November 2012 Featured Photographer of the Month: Jack Liu

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Jack Liu Toronto, Canada

Cosplay Photographers: For this month, we’re doing something a little different in that we have a special guest who will be doing the Cosplay Photographers Featured Photographer of the Month!

Kitsurie Yuki: Hey everyone! This is Kitsurie Yuki from the Toronto cosplay group, Cosmeko. I am very pleased to have been asked to interview our very locally well known cosplay photographer, Jack Liu! As the Cosplay community in Canada grows, cosplay photography is becoming more and more popular. I would like to welcome Jack here for some discussion and hopefully give you some insight and tips on his photography! Thank you for joining me today, Jack. I have seen many of your albums on flicker and I love your photography style! I have a few questions for you today so lets get started!

I understand that photography is a hobby that requires a lot of time and effort. Like cosplay, it takes experience to improve. How did you start out in photography?

Jack Liu: I had dabbled in film photography in high school, but really I started photography shortly after I graduated from university. My girlfriend (now fiancee) at the time, Vickybunnyangel, had asked me to help take better photos of her costumes, and using an old secondhand Canon DSLR, I did just that. They turned out horrible; she hated them, and I wasn’t too pleased either with the results. At that point, a modern point & shoot could’ve done a better job, but it gave me drive to get better. I knew that it wasn’t my equipment’s fault, but rather my own inexperience. Over the years, I continued to work on at it, and yeah, I’m definitely much improved than from a few years back.

Kitsurie Yuki: Hahaha I guess we have to partially thank VickyBunnyAngel for your amazing work now! I am interested in the fact that you mentioned that the equipment you have isn’t most defining aspect of photography in general. I can relate also when making cosplays, the quality of material is important but it is how you use the material that is most essential. Can you elaborate on a few things that is most important in taking a picture?

Jack Liu: Yes, she’s certainly been my muse over the years, and will continue to be so.

As often stated by veteran photographers over the years, the best equipment you’ll ever have is the one inside your head. And I’m all about getting a photo ‘right’ in-camera, and not relying on post-processing to fix my mistakes. Zack Arias, one of my favorite photographers, once said, “When taking a photo, if you ever think to yourself, ‘I’ll just fix this in Photoshop’, put down your camera and smack yourself in the head, because that’s lazy.” So when taking a picture, making sure the basics like nailing exposure and focus is important, but so is your attention to everything that’s in the frame you’re capturing. For instance, your subjects, if human, are they posing in a way that’s appropriate and/or characteristic with the mood and character they’re trying to portray? The light that’s hitting them, whether natural or artificial, is it sufficient and pleasing enough? The background, are there any elements that could be potentially distracting or could ‘photobomb’ the subject you’re attempting to capture? in addition, being able to interact with your subjects in an efficient, yet gentle enough manner, is also important, and a whole textbook could be written in regards to that.



Kitsurie Yuki: What is it like to work with someone close to you like your fiancée? Would you say it brings out better pictures? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Jack Liu: Working with a loved one is certainly quite a unique experience, and often times the photos are better, and have more meaning. Since my fiancee was the main reason I started photography, I see working with her as a pilgrimage to my basic photography roots, where I get to use everything I learned from shooting other people/subjects. Another advantage is that I get instant feedback from her during the shoot, and she holds no punches as to whether or not she likes the photos. Sometimes she’s right, and from time to time, we have our share of disagreements as to whether a photo is flattering or not. Some may also see this as a disadvantage, but having such a critical 2nd opinion gives me the motivation to be better, provided you’re the type that doesn’t get discouraged too easily.

Kitsurie Yuki: I also find as a cosplayer, that the best photos come from the photoshoots where you have the most interaction with your photographer. What has been your most challenging shoot? What things did you have to overcome in order to get the pictures you wanted?

Jack Liu: I couldn’t agree more. Interaction between a cosplayer and photographer is crucial, and the more trust there is (or established), the better the results usually are. I would have to say that my most challenging shoot was one not where my equipment failed, but where the cosplayer was shy and introverted. She had booked me, and I’m guessing, she had been trying to psyche herself up for the shoot. However, come the day off, she was back to her normal shy and insecure self. This is where people skills, and the ability to communicate with all likes of cosplayers/clients, really comes into play. It’s easy, and even fun working with cosplayers who are outgoing, bullish, and unafraid to strike even the most silliest of poses. However, in this situation, there was need for tact and hospitality, combined with ample amounts of direction and resassurance that she was doing superb (not just ‘great’). I can’t say the shoot was sensational, but definitely, it ended on a high-note with her feeling a lot more confident, and me convinced we achieved the best photos possible in such a scenario.

Kitsurie Yuki: I’m happy to hear that she was able to overcome her insecurities and pose comfortably. I understand how she must have felt, I was also very shy in my first few shoots!

Jack Liu: Yeah, everybody starts from zero at some point, so it’s important to help those who are just starting out gain confidence in their ability to create costumes and their overall self-image.

Kitsurie Yuki: For me, doing some shoots in Cosplay and out of Cosplay has helped me comfortable with modelling in general. I have noticed that posing for Cosplay is a lot different to a “normal” photoshoots. Do you have experience in shooting in other genres other than Cosplay? and what would you say distinguishes Cosplay photography apart from other genres?

Jack Liu: I do, I’ve shot weddings, senior photos, and I regularly do actor headshots, concert photography, and event/corporate photography throughout the year on my free time.

In my view, Cosplay photography, while very similar to other forms of portrait photography, is all about creating atmosphere and creating a setting that matches what the cosplayer is wearing, with a look and mood that matches what is being portrayed by the cosplayer. Often, the cosplayer, while being photographed, momentarily ‘becomes’ that character, and the photographer’s job is to capture that, and making it believable to the viewers. It’s not just about providing an ’emotion’, but accurately capturing what is essentially a different person, from a different planet, universe, realm, plane of existance, or often in our case, a different medium.

Kitsurie Yuki: So true! I feel sometimes that I am almost acting when I am trying to portray a character, its fun! Do you feel that cosplay photography is more fun in ways because you are trying to recreate something that you wouldn’t see in normal circumstances?

Jack Liu: Cosplay photography is definitely more fun in many ways, namely because cosplayers typically are more willing to bring more than just the standard poses to each shoot. They bring poses that are signature to the character they’re cosplaying, and ideas that I wouldn’t ever consider, because I haven’t seen the source material. With cosplay photography, it’s more about the enthusiasm and gusto of the cosplayer, with their costume’s accuracy or physical attractiveness falling to a distant second and third.

Kitsurie Yuki: Indeed, I agree that cosplay photography plays with more elements than just the attractiveness of the cosplayer and accuracy of the cosplays. Moving to the topic of conventions, have you been to conventions outside of Ontario?

Jack Liu: Yes, I’ve attended Otakon and Katsucon conventions in the past, and for the first time, I’ll be attending Youmacon this coming November, and Collosalcon next summer. As well, I regularly visit Montreal each August to attend Otakuthon, one of Canada’s hidden gems for anime conventions.

Kitsurie Yuki: Otakuthon is one of my favorite conventions too! In your experience, how are the conventions outside of Canada in the perspective of photographers?

Jack Liu: Well, one of the primary differences, in my opinion, is the scale and locations of conventions I’ve visited outside of Canada. They’re much bigger, capable of accommodating many more cosplayers (comfortably), and many of them take place near far more scenic locations, so on-site photoshoot location selections during conventions are far more varied. Some photographers have said that conventions down south have more talented cosplayers, but I don’t think that is necessarily true, although I generally notice it being more competitive and fierce in the US.

Kitsurie Yuki: I also have heard that the conventions in the states are bigger as well. I was wondering if you had any tips for photographers who have just become interested in cosplay photography and how they could start?

Jack Liu: It goes without saying, you should go to cosplay conventions and other events. It doesn’t mean you need to go out and shell out top dollar for the best camera equipment out there, just use whatever’s in your means. Whether it be a cellphone camera, a simple point and shoot, or your parents’ old film camera, you just need something to capture your subjects (in this case, cosplayers) with.

You have to be comfortable photographing people on a certain level, particularly strangers. It’s not always easy to approach someone to take their photo, but it’s necessary if you want a non-candid photo of them. Be friendly, know your boundaries, and behave like a well-adjusted human being (that means NO creepy comments and behavior, not even a little!).

KNOW your equipment. As mentioned before, it doesn’t matter what you’re using to shoot, but it’s beneficial to know the ins and outs of your camera. Fumbling around is often a luxury you won’t have during a busy convention, especially if you’re taking photos of someone you stopped for a brief moment in the hallway or convention area. This goes double for private photoshoots, where if you act like you don’t know what you’re doing, your subject will lose confidence in you. When this happens, that trust that’s needed for them to be willing to try more daring poses and outlandish ideas won’t be there.

In short, the best thing you can do is to come prepared, in mind, body, and knowledge. Even if your equipment’s not professional, it’s more crucial that your attitude is.

Kitsurie Yuki: I agree that when it comes to cosplay and photography you shouldn’t be shy or else you may not get the shot that you want! There are also events like cosplay picnics and gatherings where I think it is easier for beginner cosplayers and photographers to step out of their shell since it is more of a relaxed environment in comparison to a convention. Conventions are usually always packed and you almost have to chase after people if you want their pictures!

Those are great tips for beginners that are starting out in cosplay photography! what kind of advice would you give to more experienced photographers or maybe share some things you are trying to improve yourself?

Jack Liu: I’d only have one tip I’d like to pass on, and it’s really more of a reminder, rather than a tip, and that is to talk more about technique, instead of equipment. It’s very easy to get caught up in discussions with others the latest cameras and lenses, and few photographers are immune to this, even experienced ones. However, we really should be focusing on making the best of what we DO have, rather than fretting over the things we DON’T have as much control over. As I mentioned before, the most powerful piece of equipment or gear we have is the one in our heads, and that’s upgraded with little to no cost. Instead, all that it costs is a little elbow grease, and practice.

As for what I’m doing to improve myself, I’m constantly trying to work on my direction of subjects, and making the most of the equipment that I have. This is an area, however, that one can never fully master, so this’ll likely be a lifelong lesson.

Kitsurie Yuki: So I think this wraps up the end of my questions! I have learned a lot more cosplay photography and what its like behind the camera on the other side! Thank you so much jack for being here with us today! It was fun!

Jack Liu: My pleasure, thank you for the opportunity, and for your time as well.

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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