I grew up reading Conan the Barbarian and Batman comics and dig the movies but I really wasn’t properly introduced to Cosplay until January 13, 2013 when Callie Cosplay and I had our first shoot. I was expecting to just shoot fashion and then she pulled out all of these costumes that she made. I had no idea what other photographers did with Cosplay but I knew the characters and loved that they had built-in stories and styles.
I’ve been a graphic designer for 13 years and really thought of photography as a way to do something else. Little did I know I’d be right back in Photoshop for hours but I wanted the viewer to see the character in their own worlds doing amazing things. I didn’t want to just take a pic of her in a costume standing in a parking lot. Sure that pic would show how cool the costume looked or that she was pretty but would someone want to hang it on their wall? I know there are photographers that shoot cosplayers at cons but that is more news photography. “Here is somebody at a convention in a cool outfit.” To me that puts more spotlight on the costume creator than the character and maybe that’s the point. My goal though is for you to forget about the model and see the character and it’s a big goal.
Just a pretty face won’t do. Callie impressed me with her acting which comes from truly loving the characters and wanting to step into their shoes. She isn’t thinking about herself but what the character would do and how they would look. That inspires me to want to take the image to another level. A true tribute of the characters, not just a pretty girl in a costume.
We plan out the shots so if there is fire, I know to use an orange gel to add the fire reflection. Black hair in the comics usually has a blue tint to it so I light it that way. We do shoot movie poster posed shots but for our action shots I treat the pic as a single frame from a movie. What would the movement look like, the colors and the lighting?
I was told about the cosplay photographers that make money shooting at conventions and if I would do that but I don’t really have any interest in that. What would be the difference between my pics and another photographer there? We’d both be stuck in the same surroundings without proper lighting and no time to really direct the image. If you watch my behind-the-shots videos you’ll see a lot of planning and directing. They aren’t as much shots as scenes.
If someone finds one of my images I want them to know it is me by the quality of it. I’m not in it for a quick buck. Callie and I make a great team because she is a model, not just a pretty face in a costume. She knows how to move with the camera and sell an image with expression and emotion. Her eyes draw you in and if not for her talents, mine wouldn’t matter at all.
As our images get more exposure I am being contacted about shooting other cosplayers but I won’t shoot anything for a quick dollar. Not when my name is attached to it. I think of it more as casting actors, someone that can bring the character to life even before I pick up the camera.
Advice for new models: Don’t worry about being pretty in the picture. You already are and you will still be pretty jumping, swinging fist and screaming so focus on the character and the images will be so much better.
Advice for new photographers: These Cosplayers spend their money and time creating awesome costumes and should have images that make them larger than life. They deserve it and so does the character they are portraying. Think of the shot before you shoot it, light it to match and strive to create an image that brings the character to life.
I’ve heard some people saying that using Photoshop isn’t Cosplay Photography but if Cosplay Photography is taking a pic of someone in costume standing in a parking lot or on the street, then I don’t consider myself a Cosplay Photographer. I’m a photographer /Graphic Designer that happens to shoot Cosplay. If they love the image, who cares what you did to create it?
I’d love to shoot on location with awesome Hollywood sets but the reality is a lot of us don’t have the budget for that. For these shots I had an amazing model, Callie Cosplay, an awesome make-up artist, Elia Lizcano and me to light, shoot and design. Knowing Photoshop lets me create atmosphere and scenes only limited by my imagination and skills. You don’t have to know everything in Photography and Photoshop but try and be awesome with what you do know. Most important, we have fun!
Knowing that Stephanie Alicia would be perfect for this image with her sexy dangerous expressions and poses I was really looking forward to this shoot. Elia Lizcano was coming to do makeup and body paint so I just needed to kick butt in the photography and Photoshop departments to make this image come to life.
Modeling is not just about posing, makeup and clothes. It’s acting and having the imagination to see yourself inside the unfinished image. Like green screen acting, there is nothing around you except an idea. Then for me it’s going through the images and finding the one that inspires me, the one where instantly I start envisioning a scene around her.
So here she is posing away on a chair. My key light is the sun, my rim light and fill lights with blue gels are the shadows. I’m not lighting the model but the model in the scene. Imagination. I’ve been asked if I would make a composition from a photograph sent to me but if it isn’t scene lit it will come off fake. I don’t want to dodge and burn a pic into what I want. I want to use Photoshop to correct and combine.
I wanted to shoot her perched on this tree that fell in my drive way but it was raining when we did her shots. So I went out the next day and set up my lights to match what I had done with her. Warm sunlight and blue shadows. One bare speedlight and one through a medium softbox. Something to remember is focusing. I made the mistake the first time of not focusing where she would be and her hands were sharp but the tree under her slightly out of focus. Your eye will know and you will stop viewing the image and start looking for other clues it’s fake.
Into Photoshop to remove her from the background using the background eraser tool for her hair, the pen tool for her body and the clone stamp to hide my neighbors fence. Not wanting her too far from the city I added some building lights. I did use the burn tool to darken her hands and feet so they would blend with the tree more.
Another thing I always do is blur the edges around her skin. When you look at pictures of people there isn’t a sharp edge from their skin to the background, it blurs, blends together. Also sometimes you will see weirdness in pics that don’t have this.
Sometimes no matter what I do, an image still screams fake to me but taking the model and background image myself added a lot and there really wasn’t anything extra for me to do except go back to lightroom and adjust my colors. That’s a whole other project but I’ve created my own presets so sometimes they work perfectly and sometimes I have to tweak a few things.