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Cosblog #32: Mortal Trio Photoshoot By TykeJack

Successful cosplay has many components, one of the most underappreciated being a fantastic photographer. This photoset by photographer TykeJack  stands out because of his ability to scout appropriate locations at a convention center (not as easy as it sounds) and for the believable post production work. Check out his Mortal Trio photos below.

Who: The Characters
Scorpion, Frost, and Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat

Where and When: The Photoshoot
Anime Expo 2010 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, July 1-4

The Approach
As a photographer scouting the vast crowds of any cosplay convention, it can be difficult to find a cosplayer that really stands out. Everyone will have different criteria they use as inspiration to determine what type of cosplay  they are looking for. Some photographers will only select females, some may only do group shots, while others may shoot everything under the sun. I wait until I see something that inspires me. There is no rhyme or reason to it but I can feel it inside me and when that moment calls, you better believe I'll seize the opportunity. Such is the case for this mini photo shoot inspired by the terrific cosplay of Scorpion, Frost, and Sub Zero.

I first spotted them in the main lobby of the L.A. Convention Center at Anime Expo 2010. I remembered the Scorpion from the previous AX and remembered that I chose not to photograph him last year because there would be dozens of other photographers with the same images. This year would be a different story because now he was accompanied by an amazing Frost and Sub Zero. Alone, it was a great Scorpion, but together I could really get some truly unique shots that would stand out from the rest. This is when I knew I had to photograph this trio.

Choosing the Spot

It can always be difficult shooting at a convention. There are tons of crowds, limited spaces to work in, difficult lighting situations, and everyone has their own agenda. Generally convention cosplay photos always look the same. You see the same cosplayers doing the same poses in front of tons of other cosplayers and congoers. To get better results you have to treat every interaction with a cosplayer as a mini photo shoot. Instead of just snapping away the same photos that 6 other photographers are shooting while standing next to you, think of a way to get some private images that others won't be able to duplicate.  You'll find that cosplayers are generally willing to work with you so long as you're reasonable.

After seeing the Mortal Kombat Trio I approached them and waited a good 15 minutes for other photographers to finish taking their shots. I like standing next to the other photographers to make my presence to the cosplayers known that way they won't walk away once they think the photo taking is finished. I asked Scorpion if he and his friends wouldn't mind walking to an adjacent location to take a few quick photos.  So the four of us made our way to an area I had previously scouted, stopping every few moments to allow someone to take some photos of the well dressed cosplayers.  The area I chose was outside but in a shaded area. This is ideal because we can get plenty of natural light, avoid blown out highlights, have nice even lighting, and is more comfortable for us to work in.

Getting the shots

We started right away with the group shots. I wanted to get all of them involved from the very start, make them work, then allow them to take breaks while I do the individual shots. Doing good group shots can be difficult. Often times they feel as if they are just a bunch of cosplayers standing around and I wanted to avoid this as much as possible. I asked Scorpion if he would crouch with his arms spread like an eagle, one knee up with the other planted on the ground.  Next, I asked Frost to stand behind him and squat so the she was just slightly higher in height than Scorpion and so it looked like she was ready to pounce from his right hand side. I then added Sub Zero to the frame and had him do his normal pose standing at full height. Staggering the heights of the cosplayers in a photo forces viewers to have to look at multiple parts of the shot and engage more with photograph. Having them all engage in different poses also adds more intrigue to the photograph.

After the group shots were finished, I did a few couple and versus shots and then that's when the magic really started to hit. Scorpion started to open up and started to ask me to do particular shots. He said he wanted one with him holding Frost and his chain entangling the two of them together.  This was a great romantic pose but the truly great thing was now the shoot was becoming more of a collaboration of creative minds. From his recommended shot, I thought it would be cool to have Frost ensnared in Scorpion's chain, on her knees, and Scorpion standing over her about to execute her with his Kunai.  It sounds graphic but the shot was wildly successful. You can feel the power and inevitability of Scorpion's resolve and feel the fearful and frightened look in Frost's eyes. Sub Zero also had a request to do a shot similar to his ultimate move in the Mortal Kombat movie where he sucks the moisture from the air and transforms it into a consuming aura that turned everything to ice. This is where post processing came in.

The Post Process...Process
Normally for post processing digital photos I do mostly basic color correction, additional contrast, and sharpening, but this was the first time I had a cosplayer request that I add in some special effects. Now, I'm no master at photo manipulation since I focus primarily on photography, but this was a great opportunity to give the cosplayer exactly what they wanted.  For the Sub Zero ice blast, I did my normal post processing then just started to experiment with different layer effects, blending modes, and filters.  After playing around a little I got an effect that looked like water being sucked in towards his body. I faded that effect at the center and added a glowing orb which would be the focal point of the ability. I then used a smoke brush and curved it into a orb shape around his body to represent the range of the ability.  With all the effects combined with the appropriate mood and color toning, I believe I achieved exactly what he was looking for.

After finishing the Sub Zero picture I decided that I wanted a picture with Scorpion and his flaming skull finishing move. I decided to use a shot with Scorpion and Frost because it gave me a nice close up look at Scorpion and half of his face was already covered in shadow and would be easy to add to. I did a generic search for a skull and transformed it to match the right side of Scorpion's face.  I then used a rusted pipe texture that I had and applied it as an overlay to his face to give the appearance that his face was crumbling and breaking away. I then also used a picture I had of burning wood coals and blended that into the skull to act as the base or origin of the fire. I found some basic fire brushes and added in some orange flames then experimented with different blending modes to make it all look cohesive.  Again, I'm not an expert at photo manipulation but wanted to give a normal con-goer a result that would stand apart from anyone else.

For more subtle editing effects, the last image I spent a significant amount of time on was the Scorpion Kunai throw.  It was nothing flashy, but was the image best received when I first posted the photo shoot.  This image was originally Scorpion's idea and I told him to squat in an action pose to give the photo a more dynamic appearance. Sub Zero then took the kunai and held it just off to the side of my camera lens.  Now we took multiple shots of this picture and I took individual shots of the kunai because I knew later that I would be merging them together.  The trick was finding the best angle of scorpion, the best pose and then combining that with the best chain and best kunai from the set. After a lot of trial and error I ended up editing a different chain so it looked like it was coming more towards the viewer and used a kunai from a separate image so you could see more of it clearly. Together you get a result that doesn't look like is was post processed at all, but it definitely was.

Finish Him!!!

A lot of photographers and cosplayers that attend cons never really know what to expect. You know there will be a lot of people and you know you're going to have to spend a lot of time walking around but you don't know how your costume and how your images will be received and turn out. My goal as a photographer is to deliver something completely different than what a cosplayer would expect to get from your typical con photos.  I don't do prearranged photo shoots mainly because I can't force inspiration. I much rather spend my time drudging back forth through the convention halls until I get truly motivated by a cosplayer.  Once I am, I do everything I can to make the most of the situation. The thing I regard as most important is working with the cosplayer. They have already inspired you but now you must inspire them to come up with creative ideas and really work with you and push you to get a better result. With everyone working together, you're bound to be a success!

The Gallery

Links: The Talent

Photographer: EnvisageU.com, cosplay.com
Scorpion: Cosplay.com
Frost: Cosplay.com

Miss the past few CosBlogs? Check out the CosBlog Hub for a full archive and information on how to submit a costume of your own.

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