Photography tips and tricks

January 9, 2017 / Photography / 0 Comments /
Dia De Los Muertos Shoot - side face, one hand on sholder

I’m no professional photographer, meaning I never make money taking photos. However, photography is something I LOVE. I’m an artist and designer at heart, so photography is great fit for me. Over the last few years, I’ve taken up photography as a hobby, and I have to say I’ve enjoyed it.

Most of my work is from attending anime and comic conventions. These cons are great for photographers, because you have a large number people in well crafted costumes and makeup, ready to pose for your photo.

On my journey as a photographer, I’ve learned a few things that have helped me get better, so I figured I’d share some of these tricks with you. Here we go!

Use a good lens

The most important thing on a camera – likely even more important than the camera body itself – is choosing the right lens. I’m assuming as a photographer, you’ve chosen a camera – mirrorless or otherwise – that allows you to change lenses. I’m sure you put a lot of thought into the camera you wanted, too. You thought about all the features, whether or not it’s weather proof, you’ve studied and compared dynamic ranges, and did a camera search on Flickr to make sure the camera actually takes decent photos.

All that effort in research you put into your camera body should be put into choosing the right lenses. I like photographing people, and I like achieving certain effects. So for me, I like a lens with a wide aperture and lots of space. So, my go to lens is a 28mm f/1.8 Nikkor lens from Nikon. This thing has delicious bokeh, and can capture incredibly sharp images in a frame visually appealing to me. It makes it so easy to work with, allowing me to put more focus on composition.

But that’s just me – you need to pick a lens for you. Many folks love using a 50mm lens – which is also quite nice. Some folks would rather take sharp images with NO bokeh – which means a wide aperture probably doesn’t matter. Find out what lens suits your style, and put your money there.

Change your POV

Point of view is everything for me. I’m a relatively tall guy, just over 6’2″, so if I’m not changing my point of view when taking a shot, my photos don’t usually look quite as natural or as visually interesting. I’ve found taking a knee works quite well for me. Given the right angle, it can add some length and visual interest to your shot. Shooting from a lower angle also allows me to capture more of the subject’s body. See below:

 

Cosplays by Hannah Walters and Sierra Pidoli

Cosplays by Hannah Walters and Sierra Pidoli

Cortana by Victoria Barajas - Enhanced - FanimeCon 2016

Cortana cosplay by Victoria Barajas

But that’s not to say all photos I take are from a lower angle. Sometimes it’s just as natural to take a shot from your point of view; if you’re in a moment and you see something great from your own perspective – capture it!


 

Shoot in RAW

This may seem obvious and quite basic, but it’s so important it needs to be mentioned. ALWAYS shoot in RAW. Yes, you may adjust your white balance to perfection, you may have total control over your lighting, but 99% of the time, you’re likely going to want to go back and color correct something. RAW is perfect for this, because you can make a very wide range of changes without compromising the integrity of your photo.

Yes, RAW photos take up significantly more space that JPGs – but here’s the thing…

When you open up Photoshop and you start layering effects on top of each other, pixels and colors on your photo begin to overlap. The sharpness and smoothness of your photo begins to deteriorate, and you’re stuck with a splotchy looking photo you should probably avoid printing. If you truly care about the quality of your photos, you will shoot RAW.

Don’t shoot in Manual mode all the time

I get it, you wanna be the best photographer and brag to all your buddies you shot all your photos in manual. What you’re NOT telling them is you took 800 photos and only kept 50; the remaining 750 were out of focus, under or over exposed, and had motion blur.

Your expensive DSLR is expensive for a reason – it’s loaded with features that allow you to focus on taking a good shot. You don’t have to be a latte sipping, pipe smoking hipster trying to take photos the “old fashioned” way if it means 99% of your photos end up in the trash bin. Stop it.

Focus on making something good; use the tools at your expense and make something you can feel happy about. If it makes you happy doing everything in manual, fine. But I find it much more creatively rewarding to not think about my settings. If I want a bokeh-licious photo, I switch to Aperture Priority mode. If I want crisp photos and fast shutter speeds, I switch to Shutter priority.

Only if I need something incredibly specific do I use manual mode. When I’m at cons, shooting events, moving from indoor to outdoor settings, I’d rather not fiddle with my camera. I’d rather go where I’m going, and start shooting. Why waste time fiddling with your camera and miss out on awesome photo opportunities?

Don’t use your camera’s on-board flash.

Chances are you don’t need it. Instead, change your camera settings or buy an external or mountable flash. These on board flashes are far too harsh and difficult to control. They create hard shadows and often dull colors.

I like to use Auto-ISO, especially when I’m photographing on the go or at conventions. Auto-ISO isn’t a feature available on all cameras or DSLR’s; I’m fortunate my Nikon D7200 has the feature, and it does relatively well with high ISO.

See this photo? You may or not have been able to tell, but it was shot in a dark room. And I mean a dark room with very little light with auto ISO turned on – the ISO was set to 1250 to be exact – which is pretty high for most folks! I had shot in aperture priority mode, with my aperture set to f/1.8, and the shutter speed set to 1/40 – wide and slow enough to let enough light in to make a vibrant photo with a lot of detail – and bokeh!

Had I used my camera’s onboard flash, you could bet the colorful tones would have been washed out by that blue-ish, white-ish light.

So instead of using your onboard flash…

Work with your environment

You don’t always need a ton of fancy lights to take a well-lit photos. Look around you – where is the light casting? Is it a harsh or soft light? Is it sunlight or a fluorescent bulb? Do you have control over the lighting or is it fixed?

At a con, after I’ve asked a cosplayer if I can take their photo, I usually move to a different angle and have them face me. I may not be able to control the light source, but I can control how it hits the subject.

At FanimeCon 2016, a cosplayer I wanted to photograph was standing in a bit of a shaded area; light was casted unevenly creating harsh lines across parts of her face and cosplay. So, when I had asked if I could take her photo, I had her walk a couple feet into some more even light. As you can see, the result is a bright, crisp, evenly lit shot.

Sailor Uranus by Lunacy Cosplay - FanimeCon 2016

Sailor Uranus by Lunacy Cosplay

Get creative

This is probably the best piece of advice I can give as a photographer – for anything! Get creative. Experiment and find out what works for you.

Maybe that means placing your subject infront of a colored LED lamp with additional lighting from the side using your iPhone

 

Or maybe it means getting creative in post by taking your subject out of the environment you shot them in, and putting them somewhere else…

Merida Cosplay by Macy Rose - Enhanced - FanimeCon 2016

Merida from Brave by Macy Rose

Or perhaps making a genuine connection with your subjects

 

Whatever the case may be, be as creative as can be and do what makes you happy.


Fanime Prep pt 2: What’s in my camera bag?

Looking back on last year’s FanimeCon, I was a bit ambitious. I had just purchased my first DSLR – the Nikon D3200 with two stock lenses – and I couldn’t wait to get out there and shoot. With me, I packed the camera body, both stock lenses AND a cheap fisheye lens, 4 batteries, 4 32GB SD cards, an unhealthy amount of (incredibly pointless) UV filters (2), and my Macbook Pro – just in case I used up all the SD cards and needed to do a transfer.

Well, needless to say, I overpacked. I never used up more than one SD card per day, nor did I use up a single battery in a day. I also found myself clinging to the standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 over the two others. I found it way too time consuming to swap lenses randomly, and found the con way too crowded to use a zoom. So this time will be different.

What gear am I bringing to the con?

The camera: This year I’ll be packing my Nikon D7200. This camera is great for cons. Its autofocus is fast and quiet, it has great dynamic range, and performs really well in low light.

The lens: I’m packing the Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G prime lens. I like prime lenses, because once you’re used to the lenses focal length, you pretty much know where to stand to get the right shot. If I need to zoom, I can just use my feet. This thing takes some sharp, clean photos, making for some decent dramatic shots. The bokeh on this lens is great, as well, making for some great portraits

The accessories: I will be packing a cheap, attachable flash just in case things are a bit too dark in doors. I can probably get away with using auto iso for the most part, though. Further, I’ll only be packing one battery in the camera, with one spare in the bag. I’ll have TWO 32GB SDHC cards – mainly because the camera has two slots. And that is all.

All this will be tossed in a backpack that will also be used to carry all the cool stuff I buy at the con. No laptop, no tripod, no steadicam, no lens filters, none of that.

Well that was anti-climactic.

I know. But, it’s important at these types of events to keep things simple. There’s no need to bog your creativity down or miss great opportunities by constantly swapping lenses, and throwing out your pack carrying to much gear. And I’ve always been a “less is more” kind of person, anyway. I always found it more fulfilling when I’m able to accomplish a lot with very little.

Looking forward to shooting at the con. Will you be there? Will you be cosplaying – as what/who?


Fanime Prep pt 1: A Retrospective

Fanime 2015 - Greninja

FanimeCon 2016 is right around the corner. I’m really looking forward to taking photos, socializing, buying artwork, and taking part in the night life. These anime cons – specifically Fanime – have sparked a passion for photography I didn’t know I had. So, in light of all the excitement of last year, and in preparation for this year’s con photography, I’ve decided two things: 1) it’s time to get things prepared for the con, and 2) it’s time for a retrospective.

Fanime last year was awesome. It was my first time attempting photography with any degree of seriousness, and I got to meet and shoot a lot of really cool people. But back then, I didn’t know much about what I was doing. I had a DSLR and a couple lenses, but didn’t know how to use it very well; I have a design background, but I didn’t understand the basic principles of photography.

So more often than not, I found myself shooting in burst mode, correcting photos, and hoping that in the hundreds, if not thousands of photos I took, I’d have a few good ones. And I did. But I new I could do better. I knew that all the other photographers around me, like Mike Rollerson and David Ngo, were shooting single shots, taking no more than 20 seconds of cosplayers’ time, and coming out with stellar shots.

As a creative person, I appreciate the hard work, creativity, and artistic perspectives that go into these cosplays, and my goal is to capture this art on camera, and hopefully do so in such a way the cosplayers will at the very least feel proud of their own accomplishments.

So in terms of last year’s photography, what went right?

Angles & composition

If nothing else I think I got that down pat. I didn’t really need to spend much time figuring out the most ideal angles – at least from my perspective – for the models/subjects. To make it even easier on me, each one knew how to pose. Every cosplayer owned the lens; they new exactly how to portray their character, convey an emotion, or just look damn good.


Fanime 2015 - Balrog

Cosplay by Reggie @ adventureXtwo

Fanime 2015 - JasmineFanime 2015 - Windwaker Link looking down


Editing

As I said before – I have a background in design. I have my own set of photoshop chops. That, combined with my own creative and artistic perspective played a huge part in the successful outcome of the photos I took.


Fanime 2015 - GreninjaFanime 2015- 5 Nights at Freddy's bear


And that about sums it up for what I did right. So…what went wrong?

Focus

Many photos I took were out of focus. This was my first time taking photography seriously, and my first time taking photos of people I had never met before. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get the right shot and instead felt inclined to use manual focus the entire time. Big mistake. This was probably one of the biggest reasons the vast majority of my photos went into the trash bin. The photo of Charmie Sweets as Zero Suit Samus is the only truly out-of-focus shot I kept. A perfect subject, a perfect cosplay, a perfect composition, but the photo suffered from my lack of discipline.

Fanime 2015 - Zero Suit Samus by Charmie Sweets

Cosplay by Charmie Sweets

I think I redeemed myself, though, when I caught her Boa Hancock cosplay the next day.

Fanime 2015 - Charmie Sweets Boa Hancock 2

Cosplay by Charmie Sweets

The “Fix it in post” mentality

Being the nervous novice I was, I didn’t want to be a bother to cosplayers trying to enjoy the con, but at the same time I wanted to take as many shots as I possibly could. As a result, I neglected to analyze my environment and adjust my camera settings. Instead, I figured – I’ll shoot in RAW and fix it in post, resulting in grainy, dark, and sometimes awkward shots that I had to edit like crazy to make them even close to presentable.

 

Fanime 2015 - ThorTV

Cosplay by ThorTV

Fanime 2015 - Windwaker Link and Tetra

What I’ll be doing differently:

  • Auto focus! There’s no shame in using it, and if it doesn’t work, the focus can always be adjusted manually.
  • Adjust camera settings before shooting, and use auto ISO! Auto ISO is the best thing ever made. Period. I will be setting an ideal exposure and focal length, and let the camera adjust everything else on its own. In a controlled situation, I’d be adjusting ISO myself, but in a situation where I want to be shooting things quickly and effortlessly, I want to be thinking about the shot, not the settings.
  • Less burst mode! I’ll be focusing on getting shots right the first time around.

So, stay tuned. In the next few posts, I’ll be talking about the camera gear I’ll be bringing to the con, and maybe give a sneak peak into my wife’s upcoming cosplay.


Changing Perspective part 1

September 20, 2015 / Photography / 0 Comments /
Light fixture

 

light-fixture

I don’t consider myself to be a “professional photographer” at this point. Far from it, actually. I used my first DSLR camera for the first time about a year ago, and started actually using it less than 6 months ago. That being said, since using it, practicing, and doing my homework, I’ve learned a lot.

Right now, I’m practicing composition. I feel like I’ve learned my camera and its lenses pretty well from a technical standpoint, but knowing how to operate a camera isn’t the same as creating good photography.

In my practice and study, I’ve learned the importance of changing perspective, or in some cases, maintaining it. The angle at which you shoot is just as important as anything else.

I’ve been trying to make it a habit of shooting random things throughout my home, often without manipulating the things around it. This practice forces and challenges me to change my own perspective to properly and (more importantly) interestingly compose photographs.

Today, I took a black and white picture of a light fixture that hangs in front of the front door in the entry way of my home.

Typically, when you look at a light fixture, the light is usually off, and you’re usually off to the side looking at it from an angle. Very rarely do you walk directly under the light and stare directly at it.

However, I remember being a kid and standing directly under light fixtures and ceiling fans. I don’t know why; perhaps it was childish wonder, or my ADD. But, for this photo, I wanted to revisit it that feeling.

As a child, you look at things with a sense of wonder, curiosity, and discovery. I think that sense of mystery is reflected here; you don’t quite know what you’re looking at, at first. All you know is there is something casting light directly above you.

This all may sound a bit…odd. After all, it’s just a picture of a light fixture. But when you change your perspective, when you look at things from a different angle, you can capture something quite interesting.

 


The Do’s and Don’ts of Cosplay Photography

September 13, 2015 / Personal Stuff, Photography / 0 Comments /

I was scouring the interwebs and came across a post called “Convention Do’s and Don’ts” and it inspired me to write a little post of my own about cosplay photography.

Before I get started, I would like to say I’m not a ‘professional photographer’, nor am I a seasoned cosplay photographer. However, the bulk of my photography work has been in the cosplay convention world; I’ve spent some time talking to cosplayers, other photographers, and feel as if there should be some “Do’s and Don’ts” for the photographers.

DO show up early: Depending on the con, there may be limited ‘ideal spots’ to do shoots. Show up early and find which spots are going to be the most diverse for the type of cosplays expected to show up. Analyze the lighting of all the areas you can shoot, and figure out where the best spots are throughout the day.

DON’T interrupt a shoot: It’s rude to interrupt a fellow photographer’s private shoot. If there is a cosplayer being photographed that you would like to photograph, wait patiently for the shoot to end, find the cosplayer later, or move on to photograph someone else. There are likely hundreds, if not thousands of amazing cosplayers to photograph. Don’t miss an opportunity to shoot something great

DO ask permission: Always ask the cosplayer if you can photograph them. Most cosplayers are more than willing to be photographed and are sometimes flattered by the request, so be polite and ask prior. Which leads me to my next point…

DON’T be mad if they say no: There are more to cons than just cosplaying and taking pictures; there are panels, merch, dances, games, etc. Also, these costumes can often be uncomfortable, heavy, or hot, and therefor can ware the cosplayer down over time. The cosplayer has every right to say “No way!” if he or she so chooses, and you need to respect that. Remember, photographing a cosplayer is your privilege, not your right.

DO be courteous: Be aware of the cosplayers mood before even asking them if they want to be photographed. Many cosplayers feel obligated to do shoots; if a cosplayer looks upset or put out, not only will that emotion show through the picture, it’s really just polite to move on to a subject who is more likely to want to be photographed.

DON’T be a perv: It’s shameful this even needs to be said, but I’ve seen photos on flickr of cosplayers that are inappropriate, and clearly taken from far away without the cosplayer’s knowledge. Many of these cosplayers are probably minors. NEVER take a provocative photo of someone under the age of 18, and NEVER take a photo of ANY kind without the consent of the cosplayer. PERIOD.

DO strike conversation, if appropriate: If the cosplayer isn’t busy, try not to “shoot and run”. At the very least, compliment the cosplayer and give them a genuine “Thank You” before just walking away.

DON’T get in someone’s way while shooting at a gathering: I’ve seen people get really upset about this before. If there’s a gathering and all the photographers have found their “spot”, don’t lift up your camera obstructing the view, or stick your head in front of their lens. Gatherings are really hard to photograph because of the large amounts of people shooting, and the large amounts of people in the shot, and the limited space available to shoot. Be courteous. If you can’t find a spot, politely ask the people around you if you can get by.

DO have fun editing: It’s ok to photoshop and edit photos. Color correction and detail enhancement are all critical parts of photography. It’s even ok to play with the environment a bit (you can see I’ve done that quite a bit myself). I think, artistically speaking, placing the cosplayers in environments that match their cosplay or the show their characters are from is a great way to pay homage to the cosplayer’s efforts.

DON’T modify the cosplayer: I’m frankly disappointed to see cosplay photographers use the ‘liquify’ effect on cosplayers to change their appearance. It’s not flattering to see your body modified in a photo. Be respectful; use color correction, lighting adjustments, environment enhancements, even minor airbrushing is ok from time to time, but never EVER change the appearance of the cosplayer. They deserve your respect.

DO share your photos with the cosplayer: Many cosplayers appreciate photographers’ efforts just as much as we appreciate their art. If anything, cosplayers deserve to see the shots you’ve taken. If they like the photo, they may choose to share the photo and your work! However…

DON’T ask for free promotion: This is something I’ve seen many photographers do…too many cosplayer photographers seek praise rather than creative fulfillment. In doing so, the photographer will ask the cosplayer to do them favors to promote their work. This type of behavior is alienating and inappropriate.

DO be prepared to fail: Let’s face it, especially in the beginning stages, your photography probably won’t be the best. Hell, I often look at my photos from time to time and wonder if I’m doing the cosplay community justice, and would be completely understanding if a cosplayer asked me to remove a photo. Be prepared for negative feedback, be willing to take a photo down if a cosplayer doesn’t like it. Once you do, try and find out what you can do to improve.

DO have fun: Photography in general shouldn’t be about seeking attention or praise. Photography, like cosplay, is an art form – it is a creative outlet. So get creative and have fun.


SacAnime 2015

September 6, 2015 / Personal Stuff, Photography / 0 Comments /

Well, I’m back from SacAnime 2015. This is my second con where I brought my camera and did some quick photography with some cosplayers, and I’m excited to share the photos with you all.

SacAnime was definitely unique compared to my past con experiences; I suppose as with any con, it has its pros and cons (no pun intended).

I loved the guest lineup. John DiMaggio, Billy West, the cast of the original power rangers, Maurice LaMarche, the list goes on. Getting to go to panels and see what are essentially the voices of my childhood in person is something I won’t forget.

The exhibit hall combines merch, artists alley, and autograph booths all in one area. I probably spent the majority of my time there, buying cool things, meeting childhood heroes, and admiring the art.

The vibe at SacAnime is totally different than I’m used to. I’m used to going to cons like FanimeCon, where the energy level is high, there’s a lot of open space, people doing shoots everywhere, lots of noise, tons of partying, lots of interaction with people you’ve never met, etc.

SacAnime was incredibly tame in comparison. People tended to keep to themselves a bit more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I found it pretty easy to get around from point A to point B due to the lack of “hyperness”, if I may make up a word.

The con, overall, was a great experience. Mainly because of the guests and attendees. The guests were extremely kind and humble, and the cosplayers were spectacular. It was cool seeing some people I saw at FanimeCon earlier this year. It’s a shame I made such a rookie mistake and did all the outdoor shots at 1200 ISO. Whoops! Thank goodness for RAW format! The majority of the photos turned out to be keepers regardless! 🙂

So, with all that said, I can’t express my excitement to share the photos with you all. I’ve got some great things planned for these photos that I hope you will enjoy!