How to Use Laser Pointers for Dynamic Action Figure Lighting

There’s so much to love about MatthewK’s photo reviews. I spent some time talking with him about his setup and process, and one thing we discussed was how he creates lighting effects for things like laser beams or jet pack flames, like you can see in the “Space Ace” portion of MattK’s Masters of the Universe Classics Vykron review. The secret, he told me, is tiny LED lights – that and a whole lot of patience. Basically, he sets up in darkness, opens the shutter on his camera, triggers his flash for the basic lighting, and then draws the lighting effect he wants. The patience is key, because it takes a lot of tries to get it just right.

Since I am a pretty impatient guy, I thought I’d try something simpler. I found some action figures and accessories that I could try lighting with a couple of simple laser pointers that my wife picked up for me. So, while you won’t be getting laser beams in this article, you might still find some pretty cool looking action figure pictures – I’ll explain how I set up each shot so you can try it for yourself.

I found that if you have a big enough translucent object, like Ryu’s fireball above, that can be the sole source of lighting for your shot, if you want. With Ryu, I’ve shot a blue/purple laser at the front portion of the fireball – the purple ghosting at the front of the fireball is the area which was getting hit by the laser pointer. With my camera set to the the “no flash” automatic setting and no other light source, Ryu gets a nice front lighting effect that’s being defused through the fireball.

Chun Li with Fireball.jpg

With Chun Li, I lit up the fireball by shooting the laser at it from the rear – you can see a slight purple ghosting on the back edge of it. Even from that angle, the translucent fireball accessory spreads enough light around to light up the figure behind it. And before I forget, kudos to the Square Enix folks for making their Street Fighter Play Arts Kai figures so awesome that they can get into their iconic poses.

Hal Jordan with Power Battery.jpgLex Luthor with Kryptonite.jpg

Hal Jordan and Lex Luthor from Mattel’s DC Universe Classics line are both lighted primarily by a green laser pointer. However, since Hal’s power battery is opaque and Lex’s kryptonite chunk is rather small (and subsequently spread around less light), I augmented shots the with some additional light, using a simple light bulb app on my Android tablet. If you look closely, you may notice that Hal has somewhat of a green glow around him – this was achieved by “swirling” around the laser pointer around the inside rim of the lantern. With Lex, I focused the beam directly on the kryptonite chunk and tried to move it as little as possible.

Galactus with Silver Surfer.jpgSunfire.jpg

Here’s a couple shots to wrap up this article with Hasbro’s Marvel Universe Masterworks Galactus and Silver Surfer and Marvel Legends Age of Apocalypse Sunfire. In Galactus’s case, he already came with a translucent head (at least in the important parts) – so I just the laser shot top down into the translucent opening at the top of his head. Enough light was distributed outwards from the remaining holes that it partially lit up the Silver Surfer. For Sunfire, I aimed the laser at the back of his neck. This shot probably needed a couple more laser pointers to light up the lower parts of his body, but I’m still pleased with how it turned out.

Have a laser pointer of your own? Give this a try, and let me know how it turns out!

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