|San Francisco, CA, USA||http://rachaelmasako.com/photo/|
For us, the amazing Masakocha popped out of nowhere. Prior to 2010, We hadn’t heard of her until one day we happened on one of her photos that she took of our friend Bekalou at one of the NorCal Cosplay Gatherings and we were immediately intrigued and captivated. We were further amazed to learn she was a female cosplay photographer and before the entire interweb jumps on us saying that’s a sexist remark, by no means are we suggesting that women can’t be a cosplay photographer, just very few who are quite talented (Hi Elemental! Hi Jin! Hi Hybridre!); either that or we’re not getting out enough.
Some people might also be surprised to learn that Masakocha is also a talented cosplayer as well as cosplay photographer
. Maybe because she’s an art major, or a Hawaiian girl, or something else, Masakocha’s photos are always wonderful. If someone was to ask us who our top 10 cosplay photographers are: she would rank very high on the list.
Cosplay Photographers: Hi Rachael! So how did you get your online name of Masakocha?
Masakocha: A creative friend came up with my username. It’s a combination of my middle name and kocha, which is a tea.
Cosplay Photographers: So, prior to us hearing about you in 2010, what were you doing before?
Masakocha: I was a studious kid, very dedicated to school and grades, and I’ve always loved art. At the University of Hawaii I studied Literature, Japanese, and Visual Arts before moving to San Francisco in 2007 to attend the Academy of Art University. During my first two years in the city, I concentrated solely on school assignments and illustration-based art while adjusting to life away from home. It was in late 2009 that I started to do cosplay photo shoots on a fairly regular schedule.
Cosplay Photographers: So you were born and raised in Hawaii, was it hard finding cosplayers to photograph out there?
Masakocha: Yes, there wasn’t much of a cosplay community before Hawaii’s first convention in 2005, at least that I knew of. Back then, I wasn’t aware that people could consider themselves a “cosplay photographer.” There were people who took photos of cosplayers, but that was just one of many subjects they’d shoot, and the fact that a photographer could schedule enough cosplay photoshoots to be constantly in the hobby would have been unbelievable. There are significantly less cosplayers in Hawaii than here in California, and I feel like the large community at mainland US conventions pushes cosplayers to improve on their craftsmanship as they learn from their peers.
Cosplay Photographers: Since you’re a superstar cosplay photographer, what do you find happens more often: you request photo shoots of cosplayers or cosplayers request photo shoots from you?
Masakocha: I’m definitely not a superstar, haha. I just feel like I have lots of friends that cosplay, and I like to take their pictures, that’s all. I get requests for shoots a few months in advance sometimes, especially for large groups, though the majority come in within a month of the actual con. Most of my photoshoots are requests, but all of them I’m happy to do. Cosplayers often ask if I’m familiar with or would be comfortable shooting a certain series, versus requesting it straightforward, and I appreciate that consideration. If I still have empty slots left a few days before the con (though this isn’t too often), I make a general con-related post on my Deviantart or Facebook and grab cosplayers I’m interested in shooting with from there.
Cosplay Photographers: How long have you been in the cosplay scene?
Masakocha: My first con was Kawaii-kon 2005, but I was still in the lolita scene then, so I made the transition between hobbies in 2008-09? Maybe three years now. But I did the typical find-clothes-in-your-closet sort of cosplay in high school. You know, the pictures you don’t show people.
Cosplay Photographers: What drew you to cosplay and/or cosplay photography?
Masakocha: It all happened so quickly, casually taking pictures of cosplayers I didn’t know at cons and small gatherings suddenly snowballed into this full-time hobby kind of overnight. I give much credit to Eririn, who picked me up off the obscure-photog-noob sidelines and invited me to work with her and Holy on their photoshoot projects. The amount of dedication they had for cosplay was really inspirational, and the more I shot with them the more I found that the world of cosplay is not something you can easily push aside once you begin.
I’m an optimist, and I think it shows up in my photos pretty clearly. Cosplayers are young dedicated people who have a full life ahead of them, and each photo is a small fragment of their character’s story, and also their story. They have so much potential, beautiful enthusiasm and energy, and I feel privileged to be part of such an amazing community.
Cosplay Photographers: How many conventions did you attend this year (2011)?
Cosplay Photographers: What are your favorite conventions to attend?
Masakocha: I like Sakura-con because Seattle’s rainy weather makes me happy. Also, the overcast clouds create amazing softbox lighting! But Fanime has to be my favorite: it has a great atmosphere, good locations to shoot at, and tolerable attendance size. But nothing compares to being surrounded by friends that you haven’t seen in such a long time, all excited and dressed for the occasion like one big party of extremely talented people.
Cosplay Photographers: Are there any conventions you would love to attend if you could?
Masakocha: Japan’s Comiket is intriguing, if not a little scary due to its massive amounts of otaku. I think it would be a worthwhile experience attending an international convention, not necessarily to shoot, but to observe how the community is different overseas.
Cosplay Photographers: Which conventions are you planning to attend in 2012?
Masakocha: Fanime for sure. Besides that, I can’t say for certain.
Cosplay Photographers: All your photos are amazing, so I can’t help but ask…how selective are you? Let’s say I’m a cosplayer, I went on amazon.com and purchased me one of those $19.99 Leaf Village Naruto headbands threw on some cargo shorts and a jacket, what are the chances of me scoring a photo shoot with you of my Naruto cosplay?
Masakocha: Hey, I like Naruto! XD I really haven’t had that situation before, and I haven’t turned down a cosplayer based on their cosplay quality, just timeslot restraints. If someone was confident enough in their cosplay to ask for a photo but didn’t put much effort into their outfit, I’d still work with them, not a full-on photoshoot but at least a decent in-focus photo or two. It would take ten minutes, why not. I may not be as enthusiastic as usual about the composition and artistic quality, though.
Cosplay Photographers: What are things that would make you refuse to photograph a cosplayer?
Masakocha: The main deal-breaker is personality: if I’m not comfortable with the cosplayer then I definitely won’t be able to open up on an amiable level with them. Photographs tend to show how the photographer sees a person, so if I’m not able to connect with someone, their photos won’t have much emotion or be very flattering. Though I think it would have to be a pretty horrible first-impression for me to pass a negative judgement and refuse a cosplayer right off the bat like that.
Cosplay Photographers: Do you research any of the cosplayer’s character before shooting or do you play by ear during the shoot? Or both?
Masakocha: I make sure to at least read a summary of the series and the characters who are being cosplayed before I go into a convention shoot. I also try to watch short video clips like opening/ending credit sequences or AMVs (anime music videos). Those are typically good to get an overall feel for the show without having to watch the entire series. Some shows like Madoka Magica can be visually tricky, where the characters look cutesy but in reality they’re portrayed against a dark environment. So, out of respect for the cosplayer and the series, I’d like to give as accurate a portrayal as I can to the original content.
When I start a photoshoot, I double-check with the cosplayer if they have a certain mood they’d like to capture, along with any ideas for poses, or a character relationship that they’d like to portray. There’s not much conversation between me and the cosplayer before the shooting day regarding artistic direction, although I’m always open to any suggestions they have beforehand.
Private shoots tend to be more planned out and researched, since the final photos are the main reason we’re out shooting in the first place. If I know what the location looks like beforehand I may draw small roughs of pose ideas, but often those don’t get referenced very much anyway. I’d like to attempt a photoshoot with a more structured plan in the future.
Cosplay Photographers: What is your favorite lens to photograph cosplay with and why?
Masakocha: Right now my kit lens is having minor focus issues, so I’m relying on my 50mm about 90% of the time. But that’s okay because it’s my favorite of the two––it’s significantly better in low-light situations and I like the depth-of-field, plus it’s a flattering portrait lens. I’d like to get a wide angle lens one day, so I can be more flexible with compositions and capture location details without losing the cosplayer in the photo.
Cosplay Photographers: I noticed your primarily an ambient photographer with your fancy reflector, ever tried using flash in your photos?
Masakocha: I own a flashmount, it’s very unflattering when used off the top of the camera, and I don’t have a system to set it up off-camera. So far, I haven’t felt it necessary to invest in flash equipment, especially since I avoid night shoots. If I can get away with ambient lighting alone, then that’s the option I’ll take. Why add a flash and make things more complicated? Plus, I hear cosplayers enjoy playing with the disc reflector~
Cosplay Photographers: Are there any cosplay photographers you are dying to meet?
Masakocha: Yes, for sure! Especially other female photographers, but sadly, many are in different countries. On Deviantart I love the work by Hybridre, who is in China. Also, Behindinfinity (Jin) in the Philippines is a fantastic cosplayer and photographer. On twitter I talk with Azuo, a cosplay photographer in Japan who specializes in Hetalia shoots. It’s so interesting to compare cosplay cultures with people in other countries. In addition, I’ve been fortunate to meet so many great photographers from around the USA and am humbled to already be around such talented artists.
Cosplay Photographers: I noticed that your recently doing more post-processing in Photoshop. How long do you typical spend on a particular image? Did you learn all this in art school?
Masakocha: I feel like I spend the same amount of time on each image as I used to, but now I’m more efficient at processing. For each shoot there are typically two images that represent the best of that bunch, and I dedicate two to three hours to each of those. This includes removing things like dead leaves and litter, and cleaning up stray strands of wig hair, followed by technical and artistic edits and special effects. In my digital photography class at the Academy we weren’t allowed to use Photoshop––the professor said she’d be checking our photo’s EXIF data to be sure! So that taught me to concentrate on getting good white-balance and exposure right out of the camera, which makes post-processing a lot more convenient.
I learned Photoshop from my mom. She works in graphic design, so I had access to the program at an early age and was able to figure out the tools while using it for drawing, before I started digital photo processing.
Cosplay Photographers: Any cosplayer you are dying to photograph?
Masakocha: Wanting to photograph someone based simply on their appearance isn’t something I normally do, because I would ideally prefer to know a person’s personality before working with them. It’s easier for me to get a feeling for photographers than cosplayers, because sometimes cosplayers feel like they’re behind a mask and it’s hard to get an idea of what their normal self is like (though this is also the point sometimes!). I do have rainchecks with NorCal cosplayers Maridah and Pikminlink, who I’d love to shoot but haven’t made solid plans with yet. Next year I would like to work with them, continue shooting with my current friends, and venture into other photo projects that aren’t cosplay-related.
Cosplay Photographers: Any advice for cosplay photographers or cosplayers?
Masakocha: Everyone please remember to be safe, respect each other and look out for one another. Our hobby grabs the attention of anyone nearby, and when it’s from people who are shady or if something doesn’t feel right then pay attention to your instincts.
Photographers, push yourselves to be better than before, try something new, and shoot outside of your safety zone. Shoot with cosplayers who inspire you, but also remember to not make that a limitation––as long as the cosplayer trusts me and we can communicate amiably, that is my minimum requirement for working with them, and I’ve never regretted that. If you’re not excited to be pressing the shutter button then the resulting photo won’t be exciting, so go climb a tree and shoot from its branches and get excited. And pay attention to the background, it is part of the photo too, after all.
Cosplay Photographers: So I’m a big believer that some people are born with more talents than other. I somehow feel you already had the artistic eye prior to going to art school, but has art school helped you any and how?
Masakocha: If I had to choose something specific that my art classes helped me with, knowing human anatomy is a big advantage when you’re posing a cosplayer or doing edits on a body. For example, preventing strained-looking poses, or editing cast shadows so they are more flattering but fit the body contours at the same time. You know, preventing accidents that make it obvious that a specific body part has been edited. Look at all those horrible fashion ads with ridiculous proportions––I bet none of those people have ever taken an anatomy class before. At least I sure hope not.
Cosplay Photographers: List the tools of the trade.
Masakocha: Canon Rebel XTi, Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS4. Lightroom is indispensable for organizing, cataloging, and finding photos! I couldn’t function without that program.
Cosplay Photographers: Thanks again for your time and sharing with us so much invaluable information. We can’t wait to see more amazing work from you!
Masakocha: Thank you very much for the opportunity. Congratulations on your website launch, and I look forward to seeing what Cosplay Photographers will accomplish in the future!
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