the subject’s hat, and her entire face is cast in shadow. This is an example of why you need to factor the shape of the costume into the lighting design.


How to get the appropriate shadow effect

Using a foam board reflector

One easy way to get the shadow effect just right is to direct the light from the side. Just doing that should give you a good shadow effect, but you could also place a foam board reflector on the side opposite to the light source to create a stronger shadow effect. Foam board reflectors are available in black or white. The foam board I used here is black on one side and white on the other, and for purposes of this shoot, I faced the black side towards the light source.


Example setup

1-light with foam board reflector (illustration)

A: Monolight
B: Shoot-through umbrella
C: Foam board reflector (black surface faces model)

The light was aimed at the model from the left. I used a shoot-through umbrella to diffuse the light and make it soft. The shadows were made stronger by placing the black surface of a foam board reflector opposite the light source.


2. Two-light setups

Two-light setups work on the concept of placing two light sources in different directions to eliminate shadows. It is a basic lighting setup, and very useful for beginners who just started photography to know. 

With a two-light setup, light falls nicely on the entire subject, and there are barely any shadows on the face. It is an orthodox way to ensure that skin colour is depicted beautifully in cosplay photographs. One method calls for casting light directly onto the model, while another method involves reflecting light off surfaces such as walls. Many such setups involve the use of diffusers, foam boards and other gear besides the light source itself. Indeed, this is a setup that is simple and yet leaves room for much possibility.

Shot with 2 lights

Photo A
EOS-1Ds Mark II/ EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM/ f/5.6/ 1/125 sec/ ISO 400/ RAW
Lighting equipment: 2 monolights


Basic two-light setup involves sandwiching the subjects between two light sources

The most fundamental two-light setup for photographing people involves placing one light source on each side of the model so that the model is “sandwiched” by the lights. If you put the light sources at a 45-degree angle in front of the model, as shown in the diagram below, the light will fill in the front of the model quite easily.

For such a setup, it is important to ensure that the light from both light sources have the same intensity. Softboxes and shoot-through umbrellas are often used, but if you do not have them, you can also make your own diffuser by using tracing paper.


The setup as viewed from the top

Basic two-light setup

A: Model
B: Light source

The lighting setup as viewed from above. This will cast light on every single part of the model.


Shot with basic two-light setup

The above photo was shot using a softbox on each side of the subject. See how the subject’s entire body is enveloped in a soft light.


Two-lighting setup with foam board V-flats
V-flats are basically two foam boards taped together to form a ‘V’ shape. This lighting setup is slightly more advanced, and was the technique used to capture Photo A above. It involves lighting up the entire space through the repeated reflection of light. Pose your model in front of a white wall, and then place the V-flats in front of the model, with the white side towards the model to create something like a little white room. If you aim your light source at the wall, you will be able to bounce the light around the space surrounded by the V-flats.


Illustration of layout

Two light setup with two V-flats

A: V-flats (white side facing the model)
B: Clip-on flash units (on-camera flash units mounted onto a stand)

An illustration of the layout from the point of view of the camera. Two external flash units were placed in the V-flats. The V-flats themselves were laid out in such a way that there was an opening between them where the model could be seen, and the photo was shot through that gap.


3. Lighting setups with three lights or more

Lighting setups with many lights may seem complicated, but one easy way is to think of them in terms of two major categories: Setups that are intended to make the model look more beautiful, and setups meant to achieve other objectives.

For the image below, I intended to create a stark white background (by blowing it out) while ensuring that the outline of the subject was still clear. The model will stand out clearer in a photo where the white background is blown out, so that is one technique you can keep in mind. In such a photo, there are no distracting background elements, so this also makes it easy to cut out the subject in image-editing software if you need to do so.

Shot with multiple-light setup

EOS-1Ds Mark II/ EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM/ f/5.0/ 1/160 sec/ ISO100/ RAW
Lighting equipment: 2 monolights (through strip softboxes), 2 clip-on flash units


Multiple-light source setups for blowing out the background

First of all, I placed two strip softboxes in front of the model to act as the main lighting for illuminating the model. Behind the model on each side, I set up a V-flat so that the black side faced the model and the white side faced the wall. In the space between each V-flat and the wall, I placed a clip-on flash unit so that the light from the units would bounce off the V-flats and the wall, creating a stark white background.


The setup as viewed from the top

Multi-light setup diagram

A: White walls
B: Clip-on flash units
C: Model
D: V-flats (arranged so that the black side faces model and the white side faces the wall)
E: Strip softboxes

Facing the black side of the V-flat towards the model absorbs excess light, which helps to make the outlines of a subject stand out better. As the walls are surrounded by the white surface of the V-flats, light bounces off them and blows out the background.


Multi-light setup

If you set different light intensity values for the main lights on the left and right of the subject, you can make the subject “pop” better. Use trial and error to find the best light intensity for the scene.


For more tips and tutorials about lighting and flash photography, check out the following:
In Focus: The Basics of External Flash Photography
In Focus: Speedlite


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Suna (@sandmu963)

Suna (@sandmu963)

Working as a photographer mostly on weekdays, Suna always incorporates new photography techniques and provides very well-organised and easy-to-understand explanations on social media such as Twitter.

Yu (@yu_know_what)

Yu (@yu_know_what)

Cosplayer who is currently involved in cosplay projects such as Fate, Danganronpa and Hatsune Miku. She has won a very good reputation for her scenario-specific photos.

Kanata (@HakusuiKanata)

Kanata (@HakusuiKanata)

Kanata is a cosplayer as well as a modern artist who specialises in plastic arts. He is famous for the detailed texture of his weapons and protective gear. Kanata is also the official cosplayer for “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress”.

Genkosha Co.

Genkosha Co.

A publisher that specializes in books and magazines about video, photography and illustrations.