Our January Featured Photographer of the Month comes to us from Virginia, where she not only spends her time shooting awesome cosplay, but combines her style with influences from fine art and conceptual photography to create a blend of different styles. Jessica Sevin of JL7 Photography talks to Ger Tysk about how she learned photography and the importance of critique.
Cosplay Photographers: Hi Jessica! Tell us a little bit about your background!
JL7: I’m from Virginia Beach, VA. My background is probably not what you would expect after seeing my work. I went to school to teach, not for art; I’ve actually never taken an art class or a photography class.
|JL7 Photography||Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA||https://www.facebook.com/JessicaSevinPhotography|
Cosplay Photographers: How did you get into photography in the beginning?
JL7: My photography is all self taught. I call myself a YouTube student. I slowly discovered photography after digital cameras started to become affordable. With digital, I was able to play and really experiment to see what I liked. I went from photographing the usual sunsets and flowers to absolutely falling in love with photographing people!
Cosplay Photographers: When did you decide to specifically shoot cosplay photography?
JL7: As a huge geek, it didn’t take long for friends to introduce me to cosplay and it was like cosplay photography married two of my favorite things to photograph; fashion and conceptual art! I’ve been going to conventions now for about 5 years.
Cosplay Photographers: Have you ever cosplayed?
JL7: I have cosplayed before, though my experience as a cosplayer is probably not something you will be happy to hear about. I’ve had to deal with people making very rude comments to me about my weight, photographers making me feel very uncomfortable, people heckling me, and the photos I have of me in cosplay show just how miserable this made me. My experiences as a cosplayer definitely impacts how I treat my clients, they need to feel awesome, gorgeous, bad ass, and most importantly, comfortable with me; all those things that I never really felt as a cosplayer. I would love to cosplay again and I am quite certain that I will. I have a huge list of characters that I want to be. It’s just a matter of time and money at this point! Previously I have cosplayed Lara Croft, Alice Abernathy (the red dress from the first Resident Evil movie), and Quistis Trepe from FFVIII.
Cosplay Photographers: Your photography seems to be influenced by both fine art and fashion photography. Tell us a little bit about that.
JL7: Well, before photography, I was constantly browsing DeviantArt. I’m talking hours and hours and hours of looking at drawings and paintings, but mostly photographs. Before I even had my digital camera, I was following mostly conceptual photographers with a few more artsy fashion photogs sprinkled in here and there. I know exactly why I love my conceptual photography. I’ve always been so incredibly envious of traditional artists (meaning painters and those who can draw), and I’m completely untalented when it comes to anything like that, but photography lets me build an art piece that I have in my head when I don’t have the talent otherwise to create it. I don’t know what it was about the fashion photography that drew me in because anyone who knows me, knows I’m a clueless fashion disaster! I love photographing it though, there is just something really fun about you and a model working together to make a designers work look amazing!
Cosplay Photographers: What are the staples of your photography gear bag?
JL7: I recently upgraded my camera from a 50D to a 5D Mark II, the 50D is now my back up. You always need a “just in case” camera. On my 50D, my favorite lens to use is a 50mm 1.8, and on my 5D, I use a 50mm 1.4. You’re probably wondering why I bother using two 50’s. Part of the reason is that my 5D came with the 1.4. The other part is since the 50D is not full frame, that 50 looks more like an 85mm lens. I also always have a 5 sided reflector near me. Those things are amazing! Cheap flashes, cheap triggers, a Vagabond battery, and an Alien Bee 800 with a beauty dish are always close by for me to use too!
Cosplay Photographers: The 5D is pretty standard for cosplay photographers these days. What kind of equipment did you start out with in the very beginning?
JL7: In the very beginning, it was point and shoot digital cameras, ohhh yeaaah! A Fujifilm 2 megapixel camera and then a Kodak Z740 was what got me curious about photography. I was terrible. I shot in auto, and I had no idea what I was doing, but it was fun, and I played with it! Once I realized that photography was something that was a serious interest, I went from borrowing my fiance’s stepmom’s Canon Rebel XSi to having my very own Rebel T1i! I rocked that Rebel and its 18-55mm kit lens for a few years!
Cosplay Photographers: The kit lens – that’s not something I hear often!
JL7: In fact I still have images from that camera/lens combo in my portfolio! It’s not about the gear you have, it’s how you use it. Yes, gear can limit you in some ways, but as a whole, you’re held back much more by your own ability (or lack thereof) than you are your gear, so rock what you’ve got!
Cosplay Photographers: How do you decide how to light a photoshoot?
JL7: A few things go through my mind. Typically in this order: What kind of scenery do I have to work with? What is the available light in that scene? What light flatters my cosplayer? What light flatters the cosplay? Are there any scenes I can mimic to add to the believability of the character? What mood do I have in the scene, and what mood do I need to establish in the photo? In what ways can I manipulate the available light to come up with unique images? So, in short, I evaluate the light in my scene first and determine how it will compliment my subject.
Cosplay Photographers: Do you use off camera lighting?
JL7: I love to use natural light as much as possible. I don’t call myself a natural light photographer though, simply because light is light, whether it’s natural or artificial, when I use it, I’m just a photographer. I always look for harsh sunlight, there is something about it that I’m really drawn too. I adore playing with strong shadows on and around my subject! I try to utilize the available light in a way that it looks like I’ve used my own lighting set up, people frequently ask what I used as my lighting set up. The answer is typically natural light with a natural reflect. I’m not afraid to bust out my flash and other lighting gear to get the look I need though! I use a cheap flash with cheap triggers (I always keep extras of both of these around, especially for the cheap brands as they’re less predictable), and I also have an Alien Bee 800 with a beauty dish that I love using!
Cosplay Photographers: What is the cosplay scene like down in Virginia?
JL7: The cosplay scene here in Virginia Beach has some serious hidden talent! I wouldn’t consider us a cosplay capitol, but there are a lot of amazing artists, cosplayers, geeks, and photographers in the Hampton Roads area!
Cosplay Photographers: What are your favorite conventions around you?
JL7: I think I have to say that Nekocon is my favorite convention just because it’s in driving distance of me, so that’s a money saver. And it was my first convention!
Cosplay Photographers: Do you attend conventions in other parts of the country besides where you live?
JL7: In 2013, I expanded my convention list to include Katsucon and Dragoncon, and I have to say, both of those have their bonuses but D*Con was just mind blowing. It was so massive and completely overwhelming in a good way!
Cosplay Photographers: Do you do a lot of private shoots at conventions?
JL7: Private shoots are actually all I do! I pretty much only do paid shoots that have been set up way before the convention weekend, and I typically only take 3 to 5 clients per convention.
Cosplay Photographers: How do you go about setting up shoots?
JL7: The majority of my cosplay shoots are set up online through email or Facebook fan page messaging. I keep a note on my fan page with all of my pricing and a list of conventions I’m attending so that anyone who is interested in booking with me can see right away what they want and where they want it. I take on a very limited amount of clients per convention. I’ve never done more than 5 paid sessions, and that’s where I aim to keep it. I like to really put a lot of effort into each client, and I just can’t do that if I’m taking on 20 cosplayers, so I charge more for my sessions than most cosplay photographers, but I do so to be able to devote more time and effort to my clients.
Cosplay Photographers: Do you ask cosplayers you don’t know for their photos?
JL7: There have been times where I have approached cosplayers at conventions and asked them if they would like to have a private shoot. I typically only do this when I am attending a convention I am unfamiliar with. For example, I didn’t charge for any of my Dragoncon photoshoots because I wasn’t familiar with my surroundings, and I wanted to make sure I could provide clients with great work without me panicking over where to take them. I very rarely will approach a cosplayer for a free shoot at conventions I’m familiar with unless I am just that blown away by their craftsmanship or it’s a character I am completely in love with, and I have free time. Any last minute free shoots that I do, do not get any guarantees on shoot time, amount of images, or anything like that, those are guarantees left to my paid slots.
Cosplay Photographers: You work a lot with your cousin, Sarah Joy, who is a cosplayer and also a photographer.
JL7: Sarah and I didn’t grow up together. I’m in Virginia and she’s in Pennsylvania, and to be honest, for quite a few years we rarely even spoke. Then one day on Facebook we realized that we both were obsessed with photography and cosplay! It was just such a random thing for us to have in common. Especially when we’re pretty much the only ones in our whole family with those interests!
Cosplay Photographers: That’s amazing! How does that relationship help you and do you think it helps her?
JL7: I may have started photography before her and may be a little more experienced with the technical side of things, but with her actually going to art school, we’ve definitely been able to show each other some things and help each other out. It’s pretty awesome to have a family member that I can link something to for help, and she knows exactly what I’m trying to accomplish, it makes any critique or project planning go smoothly because we really get each other!
Cosplay Photographers: Talk a little about your post-processing technique and software.
JL7: My software, I use Adobe Bridge for organizing and culling my images. Then I do my RAW editing in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and then the finishing touches in Photoshop CS6. As far as what I do in Photoshop, that changes depending on my subject. I do run an action that I created for my “style” on every single image I process, and from there, is where the differences happen. For my weddings and simple portraits, I run my action and call it a day. For fashion, I run the action and maybe do a bit of color work. For my cosplay and conceptual pieces, I run my action and then sometimes one image can take several hours of processing, depending on what my end goal is.
Cosplay Photographers: What’s the most important thing that you do during post-processing?
JL7: I think I’d have to say the most important part of my post-processing is running the action I created to accomplish my look. Even if you have a conceptual photo and a simple portrait side by side, I want there to be a connecting factor that makes it obvious it’s my photo, so those few curve adjustments that happen on every shot are really important for my consistency.
Cosplay Photographers: Photography is increasingly in the public eye with cosplay. What do you think about photography critique, either by other photographers or the public?
JL7: I. Love. Critique. I really do. Now, when I say that, I’m talking real critique, someone who truly wants to help you will not stop at “this sucks” or something along those lines. True critique comes from people who take the time to really take in the photo (or gallery) and write up the pros, the cons, and the how it could improve. I absolutely love giving people a thorough critique because when I first started I had so much of the “this is terrible, just give up,” and that did not help me learn at all. I really started to learn when the critique went from insults to “this is what is wrong, this is how you fix that, and this is what you did right”. It was those people that wanted to help me improve, and they very much did.
Cosplay Photographers: The right kind of critique from the right people really does make a big difference. Do you give critique often?
JL7: I love receiving critique, and I love giving it out. Having permission to critique (whether public or private) will make people MUCH more receptive to actually listening. You could be giving out the most important advice ever, but if you deliver it when it wasn’t asked for, you will not be heard. If you critique without consent, you’re likely to be wasting your time. Anyone who leaves comments in public (Facebook, DeviantArt, or any other social media) is risking looking like an ass, and like I said, if your true aim is to be helpful, go the extra mile and make sure that it actually is.
Cosplay Photographers: Who are your favorite photographers?
JL7: Oh.. This list.. It’s going to be long! I’ll break them up into groups though to make sorting through a touch easier!
Cosplay Photographers: Thanks so much, Jessica! Lastly, can you tell us about the best photoshoot you’ve ever done?
JL7: This is a seriously tough question to answer! Every shoot has reasons why it was amazing… If I have to answer though, I think I’d have to say my recent Brotherhood of Steel shoot with my friend Whitney! Whitney, first of all, is someone that has let me practice my photography on her. She’s put up with a lot of uncomfortable outfits, horrible weather, and photos that just didn’t work out over the years, but she’s always game! What made this shoot stand out to me was that my Alien Bee trigger stopped working. I have no clue why. The trigger and the strobe just were not talking to each other. It’s about 7 or 8pm at this point, and we have no more sunlight, but instead of giving up, we used a streetlight! It’s moments like that, when you really improvise that always seem to be the most fun.
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