November 2013 Featured Photographer of the Month: Adrian Ummo

November 1, 2013
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This month we go back to Argentina and talk to Adrian Ummo, the other half of Argentinian cosplay photography super duo Photographes Sans Frontieres. We catch up with Adrian to talk about his photography beginnings, his love of video games, and forays into cosplay videography.

Cosplay Photographers: Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you’re from!

Adrian Ummo: My name is Adrian Otero, but I managed somehow to be called as my screen name “Ummo”, or Just “Adrian Ummo” due to an old IRC chat nick name back in the time, I’m from Buenos Aires, Argentina and I love taking photographs, I graduated as an image and sound designer and I work in the commercial management of a local consumer electronics chain in Buenos Aires.

Cosplay Photographers: What does “Ummo” mean?

Adrian Ummo: Ummo is a planet… Well, it was declared as a planet unofficially by a “scientific” community back in the 70s. They said that people (aliens) from Ummo are here among us, living and empowering our lives with technology and social improvements for the common good. It’s kinda weird, but I do believe in extraterrestrial existence, and that was one of my favorite stories.

Cosplay Photographer Location URL
Adrian Ummo Buenos Aires, Argentina https://www.facebook.com/PhotographesSansFrontieres

Cosplay Photographers: How did you realize you wanted to do photography?

Adrian Ummo: It was when I started to sell my toys and stuff to get my first camera. I shot everything. I was always the guy with a camera in the crowd or a group of friends, hanging out and showing the photos after every meet up. Getting instant feedback was a cool way to know if they were liking my takes.

Cosplay Photographers: How long have you been shooting?

Adrian Ummo: Well, this was pretty primitive, printing the photos and scanning them to upload in some old blog back in the 2000s. Then I get better cameras and gear and eventually stepping into reflex and the DSLR world in 2004.

Cosplay Photographers: How did you find out about cosplay?

Adrian Ummo: Anime, manga and comics were always on my radar, and local conventions started to get better and better with content and cosplay. I used to do Photo Safaris with my photo academy partners. We’d wander around far from the city locations doing landscape, wild life and still life photos. But we also did city shoots, and it was in the Japanese Garden located at the core of the city that a cosplay event was in the Safari Schedule. It was love at first sight.

Cosplay Photographers: And when was that?

Adrian Ummo: 2008 was the year. The level of cosplaying wasn’t that good until 2011, but I was I already hooked to the scene so it was pretty easy to be warned about the “renaissance” of Argentina Cosplay, and I felt the need to be shooting again. The cosplay here started to look like those uber productions from Asia and America, so we settled on a main objective, to show Argentinean cosplay to the world.

Cosplay Photographers: You are a part of Photographes Sans Frontieres with Fernando Brischetto. How do the two of you work together?

Adrian Ummo: That’s right, We teamed up at cosplay photography, working together at almost every task, from at-event coverage shooting to personal photoshoots.

Cosplay Photographers: How did you start working with Fernando?

Adrian Ummo: We were friends from the video games scene, on gaming forum boards and Playstation network. Then we coordinated to assist on a event together in terms of just having fun shooting and maybe buying stuff, among taking shots of friends and everything in the event. We found the possibility to work as a team when everyone started to like our work.

Cosplay Photographers: Any specific tasks that you each have in the group?

Adrian Ummo: Sometimes we split up in the middle of the event to cover more photos, or if the event’s owner needs images from a show, we cover it together, duel wielded. We’ve a very settled style, and that’s why we enjoy getting different kind of pictures from same event or photoshoot. Basically there’s no specific tasks between us, unless some events have a cosplay contest where we can arrange specific things.

Cosplay Photographers: Where does your team name come from?

Adrian Ummo: We love Metal Gear Saga, and in one of those events we were wearing a t-shirt of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, with the Militaires Sans Frontieres logo, so we just think about the same idea of “no boundaries” based on the idea of taking local cosplay to the world, so it suddenly appears in our minds almost synchronized with the name “Photographes Sans Frontieres”

Cosplay Photographers: Any favorite cosplayers you’ve worked with?

Adrian Ummo: I can’t speak about any favorite Cosplay artists. I think everyone has the chance to be supercool making costumes if they love what they do. That’s something I like to keep on my radar: people that share same passion and love for what they do as I do what I do.

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Cosplay Photographers: What are the key ingredients of your photography style? What makes your photos stand out from others?

Adrian Ummo: I definitely wanted to show a different point of view on by using off camera lighting, remote controlled flash, lightstands with softboxes and everything that brings me the chance to get light from different spots asides natural sunlight. I remember carrying lights, tripods and umbrellas to conventions, creating a mini setup around cosplayers and kidnapping them from their business to take shots. They didn’t know what the results would look like, as no one else had done that before. Thankfully, the results were accepted. I’m always looking for a new and fresh way to use lights. I love strobes.

Cosplay Photographers: What’s in your gear bag?

Adrian Ummo: I like to go from 18mm to 50mm when shooting. The 1.5x crop factor of my Nikon D80 delivers the right aspect I look for in portraits mainly. The 50mm F1.4 is a must in the bag, along with the almighty 18-55mm kit lens that always helps with wides. It doesn’t have the best sharpness, but I can reach the results after via digital developing. I’m in love with Strobist photography so I carry a set of three flashes, Nikon SB-800, Nissin Di866 Mark II, and a Nissin Di622 with umbrellas for each one as softbox with Photix Radio triggers.

Cosplay Photographers: You must have a giant bag.

Adrian Ummo: Yes, my bag is pretty big! I used to leave the gear at friend’s stands or our photobooth when the event allows us to set one up. By the way, we use to work at event with studio flashes too: a set of three 500w when the Colorama backdrops are in the set. Due to extended periods of shooting, I attached a battery grip and 2 extra batteries in the bag, so for a total of 4. I can’t miss a take. Same for the speedlights, 36 rechargeable AAs covers it fine.

Cosplay Photographers: That’s a lot of gear! If you were forced to go on a shoot with only one lens and one light, how would you go about it? Pretend you’re trapped on a desert island.

Adrian Ummo: Definitely with a wide angle and a speedlight. My Nikon can handle the remote triggering without any radio. I love the Strobist style and I can find many angles and solutions with just one light off-shoe. Sometimes even with the full gear in the bag, I use only the 18mm with remote lights.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you prefer to do convention photoshoots, or to set up off site shoots?

Adrian Ummo: I used to do a lot of convention photoshoots, but now I look more for the right spot, the right location that feels more like the series, whether it’s urban areas, old houses, endless hallways, etc. Also, sometimes when the convention allows, I take all my Strobist gear to the event and I grab a few cosplayers to make better photos than just general full coverage.

Cosplay Photographers: Can you describe the kind of backgrounds that you have in Argentina for cosplay? What’s the landscape and weather like?

Adrian Ummo: The backgrounds are various all across the country but most of the shoots were done in city landscapes. I’m working more personally with my girlfriend now visiting a country landscape with ranch backgrounds, abandoned houses in the middle of nowhere, etc. Photoshoots are mainly done in the city core area of the Buenos Aires capital city. We at PSF are searching to do more shoots at non common areas out of town, so stay alert!

Cosplay Photographers: Tell us what goes into the planning of each shoot.

Adrian Ummo: First of all, I coordinate the day and time with the model, find the most convenient day of the week, and I ask what the cosplayer wants to show to the people that day. I can know a lot about the character but I like to know that the cosplayer want to represent – maybe the darker side or bright one – that also will let me know what kind of location we can use. I think a previous brief interview with the cosplayer is perfect to get a great shot. After that, I think everything is about fun.

Cosplay Photographers: What’s the hardest thing about shooting cosplay?

Adrian Ummo: I think that the hardest thing is to find the right place to shoot. Moving to different areas is hard to coordinate among cosplayers, and that’s why many shoots are done at the convention or near the house where they live. Not every cosplayer is a close friend who we can ask freely to travel early in the morning, or getting a cool slot according to their schedule. We at PSF have got our closest friends to usually do that, but it’s not our main objective to only shoot with friends. We aim to do cosplay photography with everyone.

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Cosplay Photographers: What software do you use for post processing?

Adrian Ummo: Adobe Camera Raw for digital developing, Adobe Photoshop for the signature, framing and resize. I don’t use much more, maybe if there’s any plug-in or actions. Sometimes I try those cool tricks in Lightroom, but I dislike using too much automation. I prefer applying this and that with general digital developing tools rather that pressing one-do-it-all button.

Cosplay Photographers: Describe your dream shoot.

Adrian Ummo: Corn fields or beach, sunrise (wide angles and lens flares) or sunset (strobist), the model touching the flowers/sand while walking and a total immerse feeling of being in absolutely peace and solitude. Like there’s no photographer, just you as the photo witness and the scene, its something that I always look at shooting, delete myself from the take, let you be the eyes and forget about everything except the image reason.

Cosplay Photographers: How do you keep your knowledge of photography fresh?

Adrian Ummo: I think the best way is to keep in touch with other photographers and take photos almost everyday or every time you can. There’s no better way to learn about something than playing with that and finding that magic feeling when you can instantly imagine the photo in your head.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you read photography books or watch tutorial videos?

Adrian Ummo: Reading about basics even when you consider yourself a pro is good. There isn’t a lot of stuff to learn from the books at that level, but there’s a lot to put in practice and get experience around. I think photography is more like a soul thing, a body thing, it just appears in front of you and you can create a brand new way of seeing the scene, applying basics. I took a lot of classes in the past, now I update some knowledge watching and reading modern photographers but the technique are still there, old and rock solid ready to be modified based on the imagination of each.

Cosplay Photographers: Who are some of your favorite photographers, cosplay or otherwise?

Adrian Ummo: Right now, I’m trying to get into the Cosplay Videography world, and I can’t think of anyone other than Ackson Lee and Michael Zhang who are my most important references. Among the video wizards there’s also Mamuro5254, Devinsupertramp, KBLNoodles, Beatdownboogie and ChilliWilly.

Cosplay Photographers: Interesting! How is videography different from just photography?

Adrian Ummo: I’m a rookie in that area, but I already discovered a lot of new and exciting things around the takes behind the 30 frames per second. I’m already in love with it. The cosplayer can perform a whole variety of moves that the character does in the anime, movie or whatever. In photos, the model can perform a pose or try to get a still at the right moment. In videography, there’s no “right moment” to freeze, everything is moving. It’s hard, but you can recreate full scenes and also add music or special fx like slow motion and transitions. It’s pretty fun to edit, also. Choosing a cool song and finding the right beats to synchronize is hard but the results can be pretty awesome.

Cosplay Photographers: For cosplay photographers who are interested in getting into videography, do you have any advice?

Adrian Ummo: I don’t have a lot of experience yet, but in order to avoid having a hard time, think first about the whole scene, the whole video with the music on. Then after that drop the clips in and arrange them on the timeline. Doing the clips first could work with slow songs, but people love fast paced tracks to get a cool and fun video to avoid being bored. Don’t just move the model, but move the camera, move the point of view like flying through the place, make it the most dynamic possible. Entertain your audience 🙂

Cosplay Photographers: Are there any styles of photography besides cosplay that you do, or would like to try?

Adrian Ummo: I used to do weddings, social events, fashion portraits and natural life before. I think I liked those styles in the past because I was motivated by the economical factor, but for some reason I found myself limited in terms of imagination and character representation. This is what cosplay photography allows. Today, I give more value to what I love to do more than those things that make a profit. I have the chance to do fashion photography with cosplayers and its fun too, but I try to make it also as a hobby and not in a professional way, so that’s why is not so often. Taking photos is my free time thing, and I want it to stay that way. (:

Cosplay Photographers: Thanks Adrian! Any tips and tricks for first timers and beginners at cosplay photography?

Adrian Ummo: Do not feel cheap at copying other photographers’ styles. Make millions and millions of photos and edit them all in different styles, and at the end of the day, stand by those you liked most.

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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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