May 2012 Featured Cosplay Photographer of the Month: Pugoffka-Sama

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Pugoffka-Sama (Elena Kucheruk) Kiev, Ukraine

Cosplay Photographers: Please note that this interview was conducted with the help of an interpreter, so please excuse any awkward wording or answers. We’ve corrected any misspelled words, but otherwise left the answers untouched.

When we first started in the cosplay photography scene, there were hardly any women cosplay photographers as cosplay photography is heavily dominated (and still is) by men, but in the last couple of years now, there has been an explosion of talented women cosplay photographers. And at Cosplay Photographers, it doesn’t matter to us whether the photographer is a man or a woman, but that their cosplay photos are beautiful. But on the same note, we want to make sure that we are doing our best to find these talented woman cosplay photographers and giving them the feature they so deserve.

And talented cosplay photographers do not just exist in the U.S., but all over the world. And this month’s Featured Photographer hails from the beautiful Ukraine. Elena Kucheruk, otherwise known as Pugoffka-Sama on DeviantArt, is an amazing cosplay photographer. Her photos are not only beautifully shot, but beautifully processed as well. What makes her an easy choice for this month’s Feature is the balance of her photography and post-processing; neither over-powers the other and both work in harmony together to create stunning, beautiful, and unique images.

Thank you Elena for taking the time to be interviewed for Featured Photographer of the Month. You have some stunning photos, were all the photos in your DeviantArt gallery taken in the Ukraine?

Elena Kucheruk: Hi! Thank you for the awesome introduction :). Yes, most of my photos were taken in Kiev (the capital of Ukraine). Also I traveled to Moscow (Russia) and photographed Russian cosplayers. This summer I want to visit China. This is my lifelong dream. I hope I will find cosplayers who want be my models.

Enma Ai cosplay by Buta-kun. From

Enma Ai cosplay by Buta-kun. From “Jungoku Shoujo”

Cosplay Photographers: For those of us who aren’t very familiar with the Ukraine, can you describe it a bit for us?

Elena Kucheruk: Obviously, you are interesting of locations, that cosplayers and cosplay photographers can find in Ukraine, more than social or political situation in this country. As you remember, in the past Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, so it’s architecture isn’t so outstanding. However, something useful still remains from those times, such as abandoned factories, cemetery of cranes, a museum of military equipment on the open air. All of these locations are used for post-apocalyptic, mechs and cyberpunk themes. But of course it is impossible not to pay attention to the notorious city of Chernobyl, where the nuclear power plant exploded in 1986. Several times I received proposals to make some photoshoots there, it was said that the radiation level is not that high and there is no particular danger, but according to the latest official data the level of radiation in the area exceeds the norm by 12 times. Therefore I advise nobody to go there just for the sake of a successful background. Especially since there are about eight safe nuclear power stations in Ukraine. Such locations are likely to be the highlight of our country. Also in the south of Ukraine is located the Crimean peninsula which has a lot of nature reserves and waterfalls. But the most interesting in the Crimea is the palaces of different styles: Gothic, Moorish, Baroque, Renaissance. Crimea is a goldmine for the cosplayers to select locations for photo sessions. It is a pity that the cosplay in this region is not very well developed in contrast to the capital and the major cities. And the rest of the locations for photo shoots do not differ from other countries: parks, botanical gardens, beaches, churches, Castles.

Karkat Vantas cosplay by Buta-kun. From the series Enma Ai cosplay by Buta-kun. From the series Black Rock Shooter cosplay by EnSoi. From the series

(Click to enlarge.) From left to right: Karkat Vantas cosplay by Buta-kun from the series “Homestuck”. Enma Ai cosplay by Buta-kun from the series Jigoku Shoujo. Black Rock Shooter cosplay by EnSoi from the series “Black Rock Shooter”.

Cosplay Photographers: How do you find these amazing locations? Do you explore, look on maps, research on the Internet, or etc.?

Elena Kucheruk: Most of the locations I find just walking around the city. As usual those are some interesting streets, the walls of the houses and bridges. If I need to find something more interesting, I search some places of interest in the Internet. There are sites dedicated to the interesting picturesque places in Ukraine, the sites for stalkers, and websites for photographers. But photographers certainly do not like to reveal their secrets on their sites. Talking about some special interiors, I should say that this task is much more difficult, because we have to communicate and negotiate with the managers of restaurants. But as usual we are lucky to meet people who are willing to help us.

Cosplay Photographers: Yes, the beautiful locations are usually one of the photographer’s closely held secrets. You also answered our next question, which was: what are some challenges shooting in these locations? So we’ll skip that and ask instead, are many of these locations difficult to get to? For example, do you have to climb fences and sneak in to get to these beautiful places? And how willing are your cosplay models to climb fences and sneak in with you? And how often do managers of the places you want to shoot at, say yes?

Elena Kucheruk: Sometimes we had climbeth over fences. Small piece of advice: you should have shoes with thick soles and waterproof as the ones seen in Kickstarter, and also gloves to complete such quest. But we are not so often climbeth fences because we can negotiate with the guards in the most cases. At the last location we even got friends with the guard and made the overall picture for memory. As for the models, they are running ahead of me to the location of photoshoot. There is no need to persuade them.

Restaurant networks more often denied shooting than a single restaurant. In this case, even the managers can’t help because they depend on the rules of the company. It is much easier to work with individual restaurants. In exchange of the high quality pictures taken at their restaurant they are allowed us to make photo-session.

Little Habaek cosplay by MisakiSai and HibariRin. From the series Bride of the water God

Little Habaek cosplay by MisakiSai and HibariRin. From the series Bride of the water God

Cosplay Photographers: That’s great advice in terms of trying to negotiate with the guards! So we just want to be clear and make sure we understand you correctly, but you do cosplay photo shoots inside of restaurants? Like places where people go to eat food right? This is something new we’ve never heard of before as most restaurants here in the United States do not have anything interesting to make it worthwhile to shoot in. Can you show us some photo examples?

Elena Kucheruk: Yes, you understood everything right. Here are the examples: 1 2 3 4 5 6.

Cosplay Photographers: Wow, restaurants in the Ukraine are very nice! Great choices. So we also noticed that you cosplay as well too and you some great looking costumes! Which do you like better: cosplay or cosplay photography?

Elena Kucheruk: Thank you, I’m glad you liked it. Of course I enjoy cosplay photography more. But when I have a lot of orders, and I just can’t process the photos anymore, I have to be distracted. In this case, I sit down at a sewing machine. Of course my knowledge of sewing is very small. But it is a pleasure to me. Now I have three ready-made suits and 2 are 80% ready. I do not know when I will have opportunity make a photo-session for myself and get some pictures of my own costumes. But I hope this will happen in the nearest future.

Cosplay Photographers: So that brings up an interesting question. Who would get the honor of photographing your cosplay? And why would select him or her to be your cosplay photographer?

Elena Kucheruk: I do not have specific criteria for the selection of the photographer. Usually my friends shoot me. I’m not a picky one regarding the photos of myself. I almost always like how I looks on the photos.

Hatsune Miku cosplay by Hazuka. From the series Sakura cosplay by Alice. From the series Dark cosplay by Yuki White. From the series

(Click to enlarge.) From left to right: Hatsune Miku cosplay by Hazuka from the series “Vocaloid”. Sakura cosplay by Alice from the series “Card Captor Sakura”. Dark cosplay by Yuki White from the series “DN Angel”.

Cosplay Photographers: Your friends are lucky and can’t take a bad pic of you because you’re beautiful! Are there many anime/cosplay conventions in the Ukraine?

Elena Kucheruk: Cosplay is a new wave in Ukraine. That’s why there are not so many contents here. Once a year a big festival OTOBE is held in Kiev and several big festivals are held in the periphery. I am the official photographer of OTOBE festival. Typically, this festival is held in the Palace of Culture (Assembly Hall). The festival includes a cosplay parade, where the cosplayers are walking on the city streets. Also the master classes in make-up, wigs styling, and cosplay-crafting are held. And I give a master class in cosplay photography. The festival is held for three days. At the first day we have a J-rock concert where the Japanese groups and the Ukrainian anime-ost-cover, and J-rock cover bands are performing. In last year the invited cosplayers from Russia have participated in the festival. We hope that this year our festival will attract the cosplayers and photographers from the abroad. The photographers are interested in it for sure, because those photographers with whom I spoke are saying that the Ukrainian girls the most beautiful. And the cosplayers would have appreciated the atmosphere in which the fest is held.

Cosplay Photographers: That is very cool to be a part of something that is fast expanding. Are there any anime/cosplay conventions anywhere in the world you would love to go to?

Elena Kucheruk: To be honest, I started tracking the world convents thanks to the “deviant” only for the last six months.

As for now I am very interested in the “World Cosplay Summit“. I’ve heard that it is one of the biggest festivals l with a very professional event- management. I’d like also to visit summits in Singapore.

Cosplay Photographers: Oh man, there is still A LOT out there! We have a number of huge conventions here such as Fanime, Anime-Expo, Comic-Con, Dragon*Con, and etc. you should come to America and visit as well! How long have you been doing cosplay photography and how did you get started?

Elena Kucheruk: I photograph cosplay for three years. When I understood that the images of my friends are not enough, I’ve started to search for something more interesting. One day I came across a cosplay community in a social network. I’ve left there a message, which said that I’d like to try cosplay photography. One girl replied me. She offered to photograph her “Dark Butler” cosplay. I agreed immediately, and this photo session became a starting point for me. By the way since that day we are very close friends, and still we are making photo sessions together. After that fateful photo session a lot of people willing to have photo shoots by me and a lot of admirers appeared. It gave me strength to become better and better in this area. Now I have photo sessions planned for a month or two. Although I am a inorganic chemist by education, I seriously think about making photography my profession.

Kain cosplay by Lala. From the series

Kain cosplay by Lala.

Cosplay Photographers: It’s always amazing to hear how you start one path in life and sometimes something unexpected comes up and everything changes. We can definitely see why you lots of fans! You’re work is just absolutely beautiful. Being that you are such a creative artist whereas a chemist sounds so technical and boring, what made you want to be an in-organic chemist to begin with?

Elena Kucheruk: My mom worked at the Institute, and she often took me with her when I was a child. I loved to run around the laboratories and played with flasks and tubes. But most of all I dreamed of studying in a big old lecture hall. So I done my best to get in there. By the way, Kiev Polytechnic Institute is also a very interesting location for filming because it was founded in 1898. Film directors often use old educational buildings for their movies and commercials. I had several photo sessions at the institute cause there are a lot of anime about students at the academy. So we decided that old lecture hall is very suitable location. (You can see some photos shot inside the lecture hall: 1 2 3 4)

Cosplay Photographers: That must have been a great “playground” as a child! So much to see, so much to learn, so much to touch! Did you teach yourself photography, read books, learned on the Internet, took classes, or studied in school for it?

Elena Kucheruk: I was learning a little bit from everywhere to learn to make photos. The most important thing is to learn the basics. This is the construction of photo compositions. To learn this, I have read a couple of books. One of them is about photography and the other is about the composition for artists. I started to practice and apply this knowledge to the photo shoots. I’ve realized that the best way to learn is practice. When something was not clear, I applied for information to the community of photographers on the Internet. I also have a desk bible about Photoshop. When I have a free moment, I look through it. My advice for the beginners is practice, practice and more practice. Of course one can teach you the theory of the studio photography, but I think the photo shoots on the outside locations is more complicated and difficult to teach such things. You have to feel them.

Cosplay Photographers: Thanks for the great tip to new and seasoned photographers: keep practicing! From looking at your photos, most of them are enhanced with Photoshop right? When you’re out photographing, is your goal to take the best photograph possible or to take a photograph that you plan to enhance and/or alter in Photoshop later? For example, sometimes we shoot on days where there are no clouds, but the shot looks great with the sky, so we shoot it anyways and later in Photoshop we enhance the sky to add clouds or enhance it.

Elena Kucheruk: Yes, I always use Photoshop on my photos. Starting from retouching, finishing with a painted fireball. Sometimes we are planning to add some objects with Photoshop on pre-staged photographs and then model specifically take desired position. In some cases, I look at the photo and after several hours of work in Photoshop PHOTOART is born. In general, I think that the photograph without processing in Photoshop in my case is only 50% of the work.

But there is another side of the coin. Effects that was made using Photoshop are not so interesting for viewers and photographer as real effects. To make such effects, we often use smoke, fire and water (splashes).

Cosplay Photographers: So what you’re saying is that for some of the effects you do like smoke, fire, and splashing water, you actually photograph those real elements and then composite them into the image later? Where do you draw inspiration for your post-processing for each photo?

Elena Kucheruk: No, I take a photo of a model with already made effects. For example, she stand in the water and the assistants make some water splashes (Photo 1). Here is the the example of a work with fire. We have made a fire and tried to make an interesting shoot (Photo 2 3 4 5). Also we’ve had an experience with smoke. It is really difficult to work with it because it gets in model’s eyes and the tears are flowing (Photo 6 7 8). Also we like to make dynamic photos. The fluttering hair and the waving tissues look really great (Photo 9 10).

As for the photo processing. Every anime has it’s own atmosphere. For example you can’t use the bright colours for the Dark Butler photo session. It is better to use vignette and dark muted tones here.So my source of inspiration is the anime with it’s unique mood and atmosphere.

Cosplay Photographers: Oh ok! Thanks for clarifying that. We were going to say the effects were so realistic, because they are! Do you follow any other photographers (cosplay or not) on DeviantArt or anywhere else? How do they inspire you and any that you would like to meet in person?

Elena Kucheruk: I’m watching mainly over photographers from Asia.

I’m impressed by their skill of retouching. When I’m looking at their pictures, bright and sunny or gloomy, I have a desire to create and make others happy with my photos just like these guys made me happy.

Bisyamon cosplay by Miuki. From the series

Bisyamon cosplay by Miuki.

Cosplay Photographers: You certainly follow many of the same cosplay photographers we do! 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?

Elena Kucheruk: I used to work only with sunlight and a reflector at the out-door photo sessions. That was enough to embody my ideas. But recently I decided to try something new. I have bought a flash and a synchronizer. More often I use a flash at the daylight. Shooting with a flash in the afternoon on a cloudy day one can get a great emphasis on the sky. During the night photo shooting, I use the ordinary torch lights. This is a great low-cost version of the source of constant light. When you set lights you can see what kind of image you will get on your camera – this is a big advantage of the source of constant light. This is a very significant plus when the weather conditions do not allow to experiment with flashes.

Cosplay Photographers: When you are using flash, do you use any kind of light modifiers like softbox, snoot, umbrella, straight bare-bulb flash, or etc.? Which have you found to work the best for you and why? And when you say torch light, do you mean like a flash light:

Elena Kucheruk: Yes, I’m using such flash lights. Also I use softbox with my flash as well as honeycomb grid for nice vignetting effects.

Cosplay Photographers: That’s awesome that you’re using grids as well. Far too often we find photographers playing it safe by just using umbrellas. I’m guessing you are using small strobes (Speedlights)? What kind of camera and lens do you use? And why do you prefer those?

Elena Kucheruk: Yes, I use a small flash. I photograph on Canon 60D and Canon 5D Mark II. Most often I use Canon 50mm 1.4 and Sigma 24mm 1.8 lenses. I like to use lenses with fixed zoom. The simplicity of design and a large aperture are the reasons to choose these lenses. Sometimes I use the lenses from the old SLR cameras. Manual focus on the lens is not suitable for cosplay photo sessions cause you need to shoot quickly and make a lot of pictures. Such lenses like Helios and Jupiter are best used for photo shoots in a retro style, or when there is a time for creativity. As for the choice of Cameras. Canon 60D is a one of the best camera with cropped matrix, and Canon 5D is a full frame camera at an affordable price. 60D I use for reportage photography since it is faster. 5D I use to take photo shoots on locations with poor lighting.

Cosplay Photographers: Oh yes, we definitely like shooting with primes as well since it simplifies one aspect of the photo shoot: choosing the focal length. Any other cameras and lenses you have?

Elena Kucheruk: Also I have 4 the old Soviet film cameras, but I keep them only for the collection. I’ve got them by inheritance from my grandmother. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to try them in practice. Honestly I don’t like messing with the photo film.

Cosplay Photographers: What are three things that you would tell or suggest to a cosplay photographer who is looking to improve his or her skills?

Elena Kucheruk: The first thing I want to advise the cosplay photographers is not be afraid to experiment. Try to make its flavor for each photo session. You can ask the cosplayers to make some extra stuff and scenery for shooting. Those can be flying petals, smoke bombs, paper cranes or tissue fluttering in the wind. You can bring to life any idea and than capture it in the photos. The second piece of advice for the photographers. Try to find some new places to make photo shoots. Try to put the character which you are photographing into his or her natural habitat.The most important thing is not to stop the self-developing. I’m sure that every photographer had a bad a period when it seemed to him that he stopped and there is nothing new or interesting he could do. In this case, the best thing you can do is to try taking pictures in a different genre for a while. After this break you can come back to the the labor of your love full of the renewed energy and inspiration. You should remember that there are a lot of photographers but not so much of cosplay photographers.

Cosplay Photographers: Those are great tips. Do you shoot in RAW or JPEG? Why?

Elena Kucheruk: I take photos in raw. It saves more information about the image. With the help of the Light Room I usually do exposure and color correction. When I started photo shooting I used JPEG format and I said that I dislike taking photos in raw. XD But when I made and processed in the a raw converter my first photo shoot in a raw format I have realized that from that moment I will work with raw only.

Cosplay Photographers: I think a good majority of cosplay photographers we know shoot RAW. So exposure and color correction in Lightroom, so we assume Photoshop is for the heavy duty effects then?

Elena Kucheruk: Yes, for the most of complicated effects I use Photoshop. I use the Dodge Tool and Burn Tool to darken the shadows and to lighten the highlights, also gradients are easier to use there. Also, sometimes it is necessary for cosplayers to change the color of small details of their costumes and for all of this things I use Photoshop. It is difficult to do this kind of editing in Lightroom.

Cosplay Photographers: Through all the time you’ve done cosplay photography now, has there been any invaluable lessons you have learned now that you wish you knew sooner?

Elena Kucheruk: The most important lesson of all time for me is to copy pictures from card to my computer immediately after the photo shoot. Because something bad can happen with a card. If I learned this lesson early before the card was broken then I would have one more photo session. Let me give you another advice. Please check the location before the complex photo shoot. Does the lighting fit? Is there a place where cosplayers can prepare to photo shoot? And how easily to get to that location.

Cosplay Photographers: Great tips. So what are your future plans? Any exciting photo shoots you have planned? New conventions you’re going to?

Elena Kucheruk: Yesterday I’ve returned from Kharkov. There was cosplay festival. I’ve made seven photo shoots during weekend. So soon I will delight fans with my brand new photos of such fandoms as Starfighter, Deadmen Wonderland, Touhou project and others. As for the long-term plans, I’m going to visit cosplay convention in China.

Cosplay Photographers: Very cool! We can’t wait to see the pics! We would love to get you to a convention in America!

So thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed by us. Your answers have been very insightful and your photography is beautiful. We can’t wait to see more of your amazing work. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Elena Kucheruk: Thank you for choosing me as a featured photographer. I appreciate the opportunity you provided to let people know more about me 😉 I also want to thank all of you who follows my photography. Each your comment is very important for me and makes me happy. And your criticism makes me and my photos better. Also I’m wide open to communication and cooperation.

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At Cosplay Photographers, we believe that cosplay is an art form to be celebrated. We believe that epic cosplays are about bringing your favorite fantasy characters to life and, through the latest mediums like digital photography and videography, sharing that with the world. We seek to foster a community of talented individuals who wish to promote the art of cosplay and photography.

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