For those of you who have read my posts, you all know I am legally blind and a cosplayer. What you might not know is that despite my inability to see five feet in front of my face, I’m just as often behind the camera as I am in front. Today, I’m going to teach you a bit of the technical side of cosplay photography. We’re going to learn how to use your DSLR, and some fundamentals of a good shot.
1. UNDERSTANDING YOUR CAMERA:
If you’re going to point and click your way through hall photos at your next convention, go ahead and skip this section. I’m going to keep it light on the technichal details (there’s plenty of local colleges that still teach photography courses/continuing ed for no credit, I took mine at Carnegie Mellon over the summer for pretty cheap when I lived in Pittsburgh 12 years ago).
I’m going to be showing off my specific camera, a 2006 Cannon XTI (which isn’t even produced anymore), but, while the locations of the buttons may be different, the functions are going to be pretty much the same on all DSLR cameras.
UNDERSTANDING THE MAIN SCREEN
Like I mentioned, I’m going to keep this pretty beginner friendly. Don’t be intimidated; I’mma break this down for you.
F4.0: This is telling us the F-stop, otherwise known as the aperture or depth of field. The lower the number, the more the camera focuses on one section of the image at the cost of other sections. The higher the number, the crisper the overall image will be.
Photo with an F-stop of 3:
Notice how the tree in front is super detailed while the back is blurry? A low F-stop will do this.
And, for comparison, here’s a photo with F-stop 13:
The fore,-middle-, and background are all given equal weight by the camera.
There’s no “better” or “worse” F-stop, it’s a matter of what you want to focus on in your shot. Play around with aperture length and see what the difference does!
ISO 1600: ISO is the actual film put into the camera. Now, naturally, with a digital camera, you’re not putting in real film. The camera instead will mimic the effects of the corresponding film type.
The short version for ISO is a trade off between light and film grain. The lower the ISO the more light is needed but the less grain produced (so, outdoor shots). Higher ISO can shoot in low light conditions, but produce granier photos. If you don’t have a flash, you’re going to have to raise your ISO to compensate. an ISO of 1600 like you see here is going to make for some SUPER grainy shots (but can still shoot in darker areas), but you may want this effect if you’re shooting, say, Baccano! or Cowboy Bebop photos.
The cloud symbol/ White Balance: That symbol is for white balance. White balance is figuing out what the natural ‘white’ thing is in the shot and accounting for it. While you can manually adjust this, I was shooting Kida, who has white hair, and it was hard enough already. So I used the camera’s settings to find the best approximation without making her look blown out.
The rest of the symbols I won’t get into, but there’s one other major component you need to understand, and it’s a big one:
Picking the wrong shutter speed can seriously screw with your photos, more than anything else. You see that 0”3? That’s SUPER slow. If you don’t have a tripod, and you pick a shutter speed slower than, say, 1/20th of a second, your shots are going to get blurry, fast.
This was one of mine, with a low depth of field focusing on Kida’s body to blur the staff a bit (as if she were attacking) and a shutter speed of just 1/100th of a second for nice clarity.
Kida, who had never used a camera before, borrowed my camera while I was being shot, and took a few photos of her own, at much slower speeds:
1/8th of a second is nearly impossible to hold the camera perfectly still, and a 3.5 aperture guarantees everything but the one focal point to be blurry.
Here’s her shot, washed out, and blurry (plus my belt was riding up on me, adding to a not-so-good shot):
BUT! Despite her lack of experience with a DSLR, my friend is an artist, and knows some rules of drawing that work in photos as well, leading her to get the best shot of the entire shoot:
Which leads into Part 2.
2. NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF CAMER YOU’RE USING, LEARN TO COMPOSE A GOOD PHOTO!
Why does that photo she took look so darn good? There’s a few reasons.
1. The Rule of Threes
This is an oldie but goodie. Imagine the camera split into 9 sudoku boxes. You want the focus of the camera to hit one of the points where the lines cross, like this:
See how my head is exactly where the lines cross in the upper left, and how my foot is /almost/ in the lower right? This creates a visually interesting image; these points are where our eyes naturally go.
2. Have a Line of Action
On top of that, her composition has a very clear line of action running diagonally down the image. While the line certainly doesn’t need to be diagonal, its best to have some sort of clear line, preferrably not straight up-and-down, for a visually good image. Ignoring the blur of the previous bad image, let’s compare it to a better one on this aspect specifically:
Above, there’s no clear line of action (I was posing for a different shot with another photographer at the event, and Kida, whose shoot was already done, was messing around with my camera for the practice. She decided to shoot the same pose I was making from another angle, but it’s just too “stiff”.
I’m also “just standing around” and relatively upright in the below image as well, but we used the tail (on some hidden wires, so it could be manipulated out of frame), to create a line of action starting from the ears and working downward.
3. Use Color to Tell a Story:
Your camera (and Photoshop) have color settings. Use them!
That ‘leaning on the railing’ image works so well because the colors really work together to tell a story. Ratchet’s clothing is bright and new, but the area is pretty derelict, and you can see a discarded Mr. Zurkon robot face down in the leaves behind him, top right, pretty beat up. The world is typical FPS brown- except Ratchet himself, which is a pretty good description for Ratchet compared to other shooter games in general.
Meanwhile, we did most of Kida’s shots with a heavy sepia filter, since she’s from the dying Atlantis, deliberately washing out her clothes and skin- and these photos were taken at the same location, under the same light!
I’ll leave you all with some of my favorite shots from the photoshoot- the ones I took, first (of Kida), and then the ones of me (Ratchet and Clank). Please use the comment space to ask any other questions; I’m always happy to answer!
Ratchet and Clank cosplayer, Kida photographer: division-ten
Ratchet and Clank photograper: Daya Photography
Kida cosplayer: Ginger Liz Cosplay