Creative Lighting Cosplay and Punk Portraits at Krog Street Tunnel


Name two styles that are crazy vibrant in color, and exude personality in unexpected ways. I got to capture both Punk and Cosplay awesomeness in a recent creative portrait session with my friend Rachel. My goal was to experiment with creative lighting for these images. Throw in the vibrant Krog Street Market & Tunnel as a background and wow.

Whenever I have a lull in client work and manage to have a free weekend, I’ll call up one of my buddies and ask if they would mind modeling for me. These sessions are my playtime to learn, experiment, and get creative. There are no promises of good images; just some interesting ones while I try different things to see what does and doesn’t work. I don’t like experimenting during client sessions. I think it’s rude to waste their time while I do something off the wall that might not work. Instead, I abuse my friends by ruining their opportunity to sleep in on the weekends in an attempt to become a better photographer. Rachel volunteered as tribute for this round of creative lighting portraits.

The Creative Lighting Plan

I’m not very active on social media – but I do use it for inspiration by following other photographers and creatives. Lately, I’ve enjoyed the hyperrealistic and oversaturated street portraits of Shani Varner (@shanivarner), Alex Miller (@liquidverve), Francisco Joel Hernandez (@fjhphoto). For this session with Rachel, I wanted to try my hand at those street photos but with a more naturally lit look for the punk outfit followed by some dramatic flash to create some creative lighting for the cosplay images. Oh, man, did we have fun.

Rachel is active in the cosplay community, and luckily for me, had just dyed her hair red. I thought this would be perfect for both punk and cosplay portrait looks. We started with the punk looks at Krog Street Market because the area has a great grungy, textured look that would pop well against Rachel’s hair.

Natural Light

The focus (no pun intended) was to find backgrounds that made Rachel stand out. Since she was wearing blue jeans and a green jacket, I tried to stick to walls, hallways, and sidewalks that were more gray, black, brown, or white (which was pretty easy in an urban industrial area). Also to our advantage was that it was overcast all morning, so the lighting was terrific. Cloudy skies mean no harsh shadows – which typically look great for portraits. Also of help was that the ground was primarily grey concrete, which acts as a natural reflector. So long as I positioned Rachel on the edge of a shadowed area, the light coming from above and below created some super flattering light.

Ugly Light

That all went out the window when we got to Krog Street Tunnel. It’s dark, it’s grimy, and it’s full of gorgeous graffiti. To get around what was genuinely terrible lighting, I grabbed a speedlight (a small flash), threw on a grid to focus the light, and pointed it directly at Rachel. I held the flash as high as I could to my left while shooting with my right. To make Rachel stand out and accentuate the moodiness, I kept the background dark. I love the dramatic look of these images! The hardest part was dodging all the bicyclists and joggers!

Crazy Flash

To cap off the session, Rachel donned her badass Spiderwoman suit. I wanted these to be crazy dramatic, so we shot these in the full sun with my 24” MagMod MagBox. I had to use two flashes (Flashpoint AD200’s) to generate enough light to “overpower the sun” AKA contribute to the exposure. I’ve never shot in direct sunlight like this with the flash essentially providing fill light. Damn, these are cool.

The other reason for shooting these with a flash in direct sunlight was that I could get all the detail in the sky and shadows simultaneously. If I had shot these with natural light only, the sky would have been pure white with Rachel correctly exposed. If I had exposed for the sky to blue and cloudy, Rachel would have been a black silhouette.

Finally, we wrapped up by using a loading dock frame and the same flash set up. This time, I wanted to use only the flash to light Rachel. Not an easy task, and it took some tinkering to get it right. The most significant help was placing the 24” MagBox in the way of the sun, effectively putting Rachel in the shade. With a simple tweak to my settings, I was able to balance the exposure of Rachel in the shaded door frame with the wall out in the sun, and then instantly make it look like we were shooting late in the evening with the next image.


This session was a blast. I learned a lot, got to hang out with a friend for a few hours (including brunch afterward!), and created some stellar images. If I can walk away from a session with one awesome photo – I’m ecstatic. I think I got a couple with this creative portrait session!

If you’re into Cosplay, be sure to check out Rachel at @marvelousrachel – she’s a hoot, super sweet, and shares a lot of her building process!

As always, if you need a photographer or want to talk about medical device design (yeah, I do that too) – contact me Here.