GQBravo, also known as James Wu, is one of the best-kept secrets around East Coast conventions. His photography, with its bursts of sunny, saturated blocks of color, are like the pop art of cosplay photography, and he is also a master of working within the convention environment to create amazing results. Here we talk to GQBravo about his minimalist shooting philosophy, love of color, and life in the East Coast cosplay community.
Cosplay Photographers: Hi! Tell us a little bit about your background and where you are from.
GQBravo: Hello! I’m James Wu. Most people know me as GQBravo. I am from Hong Kong and I came to the USA for college. I will be starting grad school in Boston this coming fall.
Cosplay Photographers: How did you get into photography and cosplay photography?
GQBravo: Well, my girlfriend, Luvnatsu, and I attended our first anime convention in 2010, and I wanted to take some good pictures of her costumes. I quickly realized how limited my point and shoot was because the image quality didn’t really do her costumes justice. At that time, I had minimum knowledge on how to use a DSLR or Photoshop so I looked around the internet for tutorials. I ended up finding all those wonderful and captivating cosplay photos from my favorite anime series! This inspired me to get into cosplay photography.
Cosplay Photographers: I’m curious to where your name GQBravo comes from. Any explanation?
GQBravo: I love GQ magazine, and Bravo is my online games player name.
Cosplay Photographers: Haha, that makes sense! Do you do photography for a living, or just for fun?
GQBravo: Photography is just one of my hobbies. I do it mainly for fun and it’s a great tool to socialize too! I have met a lot of wonderful cosplayers and photographers through photoshoots and meet-ups in conventions.
Cosplay Photographers: So have you ever cosplayed? Or do you just take the photos?
GQ Bravo: Haha good question! I had just recently started cosplaying. My first cosplay was Kirito from Sword Art Online at Katsucon 2013. I did a photoshoot with SweetSensation Photography whose cosplays I used to shoot – role reversed? lol.
Cosplay Photographers: Do you think your recent cosplaying experiences have helped you grow as a photographer?
GQBravo: Absolutely! Now I have more experience on how to pose a cosplayer.
Cosplay Photographers: Can you talk a little about your experience being on the other side of the lens?
GQBravo: It was definitely an interesting experience to be on the other side of the camera! At Otakon 2013, I also cosplayed as Eren Jaeger from Attack on Titan. It was a challenging task for me to get into that costume and to put makeup on. We had a lot of fun doing cosplay video with MLZ Studios.
Cosplay Photographers: What are the staples of your photography gear bag?
GQ Bravo: Currently I use a Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G. For strobes I use SB-900s. 24-70 is the lens I started out with. It’s a great beginner lens to learn all the popular focal lengths and their field of view (FOV) effects. I’m planning to move to all primes soon since I have already found my favorite focal lengths. Prime lens in general can improve the overall mood of a photo given if you are comfortable with just one FOV.
Cosplay Photographers: You use a lot of bright, saturated colors in your photos. Tell us a little bit about your style and how you decide what kind of lighting to use on a photoshoot.
GQBravo: I LOVE all the lively characters and vivid scenery in animes and games. And most costumes and wigs from those anime or game series typically have really bright colors. I want my photos to have the same mood as if the characters just jumped out from the 2D world into real life. I use flash in daylight to give more contrast to the skin and to give the eye-catch light. At night I like to have color-gelled strobes as background light. Flash and shadows can really give photo a cinematic feel.
Cosplay Photographers: For those people who may be new to color gels, can you explain what they are and how to use them?
GQBravo: Color gels are basically transparent color plastics that can change the color of your flash. You can get a color gel swatchbook from B&H or Amazon. Once you pick out the color that you like, tape them in front of your speedlites and your flash will pick up the gels color.
Cosplay Photographers: What colors do you like the most?
GQBravo: I love using blue and pink color gels to create an anime-like atmosphere and fancy backlight!
Cosplay Photographers: Many photographers like to use lots of lights, but you don’t typically use a lot of additional lights on a shoot. Any particular reason?
GQBravo: Short answer – I’m just lazy lol! Long answer – I prefer to stay mobile and shoot multiple locations in daylight instead of spending time on setting up/taking down my lighting equipment. Sometimes the sun already creates beautiful light rays so I rather capture the moment than fighting with it. But I do use a lot of strobe lights in the indoors and at night because the strobes will be the major light source.
Cosplay Photographers: Who are your personal favorite photographers?
GQBravo: There are a lot of talented photographers in the community, but some photographers’ work just wows me every time I look at them. The first one is Kifir from Russia. His editing skill and the use of lighting are just out of this world! I feel like I’m staring at a CG or a movie poster every time I see his new photo! The second one is westernwolf from Taiwan. His photos just scream anime and he can really capture the feeling of the character/cosplayer. I’m also jealous of him shooting all those famous Asian cosplayers that I like. And the last one is Shiroang. His DA is my go-to online reference for photoshoot inspiration and lens choice. I would love to meet him personally some day!
Cosplay Photographers: What conventions do you usually attend?
GQBravo: I mainly attend conventions on the East Coast. So far I have been to Katsucon, Otakon, Anime Boston, AnimeNext and New York Comic Con. I’m hoping to attend some West Coast cons like FanimeCon, Anime Expo, and Anime Los Angeles in the near future so I can meet the awesome cosplayers there.
Cosplay Photographers: Any favorite cosplayers you have worked with so far?
GQBravo: Well, Luvnatsu because she is the reason I started my cosplay photography. Nevertheless, Mostflogged, Yuurisans, Yasha, Ger Tysk, Vickybunnyangel are some of my favorite cosplayers I have worked with. They are all really passionate about our collaborations.
Cosplay Photographers: Do you do a lot of private shoots at conventions?
GQBravo: I typically do about five private shoots at a convention. Besides doing shoots, I like to hang out with friends and just troll around the conventions so I prefer not to over-schedule myself. I think the best photos come from the good interaction between the cosplayer and the photographer. The more you know about each other’s style, the easier it is to produce quality works. I also feel more comfortable to ask the cosplayer to bear with me as I am trying something new.
Cosplay Photographers: How do you go about scheduling and setting up shoots?
GQBravo: Occasionally I received requests from cosplayers to schedule a shoot. Depending on my interest/knowledge on the particular series, I may contact the cosplayer to discuss the location and time for the photoshoot. If there is a certain cosplayer that I’d really want to work with and I know he/she is attending the same convention I’m attending, I usually reach out to him/her and see if we can set something up.
Cosplay Photographers: Do you ever get nervous working during a shoot when you are trying something new?
GQBravo: I do get nervous when specific lighting or location doesn’t work out as I expected. But I won’t get discouraged and just stay claim and shoot as I normally would. Never let nervousness shows or your cosplayers will be nervous too! To overcome those embarrassing situations, I usually talk to the cosplayers about the anime/game series of their cosplay or ask them how they made the costume. Nevertheless, it never hurts to learn from mistakes and keep improving myself.
Cosplay Photographers: Tell us about your favorite photoshoot you’ve done to date.
GQBravo: That will be Sailor Stocking shoot with Luvnatsu during Otakon 2012. We wanted to use the Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as the backdrop. It was scorching hot that day and the humidity made it worse. We woke up early hoping to avoid the tourists but when we arrived it was already packed. After spending half an hour to look for the perfect spot and set up the strobes, we were able to capture the beautiful blue sky with the USS Constellation in the ocean. We were both exhausted but the result was rewarding. I think both of us got a few shades darker after the shoot XD.
Cosplay Photographers: You do work a lot with your girlfriend, Luvnatsu. What are the pros and cons of working so closely with someone who you’re in a relationship with?
GQBravo: We argue over pose/background all the time before/during a shoot. She is probably the easiest and hardest cosplayer I have to deal with at the same time lol! But after working countless times with her, we have become a high-performing team as we find ways to get the shoot done smoothly and effectively. We also have been motivating each other by pointing out each other’s flaws as well as encouraging each other to improve as a cosplayer and as a cosplay photographer.
Cosplay Photographers: You recently moved to Boston! Any plans to explore the local cosplay scene?
GQBravo: Yes! Boston has a lot of historic buildings as well as urban setting for photo shooting. Hopefully I won’t alert the securities as I shoot fancy cosplays in downtown lol.
Cosplay Photographers: Any other plans for cosplay or photography in the coming year?
GQBravo: I will probably do more on location shoots rather than convention shoots since I will be cosplaying more, lol. But I will also try to attend more west coast cons! There are so many cosplayers with whom I want to collaborate.
Cosplay Photographers: Thanks so much for talking to us, James!
GQBravo: Thank you for the feature!
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