cosplay

Angie and Brooke and Benson // DragonBallZ Cosplay

On the weekend, I was lucky enough to get to do a cosplay shoot with Angie, Brooke and their good friend Benson at the Australian Movie & Comic Expo in Melbourne. They were cosplaying Bulma, Chi-Chi, and the Ox-King respectively, all characters from DragonBallZ. This was challenging, because I don’t know anything about these characters! But it actually turned into something of a blessing, because while they could take control of the posing and the way they wanted the shoot to look, I took care of the technical side.

The day before in Melbourne had been bright and sunny, but overnight it had gotten overcast. This was actually better photography-wise, because it meant a softer, diffused light with less harsh shadowing. Except it was windy. Exceptionally windy. If it was possible to physically harm the wind, I think by the end of us shooting outside Brooke would have tried. I tried to reason that the wind would make it look more realistic with the movement of material and hair, but I don’t know if she believed me.

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Too windy for Brooke!

We did the bulk of the shoot outside after finding a grassed area surrounded by tall shrubs. It had the advantage of both looking good in the photos and hiding the surrounding cars, trucks, buildings of the Melbourne Showgrounds.

Brooke, Angie and Benson started bouncing ideas around and started posing. The settings were relatively straightforward and I actually shot everything about 1/2 – 1 stop under so I could work with boosting in post. I also tried using the “shady” white balance setting this time around, whereas I usually keep the white balance on auto and fix it later.

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There were certain poses that were “must haves” for them; ones inspired by things on the show they’d seen. But other than that it was just them bouncing ideas around. When we couldn’t take the wind anymore, we all went inside to see what we could get inside the pavilion under lights.

Naturally, the change in environment meant changing the exposure settings. I put the white balance back on auto, slowed the shutter speed slightly, widened the aperture slightly and boosted the ISO. The main thing I wanted was a wider aperture to get a shallow depth of field because I didn’t want too much of the background to be in focus (eg. all the people milling around), but not too shallow to make focus difficult.

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I actually really liked the effect if I crouched low and shot up, as it caught the lighting and lines running along the ceiling and I thought it was a cool effect.

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Editing was another challenge for me, because I knew that since these were anime characters it would lend itself to a more vibrant, saturated colour edit but I still wanted to avoid blowing out the highlights. Shooting slightly underexposed helped with that. In Lightroom I boosted the saturation slightly, then after importing into Photoshop I played with the curves and levels to boost the light. I made sure to keep the light on their face, and tried to slightly burn the backgrounds. I also used the lasso tool to select certain specific colour aspects of the photo; Angie’s hair and Brooke’s dress. Then I would use a selective colour mask and boost the cyan / magenta levels respectively. This helped make those two areas stand out brightly without sacrificing the rest of the photos (eg. especially skin tone).

I was so proud of how these turned out but the thing that really stood out to me was how much fun it was – and how they looked like they were having fun. I truly believe that if you’re subjects are relaxed and having fun and you are, it will come out in the photos and I think this is a good example of that.

I’m so lucky to have such talented people who want me to photograph them.

Loki // Osric Chau Cosplay Photoshoot #3

The Loki shoot was a bit of a departure from the other photoshoots I’ve previously done with Osric Chau. For one, I knew what he was cosplaying as. For a whole 5 months beforehand. He was particularly excited about it, and when he told me about it I actually asked (begged) to be allowed to shoot it.

So I have to be magnanimous in this instance – I did know what I was getting myself into. I went into it with three particular images in my head. One was a promotional photo for Thor : The Dark World, and the other two were from Tom Hiddleston’s Hall H appearance at SDCC in 2013.

 

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If you’ve ever seen Hiddleston’s performance as Loki, you’ll know that he is an intriguing mix of Shakespearean villain with an underlying layer of angst and vulnerability. So the key was to somehow give an impression of both.

Because of the layout of the convention hotel, there wasn’t really anywhere we could go to do the photoshoot, so Chris was kind enough to let us use the backdrop that was set up for promo photos when he had a long break in his shooting. I was taken aback by his kindness and incredibly intimidated at the same time.

Again for me it was working a balance between completely filling the frame and working with a lot of negative space. The costume was intricate and made up of lots of lines and diagonals and curves and different textures, and because we were using a plain seamless paper backdrop those parts of the composition could be brought to the fore without competing with a background. It really was totally up to Osric to try to emulate his own version of Loki. I was lucky to have my friends Kat and Sean there to help out, and we bounced ideas around (I absolutely could not have done it without them!) We tried everything, from tightly framed close-ups where I was standing on a chair looking down the bridge of his nose to emphasize vulnerability, to the full frame powerful “Say My Name” pose. The ones where he got “Loki” the most to me were the ones of him sitting beside the helmet – there was something about the expression or the mood, I’m not sure. It just worked!

 

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I did the first set of images, then Chris Schmelke tweeted a picture that he had taken of Osric and it sent me running to photoshop to heavily edit my own in an attempt to try to keep up with him! These involved many, many adjustment layers and lots of dodging and burning, which I’ve talked about on here before (basically subtly “dodging” or lighting some areas like the whites of eyes, bridge of nose, cheeks, light-touched areas of hair and “burning” or darkening other areas like pupils of eyes, sides of nose, under the jaw etc. Almost like highlighting and defining with makeup)

Working with off-camera lighting in a studio setup gives photos a dynamic quality that is so different to natural light, but you can still give the images even more dimension and “punch” using dodging and burning creatively. Because in my mind I see Loki as this hedonistic blur of black and green and gold I tried to really emphasize those colours by boosting their saturation levels and suppressing other colours like blues and reds. The final touch was a really heavy vignette (usually a no-go area) to heighten the sense of heightened drama and draw the viewer’s eye directly into the subject – “Loki”.

 

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And because I am such a stickler for black and white, I had to go back and try converting some of the images. I was actually really proud of how they turned out, especially the this one. The almost HD darkness and high-contrast moodiness of them reminded me of some of Andy Gotts’ portraits¬† who I follow on twitter and admire greatly.

 

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I know I probably sound like a broken record, but this was so much fun to do, and I was again so grateful for the opportunity to do it. I feel like I’m on this gigantic, steep learning curve and I’m being tested and it’s scary but fun at the same time. Each time I want to get better and produce stronger images. I’m not sure if and when the next photoshoot will be, but hopefully I can rise to the challenge again!

Thank you so much to Chris Schmelke, Katherine Arteaga and Sean Koo for all their help and encouragement. Thank you Isa, Gretchen and Samma for all their hardwork making the amazing costume and thank you Osric for pushing me and putting up with me simultaneously lol

Ariel // Osric Chau Cosplay Photoshoot #2

Unlike the first time I did a cosplay photoshoot with Osric Chau, this time he actually told me what he was cosplaying as.

True, it was only a day or so before I left Australia to fly to San Francisco, but we’re slowly making progress in Let’s Get Megan As Prepared As Possible. So I sat in the airport, waiting for my connecting flight, googling other Little Mermaid cosplay photoshoots.

I would email some suggestions, “What about this?”. I would get an email back, “Hmmm…maybe, but we can do better than that! Do you have an underwater camera? Are you bringing a bathing suit?”

The thought of having to juggle doing a photoshoot with wearing a bathing suit in front of people kept me in a terror-filled stupor the whole plane flight to San Francisco, and I arrived no more the wiser than when I left, except for the fact that this would be a big old adventure, which seems to be Osric’s favourite word. We didn’t even know when we were going to do the shoot, but we were thinking in between Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles’ Gold Panel and normal panel on the Sunday. So all I knew was that potentially I had half a day, with a costume I didn’t know the mobility or logistics of.

I was starting to feel completely out of my depth. No pun intended. I’m a person who likes to know whats-what. I’m very new to posed photoshoots, and this would be only my second time working with Osric.

Sunday morning, I step outside the hotel and there is fog. Wall-to-wall fog. It’s like something out of a Victorian gothic novel. I text message my friend – who is back up in our room waiting for the convention day proper to start – panicking that I can’t do it. She writes back that it will be perfect. “It will be like a Gothic Not-Quite-Right-Little-Mermaid!” She managed to calm me down, and I stood in the carpark across the road from the hotel metering for different objects in the light.

Osric appeared then with Isa and Gretchen, his costumers (who were both really lovely). We all introduced ourselves and made our way down to the bay. I was starting to feel pretty okay, then Isa comes over to me.

“Has he told you he has to check out of the hotel in like, an hour?”

“…….. no….”

Half a day turns out to be an hour, which technically turns out to be half an hour, because he needs to change and pack.

Half an hour.

My brain could go two ways now. It could shut down, or it could get it done. And for some reason, that day it decided to get it done. I ignored the creepy taxi drivers that were in the carpark watching us, and tried to work with the setting we were given. And I only made him sit in the water for about five minutes.

It turns out the fog acted like a gigantic soft box, diffusing the light and spreading it out in a more even, flattering way. Rather than having Osric sit with his back solely to the bay, which would have resulted in a flat, white background we also tried to turn him so the camera aimed slightly down the shoreline to add interest by showing texture and colour. I brought those out in post-production using dodging and burning. As far as editing went, I tried to desaturate the colours slightly, and add a slight matte finish. There’s still a vibrancy there, but it’s very different to the Up photoshoot.

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It turns out that while we are very different in the way that we approach things, for some reason it works really well for these shoots. Osric’s very spontaneous and likes the excitement of not-knowing, and I’m very measured and detail oriented (at least as far as photography goes I am!). He looks at the bigger overarching picture and I look at what I can do practically and what I can do as far as editing etc. But the main thing is I always have so much fun and even in the mad rush and even when I’m panicking that I won’t be able to do it I wouldn’t change the experience for anything.

Because slowly, with every little push I am doing it, and I’m giving my negative-self less ammunition.

So I really can’t wait for the next big adventure!

Up // Osric Chau Cosplay Photoshoot

This past weekend I attended Salute to Supernatural Burbank 2014 (which I will write about in another post). It was special for many reasons – I could see all my friends again, it was the last convention of the circuit for 2014, and I was also going to be photographing Osric Chau in his cosplay outfit after the convention.

Osric has started getting photographers to record his different cosplays at each convention, and this time he asked if I would be interested. Of course I was! But I was also intimidated – this was way outside my comfort zone. I’ve met Osric a few times before so I knew he would be amazing to work with, so it wasn’t so much working with him that was making me nervous. But I’ve never done a location photoshoot before outside of my family. This was outdoors, somewhere in Burbank and before I saw him at the con he didn’t even tell me what the costume would be!

So this photo, of him making an entrance for his panel during the convention, was the very first time I saw what costume I’d be working with!

Osric as Mr Fredrickson from "Up"

Osric as Mr Fredrickson from “Up”

 

Now I haven’t even seen all of the movie Up (all I know is that the first part should be avoided at all costs and that came from tumblr) so I was really flying blind! At the last minute my friends Angie and Brooke came along and offered moral support (thank you so much guys!) , and luckily they are both hugely talented artists who had seen the movie and were great at making posing suggestions. We were lucky enough to find a small park off a main road, that had these huge old trees and lots of green grass. There were park benches and a playground. It was such a perfect setting it was like we were supposed to find it.

Osric was very good about posing – very patient and willing to listen to ideas. He kept emphasising scope and colour and shape – Mr Fredrickson was very squat and square, contrasting with the roundness of the balloons. He suggested wide shots to show the height of the balloons, but I also wanted tight shots because the balloons were such a good framing device, and also to see the incredible makeup work his friend Devan had done for the cosplay. We really were fortunate in our location – I loved the trees, with the greenery acting as a canopy and the branches shooting through the backdrop of some of the shots. The light was beautiful, throwing dappled spots onto the trees and grass.

It was a very relaxed, positive photoshoot and we were all bouncing ideas around.

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As far as editing went we all thought that since it is animation, the colours were extremely important. That was also a challenge for me, because I work much more comfortably in black and white. But I tried to go for vibrancy and saturation – there’s an unrealistic quality to the colouring that I think suits what we were trying to do.

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It was so much fun, and by the end of it I was feeling a lot more confident about it. It’s still something I will need practice at, but at least my foot is out of my comfort zone now! Osric was a fun, patient subject and I’d love to work with him again!

I think this has to be my favourite shot of the day.

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Salute to Supernatural Chicago 2013

For the last three years, I have travelled to the Windy City of Chicago for Creation’s Salute to Supernatural ChiCon. Chicago was actually the city that held the very first Supernatural convention, 7 years ago.

It is arguably one of the biggest – in fact, this was to be the last year it was to be held at the Westin O’Hare, as the convention had apparently outgrown the venue!

ChiCon 2011 was my very first Supernatural convention, and I made so many friends that I have kept in touch with since then, so I have a lot of fond memories of ChiCon. On the Monday when the convention ended, I actually went around taking photos of the empty convention space. It seemed so desolate and final – even more so than the usual ending of a convention weekend.

The entrance to the main theatre hall, Westin O'Hare, ChiCon 2013

Entrance to the main theatre hall, Westin O’Hare, ChiCon 2013

I’d been looking forward to ChiCon for so long, but when I got there and shot the first panel (Osric Chau’s) I felt weird. I loved his panel – Osric is so lovely and was one of my favourite parts of the weekend – but I just wasn’t feeling good about shooting. I had a really tall man in front of me for the whole weekend, and my shots were mostly trying to frame around his head (and cap!) and I just…I felt odd about it. I couldn’t seem to find a rhythm.

I tried not to force it. I put my camera away and took it out the next day. I’m disappointed with myself because I only shot a handful of panels and it feels like failure. I’m surprised I actually got the amount of shots I did, considering how frustrated I remember feeling the whole time. It just felt off to me.

A lot of my shots ended up looking like this, with prominent ghosting

A lot of my shots ended up looking like this, with prominent ghosting

I know it probably sounds like I’m taking it too seriously, but the thing is it didn’t even feel like fun. Taking photos that weekend felt like a huge amount of effort, and it has never felt that way before. It’s like it threw off my whole balance. Then I started to feel guilty about the poor people sitting behind me who had to put up with me leaning in and out and up and down trying to frame my shots.

You go back and look at shots I’ve taken at JIBCon or some of the other events and there are heads in the frames. That was my viewpoint, the camera is reflecting what I saw and that was the view I had. It suits the overall feeling of the photo.

Henry Cavill, Man Of Steel Premiere at Event Cinema Sydney

Henry Cavill, Man Of Steel Premiere at Event Cinema Sydney

But there’s a difference between that and something like the above shot of Misha from ChiCon. That’s quite clearly a technical problem, and I’m nowhere near advanced enough with editing to take it out. I don’t even know how to lessen the impact of it. It was really disheartening.

I guess it’s learning to come to terms with the fact that it is not always going to go like clockwork, and I did get quite a few shots in the end, so I managed to work around it.

But I also forgot how truly difficult the lighting in the breakfast room is to work with!

The breakfast room at VanCon has one wall completely covered in windows, so the whole room is flooded with light. The ChiCon breakfast room is really dark and for some reason Jared Padalecki was the only one with a spotlight, leaving Jensen Ackles shrouded in darkness.

I’ve also edited a bit differently in that I’m using colour for the panels. True, it’s a very muted colour, but it is colour!

Alaina Huffman, Salute to Supernatural Chicago 2013

Alaina Huffman, Salute to Supernatural Chicago 2013

Apart from those frustrations, I had an amazing weekend. I got to catch up with my wonderful friends, made some new friends and I did get to take lots of photos. Watching Osric Chau experience the convention from both sides (as guest and fanboy) was so cool. As always, Chris Schmelke was eternally patient and encouraging with me and my photography, and Misha Collins and Richard Speight Jr absolutely made my weekend.

To see my photographs from ChiCon, visit the galleries on my site here