Collaboration Is Key
This is a rebuttal to the article circulating around the cosplay community within the past day that is titled: Top 5 Cosplayer complaints about cosplay photos!
I'm here to author my own list of five items which better suits what the initial article should have been all along. The only problem with this, however, is that my entire list only has one single item.
Collaboration Is Key
There is only one single rule, and it is all about communicating expectations in a mutual understanding of expectations between cosplayer and photographer. There are simply no other rules that need to be stated, because everything else is conditional and situational. As long as there is a clear and mutual understanding of what each party expects of one another, that is all there is to it.
"A community is commonly considered a social unit (a group of people) who have something in common, such as norms, values, or identity." - Wikipedia
This community grew out of like-minded individuals, those who were initially rejected by society, and came together through their shared love of common interests.
The article in question goes completely against this founding principle, helping to create the ever growing rift between cosplayer and photographer. My hope with my rebuttal is at an attempt to mend part of this growing wedge, to take the statements in that initial article, and turn them into constructive and positive points rather than the negative and sometimes insulting and condescending points that they are presented in.
"I’m planning on writing a bunch of articles for beginner cosplay photographers so for research I asked a bunch of cosplayers what their complaints were about photographers and the photos they get back so that I could have an idea of what to talk about."
Right off the bat, this jumps out at me. The entire focus of the article is about complaints, not solutions. This isn't about helping anyone, but more an article to complain about what other's having done. The article is also apparently aimed at "beginners", but talks about dodge/burn and frequency separation later on, techniques that are quite a bit advanced. The next observation is that this article is entirely for photographers apparently, yet the perspective is entirely from that of cosplayers. This baffles my mind why a series of articles that should be targeted at photographers doesn't actually take photographer's words into account. Being a photographer within the cosplay community for more than a decade, I'd like to fill in this apparently missing gap in perspective.
"There were tons of points worth bringing up so I’ll be writing a lot about all of them in the future but for now here’s a quick overview of the top 5 issues that repeatedly came up."
As mentioned my opening statement, this list should really be only one item, "Collaboration Is Key", communicating clear expectations on both sides is really all there is. But for the sake of the rebuttal, I'll be going through all of their points and addressing each and every single one of them.
"TL;DR is basically a cosplay photographer’s role is to take photos and that’s pretty much it. Photoshoots aren’t invitations for photographers to be close friends with cosplayers"
This statement within itself is two-fold insult to the good and honest photographers out there. While, yes, there are creeps out there, the mentioning that photographers shouldn't try to be friends with cosplayers is entirely mindboggling. The quote about community above was very intentional because of this one statement alone. We are all like-minded geeks and nerds trying to find our place within this massive world of ours. Why would we not want to befriend people of like-minded interests as our own?
And to preface that statement, it is mentioned that photographers are essentially tools, literally stating what their role should be. This is entirely dehumanizing, and has actually been the cause for some photographers to become "creeps" in the first place. Many of us within the con scene are already displaced humans from other walks of life, and statements like these simply alienate us even further, telling us that we are not truly welcome, other than to be a tool. By alienating people in this sense, it pushes those that are already socially awkward further away, having them continue to act in ways that are perceived as creepy. More often than not, this awkwardness is merely a result of the lack of proper communication (See my one and only point above).
Don't get me wrong, there have absolutely been some bad apples within the community, but this is the exception, not the norm, and it isn't directly related to photography at all. There have been bad apples in the community who are cosplayers, or convention organizers, community leaders, or otherwise. Each use a different tool to justify their means, but the tools themselves are by no means at fault.
In my personal pursuit to "Promote Positivity", I've been working with younger photographers who have more recently entered into our community. Part of working with them is educating them on proper communication and etiquette with how to best interact with others. Rather than simply labeling someone a "creeper" for an awkward situation, I've found it is better to get to know someone, find out what makes them tick, figure out their awkwardness, and work with them to become better people.
"Photographers need to keep an eye on the state of their cosplayers during a shoot. It’s difficult to juggle general composition while managing details but it’s a necessary evil."
While this is just a short snippet, a few key points were entirely missing. First, let's just separate out quick snapshots and general photos from actual photo shoots that have planning and direction. Much of what is discussed doesn't apply to the former, since they are usually simply one-and-done type photos with no real pre-planning, and are executed on a whim. The latter, however, has considerably more artistic insights into their planning, and this is what I'd like to cover since it appears to be the focus of the initial article.
The article addresses cosplayers and photographers, and not much else. It mentions bringing a friend as an assistant, but that's it. When doing detailed photo shoots, there are countless roles, but the article seems to suggest that literally all of them, save for the cosplayer themselves, falls on the shoulders of the photographer.
There are, however, several other roles. I'll quickly describe a few of them that I commonly bring to serious photo shoots that I'm involved with.
Director: This is the person in charge with directing a particular shot. They have a specific vision in mind, and direct the actions of the cosplayer, the photographer, the lighting crew, and control the environment as a whole. Most commonly within the cosplay community, this falls upon the photographer, sometimes on the cosplayer. For my shoots, it is quite often that someone who is along to be an assistant in another category will see an opportunity, and we will let them take over and direct a particular shot that they want to create.
Stylist: This is the person who should be in charge of ensuring the cosplayer looks their absolute best. This is the person in charge of ensuring fabric flows properly, that armor pieces are positioned correctly, that loose threads are taken care of, and that wigs are not slipping. They are in charge of the overall aesthetic look of the cosplayer. Sometimes this falls upon the cosplayer themselves, but the article suggests that this should be the photographer's responsibility. The main issue here is who has the best knowledge of the construction of the outfit, and possible issues with fabric and wig details will most likely be a cosplayer and not a photographer. Due to this, personally, I will bring a cosplayer or two along to be dedicated stylists during shoots to be my extra set of eyes.
Environment Control: This is generally a supplemental role that is shared by everyone who isn't the photographer or cosplayer. These are people keeping an eye on who is walking around; to see if someone may get in the shot. When shooting out in places where cars may be, their job is to ensure nobody gets hit! As mentioned, this is a supplemental role, generally shared among everyone who has other roles assigned already.
Lighting Assistants: These are the people who handle the lights when working with strobes or speedlights. They handle positioning of the lights, make suggestions on how to better improve lighting for the environment, and handle settings/modifiers for lights. These are also people who are holding the reflectors while working in bright sunlight. And because reflectors are quite blinding in sunlight, they also often share the role of countdown time and shot caller. They tell the photographer and cosplayer when to be ready and prepare for the next shot to be taken, focusing on trying to keep the cosplayer's eyes as comfortable as possible with the bright light shining right into their faces.
Post Production Editor: In other words, the "Photoshopper", the person who goes and takes the images after the shoot and does all of the editing work. This may include things like RAW processing, lighting correction, skin editing, color toning, compositing, or any number of other editing techniques to turn a photograph into a mastery art piece.
"Most cosplayers are relatively new to being in front of the camera and even seasoned cosplayers need a little assistance from time to time. ... Mirroring, which is when the photographer acts out the pose for the model, is the best way to show a cosplayer how to pose."
Posing is a very important skill to know and have on both sides of the lens, If this were professional modeling and not cosplay, however, it would be entirely expected that the model know their own posing, which parts of their body they want to exemplify, and areas they are uncomfortable showing. Posing also falls upon the role of the director as well, as mentioned above. The director may be any number of people, from the photographer, to the cosplayer, to another person at the shoot. This falls back to the initial statement, clear communication of expectations. There should be zero assumption right off the bat that either photographer or cosplayer is directing a particular shot until it is discussed.
The second part of this, "mirroring" is great in theory. However, in practice I've only seen two photographers use this technique consistently. Both of these photographers are also cosplayers/models themselves, and have elegant and agile bodies which lend them the ability to do this easily. In reality, photo references on phones, tablets, or even in the older days, printed out photographs, have been the best go-to source of posing inspiration. Having reference images is especially beneficial within the cosplay scene, as part of the point is to recreate a character from a particular universe. With reference images, you can take this one step further by recreating an entire scene from the source material more accurately.
"Lighting is a huge facet of photography."
From a purely technical perspective, this is literally all that photography is, it is capturing photos on a sensor of a piece of film! Okay, enough with me being a technical nerd.
"If the photographer is using natural light and the light sucks then they should move somewhere else or direct the cosplayers to pose in such a way that the light in that area works for them."
This is quite possibly the least helpful advice I've ever seen regarding photography in my entire life. For an article that proclaims that it is intended for beginner photographers, to bring up the subject of lighting, then simply state that if it "sucks", do [something] else with not a single ounce of suggestion as to what would be considered good or bad lighting.
"Many experienced cosplayers are actually very skilled at finding decent natural light whether they know it or not because they do it all the time to take selfie’s so photographers can watch how good cosplayers photograph themselves as a way to learn about natural light."
At face value, this is a decent statement, but taken with previous context it is actually quite poor advice. Monitoring and observing cosplayers, watching their movement, watching them intently while they take selfies, this is what leads one to be labeled as a "creeper", thus violating the initial complaint from the source article. Instead, once again, communication is key! Share ideas and concepts! If something isn't working, then collaborate on solutions. This is not entirely on the photographers shoulders, because the cosplayer and photographer will naturally at points in time have differing opinions about what constitutes as a good or bad photograph.
"As a quick pointer the most important area to pay attention to with lighting in cosplay photos is the cosplayer’s face."
This is highly subjective point, and once again comes down to communicating expectations. I've personally received complaints from cosplayers for focusing too much on their face, and not their outfits. After all, this is cosplay, and many want their craftsmanship of their costumes to shine in the spotlight! Their outfits are their pride and joy.
No Skin Smoothing or Retouching
"This is the biggest complaint I heard from cosplayers, pretty much all of them cried out that they wanted some kind of skin smoothing in their photos."
This is actually the exact opposite experience that I've heard from cosplayers over the past decade of shooting within this community. Oftentimes, there are complaints that skin smoothing or removing certain details makes the cosplayer feel unnatural, inhuman, more like an artificial object akin to being a doll.
"I’ll tell you that the better a photographer is at skin smoothing the more often cosplayers will want to work with them."
This statement within itself is one of the most insulting to the entire concept of "community", which cosplayers will only interact with photographers based on the amount of detail editing work that they put into the cosplayer's faces. This once again lends itself to the notion that photographers are simply tools to be used and abused by cosplayers, that the quality of the photograph is more important than the quality of the person behind the lens.
"My personal technique of choice is a combination of frequency separation and dodging and burning. Those are two of the more advanced techniques"
For an article intended to be aimed at "beginners", this statement felt more like a brag sheet more than as something to help someone new to the community. This is especially true considering the previous statement about how apparently skin editing quality directly equates to the quality of cosplayers that wish to work with you.
"At the end of the day the higher quality work a photographer puts out will increase the amount and quality of cosplayers that want to work with them."
Quality is a subjective term. If this article is any indication of a subset of the community, it is written by and for those I'd personally never want to work with. I'm here to make friends, to meet people, and to have amazing experiences. The camera is simply the excuse, not the end of all interaction. Once again, starting off with the definition of community was entirely intentional and a great summation of why I continue to do what I do. We are all like-minded geeks, nerds, humans that are coming together to share our passions and experiences. If someone only wants my presence around conditional on the quality of photograph I can produce, then they simply are not the type of person I want to be around.
"Don’t be trash, git gud."
One of the people responsible for the initial article told me while drafting this response that they intended it to be "funny", so I'll end with a joke. git gud? I'm a software engineer, I already did! https://github.com/fsufitch/git-gud