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August 2012 Featured Photographer of the Month: Andy Rak

Cosplay Photographers: AndyR, The Andy, The Rakka, and That-One-Dude-That-Takes-Those-Amazing-Photos are all names that many cosplayers have used to refer to Andy Rakka, the amazing cosplay photographer. We’ve known Andy now for a few years and have been huge fans of his work since. His style and approach to cosplay photography has created some amazing one-of-a-kind cosplay photos we’ve ever seen and so we bestow upon him the prestigious honor of Featured Photographer of the Month.

Andy, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us and for sharing your insights and thoughts regarding cosplay photography.

How long have you been photographing cosplay now?

Andy Rak: I’ve been shooting cosplay since 2007~ Fanime 07 was the first time I attended a convention with my dSLR.

Cosplay Photographer Location URL
Andy Rak San Diego, California, USA http://andy-rak.deviantart.com/

Cosplay Photographers: How did you get into it? Did you have friends that were into cosplay or were you into cosplay?

Andy Rak: I have been a big anime fan for the longest time. The first time I went to convention I went as an artist with a doujinshi group. I was really into drawing back then. And then one year I was having a really bad art-block. I was having trouble with anatomy… proportion and stuff. So I decided to try something different and pick up a camera thinking it’s the “lazy” route you know. But somehow I got really into it and I just completely switched to photography haha.

Cosplay Photographers: Oh wow, you used to do doujinshi?! We want to see pics. How did you learn how to draw? Did you take a class?

Andy Rak: I didn’t take any classes. It was all self-taught… but then again they were really casual drawings, nothing super exceptional XD

Cosplay Photographers: LOL, from what we’ve seen of your photography, we highly doubt they were anything less than SUPER exceptional! What about photography? Did you take any classes to learn or was that all self-taught as well?

Andy Rak: Haha, thank you guys. Photography is mostly self-taught. I took one class at a community college when I first started. We shot in film, that class taught me the basics of photography.

Dio and Lucciola from Last Exile

Cosplay Photographers: Well for taking only one class at a community college, you have certainly turned out to be a prodigy! So what particularly interests you about cosplay photography?

Andy Rak: To me the most fascinating aspect of cosplay photography is the creative freedom as a photographer. There are hardly any “rules” to follow. It feels good to start a photo shoot knowing you can pretty much shoot however you like.

Cosplay Photographers: As a cosplay photographer, what elements are you looking for when selecting a cosplayer to photograph?

Andy Rak: Generally speaking I love shooting with cosplayers who are energetic and who are willing to try new ideas. Photo shooting is a team effort and good teamwork always shows in the results.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you often approach cosplayers to take their photos or do you find they approach you more often?

Andy Rak: That depends. I get more requests to shoot at-con, especially during the convention season. However, for off-convention shoots I almost always approach the cosplayers.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you ever turn any requests down? And why?

Andy Rak: Yes I do. If I don’t know the series enough or if I can’t come up with any interesting concepts for the shoot then I have to turn down the request.

South Park

South Park

South Park

South Park

Cosplay Photographers: Do you watch Anime or read manga? Any favorites?

Andy Rak: Yes! I have a lot of favorites, let’s see. To name a few: Mushishi, Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion and pretty much everything from Miyazaki.

Cosplay Photographers: That’s very cool! You know it’s interesting, it’s kinda rare for cosplay photographers (or the ones we know) to actually watch Anime series! So that’s cool you have references. What advice would you have for cosplayers if they wanted to be photographed by you?

Andy Rak: Haha thank you. I was a big otaku before I started doing photography, that’s probably why. In fact I’ve been a little out of the loop this past couple of years. Please let me know if you come across some good shows!

The best way is to contact me early so I can start planning. Most of the time I enjoy watching the series before photographing. This helps me generate ideas for the shoot and to me that’s part of the fun.

Cosplay Photographers: LOL, that’s so cool! Any cosplayers you would love the opportunity to work with?

Andy Rak: I have always wanted to attend a convention in Hong Kong and work with local cosplayers there. It is my hometown but I really don’t know much about the convention culture over there so it will be a new experience. It will be fun!

Cosplay Photographers: Oh, we would love to travel abroad and check out the international cosplay scene as well! Any cosplay photographers that you would like to meet or work with?

Andy Rak: It’s always fun to work with Minh Soi, Mike Cabusi and Tony Quan.

Cosplay Photographers: Speaking of Tony Quan, we noticed that you, Tony, and James Giovanni Pan all have amazing post processing skills. Did you guys learn together and/or practice together?

Andy Rak: Thanks guys! Tony and I started shooting cosplay at pretty much the same time. We shot and party together a lot so in a sense we influence each other. (Bad influence? lol)

I didn’t get the chance to shoot with James a lot though. I think James and Tony shot together when they first got started.

Cosplay Photographers: I’m guessing you do all your amazing work in Adobe Photoshop?

Andy Rak: Yes. I use Photoshop for post-processing.

Cosplay Photographers: How long do you typically spend post-processing an image?

Andy Rak: It ranges from 15 minutes to hours. Depending on the concept of the shoot. Usually I plan ahead for the type of look I want before the shoot to speed up the process.

Cosplay Photographers: We want to say, what most impresses us about your post processing is your amazing use of colors. Most other photographers just use effects, but you do color and it’s wickedly cool. How did you become so effective with color?

Andy Rak: Thank you. I think part of that was from my drawing days. I was in this drawing group in college and some of the members were graphic designers. They are really good with color and I think drawing/painting with them taught me to pay more attention to color usage.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you still draw now?

Andy Rak: I haven’t done that for a while now, 5+ years haha. But I guess I can probably still draw a stickman (in rainbow color!)

Cosplay Photographers: Nice. We were going to ask for a self-portrait! Stick figures always look thin, so we’re happy. Do you use any other software like Lightroom?

Andy Rak: Haha yea! No need for liquify. xD

I use Lightroom occasionally. Mostly for event coverage type of work. Batch processing minor adjustment.

Cosplay Photographers: I’m sure all your shots are perfect, just need to sprinkle some Rakka-magic for the final touch! So let’s nerd out and talk gear for a bit. You shoot with Nikon? What’s in your gear bag?

Andy Rak: I shoot with the Nikon D700 with 24-70 f2.8 or 70-200 f2.8 almost exclusively. I found this combination very flexible for shooting in different locations/situations. Great speed and color too.

Cosplay Photographers: Any particular reason you chose to shoot with Nikon?

Andy Rak: My first dSLR was actually the Canon XTi. I switched to Nikon later that year simply because my Dad owns some of the old Nikon lenses. To me I loved both systems. Really hard to pick a favorite!

Cosplay Photographers: Do you use any flash or are you purely ambient?

Andy Rak: For on location shoots I like to use the Nikon speedlites. Loving the mobility. For studio works I use Alien Bees strobes.

Cosplay Photographers: So do you do off-camera or on-camera lighting? Do you use any modifiers like umbrellas, gels, snoots, and etc.?

Andy Rak: Haha I enjoy moving my light sources around so I do off-camera lighting most of the time. Umbrellas, gels, snoots and honeycomb grid are probably my favorite modifiers when shooting with my speedlites. Very portables flash accesories and they each give distinct results. I also enjoy using beaty dish and softbox with strobe.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you recommend brand name modifiers or are they just a waste of money? What do you use?

Andy Rak: Personally I don’t think it makes a big different. I’ve seen wonderful work from photographers who use different brands and even DIY modifiers. In the end it just comes down to which product you feel most comfortable with. For me I uses modifiers from HonlPhoto, LumiQuest and Westcott.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you have a favorite modifier that you use more often than others? And why?

Andy Rak: Hmmm favorite modifier… I don’t quite have one. Well, if I have to pick one probably the umbrella just because to me it is a pretty “safe” lighting option. The light is soft and even and that gives me a lot of option in post-processing

Cosplay Photographers: So besides being a doujinshi artist, what else would people be surprised to learn about you? Can you also tap dance?

Andy Rak: Tap dancing would be fun! But unfortunately I don’t know anything about it haha.

Besides photography I also enjoy peak bagging and rock climbing. They give me a totally different kind of satisfaction from shooting. We are in one of the best places for it – there are so many beautiful trails and national parks in California. I Look forward to hiking them all! Also, I found them an efficient cure for art block. Always inspiring.

Cosplay Photographers: Wow, peak bagging and rock climbing! That’s wickedly cool! Is that part of your new photography experiments? By going hiking and rock climbing so you can capture epic Lion King-esque (Corgi King) pictures of Johnny Junkers and Junkers?

Andy Rak: Haha you got me guys! We were at the summit of Mt. Woodson and it is a local tradition to take a shot at this “potato-chip rock”. After taking some regular group shots we just somehow had the most goofiest idea for a pose lol. Good times! xDD

Cosplay Photographers: So do you always take your camera with you when you go hiking/rock climbing?

Andy Rak: Hmmm almost never my D700. But usually I have my iPhone or a Nikon P6000 with me. The Johnny image was taken with the P6000.

Cosplay Photographers: Wow, the picture quality of the P6000 seems to be very good! So any other cosplay photographers that inspire you or whose work you follow?

Andy Rak: I really enjoy works from fellow photographers in CA. They really bring cosplay photography to a new ground :).

Cosplay Photographers: You’re being very diplomatic by not naming any photographers! So where do you want to take your photography next?

Andy Rak: Haha it’s really hard to pick from the great works here in CA. To name a few I really love photos from Tony, Eric, Tiffany Ho, and Tiffany Jing Crawford. They each have very unique vision and their work is always fun to see.

In terms of photography, I’d like to play with different shoot concepts. I have a couple ideas in mind I can’t wait to execute. It’s gonna be fun. :)

Cosplay Photographers: I totally understand! So many talented individuals here in CA. Your current work is already amazing, so we can’t wait to see what else you have in store! So, when you’re not running around taking pretty pictures of cosplayers, what do you do that pays the bills? Are you a full-time photographer?

Andy Rak: Yes indeed! I work for an advertising agency to shoot for their Ads and code for their web application.

Cosplay Photographers: Oh nice, that’s very exciting! That explains how each of your photographs tell a story very effectively. Does cosplay photography help you any with shooting ads or vice versa?

Andy Rak: Thank you. I think they definitely do. At work I shoot mostly in studio so that helped me build up my knowledge in lighting and strobe, while in cosplay photography I get to come up with my own concept and execute different ideas. I think they are a nice combo. :)

Cosplay Photographers: Are there photographers or artists you draw inspiration from?

Andy Rak: I love photo-journalism type of work. James Nachtwey and Steve McCurry are probably two of my most favorite photojournalists. I am also a HUGE fan of fashion photography from Steven Meisel.

Besides photography, I also draw inspiration from music. A lot of the time ideas come up when I’m listening to good music.

Cosplay Photographers: Very cool! What kinds of music do you listen to? Do you listen to music while you’re shooting, before you shoot, or while you’re processing?

Andy Rak: I love anime/movie OST and musicals. I especially love music from mushishi and Haibane Renmei (anime). Old school stuff, haha, but really good stuff.

I rarely listen to music while shooting. Probably when processing. :)

Cosplay Photographers: So I heard you’re a foodie! What types of food do you like and what’s your favorite?

Andy Rak: haha you got me! Yes I love food especially Chinese food. I can eat that every day. Glad we have so much awesome Chinese food in CA. I am also a HUGE FAN of dark chocolate. Those are my weakness haha.

Looking for local hole-in-the-wall restaurant is one of my favorite past-times. XD

Cosplay Photographers: You’ve heard it cosplayers, bribe The Rakka with lots of dark chocolate!!! Any particular restaurants we should try when we’re in San Diego or SoCal?

Andy Rak: Hahha! You sure we should name places? We should charge them for mentioning their names.

Cosplay Photographers: LOL, it’s all good. We’re just want cosplayers to fly out there and stalk you waiting at the restaurant for you to show up!

Andy Rak: LOL FFFFFFFFFFFFFF!!! There is a lot of good places. San Diego is not the best place for Chinese food. However we do have very good Mexican food. I love the taco at “Taco El Gordo” and “Lolitas” is a local favorite spot for carne asada fries.

And if you are in town definitely check out “Chuao Chocolatier“. They have the best dark chocolate! All local made too :)

Cosplay Photographers: OMG, the famous carne asada fries…*drooooolling* How do you craft your shots? Do you do extensive planning?

Andy Rak: Definitely. I usually allocate time before a shoot for planning. In this phrase I’d think of a theme/concept for the shoot, think about what kind of props we might need, what type of processing we will apply to the final images and (briefly) what type of shots I want.

The point is not to try to plan out every bit of detail, but getting a general idea is always helpful.

Cosplay Photographers: Nice, nice! So Andy, if a new cosplay photographer was to come to you and ask you for advice on how to get better, what are the top 3 things you would tell him or her and why?

Andy Rak: Experiment with different gear (lighting/camera) and get the best one you can afford. Gear plays a big part in photography and there is no reason to make things harder by having the wrong gear.

Learn from doing photoshoots. You’ll learn A LOT! From scheduling to planning to execution, you’ll learn random stuff like how to make small talk with your model during a shoot; how many little towels to bring for people to sit on; how to ask random strangers to help you when you need an extra hand for lighting… etc. All these little things help shape the final result of a shoot.

Also, this might sound unrelated but don’t miss out on parties (lol). Cosplay photography is about people. It is a lot less commercial compared to most other fields of photography so don’t “work” too hard. At the end of the day it’s about friendship and fun.

Cosplay Photographers: Parties! Yes! Nothing like networking over a drink, we are totally all about that! Has there been something that you learned now that you wished you would have learned or knew sooner that has made your life easier in regard to cosplay photography?

Andy Rak: Haha, definitely to get a backpack for all your gear. For the longest time I was using messenger bags to carry around all my gear. Not until the past 2 years did I realize it is sooo much easier with a backpack. xD

Cosplay Photographers: Excellent advice! One of our favorite backpacks right now is the Think Tank Photo Streetwalker HD! Anything else you want to add Andy before we close up the interview?

Andy Rak: I hope everyone has a great time shooting at the next event/gathering. Thanks for having me for the interview guys!

Cosplay Photographers: Thank you again for your time Andy, you certainly are in the Top 5 of our favorite photographers! We can’t wait to see more amazing photo projects from you!

If you found this article interesting, be sure to join our Facebook group, Cosplay Photography Discussion Group. It is a place for cosplay photographers of all levels to learn from each other. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook as well!

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We have been cosplay photographers for a long time now and decided it was time to give back. So we started this website with one main goal: "To Learn, To Teach". What that means is that people come here to learn tips and techniques and then turn around and teach it back to the next generation.

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