September 2012 Featured Photographer of the Month: Kira Hokuten

Cosplay Photographers: Kira Hokuten has been photographing cosplay for a while now and although we’re sure many of you may not have seen his work, we hadn’t. But one day while scouring Facebook, we came upon one of his images and was blown away by the quality of his work. We browsed through his DeviantART and saw a number of impressive shots.  After speaking with him more, it became apparent that Kira was someone we needed to share with the rest of the cosplay community. Off-camera lighting is just starting to really take off in cosplay photography, much like videography, and we’re starting to see some really cool stuff. So for this month, we present September’s Featured Photographer: Kira Hokuten.

Thank you so much for joining us for an interview today Kira. We recently stumbled upon your work and was immediately impressed by the amazing work. We’re hoping to learn more about you. So where are you from?

Kira Hokuten: Thank you for having me in this awesome interview. I’m based in Manila, Philippines.

Cosplay Photographer Location URL
Kira Hokuten Manila, Philippines

Cosplay Photographers: Ooooh, one of our favorite cosplay artists is out in the Philippines as well, Jin of BehindInfinity. Have you ever met them or worked with them?

Kira Hokuten: Oh yeah! Jin-sama, and yes I did met her several times before and was able to take (a) couple of photos of her from certain cosplay convention/events. She’s really nice and truly one of the best.

Cosplay Photographers: We met her years ago at Fanime 2010 and are huge fans even before that, so we’re totally envious of you! So how is the cosplay scene out there? Are there a lot of cosplay conventions?

Kira Hokuten: I just happen to get lucky to take some photos of her given the limited amount of time during a convention. Our cosplay scene here is rapidly expanding/growing, almost every weekend, if not every other weekend we got different cosplay events, some are mini and of course the mainstream events which everyone is looking and waiting for.

Cosplay Photographers: What are some of the biggest cosplay conventions in the Philippines?

Kira Hokuten: We got ToyCon though it is dedicated for toy enthusiast and western animation but it’s totally jam-packed every June of each year.

Best Of Anime is another one to look for every mid September, and the biggest cosplay event so far which every cosplayer and cosplay photographer is looking forward to (is) COSMANIA, held last week of September if not (the) first weekend of October each year.

Cosplay Photographers: How big are those and do you attend those regularly?

Kira Hokuten: Big enough that we get to see international cosplayers and some are invited by the organizers themselves. Of course there’s like thousands of local cosplayers attending it as well. And yes, I regularly attend these big events

Cosplay Photographers: Any particular favorite cons and why?

Kira Hokuten: Yes, Cosmania, aside from the location where it’s being held (SMX Convention Center, the best convention center here in Manila), this is one of the only cons you get to see our local cosplayers wearing their up to date best costumes. They also got this Cosplay Photo Contest wherein the top 50 photos will get published in their yearly cosplay photobook, for us cosplay photographers we are doing our best to hit the #1 spot out of top 3 that will be awarded and get recognition for this contest.

Cosplay Photographers: Wow, very cool! So when you go to Cosmania, Best of Anime, and etc., do you tend to focus more on private photo shoots, hallway coverage, or a mix of both?

Kira Hokuten: Good question! As for me I tend to focus more on private shoots during these events, my top priorities for taking pictures are my teammates and close friends, (and) then if time allows I would scout the whole area to look for other cosplayers and invite them for another private shoots. As much as we want to take photos of all cosplayers, sadly, time and energy doesn’t allow us to.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you often take requests for private photo shoots from Cosplayers you don’t know?

Kira Hokuten: Not really, because of my busy schedule, as of the moment I can only do photoshoots during weekends and since I have my own cosplay team/group in which we’re planning ahead of time about cosplay shoot projects leaving me with not much time.

Cosplay Photographers: How did this cosplay team/group get started?

Kira Hokuten: I’ve been planning to create one since early of 2011 and was able to form the group back in January of this year. I’ve gathered all my closest friends and the people I’m aiming to work with in the community both cosplay photographers and cosplayers and told them my idea and they agreed to join.

Cosplay Photographers: Wow, that’s a very cool idea! So how many photographers and cosplayers are part of this group? Do you guys have a group name?

Kira Hokuten: Thanks! Well, so far there are 6 photographers and 6 cosplayers. Over the past 6 months of thinking what name we should have and we ended up with “NO NA ME”

Cosplay Phootgraphers: Nice, an 1-to-1 ratio! Clever name. Aren’t you afraid that if you keep working with the same person or set of people over and over again that your creativity might get stale?

Kira Hokuten: So far 1 to 1 ratio but we’re currently planning to invite more cosplayers based on our own set qualification. You got a point there, to avoid that, I keep shooting with other cosplayers and groups, though not that frequent. As I weigh things down, we get more advantage if we move as a team, since we can plan and brainstorm ideas on how can we improve even better. Unlike any other countries, here the biggest obstacle for us (cosplayers and photogs) is the location, truly hard to find one and if we do, securing a permit is like wishing for the stars, of course shooting on the same location over and over is not a good idea.

Cosplay Photographers: So as a group, do you guys select an anime series and everyone selects characters to cosplay or is the group dynamic more that the cosplayers can cosplay from any series and everyone just helps each other at the shoot?

Kira Hokuten: Yes, we select animes/game for our group to cosplay, discussing who would fit in particular character the most, though we have this kind of system wherein each member get to choose which series/game our group is going to cosplay, so everyone gets his/her own preferred theme.

Cosplay Photographers: Very cool! You guys are like a well oiled machine! So how long have you been doing cosplay photography?

Kira Hokuten: I’ve been a cosplay photographer since January of 2009, the same time I started photography itself.

Cosplay Photographers: Wow, you’ve been doing this for awhile. I’m surprised we haven’t stumbled upon your work sooner! How did you get into cosplay photography?

Kira Hokuten: I’m not popular or anything alike xD I used to be a hard core Ragnarok Online player then one of my members from my guild invited me to attend a cosplay convention back in October 2008 because he knows I like animes and stuff. Since then I never missed any convention until I bought my own DSLR in January of 2009 thus the start of my hobby.

Cosplay Photographers: What was your reaction the first time you saw cosplayers? Had you know about cosplayers before attending a convention?

Kira Hokuten: Hmm I really can’t remember my reaction the first time I saw cosplayers, but pretty sure I was amazed enough for me to decide and become a cosplay photographer. Yes I’ve seen several cosplayers online before my very first arrival at a convention.

Cosplay Photographers: When you’re doing a photo shoot, are you shooting to recreate a scene from the anime or something from your vision? Or a combination of both?

Kira Hokuten: Combination of both.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you do anything special to prepare for the shoot like watch the anime, Internet research, and/or speak with the cosplayer?

Kira Hokuten: Yes, I do all of those, it’s very important and highly essential for a cosplay shoot.

Cosplay Photographers: Are there any cosplay photographers that inspire you? And what inspires you about them?

Kira Hokuten: There’s quite a few of them, actually random cosplay photographers in China, Japan and Taiwan in which I can’t identify their names, most of their shots I’ve randomly encountered while lurking the net for photos. But the photographer who inspires me the most are Joey L, Melissa Rodwell, Zack Arias and Joe McNally.

Cosplay Photographers: Yes, some amazing cosplay photographers are out there in the Asian countries like Hybridre, Hexlord, to name a couple. Also a great list of photographers there too, those are the same people that inspire us as well! So let’s talk gear for a bit. What’s in your camera bag?

Kira Hokuten: Oh yeah! I would say it’s a given for them to inspire other cosplay photographers with their awesome works.

Gears, what I have are the following: Nikon D40 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G, Nissin Di622, Yongnuo 460, Yongnuo triggers, gels and other accessories

Cosplay Photographers: This is too awesome! Far too often too many photographers are caught up with gear and forget that vision, creativity, and skill go a long way! Do you ever feel limited by your current equipment, like, if only I had the D800, I could do this better or that better?

Kira Hokuten: Thanks! So far aside from print size and the ISO quality, I don’t feel limited, in fact, I’m trying to buy another D40 because of its unique sync speed, if not brand new, 2nd hand with low actuation will do, the only difficulty I’m having with my D40 is I can only use its ISO up to 800 (when doing ambient night shooting) unlike high end units, you can use 2000 and higher without noise, but so far I’m still ok with it, it gives me more challenge to play and manipulate lights.

Cosplay Photographers: So it’s safe to say your style of Cosplay photography is more Strobist than ambient? How did you learn to light?

Kira Hokuten: I guess so, though it really depends on the theme and settings of the series being cosplayed. I learned about lighting when I noticed I’m having a hard time lighting the subject when shooting in a convention then I tried using off cam hand held strobe back in 2009, though that time no umbrellas or whatsoever, then my friend gave me a copy of Zack Arias’ “One Light Workshop” to watch and that’s where I learned the basics and proper knowledge about strobing. Also, I became an apprentice to my Master, he taught me a lot of stuff about studio lighting and strobing.

Cosplay Photographers: That’s very cool. What is the most important lesson you learned about lighting?

Kira Hokuten: I learned that we, or at least for me to know how to manipulate light in order to re-create it.

Cosplay Photographers: Can you expand on that? Like maybe an example?

Kira Hokuten: I mean to become more efficient when strobing one should try and be comfortable with ambient/natural lighting.

Cosplay Photographers: If a cosplay photographer wanted to learn more about lighting, off-camera flash, and etc. what kind of resources would you recommend to them?

Kira Hokuten: I would refer them to by David Hobby.

Cosplay Photographers: When you’re lighting, what kind of light modifiers do you typically use (shoot through umbrella, grid, snoot, and/or etc.)? And which one is your favorite and why?

Kira Hokuten: I mostly use a 60×90 umbrella softbox with grid spot.

Cosplay Photographers: Nice! That’s one thing we haven’t noticed many photographers using, gridspots! The results can be very cool! Do you find it’s cumbersome working with off-camera flashes? One of the big deterrents for other cosplay photographers to jump into off-camera lighting is that it takes too long to setup and too rigid to shoot. What do you think?

Kira Hokuten: Not really, I normally shoot based on how I project the outcome, whether it’s a off-cam setup or on-cam(ambient lighting). In other words, I really don’t mind carrying all those lighting equipment, I bring them because they’re necessary for my shoot. I noticed some photographers have this habit of saying and doing something like they don’t want to carry all those bulky heaving lighting equipment and would just settle for ambient lighting.

Cosplay Photographers: Let’s say you run into a particular situation where the off-camera lighting isn’t work for whatever reason (e.g. equipment malfunction, surfaces too reflective causing all sorts of light bounce back, and etc.), do you then shoot it ambient or stay committed to off-camera flash and change the location or spot you’re shooting at?

Kira Hokuten: Ah yes! Of course I’ll be force to re-think my setup, which sometime I ended up using on-cam flash if not my mini umbrella (hand held), it happened several times to me, especially when taking pictures of Alodia during one of her events.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you have any experience with LED light panels? What are your thoughts with them?

Kira Hokuten: None so far, are those the ones which have still lights? They seem to come in handy since you’ll have an idea or preview on how the light would fall on the subject, though I guess it can’t be used as a replacement for speedlites since technically they’re weaker in terms of the amount of light.

Cosplay Photographers: Yes, we wrote an article about them a while back with some tips. But yes, they are weaker, but they work quite nicely at night-time. What is the top three things you would tell a new cosplay photographer asking you for help in improving their photography?

Kira Hokuten: Cool! Now I have an idea how does it really works, I wanna try it! though my cam can’t reach ISO beyond 800 hahaha.

Top three things hmm. I’m not really good at this but I would say: 1.) Love cosplay and anime, it really helps. 2.) Keep on shooting while ignoring all the things that would possibly stop you from doing so. 3.) Don’t compare your works or compete with other photographers, instead compete with your own works, what you have shot today, try to surpass it the next day.

Cosplay Photographers: Great tips! So any upcoming exciting projects we should be on the lookout for?

Kira Hokuten: Thanks! We’re planning to shoot the “Another” series anytime soon, currently looking for the right location.

Cosplay Photographers: We can’t wait! How much post processing do you typically do for an image?

Kira Hokuten: I have two stages for processing, first in Lightroom, which I process all thing related to global settings such as hue, saturation, exposure, a bit of contrast and white balance correction. Then, in Photoshop that’s where I adjust detailed contrasting per color channel and to remove imperfections.

Cosplay Photographers: How long does it take for you to process an image on average?

Kira Hokuten: Normally around 15 minutes.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you have any other hobbies?

Kira Hokuten: Yes, online gaming, I used to be a hardcore Ragnarok Online payer.

Cosplay Photographers: What has been your favorite cosplay photo shoot and why?

Kira Hokuten: My own? So far, this shot. It has been one of my goals to shoot on a bridge like this, plus this certain cosplay is one of my favorites.

Cosplay Photographers: Great shot! We certainly are fans of Fate Zero as well. Well thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to interview with us! Your work is amazing we look forward to seeing more from you! Is there anything else you would like to add?

Kira Hokuten: You’re welcome and thank you very much for having me in this awesome interview. Keep on shooting everyone!

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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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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