June 2013 Featured Photographer of the Month: Andy Wana

Our June photographer comes from down under, but has made quite a name for himself in the international cosplay community with his bold, saturated colors and signature photo tilt. We sat down with Andy Wana of Sydney, Australia, to talk about his photo philosophy and how he got started in cosplay photography.

Cosplay Photographers: Hi Andy! Tell us a little bit about your background and where you are from.

Andy Wana: I was born in Bandung, Indonesia. It’s a beautiful town in West Java packed with lots of culture and lovely people. When I was 9, I moved to sunny Singapore to do my primary and high school. After that, I decided to pursue my tertiary education in Melbourne, Australia. I moved to Sydney (I missed the big city life) shortly after that and have called the harbour city home since.

Cosplay Photographers: How did you get into photography in general?

Andy Wana: It may come as a surprise that I didn’t like photography in the beginning. I was one of those people that think a camera is a hassle and another extra bulky thing to carry during holidays/ travels. I was one of those people that think that memories (from travelling, birthdays, family events, etc) are best captured best in the head and best to share them through words and wild gesticulations of the hands. That never quite work out does it? It’s like those slightly exaggerated tales when you go fishing/adventuring/travelling solo. Photos do tell a thousand words and they make the most beautiful memento when you are sharing your stories to your friends and families. My love for photography grew exponentially when I started travelling overseas. I remembered looking at beautiful photos from the likes of National Geographic, Lonely Planet and Boston Big Picture and wanting to be able to take such photos. They just draw you in and don’t let go, storytelling in one single frame.

Cosplay Photographers: What about cosplay photography?

Andy Wana: I got into cosplay photography only a short 2 years ago, I remembered going to Supanova convention in Sydney to test out a new DSLR that I bought and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve never come across cosplayers till that day and I was just blown away by the amount of painstaking effort and love they put into their costume and make up. They truly eat, live and breathe their passion. It’s very inspiring to see.

Cosplay Photographer Location URL
Andy Wana Sydney, Australia http://cosplayphotographers.net/profile/76/

Cosplay Photographers: Did you start out doing landscape photography?

Andy Wana: I didn’t start out in landscape photography but more along the lines of capturing good photos from my travels. Some of them do involve landscapes/ cityscapes, but I also wanted to capture the people and their stories/ everyday lives. Think of it as a more elaborate form of instagram (with less food photos). LOL.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you do other types of photography these days besides cosplay?

Andy Wana: These days, I’m trying to branch out to fashion and family photography. I guess it’s a natural extension from cosplay photography.

Cosplay Photographers: You mention family photography…I’m curious as to what type(s) of photography do you think cosplay photography is most closely related to?

Andy Wana: I think cosplay photography has the same roots as fashion photography. If you deconstruct it, it’s all about people, expressions, poses, make up, fashion and location. Like fashion photography too, you can push the boundaries pretty far and wide (i.e. exotic location, elaborate costumes/ haute couture pieces). I would love to be able to get a chance to do something like this next to my cosplay photography. Family and wedding photography are also something that I’d like to do more of. You’d be surprised how difficult it can be to get nice group/ couple shots, especially if there are young kids involved. Covering cosplay in convention is surprisingly a good way to build your skills and your photographer’s eye for this type of shoot. You need to be quick on your feet, pay attention to your surroundings (light, background), conjure up compositions on the fly, be confident and quick in changing camera settings and get the best out of your subjects through communication (and jokes).

Cosplay Photographers: Have you ever cosplayed, or do you just take the photos?

Andy Wana: I’ve never cosplayed and I’m probably too old to start doing it hahaha. I’m happy to take the photos at the moment and work together with the cosplayers to bring the characters they portray to life.

Cosplay Photographers: What would you say are a few things define your photography style?

Andy Wana: I say my photography style involves a lot of colours, post processing and unorthodox angles. Someone told me once that I can’t shoot straight and that’s probably true haha. I love to shoot outdoors with natural light and have interesting backdrops for the subject too. With cosplay photography these days, I like to focus on the storytelling part whilst blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. What I love about cosplay photography is the detachment from the daily norm. We are free to experiment and try different things with it. There are no boundaries with it and that appealed greatly to me.

Cosplay Photographers:  Why do you like to shoot with the Dutch tilt angle so much?

Andy Wana: Looking at the cosplay photos from Australian photographers, I guess I do the Dutch tilt angle – a term which I didn’t know existed till today! – for a point of difference to the other photos out there. I mentioned earlier about establishing that signature look, and I guess the tilt was part of the package.

Cosplay Photographers: There are a lot of detractors who say that the style is overdone – what you you say to them?

Andy Wana: I don’t do it all the time, but I feel the tilt tends to complement the subject’s expression, pose and costume (especially if it’s an action pose of sorts). It’s part of the ingredients for my photography style.

Cosplay Photographers: What are the staples of your photography gear bag?

Andy Wana: I have a Canon 5DII body with a pair of 24L II and 85 L II lenses in my kit. I do like to travel light when I do my shoots since we usually have a few areas to cover in the 2-3 hours I spend with the cosplayers. I acquired a F&V R300 Ring Light recently to replace my eBay reflector since I’ve been getting a lot of request for evening shoots. It’s my new best friend for low light situations.

Ada Wong (Resident Evil)Cosplay Photographers: Describe the planning process for you before you go out on a shoot.

Andy Wana: I am a firm believer that you plan to fail if you fail to plan your shoots. Before any shoot, my planning process involves the following:
A. Cleaning all my lenses and camera body the night before
B. Charging my camera batteries
C. Pack the reflector (which was recently replaced by a ring light) and tripod in the car
D. Load up reference images or pose styles which I think might be useful for the subject
E. Study my location(s) from photos that were uploaded on Flickr or Google images results

Cosplay Photographers: Do you do a lot of shoots at cons, or do you do more outside-of-con shoots?Rei Ayanami

Andy Wana: These days, I am getting more and more requests to do out-of-con shoots. I do like the slower pace of these shoots and there’s a lot more opportunity for better backdrops/ locations. That being said, I do enjoy the spontaneous nature of shooting at cons too and you get a LOT more variety and flavour at the end of the day. Also, seeing kids and adults smiling next to their favourite superhero (or villain!) never gets old.

Cosplay Photographers: Which conventions are the big ones in Australia?

Andy Wana: The biggest convention would be Supanova in my opinion, it is held in 6 cities annually over 3 days for each venue. The amount of visitors are truly impressive for our relatively low population. It’s no coincidence that the best costumes usually make their appearance during Supanova too. The other notable conventions are the SMASH! and Animania conventions in Sydney. I started out my cosplay photography at these venues and I truly enjoy the experience that I had at these places.

Cosplay Photographers: You recently posted a journal entry on deviantArt about limiting your gear and the creativity that can result from it. Can you talk a little bit about it here for people who haven’t read the entry?

Andy Wana: Personally, I think the one biggest obstacles with creative photography in general is having too many options with your lenses and lights. The amount of time fiddling with the selection of gear could be better spent finding a different (or more interesting) point of view, a more interesting location or get more adventurous with the model’s pose. You tend to get stuck in one place and the same looking photos too when you have a complex light and lens setup (not to mention usually having the need for a hand or two from assistants with moving them about). I am not saying that you can’t get great results from having them, but I rather nail the composition and backdrop of the photo before I go “Ah, I think we need more light here and here”. You get a greater understanding of the environment and how you can work with it rather than trying to overpower the environment with your gear selection (i.e. trying to overpower the harsh sun in a midday shoot). I promise that you’ll get better shots when you can work in ANY environment with whatever gear you have with you at the time.

Cosplay Photographers: Speaking of obstacles in photography, what’s the most difficult environment you’ve ever shot in?

Andy Wana: Thankfully, I have not experienced any difficult environment yet (maybe I should push the boundaries further in my photography), but my biggest obstacle to date is always to do with the security. I know they are only doing their job but they tend to get a little jittery and aggressive whenever they see professional equipment in public domain. They do leave the tourists/ casual photographers alone though, which was the main reason why I shoot without external lights/ umbrellas/ light stands till this year. I try my best to blend in and look as touristy as possible (which can be tricky when you have a cosplayer next to you in an elaborate costume). Less equipment also means that we can move from one spot to another relatively quickly and painlessly.

Cosplay Photographers: Any other horror stories from shoots you can think of?

Andy Wana: Horror story to date probably involved me running out of juice in the middle of a shoot but luckily a photographer friend happened to have a spare battery that I could borrow. I always carry a spare battery since.

Cosplay Photographers: Who are your biggest photography inspirations?

Andy Wana: My two biggest inspirations to date are women photographers:

1. Kirsty Mitchell: kirstymitchellphotography.com
2. Nicoline Patricia Malina: http://www.nicolinepatricia.com/

I think they both push the boundaries far and high when it comes to their trade. I never get bored looking at their work because you always pick extra little details every time you see it again.

Yurick (The Last Story)

Cosplay Photographers: Do you think there is a distinct style in Australian cosplay photography that distinguishes it from cosplay photography in other countries?

Andy Wana: I don’t think there is a particular style that sets us apart other than identifying famous Australian landmarks/ buildings in our work. There are distinctive styles amongst the photographers here locally, but that applies to all the other photographers globally. With the age of the internet, we are pretty much one big family these days, like cosplayphotographers.com! (^_^) As a result, I think we often ‘borrow’ each others styles and tweak them to suit ours (i.e Brenizer Method, lighting, poses), and that’s not a bad thing. It pushes the overall quality and execution of the photos.

Cosplay Photographers: What’s your fave part of being a cosplay photographer?

Andy Wana: My favourite part? Meeting like minded people with similar hobbies/ passion is definitely up there. Secondly, collaborating with said creative people is a very rewarding experience, especially if we manage to get recognition or kudos from fellow photographers/ cosplayers. Thirdly, seeing people’s bewildered/ amused looks when they saw cosplayers never gets old. Especially those from kids, it always cheered you up.

Cosplay Photographers: Any future big plans for cosplay photography/general photography/life? 😀

Andy Wana: No big plans other than to keep doing what I am doing. Maybe get my son into either cosplay or photography at some point. =D

Elizabeth (Bioshock Infinite)

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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Ger is a Boston-based cosplay and event photographer. She's been cosplaying since 2007 and took up cosplay photography in 2010 to give back to the community that's given so much to her. She's currently traveling the country interviewing and photographing cosplayers for her upcoming book about the culture of cosplay in the USA, "Breaking All The Rules: Cosplay and the Art of Self-Expression."

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