New Mini-Series: 10 Years After

•April 25, 2018 • Leave a Comment

FanimeCon 2018 officially marks my 10th anniversary of doing cosplay photography.  No there will not be cake; it is not in the budget after agreeing to attend Anime Expo again.  Because of this, I want to reflect on my time in the community and give opinions for the next generation from someone who started off not as an aspirant but as the run-of-the-mill geek/nerd/otaku at a Comic or Anime convention.  I am taking suggestions for other topics you might want to ask about such as beginner strategies or paths to improvement on a limited budget.

Let me know in the comments.

And you can mail topic ideas to:
blizzardterrakmailbag@gmail.com

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Semi-Coming back to Blogging 2018?

•February 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment
BTP_9995.jpg

From Celebration Star Wars 2017

Back on WordPress.  Sorry for the long hiatus on this site, but with my day job as well as photography slowing down, I had to take some time off.  I’m still technically on the lower-end of number of events compared to previous years like 2015, but I’m hoping to balance some blogs in the mean time.

Right now, I’m transitioning into Sony from Nikon, having purchased the Sony a6300, the Sony f1.8 35mm prime lens (APSC), and the Sony f4 18-105mm G Master lens. Let me know if you’re interested in helping me test this or hearing my thoughts on this.

Currently, I am debating getting some LED constant light panels for conventions as well as upgrading my software to Lightroom 6 (not the CC / Cloud plan as I do not have enough work to justify the cost of the software monthly).

That is all I have for now.

Let me know what you want me to talk about.  Anything above?  Any other topics?  Let me know in the comments sections.

Over and Out.

 

10 Years After – Is It Wrong to do Paid Shoots at Conventions?

•May 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment

10 Years After series – Is It Wrong to do Paid Shoots at Conventions?  (DanPhotoMoney)

After 10 years of doing cosplay photography, I finally have a better answer for the child repeating “Why”:

What is your opinion about charging for your photoshoots at conventions?

This has been standard practice in the East Coast, but recently this is becoming more pervasive at larger events in the West Coast like Anime LA 2018 and SakuraCon 2018.  From the latter event, a friend of mine, Keikopin Cosplay , linked me to a Twitter thread by an attendee:

Link to Twitter Post: https://twitter.com/raikamudapon/status/986013792306802688
Quick shoutout to Keikopin: https://www.facebook.com/KeikopinCosplay/

I have wrestled with doing paid shoots in the past (See <previous post link>), but this brings up some good points about the importance of pro-badges for conventions.  It is difficult to find reputable paid photographers since we only see the end result. I wanted to bring this topic up before I dive back into paying photographers since this is rarely discussed but could have benefits and consequences with how conventions could be run in the future from a photographer’s point of view.

Conventions are great for photographers because they provide a safe space for cosplayers to gather and work as well as networking.  In the current system, all photographers (paid or not) only need to obtain an attendee badge, just like many cosplayers. They can stand in the middle of the pathways or block off extra space by using their tripods, lights, and even background setups.  On the other hand, Dealers Hall and Artist Alley exhibitors have to get business licenses, pay extra for designated spaces, and go through background checks to make sure they are doing legitimate business. Commercial work, whether it is selling goods or providing services, should be under equal scrutiny.

Having a badge for Paid Photographers can bring new opportunities for both parties.  In exchange for the increased fees and background checks, paid photographers could also advertise their services officially.  Registering paid photographers will give cosplayers confidence to hire them. The extra fees could also be used for setting up “cosplay sets” that are free to use for any attendees and photographers for shoots.  Opening up new opportunities will make conventions more inviting to the cosplay community and legitimize paying photographers for their services.

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10 Years After – Show Me the Money

•May 8, 2018 • Leave a Comment

10 Years After series – #3) Show Me the Money

After 10 years of doing cosplay photography, here’s a question gives me indigestion:

What is your opinion about charging for photoshoots?

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Note: For this article, “charging for photoshoots” will be defined as payment for the shoot itself. It does not also include ones where there is a contract and the ownership of the photos will be transferred to someone else (such as purchasing Raw files), printing rights, or other post-shoot talks.  This is only about the actual shoot where X amount of dollars are paid in order for photos to be taken at all.

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It was only recently and more frequently with the newer generation of cosplayers and cosplay photographers that monetization became more normalized.  With digital cameras becoming better and easier to procure, the barrier of entry has dropped significantly. And with the explosion of subscription-model websites like Patreon, it does seem to be a good time for photographers like me to make the jump.

It makes a lot of sense for photographers to charge money for their work.  While it’s true that a decent computer and camera body has gotten cheaper, camera lenses rarely go on sale and plenty of lighting gear still come at a high cost, even in the used market.  There is also the physical toll it can take to store, pack, and carry the gear to and from photoshoots, especially at conventions where one is constantly on the move and space is limited. It would definitely be great if I could offset these costs by being paid for shoots, but the switch isn’t easy for me to commit to due to how I started in this community.

When I started 10 years ago, most of the photographers in the NorCal area did not do paid shoots at events or conventions.  Cosplayers typically avoided for-pay photographers either due to finances or other reasons. Because of that, many photographers either stopped doing cosplay photography or shot free of charge.  A common theory that was given was the grey area that cosplay occupies in corporate copyright laws, especially with how fanart being sold was treated at the time, but it could also be due to how cosplay is supposed to be a hobby, so the photographers should also treat it as such.  Rarely, photographers may be able to purchase prints, commercial usage rights, higher resolution files, or even the exact Raw file from the camera to edit and use as they saw fit on their own. That was the order of things for years.

The problem is that this would be a major change in my modus operandi, which will guarantee a huge loss in clientele and even friendships.  This loss goes against why I invested tens of thousands of work hours and my personal funds into this community. Many have pointed out there I would still have a solid core of clients to draw from, but…honestly, this has always been a hobby for me and it is my judgement that it should remain as such.  A hobby can easily become even more drama-filled (that I already have more than enough of) when large sums of money are exchanged. I’ll have to do a lot more soul searching before I decide to make the change.

 

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10 Years After – Photo Contest Phobia

•May 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

10 Years After series – #2) Photo Contest Phobia

After 10 years of doing cosplay photography, there is a question that makes my stomach knot up:

Can I submit this photo of me to a contest?

Usually a cosplay-related webpage, social media group, or even a retailer or publisher would put out a call for cosplay photo submissions for a chance for prizes.  This ranges from either feature on their main traffic feeds or advertisements to cash or physical goods. Sometimes, though more rarely today, there could be a book or other printed media involved.   In many outcomes, the cosplayer is very likely to come out ahead depending on the brand name of the contest holder. However, the question both groups forget to factor in is “What do the photographers get?”

Since the judges are not onsite to inspect the cosplay submission, it is mostly dependent on the photographer to capture and then edit the shot.  A poor quality photo will make or break a submission so having a great photographer is a requirement. Granted, getting the right pose and being ready at the right time of day or for when the lighting is just right in general is difficult, but at the end, the photographer also has to invest money, time, and practice in order to get that perfect shot.  However, when it comes down to collecting, unless there is an upfront payment, the photographer usually gets nothing from the contest.

I’ve either directly or through a cosplayer’s request participated in several contests where my work was a finalist.  Even when my work was selected as a winner or runner up and ends up in print material, I was not given any sort of increased traffic, mention, or a free copy of the published photo book.  I realize there was always a chance in losing, but I never thought that being one of the top contests could also mean that I would lose more until I participated in a few of these.

The biggest reason a photographer would agree to any photo contest is for increased traffic and fame that should come with it.  The cosplayer who is in the photo is obvious since they are the person in the photo while the photographer is obviously being the camera lens.  The problem is that when a photo is submitted, the contest holders should have some sort of agreement form that is filled out and attested by the submitter.  When you look closely at these forms, they commonly allow them to do the following:

  • Edit your photography submission, cropping or additional photo manipulation to alter composition or to place it in advertising banner.
  • Typically 0 mention of the photographer, just the cosplayer.
  • Reserve the right to publish your submission in various media, including online advertisements and printed promotional materials and/or in products they sell.

Those already take out the most obvious ways to identify the photographer from the submission.  As for any sort of caption, the typical reasoning is that there is only so much space so they reserve that for the character’s and cosplayer’s name.  Internet viewers either explicitly or subliminally only cares about where to find the cosplayer for more images like these so there is little demand to keep photography credits.  After the contests ends, win or lose, the photographer comes up right where they started.

I understand those just starting out as they also need increased traffic in order to do the work they do.  With sites like YouTube and Facebook making it harder and harder to organically reach people online, I understand the difficulty in growing one’s clientele and workload. For some, the competition itself is worth the price, but considering the amount of work and pain I have to go through for my hobby’s sake, I have to say that cosplay photography contests are not worth it.

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10 Years After – Vulture Tele-photographers

•April 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

10 Years After series – #1) Vulture Tele-photographers

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Note: For this discussion, I am separating the use of the word “Photographer”.  Normally, I consider anyone uses some form of camera (from pin-hole to smart phone to DSLR / Mirrorless), but for the sake of clarity, I will be using “photographer” as a person who knows how to communicate with their models and “persons with camera” as…frankly those who do not.

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I’ve participated in several events where cosplayers are invited but are not a main focus.  Events like the annual San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival are a great place to celebrate (and also consume) a wide variety of Japanese-related activities….but mostly food.

Sadly with open and public events such as these, security is too spread out and unable to help when a person with a camera decides to take photos without asking for permission.  Most of my audience hopefully knows my Prime Directive for Photography: Ask for Permission First.  Unfortunately there is a pre-existing culture of Street Photography where they would shoot without asking.  During this year’s event (SF CBF 2018), several times I have had to attempt to body-block several of these persons with cameras” when they tried to shoot with people I was with.  Most of them walked off, but some of them had some words with me:

  • That was rude, why did you do that?
    • Did you ask?
  • Ok, well you just made me miss a great image.
    • Did you ask?
  • Ok, this is called ART.  Do you know what that is?
    • Did…You…Ask?
  • What are you?  Her father / boyfriend / husband?
    • DID?
    • YOU?
    • ASK?

I’m sure some of them would cite my love for my “derp photography”.  But again, here is the difference:
I Asked For Permission.
And
I Show Them Afterwards.

Many of these people with cameras do no such thing.  Nothing is exchanged: business cards or contact information.
I have a distinct loathing for these “photographers” because like shots of my backside, random photos make people uncomfortable: The Cosplayers.  This translates into the final photo as well and no amount of Photoshop can fix that.

Do not test me or you will see how much I can “fail” at treating people like a human.

TL;DR:  ASK BEFORE TAKING PHOTO(S) OF ALL COSPLAYERS.

P.P.S: Do not expect forgiveness or mercy when you take compromising photos.  No matter which gender or age.

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Get in Gear – Early 2018 Edition

•February 28, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Fun Acronym: G.A.S.

Gear
Acquisition
Syndrome

Every year, the major and the third-party companies come out with new bodies, lenses, accessories, computers, etc.  Of course, I’m no exception and have to stuff many of that into a purpose-built backpack and custom-made shoulder bag.  This has worked for me for years, but there is another inevitable truth about photographers: WE CARRY TOO MUCH S#!t.  So this year, I made my wallet cry and bought gear that’s “good enough” in most situations and saving the heavy-duty stuff for major events and photoshoots.  Starting in 2018, I have two sets of gear loadouts: the “Go-Bag” and “Heavy Duty” setups.

Reminder – Always On

These are the absolute must haves that every photographer needs to carry, regardless of the type of shoot.  These should be familiar as all of these are pretty much required for things outside of photography**:

  • Wallet and keys (You should know why by now)
  • Smartphone or Cellphone with a notepad and writing instrument.
  • Medication
  • Stainless steel water bottle.  (I prefer to have mine in a belt pouch)
  • Sweat towel (because sleeves are bad substitutes)

I keep these in my photography vest, but you can use whatever means to carry these items.  I personal prefer the vest because I prefer having specific pockets for ease of retrieval.  Fanny packs or extra room in your photography bags works too so chose what works best for your style and photography habits.

Old Hotness – “Heavy Duty”Heavy Duty

This was my do-everything loadout that I am known to carry to everything before 2018.  Everything I had and needed was in this complete loadout.  Outdoors during the day, I might use the flashes for fill-light.  At night, I could setup the lights, both LED and flash, to light the subject.  Indoors, I could use the LED lamp for minor fill but can also use light stands and flashes for a minor studio setup.  Combined with the heavy f2.8 24-70mm zoom lens, I was prepared for any situation, including equipment failures because I had a backup for everything, including the camera and lens.

  • Think Tank Streetwalker Hardrive Backpack (version 1.0) *

(+)          Dual, thick straps distribute the weight across both shoulders, making it easier to handle a full load.
(+)          Customizable dividers as well as compartments make it very adaptable for different gear combinations.
(-)           Expensive and bulky, but many lower end options are not padded.
(-)           User would have to take off the backpack to access any gear inside.

  • Nikon D750 (mid-range full frame camera)
    • Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Zoom Lens (non-VR for sharper image quality)
    • w/ 3rd party vertical grip (due to weight of camera, it’s more comfortable for portraits)
  • Nikon D7100 (formerly top-of-the-line Crop Sensor Camera. (Note: backup)
    • Nikon AF‑S Nikkor 35mm F/1.8G ED prime lens.
  • 3 x Nikon SB-700 Speedlite flashes
  • 2 x NEEWER CN-160 LED Lamps
  • Surface 3 or Surface 4 Pro (can place other 14’’ laptops)

Unfortunately this loadout can be considered overkill while “killing” me as well.  Many of the scales I’ve used approximate my gear weight to around 30 lb. and that strain adds up during a long convention like Fanime, Anime Expo, or especially Star Wars Celebration when there is lots of walking.  The overall bulk also made it difficult to get through tight spaces like a packed parking garage.  I will still use this loadout for large conventions and is my only choice for any situation that requires a flight.  For other events, there’s my Go-Bag loadout.

The New Model – “Go-Bag”0225181536

The goal of a Go-Bag is to have a light and simple loadout that is good for most common situations: outdoor locations and brighter indoor areas.  This system will have a greater reliance on ambient lighting conditions and using minimal lighting tools for fill-light only.  In order to lighten the overall package, the pack and camera choice had to be both smaller and lighter.  This is what I came up with:

  • Lowepro Slingshot Edge 250 AW sling bag*

(+)          Sling strap means I can easily access the interior compartments without taking the entire pack off, though the clasps also make that easier to quickly take off as well.
(+)          Camera mounted in side compartment for ease of access while pack is strapped to user’s body.
(-)           Lower overall volume, less gear can be carried overall.
(-)           Strap only goes on right shoulder, cannot be swapped to the left shoulder.

  • Sony a6300 (primary choice)
    • Sony SELP18105G E PZ 18-105mm F4 G OSS zoom lens
    • Sony SEL35F18 35mm f/1.8 prime lens
    • Extra batteries for Alpha-series cameras
  • Nikon D750 (secondary choice) (see above for lens choice)
  • 2 x NEEWER CN-160 LED Lamps
  • (optional, attached on external cases and straps)
    • 2-3 x Nikon SB-700 Speedlite flashes (currently using the ones in Heavy Duty till replaced with Sony-compatible ones)
    • 1 x Manfrotto 5001B light stand (smaller size when collapsed and lighter)

The choice in pack is very important as it is the biggest limiting factor, especially when you do not wish to keep things in a car or hotel room.  The laptop and backup camera had to also be discarded since that’s the bulk of the “overkill” extra weight on my back.  As for why I chose a sling bag, my larger backpack would bump into people and objects frequently in tight spaces.  And while removing gear could easily be done, the massive amount of empty space inside the pack could cause items to scratch or damaged from the frequent movements that could happen.  The loss of my Surface tablet is regretful and I’m hoping to find a small replacement at a later date, but for now, my smartphone is still capable of handling most photoshoot needs.

Testing

I have tested the pack in two different situations so far: rough hikes and terrain as well as small event photography.  During the hike, the pack was very secure and very easy to both snap quick photos quickly and keeping the pack secured.  The small volume also makes it easier to transport during long travels on trains and buses where crowds can make it hard to both secure the gear as well as fit into tight spaces. With the usual Heavy Duty loadout, I would constantly bump into people and objects due to the increased bulk.  The pack has also allowed me to carry a smaller light stand externally via straps securely and without messing with my movements.  More testing is required for this setup, but I am highly encouraged of the success so far with this new loadout.

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Omake

*Chargers and spare batteries unlisted.

**Possible Future Improvements to Go-Bag:

  • Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM zoom lens
    • (note: full frame lens) to replace / substitute for the 18-105mm
  • Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens for Sony E-Mount
  • Either
    • Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 prime lens
    • Sony 55mm F1.8 Sonnar T FE ZA Full Frame prime lens
  • Either
    • Thin HDMI screen (max 8 in.)
    • 8 in. tablet (Android preferred)

***Bonus Round:

  • Compact Mirror (because smartphones waste batteries and the black screen sometimes isn’t good enough)
  • Recommend – USB battery / extra battery that is compatible.
  • USB Adaptor (for when your model / friend doesn’t use the same ones you use for your battery bank).
  • Business Cards and a place to store received ones.
  • (for long-trips) – Backup camera bodies and lenses.

Vero – Well THAT Came Out of Nowhere.

•February 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

A wild new social media app has appeared.
BlizzardTerrak uses Common Sense.
It failed….Miserably
BlizzardTerrak fainted.

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Apologies for the Pokemon reference.  

Keeping up with all the new trends like filters, Patreon, and Snapchat is a full-time job.  I’ve always been slow to adopt anything new, but this comes from prior experiences in the tech world.  It’s easier for me to stick with the known quantities like Facebook and DeviantArt (the first platform I used to post and get recruited for photoshoots).  Social media has, admittedly, become very familiar with people and with the decreasing amount of organic reach in the algorithms and many companies like Facebook and Instagram (a subsidiary of Facebook, Inc.) becoming bezarely draconian when it comes to objectionable material (depending on your beliefs), a sudden challenger was inevitable.

On 2/21/18, the Vero- True Social by Vero Labs Inc. suddenly trended on my social media feed as many big-name cosplayers suddenly announced their profiles.  This app took a somewhat novel model in that instead of advertisements, the app will be entirely subscription based…except for the first 1 million users.  As a means of quick adoption, this was bold and seems to have paid off. Many have reported that the interface is very slick, though with many hiccups with the system due to the phone number requirement.  It does seem like the answer to our prayers for the cosplay (and photography) community.

However, I will not be adopting this platform as part of the first million.  This is partly due to my paranoia with new apps, which isn’t unfounded with the various Quiz and Filter Apps that…require a lot of data mining to use “for free”.  Part of me is wondering if this will be the next Facebook (or other large company)’s buyout and then we’re back to Facebook.  A large chunk of it is due to how many apps (not just Vero, Facebook and the established ones do this too) are able to sell off any piece of data one inputs into the system.  The current ones are under scrutiny by the EU and by many government agencies, but this one is so new, there is no way to figure out what they would do with the data.  Perhaps time will tell and I will give it time to mature or die as the market wills.

So what is my recommendation?

WAIT.  Give it about a year because like a Hard Drive or other electronic device, new apps tend to burn very quickly.  Plus, I would like for this new app to fix some of it’s Terms of Service (TOS) regarding their privacy and how they may or may not sell the data it gathers.

….and because there is no Desktop support at this time.