Up until about two weeks ago, the WordPress phase of Hobby Hovel did not include author names as part of its theme. But no one complained about it, probably because it was pretty obvious who was responsible for which reviews – Ashlotte is the guy who takes his photos under the radiance of Apollo, and I’m the guy who shoots everything in front of a flat black backdrop.

To be honest, I didn’t think too much of my lack in creativity – clear review shots were my thing, and I didn’t mind taking the silver medal (even if there are only two contestants). But while I was busy not receiving figures and being skull-fucked by school, Ashlotte was busy making some really great outdoor shots for his reviews with his humble point-and-shoot. To top things off, Ashlotte recently got a DSLR camera, and even a test shot with it was enough to seize Picture of the Day on MFC.

Needless to say, I started feeling the pressure. While figure blogging has never been a competition for me, I’d rather not be completely upstaged on the site that I started. You know what they say: “If you can’t beat them, join them!” And that’s what I exactly what happened – I did the unthinkable:

I went outside.

Not a chance in hell.

Now before I start, I should probably say that I am a pretty self-conscious person. For better or for worse, I am not one to do embarrassing shit in public, and I’d definitely consider taking pictures of little plastic girls somewhat embarrassing. Furthermore, I’m not an outdoorsy type, so I don’t know many places with decent scenery within the reaches of Toronto public transit even if I didn’t have this complex.  Thankfully, I know of one scenic place that is no stranger to freaks people with unique interests –cherry blossoms season at Toronto’s High Park.

In the last couple of time I that I went, I’ve seen people their dressed up in Lolita outfits and propping their Blythe dolls on the flower-laden branches. What’s even more assuring was that a few friends were supposed to come with me; Molly was expected in her full Lolita outfit, and Sam & Laura from PlasticFantastic planned to have their Dollfie Dream in tow. This posse seemed  perfect for the self-conscious me – between the pretty girl in the frilly dress and a big-ass doll, the attention would be pretty safely diverted from me, the Chinaman hunched over the “World is Mine” Miku, which looks like a normal picture frame from afar anyways.

However, at the last minute, Molly couldn’t make it and Sam & Laura opted to bring the Revoltech Danboard instead – a considerably less conspicuous subject. Stripped of my scapegoats, I was once again vulnerable to the gazes of the flower-watching masses!

Thankfully, Laura and Sam were still there to keep me from running away like a little girl with stage fright. After a lengthy search for a parking spot, we conveniently wound up near a tree situated on a hill with a number of low-hanging branches – a rarity amongst the cherry blossom trees in the park, because most low branches on the cherry trees presumably have been snapped off over the years by park visitors. Laura suggested that Miku should be placed amongst the cherry flowers and helped me place Miku on a surprisingly sturdy branch. There were a bunch of people loitering around the tree and inside the margins of my frame, and I was still pretty nervous, but I snapped away anyways.

I wish I had brought a reflector of some sort, because the sun was pretty strong during this time (hence the hard shadows on Miku’s face). I’ll definitely bring something to that effect next time I venture outdoors.

This is my favourite shot out of the initial batch. As you can see, I’ve prettied her up with some post-processing. I adjusted the white balance to make the shot look slightly warmer, and I also upped the colour vibrance and saturation as Ashlotte suggested. I think the changes worked out pretty well in the end; the colours look significantly nicer without looking too unnatural and fake.

Though Miku’s frame was never used in any of photos that afternoon, it was very handy in concealing her during transport. Initially I had Laura carry her for me due to my own embarrassment, but soon I decided to hold her close to my chest with the frame facing away from me – this way, she was  safely shielded from the quizzical gaze of other park-goers.

The second opportunity came when Sam jumped over a fence to take a few money shots of Danboard chilling in a stone ornament in a dried-up pond. Left to my own devices, I noticed a patch of green…things on the lawn nearby. They looked pretty soft, so I decided to lay Miku on it.

Because of the downward slope of the hill, I had to get pretty low on the ground to get the right angles. In retrospect, I must’ve looked pretty ridiculous snapping away on my knees, because the spectacle attracted a bit of attention. A middle-aged woman took pictures of the figure with her own camera right next to me, and I heard a bunch of shutter clicks behind me as well. I hope they were taking pictures of the figure as opposed to picture of me making a fool out of myself. I better not see my ass posted on Flickr!

We made one last stop near the trees next to the baseball diamond so I could take a few more shots of Miku in the flowers. Once again, Laura proved to be a stand-up lady by helping me to keep the branch still while I took the photos. The party was ready to go home at this point, so I rushed a bit to get the shots I wanted, but since I had mostly gotten over my embarrassment complex by this point, I was able to take a few decent shots without completely screwing up the exposure like my initial attempt.

So what were the lessons learned during my maiden voyage? Well, I wanted to try the “bokeh” effect that Ash likes so much, so I made sure to lower the F-stop to narrow the field of view so that the background would be blurred. However, in most of these shots, I overdid it and Miku’s legs ended up a little too out-of-focus for my liking. I don’t think it’s too distracting (except in the above shot where the legs are in front and centre), but it’s definitely something to watch out for in the future.

But I think the most important lesson here is that outdoor photography is a lot of fun! While I highly doubt that I’ll be lying prone on the sidewalk trying to get a good thong shot of a Queen’s Blade figure anytime soon, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for opportunities to bring my figures outdoors for a few shots here and there. It also felt great to shoot without having to worry about the nailing the checklist of specifics shots I need for a review. The mellow pace, nice weather and pretty scenery was a very different yet pleasant experience.

Because I never had to pay for my photography gear and because I never  went out of my ways to explore the creative (or technical, for that matter) dimensions of photography,  I’ve never considered myself a photographer (and I still don’t). But this afternoon in High Park made me understand why people spend so much money to get those fancy cameras and big lens. Photography is not about merely transcribing reality – rather, it takes what’s in front of the lens and passing it through a series of technical and creative filters to produce something unique. In the hands of a real photographer, the camera does not merely replicate reality, but creates reality as well.

To all of you figure photographers out there: have you shot your figures in public before? What were your experiences? Come on, spill the beans – the more embarrassing the story, the better! =P