Spotlight Interview: Ken Pfeifer’s Game of Thrones photo shoot

Ken Pfeifer (Kenneth Pfeifer Photography) and a team of artists recently got together for a Game of Thrones photo shoot along the California coastline. The photo set garnered rave reviews from the cosplay community and quickly went viral. To give you a behind the scenes look of Ken’s photo shoot, we sat down and chatted with him about the whole experience.

Cosplay Photographers: Hi Ken! Can you give us a brief history of your photography career?

Ken Pfeifer: I’ve always been interested in photography, but never so much as took a class in it. I grew up thinking the only way I could live comfortably enough to support a family and enjoy traveling the world would be as an engineer of some sort, so I actually got my bachelor’s degree from UCI in Information and Computer Science. Throughout it all, I never put down the camera, and apart from being an avid comic book geek and gamer, it’s remained my number one hobby. Towards the end of college, my friends started getting married and would ask me if I could bring my camera and take pictures. I guess I kinda fell into wedding photography when they told me that my images turned out better than the professionals they hired. I’ve always held a 40 hr/week day job as an IT Professional (Business Systems Analyst), but nights and weekends are when the lenses come out to play.

Cosplay Photographers: Do you do photography professionally? How often do you shoot cosplay?

Ken Pfeifer: I do, I shoot mostly weddings, head shots, and other general portraiture and have been doing so for about 6 years, professionally. For the past few years, I’ve actually set up my studio during my annual Halloween party to try to get decent shots of some of my friends’ amazing costumes, I even showed up as my favorite comic book character one year, and I believe it was due to posting some of these images on Facebook that I got René’s attention. The Khal Drogo shoot last November was my first official cosplay shoot, I’ve got a few more lined up since then and can’t wait for future projects.

Cosplay Photographers: Tell us about how this particular cosplay photo shoot project started. Did the cosplayers contact you and the other photographers, or vice versa?

Ken Pfeifer: This shoot started partly as a result of how well the first Khal Drogo shoot was received. The team of René, Nora, Jessica, Steve, & Celeste did such a mind blowing job of creating such a convincing Drogo, that I think we all knew this character wasn’t going anywhere before at least one Comic Con. After receiving dozens of half-joking requests from other cosplayers to help be his Khaleesi, René asked the crew if we’d be interested in getting together again for a shoot with a Daenerys this time, and we couldn’t be more excited to do it.

Cosplay Photographers: Most cosplay photographers don’t get the chance to work with a huge team for photo shoots. Tell us a little bit about the process. How did you find makeup artists and the other people who worked on the team?

photo 3_5Ken Pfeifer: René takes full credit for pulling together the talented costumers (Nora Holley & Jessica Dru Johnson), make up artists (Steven Dwyer & Marishka Bekeshka), and hair stylist (Celeste Aviva). I believe he has the pleasure of working with the majority of them at Blizzard Entertainment, and with the exception of Marishka all of which returned from the first shoot. Rebecca Watts is responsible for her own costuming and modeling, and as I understand it, she reached out to René a few days after the first shoot premiered with the words “”I make a convincing Daenerys. I hope that one day…..just one day, we can have a photo together. That will be the day the internet will collectively explode….possibly.”

I’m occasionally asked by other photographers if I’d ever take them along on shoots to assist, and after realizing how tricky it was to manage the lighting and setting from the first shoot by myself, I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to bring along a few others to not only assist but to bring their own unique perspectives to the shoot. I owe a great deal of what I know about off camera lighting and composition to some talented photographers who allowed me to assist on their shoots (David Nguyen & Ian Cosley), so I was absolutely eager to see what incredible talent Alexa Pilato & Pat Eger would bring to the table given this opportunity.

Cosplay Photographers: Have you worked with any of these artists before?

Ken Pfeifer: I’d worked with the original artists from the first shoot, but met Rebecca for the first time on set. I’d met Alexa while shooting a wedding where she was one of several videographers, but one that absolutely struck me as having a passion for photography. I’ve known Pat for the past few years and his eye for composition has always impressed me.

Cosplay Photographers: What was it like being one of three photographers on the shoot? Did each of you go in wanting to shoot from a different perspective?

Ken Pfeifer: I went in knowing what I wanted to achieve and what assistance I needed with ensuing the lighting was in place for the right look. Pat and Alexa were essential in making sure this could happen in the environment we were in. After we’d gotten the looks I wanted using their assistance, I wanted to open it up so that all three of us could bring our own perspectives to the shoot.

Cosplay Photographers: Tell us a little about lighting the shoot.

Ken Pfeifer: Sunset shoots on the beach can often be especially tricky – cloudless skies mean harsh light which is rarely flattering especially on women. To compensate for this, I used a 43″ Collapsible Multi-Disc Light Diffuser placed between the sun and Rebecca to even out the lighting on her skin. When we moved towards the rocks that formed a natural pier into the ocean, we didn’t have the luxury of using this (unless Pat or Alexa planned on getting soaked), so I used a 35″ Softboxed Einstein E640 powered by a Vagabond II (which we kept as far as we reasonably could from the crashing waves while matching the exposure as well as I could to the environment). As perfect a setting as it was, the conditions were not ideal for off-camera lighting; I would have rather had the light source on the opposite side to get a more convincing shot with the strobe, but fortunately the cliffs behind us acted as a natural reflector and the back-lit natural light shots of the infamous couple ended up being my absolute favorites from the shoot.

Cosplay Photographers: Any advice for cosplay photographers who would like to get a team like this together for a cosplay shoot?

Ken Pfeifer: Cosplayers are an amazing community of extremely talented individuals who share a passion for good art and take great pleasure in sharing that passion with others. They often spend countless months of painstaking effort in crafting the perfect look, but as most cosplayers are unpaid artists who need to work to earn a living, it’s unreasonable to expect them to be an expert in every aspect of the entertainment industry. From physical training to makeup to costuming to lighting and photography, it helps to know where one’s strengths are and where one can most benefit by inviting similarly enthused artists to help fill in those gaps. As long as everyone is credited with the accomplishments they jointly achieve, the end result is a finished product that does further justice to the characters portrayed and allows the cosplayer to more truly realize the look they’ve taken such great lengths to achieve.

Cosplay Photographers: Thank you, Ken!

Ken Pfeifer: Thank you so much for the opportunity to share with you!DrogoDaenerys-Alexa-0242-Edit Web


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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