April 2012 Featured Cosplay Photographer of the Month: BigWhiteBazooka
Cosplay Photographers: We have been following this month’s Featured Photographer’s work for some time now and constantly have been impressed by the level of his cosplay photography. The level of time and dedication that he puts into getting the perfect shot and then the degree of post-processing to really enhance the photos just makes every cosplay photo by Eric Ng, a work of art. Eric Ng, aka BigWhiteBazooka, is a Southern California cosplay photographer whose amazing skills and great personality make him a hands-down, easy pick of Featured Cosplay Photographer of the Month.
Thanks Eric, for taking the time to be interview for Cosplay Photographers. We are huge fans of your work and deeply honored to have the opportunity to speak with you today. How long have you been in the cosplay photography scene?
|BigWhiteBazooka (Eric Ng)||Glendale, California, USA||http://bigwhitebazooka.com|
Eric Ng: I’ve always taken photos at cons. I think that the first few years always had been random hallway shots for costumes that would stand out to me. Looking at all the incredible galleries that other photographers had posted online really inspired me to wonder about photoshoots. I started to be introduced to photoshoots at Anime-Expo held in Long Beach in 2007. I’ve been trying to hone my craft ever since.
Cosplay Photographers: Wow, so you’ve certainly been around for awhile now. If Anime-Expo 2007 was when you were first introduced to photo shoots, what was your very first anime/cosplay convention you attended?
Eric Ng: I probably went to Anime-Expo in 97? ..maybe Comic-Con in 95?
Cosplay Photographers: Since then, how many conventions do you regularly attend?
Eric Ng: Back then it was a convention or two a year. My father was always into Comics and toys so I got to go along for the ride. Nowadays, I go to about 10+ a year. I’m lucky enough that there are a lot of gatherings and events in SoCal so there’s always chances and opportunities to meet up with friends…AX, Anime-Conji, WonderCon, Comic-Con, Wizard-Con, Sakura-Con, Socal Gathering, E3, Long Beach CC, etc.
Cosplay Photographers: Wow, your dad sounds like the kind of dad every kid wishes he had! Do you only attend conventions in the Southern California region? Any interest to venture out to other conventions, like say, Dragon*Con?
Eric Ng: I’ve been to Sakura-Con in Seattle. Which was my first out of state Con. I’d like to check out Dragon Con one day. It looks amazing from all the photos and footage I’ve seen.
Cosplay Photographers: Any particular favorite conventions you like and why?
Eric Ng: Like many others, I enjoy going to Fanime a lot. As a photographer, there are many places and sites to shoot at so it’s always interesting to work in that environment. The area is fairly accessible, and the night life and convention goers are always extra fun to be around. It’s also further away from home base so it feels more like a vacation to me.
Cosplay Photographers: And plus no crazy gridlock traffic jams like in LA right? But yes, Fanime! That’s one of our favorite conventions as it’s practically in our backyard! Hopefully we’ll be able to hang out at Fanime this year. So we can probably guess how you came up with BigWhiteBazooka, but in the event that we might be terribly wrong, can you give us insight in how you came up with the name and if it has any special meanings?
Eric Ng: True, Fanime has been also one of our favs because of meeting some of the staff members of Cosplay Photographers in the past.
It began as I was sitting around with another photog buddy of mine trying to come up w/ interesting names for event photography. As I’ve aspired to shoot like the pro’s at events, I’ve always noticed the big white lenses that they were sporting. BigWhiteBazooka just seemed like the right fit for where I wanted to go. After a few events and some exposure, it became a conversation starter as well as an interesting memorable name that I’ve stuck with.
Cosplay Photographers: Haha, that’s a cool backstory to the nickname. Some people might be surprised to know, we met you before Cosplay Photographers was formally formed and in many ways you inspired us to create this amazing community. So how did you learn photography? Are you self-taught, did you go to school to study photography, learn on the internet, or etc.?
Eric Ng: I picked up photography as a hobby and have fallen in love with it. It began in highschool when I had a point and shoot running off of floppy disks (what are those?). I’ve slowly upgraded and changed from camera to camera whenever I could scrounge up enough money. I’ve always liked learning new things, and when it came to photography, the result was so quick with digital medium. Every thousand photos I took, I felt that I was a thousand better. I have looked at countless tutorials online and spent even more hours just playing with lights, or going to different locations to explore. If it was worth the shot, it was worth the danger. Even without formal training, I did adapt photography to my formal education. Going to a design school, I learned about composition, color, and the important of values which I believe have influenced my photography and the way I process.
Cosplay Photographers: Wow, that’s amazing! That rings of Steve Job’s “Stay hungry. Stay foolish” quote. So that explains how you can do such amazing mind-blowing artwork such as this drawing, how long did that take to draw? In some ways, I can certainly see where you get your photographic eye from. Do you think knowing how to draw has helped your photography?
Eric Ng: I definitely think that it has helped with allowing for me to tell stories. I try to utilize as many things from my experiences in school for Entertainment Design to influence my photography. Whether it’s lighting, shape design, or posing of characters; my schooling has taught me a lot of things that I use every photoshoot. I’ve learned different ways to solve problems and in doing so adapt to whatever situation that is thrown at me. In return, my photography has helped a lot with what I do in concept design on a daily basis.
Cosplay Photographers: So which do you enjoy more: photography or concept design? And why?
Eric Ng: Concept design is great as there are many fun projects to work with that keep me busy. However, I really enjoy interacting with people which is something that photography allows me to do. Cosplay photography also is a fun personal project for myself, so I tend to have a lot of enjoyment when committing time to it.
Cosplay Photographers: I think our other December’s Featured Photographer, Rachael Masako Ing (Masakocha), also went to school and studied something very similar to you. Man, photographers with an artistic background are so talented! Speaking of interacting with people, any favorite recent photo shoots you had?
Eric Ng: I’ve been shooting more and more off con shoots that have been really fun to do. I love exploring places that can yield unexpected photo locations. Recently I did a photoshoot in San Diego with Crystal of Precious Cosplay that was sponsored by Firefall. Her costuming is superb and makes it a lot easier for me to take photos. I’ve also worked with her a number of times and we have a good understanding of each other during the shoot. I tend to like shooting with cosplayers who are out going and are willing to tackle all the intense and quirky ideas I come up with.
Cosplay Photgraphers: Oh yea, we saw it! It was amazing! All your sets for Firefall is just beyond amazing. How much time did you spend shooting those and processing those? Do you have any particular favorites?
Eric Ng: Thanks. I really enjoyed working with the crew for that shoot. Shooting took about 2 hours, but there was a huge range in time spent on the editing. Each photo needed it’s own attention and focus. I wanted to give a little more umph to the photos by accenting the lights and effects in the suits which were skills that I brought over from entertainment work. I figured it would be neat to bridge the gap between my two interests. I enjoy some of the individual character shots in the group that really tell the story of how powerful Typhon was or how poised MourningStar can be. Working with the backdrop was nice as well because I was able to really push out facial expressions as well as define a lot of the form seen in the bodysuits.
Cosplay Photographers: Wow, that’s quite amazing. So how do you go about selecting a cosplayer to photograph? Or do they select you?
Eric Ng: I usually work with cosplayers who have dedicated a lot of time to the craft. I like working with people who have put their heart and soul into their costume and show off their talents. It’s fun to meet new people at conventions, so from time to time, if something catches my eye, I’ll ask for a photoshoot.
Cosplay Photographers: So in a previous Featured Cosplay Photographer interview, there was some controversy regarding gear, but we think it’s something important to include and we know many people are always interested to know, so what do you use and why?
Eric Ng: I mainly shoot on a 5dMII with a 24-70 f2.8 and an 85mm f1.2. I like the wideness and range of the 24-70 for bigger environment shots. For more intimate shots, the 85 is amazing because of it’s crispness and separation seen in the focal planes. I tend to work a lot with the emotion of cosplayers and this lens allows for me to isolate poses and gestures. It is also great in low light. Sometimes getting the mood and setting in a dark area is way more interesting than showing something completely lit up. It adds to the story and creates a lot of character drama.
Cosplay Photographers: Oooh, the 85L. That’s a fantastic piece of glass. Do you ever find it limiting? One of the biggest complaints that many people have with the 85L is that it’s slow focusing. And do shoot it wide open?
Eric Ng: I’ve been using the 85L for a few years now and I’ve learned how to adjust and maximize the lens’ capability. After using a lens for a while and shooting a lot with it, you tend to plan your shots and understand space well. It’s important to know whether or not you can squeeze into a space, and if the final outcome will appear like it was forced. I’ve been finding ways to creatively use a lens as long as the 85L in everyday shooting. As far as slow focusing goes; I have very patient cosplayers that I work with. If I find that it’s too dark, I’ll use the IR metering of a flash to set my spacing and then just fire away. Normally I’ll stay within the 1.4 range as I’ve found that’s the sweet spot to get my tightest shots. If I’m further away or have limited light resources, I do like the option to shoot wide open at 1.2.
Cosplay Photographers: You bring up an excellent point that I think other cosplay photographers should consider as well. Instead of always using different lenses, maybe stick to one or two lenses and learn to use it thoroughly to the point where, like you, know the sweet spot aperture, the minimum focusing distance, the focusing speed, and etc. Can you expand a bit on using the IR metering of the flash? I’m assuming you mean using an external Speedlite like the 580EX II‘s IR focusing assist light?
Eric Ng: Exactly. I picked up the trick watching an event photographer shoot crisp shots next to me while covering band performances. It started off with me covering the flash head with…a black sock and a rubber band before I figured out the proper changes in the settings. The IR meters for you so you know the distance making it easy to go within the focus distances of the aperture.
Cosplay Photographers: Great tip! Since we’re on the subject of flashes, do you shoot with any flash or are you purely an ambient photographer? And if you do use flash, do you do off-camera flash, straight on flash, multiple flashes, or etc.? And if you only shoot ambient, do you reflectors or anything?
Eric Ng: I don’t shoot with flashes too often unless I’m shooting in studio. I like to be creative and play in a space utilizing ambient light. I feel it gives so much more atmospheric presence when used right. Sometimes with ambient lighting, there are really strong shadow shapes that add dimension to an otherwise flat background. As far as reflectors go, I find that the light is a little bit too strong and intense for the way I shoot using the gold/silver tones. It tends to wash out and create harsh angles that I do not like to work with so I generally use them at a minimum. However, I will from time to time use the diffuser for slight amounts of fill light.
Cosplay Photographers: We definitely agree, sometimes flash can be a bit, artificial and ruin the mood completely. Your photos definitely do not suffer from not suffer from NOT using flash, so it’s always best to work with what you’re good at. So if we dug through your camera bag, what else might we find in there?
Eric Ng: Everyone has their specific gear set up that they like using. We all work with what we have. I’ve been working toward building a collection of different lenses for different situations. But like many of you, I began with a kit lens on crop sensor camera. A lot of my growth curve was in forcing myself to learn a piece of equipment to the fullest before committing to a new piece of gear. Over the years I’ve slowly upgraded to using a 5D Mark II and a 30D with a 50 mm f1.8, 85 mm f1.2L, 100 mm f2.8 Macro, 24-70 f2.8L, 70-200 f2.8L IS + 2x ext, Tokina 11-16 f2.8 Fisheye, 10-17 f/3.5-4.5.
Cosplay Photographers: RAW or JPEG? And why?
Eric Ng: I only use small jpg. It tends to blur the skin a little bit better. I figured the photos will only be seen by little Asian girls on their cell phones, so 800×600 resolution is way more than what’s necessary. That way with a 16gig card, I can shoot about 24,380 photos which will be enough for a whole years worth.
And if you don’t believe that, then, I shoot only Raw files. I like to keep the resolution and color data in the shots in case I need to go back and construct or pull out certain things in post. I just feel that having the extra data, there’s a lot more room to experiment.
Cosplay Photographers: Do you process your photos in Photoshop, Lightroom, or neither?
Eric Ng: I use Photoshop and Lightroom.
Cosplay Photographers: So what are typical things you would do in Photoshop or Lightroom to enhance, eliminate, or fix one of your photos?
Eric Ng: I begin sorting in lightroom with their number and star system. It helps sort through and find things very quickly. It’s also very useful because it lets you hide the shots you don’t want to look at so that only the best ones are visible. Once I have my set picked out, I’ll correct for color and value to make sure there is still interesting composition and movement in the image. Since I usually process groups of images, I try to unify the group to belong together. Once that’s done, I’ll go into Photoshop and manually adjust my contrast, color, and lighting until I’m happy with it.
There’s more control in Photoshop to paint things in and out. I like to make sure that everything is tidied up, including hair as well as any loose strings or elements of a costume that may have gotten changed during the shoot.
Cosplay Photographers: Are there any cosplay photographers whose work you really admire and follow? And why?
Eric Ng: There are so many amazing cosplay photographers that it makes it really difficult to choose. I think that over the years I’ve made some really great friends that are not only amazing photographers, but interesting people. When I started out, I remembered running into photos by Tony Quan and AndyRak online that just really got me excited to get into shooting. One talent that I always admire is the ability to pose cosplayers as well as adapting to various environments. Years later, they still never cease to impress me. I think a lot of our friends push each other so that we can get better. Usually at cons, I look forward to running into photographers who I’m used to shooting with; including AbbottW and RSandoval and of course Richard Bui. For me, I believe that high energy shots come from high energy people and these guys are great. Through this hobby, I’ve also been luckily acquainted with some foreign photographers that are incredible. One of my favorites is Beethy who just has a really nice flow of colors and compositions that always stand out.
Cosplay Photographers: Such a very impressive list of cosplay photographers. What are three things that you would tell or suggest to a cosplay photographer who wants to improve his or her skills?
Eric Ng: Three things that I would suggest for cosplay photographers to do to improve their skills:
- Don’t be creepy. Not an actual skill, but it’s something that’s important. Being a photographer who is comfortable to be around and fun will get you many more opportunities for photoshoots. I think a big part of this also is communication. So my first suggestion would be to become a better communicator. I believe in being able to direct and set up a pose without having to touch or push people around. Most people that you’re unfamiliar with will be uncomfortable with you if you do this. If you can get better at directing, you can better ask for what you need to get your shot perfect.
- Be aware of details. Details are like icing on the cake for any photograph. However, bad details or loose tangents in the image can also be destructive. Since moving on from hallway shots, I’ve been very careful with framing so that background elements and other people aren’t in the shot. Understand how lights and materials look in different conditions as well. Those details when photoshopped incorrectly breaks your image instantly. A little bit of study will go a long way to preserve the idea of your image.
- Put yourself in difficult shooting locations that are otherwise boring and try to make it as interesting as you can. Photography can be about telling stories and creating a world that people don’t normally see. Use what you have but also make it that “interesting” piece so that people will wish that they were where you were.
Cosplay Photographers: Thank you so much Eric for your time and sharing of such valuable information. I’m sure many cosplay photographers will read this and be inspired. We hope you’ll have the time to contribute teaching posts here on CosplayPhotographers.com as well and we certainly look forward to seeing more of your work!
If you guys haven’t already, be sure to like BigWhiteBazooka’s Facebook page to keep up-to-date with future photoshotos and events that Eric will be attending.
Is there anything else you would like to add to close up the interview?
Eric Ng: Thanks again for interviewing me. It’s a great honor to be a part of this site. For everyone out there: take many photos, but above all enjoy the hobby and tell stories with your photos!