Melbourne cosplay photographer Blackcrane56 (Lisa Shih) is our second interviewee. She won the MelCosPho 7 photography competition.
Q: How did you get into cosplay and cosplay photography?
Lisa: I first discovered cosplay when I just started getting into anime in high school and came across it online. I was fascinated and would spend hours on Cosplay.com and deviantArt just looking up cosplays of all my favourite characters. 2008 saw my first official cosplay. I attended my first Manifest that year, cosplaying the 3rd Exorcist uniform version of Lavi from D.Gray Man. It was such a failure of a first cosplay; I didn't even have a wig on back then.
I didn't start getting serious about this photography hobby until late 2010. When my friends and I first started cosplaying, we didn't know anyone in the community really, and had only just started attending meets—late starters we were—so it became a habit of ours to just do shoots for each other. This is how I got into both cosplay photography and photography in general.
Q: Which of your cosplays is your favourite?
Lisa: This tends to change constantly as I work on new projects and such... but currently my favourite cosplays are my Heiwajima Shizuo from Durarara!! and Clint Barton (Hawkeye) from The Avengers.
Heiwajima Shizuo: We debuted our Durarara!! team at Melbourne Supanova 2011. This will forever be one of my most memorable groups, not only because I was seriously obsessed with the series back then, but I was crazy enough to make a life-sized vending machine prop—it's name is Sam!—to accompany our group. It also marks the second win we've ever achieved in a cosplay competition, something I'm quite proud of as I really put a lot of effort into this team and everyone rose to the occasion magnificently. I was glad to finally be able to cosplay Shizuo as well, as he's such a hilarious yet deep character and actually wears clothes that allow me to be mobile, unlike most of my other cosplays. My Shizuo cosplay is unfortunately retired as of now, since Sam had to be thrown away as it was taking up way too much space... though I am hoping for a second season of Durarara!! to make me fall in love with it all over again.
Clint Barton (Hawkeye): It was a very last minute decision for Mel, Darcy and myself to cosplay from The Avengers. We were about 4 weeks away from Melbourne Comic Con 2012, I went and watched it in the cinemas with them for the first time, and right after we walked out we all mutually decided on the spot that this must be cosplayed! I loved Hawkeye's character in the movie because I have a unexplained adoration for archers, and I liked his costume design, though now it has evolved to becoming a big fan of the actor that plays him as well. We all made our costumes in about two weeks, and I ended up getting quite a bit of help from my mother because she could no longer put up with how slow I was sewing. We debuted it at the first day of Melbourne Comic-Con, and even though we didn't enter the cosplay competition there, we still received much recognition from everyone at the con. Mel and I rewore our Avengers cosplays for SMASH! this year as well, and this time we were awarded the Judges' Choice in the cosplay competition with our very last minute walk-on!
I'm hoping to cosplay all the other versions of Hawkeye that appeared in the movie too; he's just one of those rare characters that is amazingly fun to portray.
Q: Which is your favourite cosplay photo that you've taken?
Lisa: This is also something that changes constantly as I participate in more and more shoots, but my most well-loved one—and probably the most recognized one in the community—would be this shot of Aly and K's Ludwig Kakumei cosplays taken at MelCosPho 7.
This shot marked a lot of firsts for me. First time entering a MCP photo competition, first time winning a MCP photo competition, and first time winning anything with my photos at all. I remember nervously refreshing Facebook waiting for the results of the competition, and the minute it was announced, friends on Twitter exploded with congratulations. It was a weirdly proud moment for me.
I've actually ended up using the same shot for my photography course's end-of-year exhibition last year. We all had to choose a theme to focus on, and I used that opportunity to pay tribute to what got me started in photography. It was quite well received by the tutors and the exhibition-goers in the end.
Q: What equipment and software do you use, and what would you most like to upgrade?
Lisa: I currently use a Canon 50D, and I usually shoot with my f1.8 50mm portrait lens or an 18-135mm lens. I sometimes borrow equipment from my father, who is also a hobby photographer, if the conditions of the shoot call for it. Software-wise, I edit all my photos using a combination of Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop CS5.
But lately, I've been given a Canon 5D Mark III as a graduation gift from my parents! Yet to really test it out, but I can't wait to see the results it can give. I'm also interested in investing in some new accessories such as a LED Panel and some strobes with softboxes.
Q: Whose work inspires you?
Lisa: Oh gosh, I look up to so many people that it's going to be hard trying to list only a few.
Photographer-wise, I find myself always learning from my peers in the community, especially people that I have personally worked with. Works from local photographers such as Mark (ShinoMatrix), Elias (elias-lopez), and Eric (www.facebook.com/twosushi) are always a great source of inspiration; I learn a lot just by shooting with them! Interstate photographers, and cosplayers in this case, like Ray (Rayfy) and Straw (strawtography) also consistently produce amazing work that I always adore.
There is so many more amazing photographers in Australia's cosplay community. I only listed the ones that I've worked with the most. I find myself taking a little away from everyone's works. So many people have amazing talent to offer.
As for internationally well-known photographers, I love the works of Annie Leibovitz, Natsumi Hayashi (from yowayowacamera.com), Seth Casteel, and anything produced by Melbourne's Xsight, which is a commercial wedding photography company that often comes to our class to give seminars and demonstrations.
In term of cosplayers, apart from all my friends in this community who will always be a constant source of motivation for me, I also really look up to the Japanese cosplayer Reika. Her craftsmanship on her costumes, and her ability to always look handsome and beautiful as any character she cosplays, is always astounding.
Q: Would you prefer to be known in the cosplay community primarily as a cosplayer or as a photographer?
Lisa: This is a very hard question, but currently, I think I would like to be known as more of a cosplayer—if I can't choose both! This is because I understand that I cannot cosplay forever, but I can take photos forever. So when I finally retire cosplay, it'll be time for me to be known as just a photographer instead.
Q: Does experience on the other side of the lens give you insights that you wouldn't have as a cosplayer or as a photographer?
Lisa: Definitely! I strongly believe that knowing how to behave in front of a camera is beneficial to your skill behind a camera too, and vice versa. For example, if I have a pose in mind for my model, I will most likely know how they must reposition their body to not only achieve that pose, but also still show off their good angle in it. It is very helpful when you know how to direct people when you're behind a camera. Though, of course, I am still learning.
I think being both a cosplayer and a photographer, it's easier for me to understand what cosplayers want sometimes in terms of the mood of the picture, the angle, and the composition. And similarly, as a cosplayer, I can explain what I want to the photographers easier, or come up with more ideas in correlation with the condition of the shoot at the time.
Q: When you won the MelCosPho 7 photography competition, Critical Hit awarded a $50 gift card to you. What did you buy with it?
Lisa: I ordered Pokemon Black with it... which I just remembered I still haven't picked up after all this time, oh my god...
Q: Are you watching any airing anime right now?
Lisa: I've just finished watching all three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and The Legend of Korra. It's not anime technically, but I haven't been following anything in the current season so far. It's been a while since an anime has really caught my attention. Though I highly recommend the Avatar and Korra series! I started it thinking it was just a mindless kids show, but it actually has an mature plot line and lots of fantastic characters to keep you hooked. I'm looking forward to cosplaying from both of these series!
Q: Does any anime, manga, or game hold a special place in your heart?
Lisa: Quite a few.
Childhood anime such as Cardcaptor Sakura, Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Digimon—I was so majorly obsessed with them growing up. With recent series, the only ones I can really name are Tiger & Bunny, Durarara!! and Mawaru Penguindrum. Anime movie-wise, Studio Ghibli, all of the Studio Ghibli! I could seriously live off those movies for the rest of my life if I had too.
Similarly, many older manga series still hold a special place in my heart, such as Rurouni Kenshin, Death Note, and Kuroshitsuji. Even though the old fandom for some of these have rather moved on now, I still remember how much I enjoyed them back then. I am also a big fan of other beautiful series such as Paradise Kiss, Trinity Blood, and other various works of CLAMP and Takeshi Obata (Bakuman, Hikaru no Go).
I'm not a very big gamer because I'm too impatient for most of them, but I have a very, very deep adoration for the Ace Attorney series and the Professor Layton series. To me, they're that rare type of games that just have the most perfect cast of characters which makes you care about all of them very much.
Q: Do you think about cosplay while watching anime?
Lisa: I try not to, but it just happens subconsciously now. Not just anime, but even TV shows and movies. Sometimes I just watch it and think, "woah, I love that outfit" or "that character is amazing, I want to cosplay that". It's definitely not a healthy habit.
Q: Are there any funny behinds-the-scenes stories that you can tell?
Lisa: There is seriously too many to name, but I guess to recall some recent ones which happened at Manifest.
On Saturday, Jess (g-Kie) was shooting our Uta no Prince-sama cosplays, and in order to get convincing singing expression shots instead of just faking it, we just put on music and actually started singing to it! So our soulful expressions were from singing various crack Disney songs and us serenading to our shoot helpers who were holding the speedlights close to us!
And, even better, on the Sunday, during our Imitation Black shoot with Darcy (darcywilliam), we accidentally set a shrub in the parking lot on fire because we were playing with handfuls of sparklers to achieve some light painting effects.
Q: What photography tip have you personally found most useful?
Lisa: Come prepared with examples and take your time to compose a shot! I'm still trying to shake my habit of just spamming as many photos as I can and then sorting through them later. It really helps to slow down a bit and make sure everything in frame is intended before clicking the button. It makes post-processing work so much faster. And it's extremely helpful to bring some example pics on your phone, that way you can discuss which shots and poses you want to recreate and it's great for fast referencing.