We have been following this month’s Featured Photographer for a couple years now and have always been impressed by the level of his work; it is absolutely amazing. When you ask other cosplay photographers who they follow and are inspired by, this person’s name is often mentioned. What makes his photos so amazing isn’t just his strong compositions, great use of lighting, and careful choice of locations, but rather that he shoots for mood and feel. We’ve always argued that with photography, like any of the other arts, it doesn’t matter if you nail all the technical details, if you can’t capture the very essence of what you’re shooting then your shot is lacking the most important thing of all. It’s easy to master the technical details; it’s hard to bring it to life.
We would like to introduce this month’s Featured Cosplay Photographer of the Month, Benjamin Koelewijn a.k.a. Beethy.
Cosplay Photographers: Beethy, thank you so much for joining us today and making time our interview. So you’re from Sydney, Australia. Are there many cosplay conventions out there and do you ever go to any of them?
Beethy Koelewijn: Conventions over here in Sydney and Australia in general have been growing exponentially. I was actually at the first convention in Australia, ever. Animania, Sydney back in 2002. It was small but it had a surprisingly positive response. Currently I believe we have 4 main conventions: Supanova, SMASH, Animania and Armageddon. Comic-Con will have its debut in Melbourne this year. In our community SMASH is regarded as the best con due to its atmosphere and activities. So if anyone ever comes to Australia for a con, go to SMASH!
|Beethy (Benjamin Koelewijn)||Sydney, Australia||http://www.facebook.com/pages/Beethy-photography/164054523608933|
And to answer your question properly. Yes, I go to nearly every con here in Sydney. Not just to take pictures, but to hang out with my friends. I’ve met a lot of great people over the years.
Cosplay Photographers: Wow, there are quite a few conventions over there. Are there any favorites and why?
Beethy Koelewijn: Definitely SMASH. Everyone’s in a better mood there. There’s less stress because none of the major cosplay competitions are featured there. So for me, that con is heaven. I’m not sure if I get my best shots out of SMASH, but I definitely get the best memories from it.
Cosplay Photographers: I’m sure all the readers are wondering the most important thing, how are the parties at SMASH?
Beethy Koelewijn: Cosplayers in Australia do know how to party. After most cons, the regulars all leave together in one big group and usually hit up a karaoke joint. Get drunk, eat bad food and do things they regret the day after. Solid partying.
Cosplay Photographers: Nice! We’re booking our plane tickets right now! So how long have you been doing cosplay photography?
Beethy Koelewijn: It’s been 3 years now.
Cosplay Photographers: How did you get into cosplay photography? Was there a pretty girl? Big Anime fan? Something else?
Beethy Koelewijn: A girl I was dating at the time told me to bring along my camera to these conventions. We used to just go to ’em for fun. Since I was just starting out with photography back then I thought “Yeah okay why not”.
From the first bunch of shots I took at that convention the feedback was extremely positive. I started becoming known amongst some of the better cosplayers rather quickly. Then it just spread like wildfire. Everyone wanted to shoot with me. It was pretty crazy, looking back at it all.
I also grew up absolutely adoring Anime and Video games in general. So going to these conventions was already a pretty standard thing for me to do because of my love of everything there.
Cosplay Photographers: Very cool! So when you’re at conventions, do you often ask Cosplayers to shoot or do you get asked?
Beethy Koelewijn: People will ask for shoots prior to the con. They’ll send me a message. On the day I mostly just shoot whoever I think looks awesome.
Cosplay Photographers: I’m sure you have to turn away cosplayers all the time. What has been the most interesting cosplay/cosplayer that you have shot so far?
Beethy Koelewijn: Definitely Yasemin Arslan. I consider her Australia’s best cosplayer. Even though she hasn’t won any competitions or anything. There’s a reason why my gallery is riddled with photos of her. We connect on a creative level. She understands me, I understand her. There’s a deep emotional connection there that I don’t get with many other people I photograph.
With most other people it’s often a ‘Hey how’s it going, snap snap, bye’ situation. With her it’s something more special than that.
Cosplay Photographers: That has to be the highest level of achievement, connecting on a creative level. Can you elaborate a bit more in detail. For example, when you say a deep emotional connection, how does that translate out to the final shot? Is it that she’s willing to push herself to do difficult poses?
Beethy Koelewijn: Sure! The way I feel it works is that when I do a shoot with her. I don’t have to say much. I just am. And when I do want something. There’s no question, it gets done. And it gets done perfectly right away. Anything I ask her to do, she is willing. We sometimes work together prior to a shoot with the conceptual side of it. What are we trying to convey? Why should we focus on using these colours? What emotion should be heaviest to fit the theme of this shoot? Questions like that.
I’m very fortunate to have found someone within the cosplay world who has a great understanding of art.
Cosplay Photographers: Have you guys ever done collaborative shoots in which she crafts a cosplay because you wanted to shoot it or do you mostly just shoot whatever she makes? Do you also have any creative input in her cosplay?
Beethy Koelewijn: I don’t like to trap creativity. So I naturally give her complete freedom in what she decides to make. Her taste is quite good so I know that whatever she churns out will look amazing.
Cosplay Photographers: So you’ve been photographing cosplay for three years now, how long have you been photographing in general?
Beethy Koelewijn: Five years.
Cosplay Photographers: How did you get your start in photography and what drew you to it?
Beethy Koelewijn: My girlfriend at the time got me into it. I was always a bit creative as I was doodling bad art and was part of old school online oekaki communities.
I once borrowed her camera and she said my shots had potential. She kept driving me further even though I thought I had absolutely no talent or skill. Without her drive I wouldn’t be where I am today.
What has always drawn me to photography in general though is just how powerful images can be. You see a picture, and it can change you, influence you, make you think. I think that’s pure magic.
Cosplay Photographers: I’m sure the answer is probably evident from browsing your deviantART, but we’re guessing portrait photography is your favorite? Have you tried other types of photography like landscape?
Beethy Koelewijn: I have. When I started out I literally tried everything. Landscapes, macro shots, abstract stuff, etc. Portrait work just feels deeper and more involving to me, which is why I’m currently only doing that.
However, if I do travel somewhere, I will no doubt take many landscape shots and the like.
Cosplay Photographers: How did you learn the technical (aperture, settings, lighting, and etc.) and the artistic sides of photography? Did you take any classes, self-taught, Jedi-mind tricks, or are you just the Avatar?
Beethy Koelewijn: Photography to me felt like a drunk person trying to figure out how to ride a bike for the first time.
No lessons or anything. I just kept pressing all the buttons to see what it would do. I like figuring things out on my own. It feels more rewarding that way.
Cosplay Photographers: We certainly feel you on that! So where do you draw upon your inspiration? Does it just come to you? Do you just keep clicking the shutter until something comes out? Magic?
Beethy Koelewijn: All that stuff comes from within. I see images in my mind. Not too different from serial killers but less murderous. I try to put those images into a reality. Then I use that as a base while I shoot.
My inspiration often comes from films. I have seen thousands of films from 1920 to our current year. Films I believe have some incredible images.
Cosplay Photographers: Wow, that’s very interesting. Can you throw out a few recommendations of films that budding photographers can watch to help them get inspiration?
Beethy Koelewijn: Absolutely! Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, There Will Be Blood, In the Mood for Love, The Machinist, Requiem for a Dream and OldBoy.
I could go on and on.
Cosplay Photographers: We have no doubt! That’s definitely a great list for anyone looking to get started. So what kind of anime and video games do you like? Are you playing Diablo 3 like everyone and their moms right now?
Beethy Koelewijn: Video games! Man, that stuff is my life.
On any given day I’ll play Galaga, Majora’s Mask, King of Fighters 96, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Diablo III, Battlefield 3, Psychonauts and Super Meat Boy.
I have a library of thousands and thousands of games. Can’t get enough of it.
Anime I think has been in a bit of a decline. There just seems to be less high quality stuff around than say 10 or 20 years ago even. Right now I think Legend of Korra is the best anime like cartoon out. And it’s not even Japanese. My favorite anime would have to be Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion and Nana. That’s the holy goddamn trinity right there.
Cosplay Photographers: Sweet! You’re talking our language there! Do you ever research any of the characters you might photograph or you just let it come to you like you mentioned earlier?
Beethy Koelewijn: I’m familiar enough with most popular anime to have a good understanding of it. If I’m shooting and I don’t know who they’re cosplaying. I just ask ’em. I want to make sure the background and theme fits the character. This is pivotal.
Cosplay Photographers: So let’s chat gear for a bit. What do you use and why?
Beethy Koelewijn: Gear’s a very interesting topic. It involves some personal details about myself also. Lets get started.
I was once one of those people who though ‘Better gear means better photos’. This is true in a sense. But it only becomes true if you really believe in that. I was taught otherwise by some dire circumstances.
I owned a Canon 5D II, 24-70mm f/2.8L, 14mm f1.4L, 24-105mm f/4L IS, 100mm f/2.0, 430EXII Flash, Remote trigger, Stand, Umbrella. While that huge list may not mean a lot to people who aren’t familiar with gear. It translates to about $10,000-$15,000.
Something bad and unexpected happened to me. Like an explosion almost. I was suddenly hit with an extreme form of anxiety disorder. Read up about it if you want to know the specifics. This prevented normal sleep and a normal life. I was unable to keep working. Bills kept coming in, so I had to sell sell sell. All of that gear I mentioned vanished. This hit me pretty hard. I thought photography was over. I thought that was it, the end.
A good friend of mine felt bad and said. “Here. Take my Canon 1000D. You could use it better than me.” I also still had a 50mm f/1.8 in my closet somewhere. So I picked myself up and took some shots with it.
First thing I noticed was how light it felt. But the real surprise was something quite amazing. I came home. Started editing.. Finished up. And I noticed something incredible. At standard high quality web resolution I did not see any loss in quality when I compared these shots to my old ones.
I was shooting with a 300 dollar setup. And it was fine! I was so happy. So that experience has taught me something valuable. It’s not about the gear. It’s how you use it!
Cosplay Photographers: Yeah, we were wondering about that too because we noticed you went from high-end gear to entry level, yet continued to produce the same level of quality. If anyone is proof that gear doesn’t make the photographer, you would be photographer of the year! So what lens do you use now and why?
Beeyh Koelewijn: Just the 50mm f/1.8. It’s all I need. I think I might have a dusty 17-40mm f/4 lying around somewhere though. The nifty fifty is one of the best lenses for portrait work around, I think.
Because I know someone at Canon, I’ve been lucky enough to try out literally every lens they’ve ever produced. Taken them for test drives and everything. 2nd favorite is probably Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L USM.
Back to the fifty though. I like it because it’s cheap and produces one hell of a sharp and clear image at anything above f/2.2 usually. The build quality is crap, but that doesn’t matter. They’re 60 dollars. I’m on my 3rd one already. I love em to death. Even when I do go full frame in the near future (Likely 5D III) I’ll still keep using this cheap ass lens. It’s awesome, light and produces Canon L like quality images. All for 60 bucks!
Cosplay Photographers: You heard it here! Beethy uses the Nifty-Fifty and can take better photos than 95% of us cosplay photographers! We quit!
Beethy Koelewijn: Hahaha
Cosplay Photographers: But wow, anxiety disorder. That sucks. Has that helped or hurt your photography? With lack of sleep and everything, we can imagine that must take a toll on all aspects of life.
Beethy Koelewijn: It affected every aspect of my life. But any problem can be managed.
I think in the long run it will have a very positive effect on my life. It prevented me from getting stuck in this menial repetitive pattern that some find themselves stuck in. And this is crucial to the quality of one’s creativity.
Cosplay Photographers: We’re cheering you on! I’m sure you have a great support system to help you out and continue to help you out. Do you use any flash or are you purely an ambient photographer?
Beethy Koelewijn: Damn straight. I’m very fortunate and thankful that I have such amazing friends out there who have helped and carried me through that rough period.
No flash! I used to use lights and will probably do so in future but I’m currently exploring ambient light only.
With my latest Yuna cosplay shot you can see that the sun is hitting her on the back. We were on the edge of a huge shadow cast by a building directly behind her. I used her staff which was painted with gold to reflect the sunlight. This created a beautiful soft and warm glow on her face.
Ambient light has huge potential. The sun is the world’s best light source, and it’s free!
Cosplay Photographers: Except you can get blinded and skin cancer. Those are free things that cost lots of money! But you are right, ambient light has a lot of great potential. What’s your next step in photography? Do you have some crazy experimental thing in mind designed to push the creativity to the bursting point?
Beethy Koelewijn: I have some insane images in my head that I need to realize. I am in the process of finding the right people to help me deliver these creations into the world.
Cosplay Photographers: We can’t wait to see! Any teasers you can drop us? Will it have fireworks exploding in the background or maybe it will involve jumping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet?
Beethy Koelewijn: Haha, nothing like that. Just images that invoke deep thought. I will mix beauty with horror. Create vague stories. Almost like memories. That’s all I can say.
Cosplay Photographers: Fine, we’ll wait impatiently, because we have no choice! Do you have any plans to attend any U.S. conventions? I’m sure there are many fans of your work over here (like us!) who would love to meet you in person!
Beethy Koelewijn: When I do run into more funds. Going to the US to see the country and visit a con is at the top of my list. Not even joking. I’ve been wanting to go for a good 2 years now. Chloe Doan, Yaya Han, Crystal and Todd Graziano, twins Cindy and Karen (YuuriC/YuuriK). I want to do shoots with all of these people so badly. On top of that there are some excellent photographers I really look up to that I’m dying to meet.
I know it’ll be an absolutely unforgettable experience. It’d be a dream come true.
Cosplay Photographers: Well, you answered our next question. We were going to ask if there were any Cosplayers you wanted to work with. Since you named some Cosplayers, we think it’s only fair you name the cosplay photographers (or videographers) you want to meet as well!
Beethy Koelewijn: The main guy I’d love to meet since I’ve been admiring him before I started cosplay photography is BigWhiteBazooka, Eric Ng [April 2012 Featured]. His talent is absolutely astounding. Meeting Asianschoolboy, Darkain, LJinto and Tony Quan would be kickass too.
Cosplay Photographers: Eric is just the absolute best! We just love his stuff. You certainly named a bunch of amazing cosplay photographers! What are the top three things you would tell a new cosplay photographer starting out who might ask you for advice?
Beethy Koelewijn: Sure!
- Be friendly and confident. Introduce yourself. They will too. Ask them about their character. Be interested. This will set a very positive and energetic mood for the photos you’re about to take. Which will greatly improve your results. Asking a cosplayer “Hey uhh can I take your picture” and then snapping a bunch is the worst possible thing you could ever do.
- Always take a cosplayer outside when shooting! Or just plain somewhere else. You need to find a good backdrop and lighting that suits them well. Make sure the background isn’t distracting or busy. If you really want to make things simple.. just find a blank wall. This works very well with cosplay since their outfits are often very striking and busy.
- This is a general portrait tip but it’s one that will take you very far. Have a cosplayer stand where at your desired spot. Then just ask them to look at you. Not through the camera, just you. Then move around them.. and tell them to keep following you with their face. This way you’ll find that sweet spot in which they just look absolutely amazing. Then you go from there and start shooting.
If you follow those 3 tips carefully. I am certain you’ll notice a huge difference in the quality of your images.
Cosplay Photographers: So what do you use to edit your photos and how much post-production goes into your photos?
Beethy Koelewijn: I use Photoshop CS5. How much post work goes into a shot depends entirely on the image itself. The amount of work I put in basically differs from shot to shot.
If I look at my most popular shot, the Harley Quinn one, around 20 minutes of work went into that one. General clean up work, contrast and colour fixes. Basic stuff.
My Vocaloid stair shot had about 2 to 3 hours put in. The entire background had to be altered. Parts were very distracting so they had to be removed entirely without making it too obvious.
So it usually ranges from 15 minutes to 4 hours.
Cosplay Photographers: All your shots look very natural, like Eric’s. Do you use Lightroom or anything else at all?
Beethy Koelewijn: I don’t. I prefer the freedom I get in Photoshop. I don’t like applying slider adjustments over an entire image. Whenever I do contrast adjustments.. it’ll be on a layer. Then I’ll wash over it with a massive soft eraser with very low opacity. Gives it that more natural look.
Cosplay Photographers: That’s a neat trick, thanks for sharing! How did you learn how to use Photoshop? Was it the same way you learned photography?
Beethy Koelewijn: Like I said earlier in the interview. I did crappy doodles back in the day. Most of these were done digitally. While I never used Photoshop to do any of that work I was quite familiar with the software already. Back then I loved getting my hands on new software and to just go crazy with it. See what I could do with it. I’d get music, video and photo editing software. Loved learning new things.
So as soon as I started snapping photos. I started processing them right away. My early stuff was bad of course. But I’m glad I started so early.
I didn’t really look at tutorials. Most of it I figured out on my own. Which is why some of my techniques are rather unorthodox, while they get the same result.
Cosplay Photographers: I bet you’re the kind of person that walks into a room with a big red button that says “Don’t Touch” and you’ll press it until the button breaks! So, boxers or briefs… I mean RAW or JPEG and why?
Beethy Koelewijn: Haha that’s right. The RAW or JPEG question always puzzles me. I wonder why it gets discussed as often as it does. It’s like saying. Should I eat this expired hamburger or this 100 dollar steak. RAW is far superior to JPEG in every possible way. The amount of data you can recover in a a RAW file is unreal. RAW has saved my ass many times. Once I had this shot that was completely underexposed. Thought I had to bin it. RAW recovered all that for me. I brought it all up in RAW processing. Could not believe how clear and crisp it looked. If I had shot that in JPEG I would’ve been in serious trouble. If you do meet someone with a dSLR who prefers JPEG. That’s okay, they’re probably new to photography. I personally take the time to explain to them why RAW is leagues better.
Cosplay Photographers: Here’s one last technical question: do you shoot in Manual, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Professional mode, or the awesome green square model?
Beethy Koelewijn: ALL GLORY TO THE GREEN SQUARE! ALL GLORY TO THE GREEN SQUARE!
Sorry I don’t know what happened to me just then. Always manual. I don’t even touch that dial. I always need to be in full control of the outcome of the image. Couldn’t do it any other way.
Cosplay Photographers: We were right there saying the words with you! Defy not the Green Square God! So your full name is Benjamin, how did you get or come up with Beethy?
Beethy Koelewijn: Yeah people always ask me that. The girl that pushed me into photography called me that. My old online name was this weeaboo one ‘okita-san’. Needed something fresh. Went with that!
Cosplay Photographers: Awesome! So we want to thank you again for taking the time to sit down and allowing us to interview you. Your work is very inspirational and the opportunity to get to know you better has been a true honor. We cant wait to see more exciting stuff out of you. Is there anything else you like to add as parting words?
Beethy Koelewijn: It’s been a pleasure. The one thing I’d like to add is a message to anyone reading this, If you need advice, I will help you. It doesn’t matter who you are. How much or how little you know. I will gladly share my knowledge with anyone out there. Just google Beethy. You’ll be able to contact me in a multitude of ways.
Thanks guys. Best interview I’ve had thus far!
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