For December’s featured photographer, we traveled to sunny Southern California to talk to Darshelle Stevens. Darshelle’s imaginative style has made her known for creating photographs that seamlessly blend the real and surreal. Here, Ger Tysk talks to her about her thoughts on surrealism, post-processing, and how she got into photography (don’t laugh!).
Cosplay Photographers: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Darshelle Stevens: My name is Darshelle Stevens…and yes, since I know a lot of photographers have a nickname, Darshelle is my actual name. I’m based in Southern California, but am originally from a small little town in Michigan. I moved to California two years ago to pursue photography further and open new doors and opportunities for myself! Haven’t looked back since!
|Darshelle Stevens||Temecula, California, USA||https://www.facebook.com/Darshelle.Stevens.Photography|
Cosplay Photographers: How did you first get into photography?
Darshelle Stevens: All of you are going to laugh at me, and that’s okay. I laugh at myself when I tell everyone how I originally got into photography: Myspace selfies. See, I told you you’d laugh! In my high school years, Myspace was a big thing. The more followers you had, the “cooler” you were. Most of these popular internet kids had such cool photos, so my competitive spirit kicked in… Yeah I know how silly that is, but that’s what originally ignited the fire.
Cosplay Photographers: That is certainly one of the more interesting stories I’ve heard from photographers! What about cosplay photography?
Darshelle Stevens: It kind of fell in my lap thanks to a good friend of mine and wonderful cosplayer, Lyz Brickley. She made a Gaige, Borderlands 2, cosplay earlier this year. Borderlands is my absolute favorite gaming franchise and I’m a little bit obsessive about it, so I was of course complimenting how wonderful it was, and she asked me to shoot it! I couldn’t say no! So we shot, and I just instantly fell in love, like I found my niche finally! I shot her three different times before ever shooting other cosplayers. She opened my life to a whole new world, and I have to thank her so much for being so awesome and having such an impact!
Cosplay Photographers: I’m surprised that you only got into cosplay photography recently! How long did you do photography before shooting cosplay?
Darshelle Stevens: I know, right?! A few months ago, I had no idea I would be shooting it on a very regular basis! But I love every second of it! Before shooting cosplay, I was doing photography for roughly three years.
Cosplay Photographers: Have you ever cosplayed?
Darshelle Stevens: I’ve never actually cosplayed, myself. I’ve always had an appreciation for it though because I’ve been a nerd and gamer my whole life. Being immersed in the cosplay scene more recently has inspired me to finally start my own cosplay, I’ll have to admit! I’m about half way done with my San (Princess Mononoke) cosplay, and I’ll be showing that off at Otakon Vegas in January! I have more ideas in the works for future cosplays as well!
Cosplay Photographers: What kind of equipment did you start out with in the very beginning?
Darshelle Stevens: Oh man…when I first decided I wanted to pursue photography as a profession, I bought the Canon Rebel XSi with the kit lens! I literally ran around with that thing, clueless to any of the technical sides of photography, just shooting away. A year after that, once I finally became more accustomed to using a DSLR, I upgraded to the Canon 7D.
Cosplay Photographers: What are the staples of your photography gear bag nowadays?
Cosplay Photographers: What is the cosplay scene like where you live?
Darshelle Stevens: I feel like I live in the perfect area for the cosplay scene, living in Southern California and all! It’s saturated with nerds and the community of artists (cosplayers and photographers alike) are absolutely fantastic!
Cosplay Photographers: What are your favorite conventions in SoCal, or elsewhere?
Darshelle Stevens: I’m still pretty new to going to conventions and whatnot…especially since I’m from Michigan and we didn’t have a lot around there. My first convention was Anime Central in Chicago 3 years ago. Now my first California convention was just last month, it was Comikaze! Loved that convention, and I met a lot of fantastic people and broadened my network. I also attended BlizzCon and Long Beach Comic Con. So far I’ve only been attending local cons, but next year I’m looking to travel all across the country!
Cosplay Photographers: Sounds like an adventure! How do you schedule and set up shoots with cosplayers?
Darshelle Stevens: I go to conventions to meet cosplayers. We usually then converse further via email or Facebook, and set up a day that works best for both of us to shoot!
Cosplay Photographers: I see – so you don’t do a lot of private shoots at conventions?
Darshelle Stevens: I’m not a huge fan of shooting at conventions, I love networking and meeting cosplayers at conventions and setting up private shoots for later dates, because those are what I love doing most. I did make a set up at BlizzCon for cosplayers to meet me and get a chance to do a quick shoot!
Cosplay Photographers: What about event coverage photos? Do you ask cosplayers you don’t know for their photos?
Darshelle Stevens: I don’t do many event coverage photos. There are sooooo many photographers who already do that, and I prefer getting to know cosplayers on a more intimate level and to set up private shoots. I take my camera around conventions but not to cover the whole event like most others do.
Cosplay Photographers: Any favorite cosplayers you have worked with so far?
Darshelle Stevens: It’s so hard for me to choose a favorite cosplayer I’ve worked with simply because they are all so amazing, and the passion every one of these people have for what they do astounds and inspires me. I do have to give a shout out to my girl Lyz Brickley again though, because I feel like I owe a lot to her for being where I am this day!
Cosplay Photographers: Tell us about your favorite photoshoot you’ve done to date.
Darshelle Stevens: It’s REALLY hard for me to pick a favorite photoshoot because I have so many great memories. But I will have to say that one of my favorite things when shooting cosplay, especially in public, is everyone’s reaction. The general public finds cosplayers so fascinating…especially when they stick out amongst everyone else.
Cosplay Photographers: Shooting cosplay in public can be an interesting experience. Ever gotten any weird comments?
Darshelle Stevens: I almost always have people approach me and the cosplayer when we shoot in more public situations, and mostly that’s because people are so curious. I love that. Most recently, I shot Lightning Cosplay and her fiance in their Barbarian cosplays, and we did this shoot in San Clemente on the beach. Ralf (Lightning’s fiance) went into the bathroom to put in his contacts, and as he was exiting the bathroom, some beach dude came in. Ralf scared him so bad that it had him cussing and running out of the bathroom. Hilarious! Also, another cool story that happened this very same shoot – some guy walked up to us and was totally star-struck by Lightning and Ralf because they were finalists in BlizzCon’s costume contest. So he was being a total fan boy and asking for photos with them, and just went on giving compliments and acting like a giddy child. It was cute!
Cosplay Photographers: If you had to define your style in three words, what would it be?
Darshelle Stevens: Epic, imaginative, and surreal.
Cosplay Photographers: I really love your surreal style, which is something not many cosplay photographers do. Can you elaborate a little more on the style and why you choose to use it?
Darshelle Stevens: Surrealism…it’s something I’m attracted to most in all art forms, and a lot of the reason why I have always had a love for video games. You essentially get a taste of something greater than can be experienced in reality. I’ve always been attracted to a more surreal and fantasy type style in photography. It’s just been more recently that I’ve learned enough to successfully accomplish the look I love… and it helps that cosplayers add SO MUCH for me in being able to create these types of images!
Cosplay Photographers: That’s really incredible. Can you tell us a little about your post-processing technique and software?
Darshelle Stevens: This section of the interview has the potential to be extremely long, so I’ll give you the short and sweet version. I use both Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom for editing. I do a basic color correct in Lightroom, and then throw the images into Photoshop for the more complex steps. Typically, each one of my more flashy photos consists of 7+ images stitched together, with about 20+ more layers of added effects, details, etc. Then after doing all my blending and refining, I throw it back into Lightroom to do a final color correct.
Cosplay Photographers: Do you do any HDR at all in your post processing? Some of your images have that look. What’s your opinion on HDR in photography?
Darshelle Stevens: HDR is a style of the past…and it looks absolutely horrible when used on photos with people in them. Haha, so no, I don’t use traditional “HDR”. Mostly, my look is accomplished because of strobes. Off camera lighting enables you to expose for your subject and the background, and I love having control over that.
Cosplay Photographers: How do you decide how to light a photoshoot? Do you use off camera lighting?
Darshelle Stevens: I love, love, love using off camera flash and strobes, especially on location. It adds that dynamic I love to my images. Most of the time, when it’s a planned photoshoot, I’ll base what kind of lighting effect I want to achieve according to what series the cosplayers are doing. I typically only use two strobes aside from the natural ambient light of the sun (2 Alien Bee 800’s!).
Cosplay Photographers: Who are your favorite photographers?
Darshelle Stevens: I have a lot of photographers I love to look to for inspiration. First, I’ll have to say Zim Killgore…I became familiar with his work while living in Michigan. Paying attention to his style over the years has really helped me refine my own. Little did I know that moving to California would take me to actually meeting him and becoming his business partner and best friend. Life is crazy. Also, out of the more widely known and international photographers, I LOVE Erik Almas. Since getting into cosplay photography, I’ve meet a lot more really great and creative photographers. I must mention Beethy, Kayhettin from Elysiam Entertainment, and Darrell of BGZ Studios!
Cosplay Photographers: Do you ever collaborate with other photographers?
Darshelle Stevens: I do! Quite often actually, but one photographer specifically: Zim Killgore who I’ve mentioned in this interview. We always attend each other’s shoots to assist one another and give each other feedback. And sometimes we will even collaborate on shoots together. This topic has come up quite a lot, though, because we work so closely together, and a lot of people think I edit his photos and vice-versa. So, I’ll just clarify, this is in fact not true. We’ll give each other opinions and advice, but never would I ever claim someone’s work as my own. I respect ALL artists!
Cosplay Photographers: For beginning cosplay photographers, what do you think are the essential equipment and software they should have?
Darshelle Stevens: For all you beginners – and this can go for any photographer starting out – your passion for what you do and who you work with can take you far further than most any gear can. Start out simple, experiment, and really get to know YOURSELF as an artist. Lightroom is simple and easy for those of you who aren’t familiar with Photoshop. Also, the internet is your best friend when it comes to learning the technical aspects of photography.
Cosplay Photographers: That’s so true. Do you use the internet to keep up to date on your own photography?
Darshelle Stevens: I spend hours and hours online, getting inspiration from other photographer’s work. And if ever I want to learn something new, I seek Google or YouTube. The internet is a wonderful thing!
Cosplay Photographers: Thanks, Darshelle! Any words of advice in parting?
Darshelle Stevens: Thanks so much for having me for your feature! And yes, I’ll have to say to both my fellow photographers and lovely cosplayers (and even those just starting out): stay true to what you love, and just have fun! Everything else kind of falls in place when you stick to this.
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!
Notice a problem with this article? Let us know.