Cosplay Photographers brings you a double feature for the April interview! Elysia Fenyx Griffin and L.A. Mabilangan of iM Photography are a Florida-based cosplay photography power couple seen frequently at many East Coast and Southeast conventions. The duo talk to us about working as a team and making the jump from part-time to pro.
Cosplay Photographers: So let’s start from the beginning. How did you get into photography?
iM: My dad has always been into cameras, and I loved playing with his film Nikon SLR. I just enjoyed taking pictures when I was a kid. When I got to high school, I got interested and then volunteered to shoot for the school website and yearbook. Gave it up for a while in college and finally picked it back up in 2009 and haven’t looked back since.
Elysia Griffin: No one in my family was into photography, so I can’t say I started on an old film camera at a young age haha. In high school I bought myself a Canon point & shoot that I would use to take pictures of school events and family trips. In college, I knew I wanted a degree in graphic design, but the degree program required several photography courses and a dSLR. I didn’t do well in those classes and I never finished my degree, but four years later I’m doing photography full time!
Cosplay Photographers: How did you discover what cosplay was?
iM: I remember just browsing around on deviantArt and just seeing a bunch of cosplayers and saying, “People actually dress up as anime and video game characters?!” I thought it was incredible how creative cosplayers are to design and make all these costumes.
Elysia Griffin: I was a huge anime nerd in middle school and learned about cosplay while browsing internet. We were super lucky to have a small local convention, AnimeSouth, and I even cosplayed my first year attending in 2005. After I graduated high school, I was still involved with the drama department and would photograph staged scenes during dress rehearsals with my point & shoot and later my dSLR. Its no surprise that I went from photographing people in costumes for theatre to cosplay for conventions haha.
Cosplay Photographers: What made you want to photograph it?
iM: I finally went to my first convention, MegaCon, in 2010 and got to see all the costumes and cosplayers in person, and I was just hooked. Just seeing some of your favorite characters come to life through a cosplayer and being able to capture that is just so much fun.
Elysia Griffin: When I attended Anime Weekend Atlanta, my first out of state convention in 2008, I was delightfully surprised at number of attendees cosplaying, but I was super shy and had trouble walking up to someone to ask for their photo haha. So when I got my dSLR in 2010, I practiced photographing friends who would dress up for me and then started offering photoshoots that year at AWA. It definitely helped me meet new people and overcome my fears of talking to strangers!
Cosplay Photographers: Do you do any types of photography besides cosplay?
iM: Besides weddings, I actually do a lot of college graduate and high school senior portraits.
Cosplay Photographers: How is that different from working with cosplayers?
iM: As far as portraiture, one definitely doesn’t have as wide of a gamut of poses shooting portraiture than shooting cosplay (though I did have someone bring a keyblade to their graduation shoot). Weddings are a whole different monster altogether.
Cosplay Photographers: The cosplay scene in Florida is a bit crazy with so many cons and cosplayers. Do you feel it’s different being a cosplay photographer in Florida vs the rest of the country?
Elysia Griffin: From what I understand, there are some differences being a cosplay photographer based on the East Coast vs West Coast, haha.
iM: To be honest, I didn’t realize how crazy the scene was here in Florida until I went to a conventions outside of Florida. That being said, I don’t think being a cosplay photographer in Florida is much different. All photographers have to deal with the same questions and predispositions, but I do the same things I do in state that I do out of state. There will be drama anywhere you go, I just keep my hands and thoughts out of it. I think the humidity is one real thing to be reckoned with, though. :p
Cosplay Photographers: You two work together as a team a lot – describe the dynamic and who gets to do what during a shoot.
iM: When we shoot together we often trade off over who’s shooting and who’s taking care of the model and the lights. Often Elysia will see images and angles I won’t and vice versa. It’s definitely a case of two heads are better than one.
Elysia Griffin: Its great because we can compliment each others photography strengths and weaknesses – LA is better at event & candid work while I prefer setting up shots & details. It also helps to have someone else at the shoot who can help make adjustments, handle equipment, shoot behind the scenes and give another perspective.
Cosplay Photographers: Do you ever edit each others images?
iM: As far as editing we do most of our own editing work, though we will edit each others images to help maintain the same “look” throughout our sets of images.
Cosplay Photographers: What software do you use for post-processing, and what is most important to you during post-processing?
iM: First run I just trash everything I know for sure I’m not going to use. After that, I have this habit of just clicking through photos in Lightroom and editing and cropping to see if I like it or not. When I find the ones I really like, I’ll export to .psd, then dance between Photoshop and Lightroom for manipulations. I’m just really aiming for a clean image that’s not overly manipulated.
Elysia Griffin: I use Lightroom to organize & cull photos as well as make basic adjustments like exposure, cropping, and so on. I’ll rename & export the remaining files as .psd so I can make all the fine detail adjustments in Photoshop. I love how much more control I get using Photoshop so I use it to clean up the skin, remove any distractions in the background, and add the occasional special effect. I wish I was a Photoshop wizard like many talented digital artists out there, but I just strive to get as much as I can setup in camera and do some basic retouching in post.
Cosplay Photographers: At some cons you’ve set up a photobooth and also worked with a makeup artist, which is unusual for cosplay photographers. How does that arrangement work out for you and do you intend to keep doing it in the future?
iM: The photobooth was a good experience, though I don’t think we’ll be doing it again anytime soon. Photos were consistent but not as creative as we normally like to be. We love our makeup artist, Ms. Heather Toyoko. I believe makeup is among one of the finishing touches for cosplay.
Elysia Griffin: Having someone who can do professional makeup makes such a world of difference and makes editing so much easier. It was funny, because when we met Heather, she had never been to a convention, let alone worked with a cosplayer. She came along with us to Holiday Matsuri 2012, but we weren’t sure how she would react to attending her first convention. We were thrilled to find that she loved the whole experience and has since traveled with us to a handful of cons in and out of the state. Cosplayers swear by her work and keep coming back.
iM: Heather really does great work. Although, it’s not often you see many makeup artists running around conventions, I definitely would love to have Heather around all the time with us. We’re definitely trying to make this a thing.
Cosplay Photographers: What’s the best part about working so closely with another photographer?
iM: Constant inspiration and motivation. And always having a second pair of eyes to make sure everything’s right.
Cosplay Photographers: What about the worst part?
iM: The worst part, for me at least, is having Elysia judging me all the time with her judging eyes. :p
Elysia Griffin: “..LA, why are the trees tilting?” 😉
Cosplay Photographers: Let’s get a bit technical! Tell us about your gear.
iM: I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III and trade off between a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 and a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8. I’m starting to get back into using Elysia’s primes, though. As far as lighting, I normally carry a set of flashes of varying types and an octabank softbox and stand, triggered either by Cybersyncs or Yongnuos.
Elysia Griffin: I also use a Canon 5DIII with prime lenses. The two lenses I use the most are the Canon 35mm f/1.4 & Canon 85mm f/1.8. For off camera lighting, I use the Canon 430EX II speedlites and Paul C. Buff’s Cybersync Trigger Transmitter & Receivers with an octabank softbox for a modifier.
Cosplay Photographers: How do you usually light a shoot?
iM: We both go through the same run down when we’re shooting. Elysia and I like to start with one flash and work my way from there, either balancing or drowning out the existing light. From there, we just add or take away flashes, and, if we’re feeling a certain shot, we’ll start using colored gels.
Cosplay Photographers: At cons where off camera lighting is frowned upon (such as Katsucon) how do you adapt?
iM: When we’re told that we can’t use “professional” gear I just switch back to basics, shooting with the existing light, or I think like a wedding reception where I put my flash back on my camera. Then it magically becomes “non-professional gear,” and I bounce my flash off walls and ceilings.
Cosplay Photographers: Any favorite cosplayers you’ve worked with?
iM: Too many! This is hard. I’ve been shooting with ZipperTan based out of South Florida since 2011. Dahlia Thomas out of Gainesville, Tsubasahime, Cupcake Disko, Cobheran, and Kapalaka here in Orlando, Setua, BetsyBonBon and Sarah Shortcake in Atlanta. More recently Megan Coffey and Veron in South Florida. And last but not least my long time friend Kimkashi who I started out shooting cosplay with back in 2010.
Elysia Griffin: I love everyone I’ve had the opportunity to work with 😉
iM: Not fair. XD
Cosplay Photographers: Spread the love! Who are your favorite photographers?
Elysia Griffin: Haha, I have so many! The three major ones for me though: Sue Bryce, Zack Arias & Jasmine Star – all three who I discovered through CreativeLive, have helped shaped & influence different aspects of my photography business.
Cosplay Photographers: Elysia , you mentioned at the beginning of the interview that you’re doing photography full time. You quit your day job a few years ago. Tell us about how you came to that decision.
Elysia Griffin: From the moment I got hired up in 2005 until I quit in Nov 2011, any time that wasn’t spent in school, I worked at that job. It was easy and I enjoyed it, but I frequently wondered if this was really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Even though I had my photography business, it was hard dedicating any time to it while I worked a full time job. A few months before I quit, I moved out to the city and transferred to a new store with the hopes I would cut back my hours and start focusing on photography – those last three months sucked haha. The environment was completely different, I had a hard time fitting in, and was still working full time hours – part time. After some issues with management, it finally came down to being demoted or quitting all together. So, I quit!
Cosplay Photographers: Any words of advice for people who want to do this full time?
Elysia Griffin: Its definitely a scary experience. There is no guaranteed weekly paycheck, you are your own boss and entirely responsible if something goes wrong. Before making the jump, make sure you have some money saved up – or not and use that for motivation haha – and get everything in order. Acquire a business license, set up a business bank account and card to separate your personal finances, prep for taxes. Don’t be afraid to hire someone to get advice and to handle these sorts of things for you. Its much easier to do it right from the start than scramble to find all your paperwork down the road.
After all the business aspect is taken care of the rest is just making sure you get enough work to maintain your company and pay yourself. Go out and get your name out there, because the only way you’ll get work is if people who will hire you know that you exist.
iM: There comes a point when you’re working that day job and you start to think it’s no longer worth the amount of time you spend there. You think about everything else you could be accomplishing: taking care of photos, clients, marketing, website…At some point, that feeling becomes overwhelming. So as of March 19th, I’m on “extended leave of absence” from my job. I’m taking the jump. :]
Cosplay Photographers: Congrats! Please keep us updated on how it’s going, and thank you to both of you for the interview.
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