Getting Started in Cosplay Photography with Ryan Sims
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been a nerd. I grew up in Laurel, Mississippi. My brother and I would always buy comics at this place called Dexter’s Card & Comics. This is what started my nerdy obsession with superheroes. We would collect all the rarest cards, comics, toys… you name it. Naturally, comics led us to becoming big movie buffs and hardcore gamers. My favorite superhero was always Spider-Man! I guess you could say that is what initially piqued my interest in photography. Yes, the nerdiness runs that deep! My Marvel collection of Spider-Man comics that are currently in a shoebox under my childhood bed is probably what led me to become a photographer.
After moving to Nashville, I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Entertainment/Game Design. This is where I fell in love with Adobe Photoshop. I started looking for photography jobs that would give me an excuse to play around in Photoshop. Often, I’d make the excuse that I was trying to become a better photographer to increase my skills as a graphic designer, when really my graphic design skills were helping me become a better photographer. Being inspired by movie posters, I thought to myself, “That’s the kind of stuff I want to do!” Photography that’s not the norm, but different, unique. Images that stood out from what everyone else was doing. However, I kept finding myself shooting things that could pay the bills. Don’t get me wrong, weddings are great! So are seniors and every other kind of photography, but I kept finding myself wandering back to this cinematic, fantasy reality in my head. Back to the same thought of, “That’s the kind of stuff I want to do!” For me, it got to the point where I knew that I would rather be happy creating images I love than unhappy creating images just to get by. So that’s eventually what I did. I found a couple that cosplayed as Batman and Wonder Woman. Now, if you’re like me, I had no idea what cosplay even was at the time. Cosplay is the activity or practice of dressing up as a character from a work of fiction (such as a comic book, video game or television show)… or to make this definition even shorter, Costume + Play = Cosplay.
So back to my story. Adam and Shannon were cosplayers in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I lived in Smyrna, only about 15 minutes away. I invited them over to the house to do a free photoshoot just for fun. I had shot seniors, weddings, families, babies, real estate and all kinds of other photography up to this point. I was really itching to do something different, something that I wanted to do, something that involved the skills I had learned in Photoshop over the years. I wanted to photograph things that made me happy and allowed me to be who I am, a big fat nerdy nerd! I was just planning to do a fun shoot with them and that was it, but after the response from that one photoshoot, it felt like I became a cosplay photographer overnight. I had people reaching out to me left and right. People were telling me about conventions (or “cons”) that I could go to and meet cosplayers from all over the world. I had never dreamed that there was an entire worldwide community behind this stuff, which for me was… kind of perfect!
I do other types of photography as well, but cosplay photography has made my work stand out. Because of cosplay photography, I’ve gotten to work with and form relationships with companies like Paul C. Buff, Inc., which led to a variety of other opportunities with ShootProof, V-Flat World and Tether Tools, and being a speaker at events like Imaging USA and SYNC 2021. Through these events, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to share a little bit of my creative process of cosplay photography. My workflow process isn’t overly complicated honestly. I try to keep things as practical and basic as I can when creating Photoshop composites. My setup normally involves at least three lights (one main light, two rim lights). Lighting can vary depending on the concept, so sometimes there are fewer lights involved, sometimes more. There really isn’t a particular camera setting or modifier for lights I like to use. It all depends on the concept we are trying to achieve. If the concept involves hard shadows, maybe we go with no modifier. If we need soft shadows, perhaps a big umbrella with white diffusion fabric. The concept stage is really the most important part to me because that is where you will determine those minute details. If you don’t have a solid foundation when it comes to concept, well… It’s hard to build a house on shifting sand. I’ve seen composites done all kinds of ways and have done them different ways myself, but I usually stick to the “movie poster” method, at least that’s what I call it. High dynamic, dramatic, portraiture style three-point lighting. I’ve seen a lot of people shoot the background first, then the subject. However, I usually shoot my subject first then create the background after (most of the time). Even the way I have always done it is starting to slowly become obsolete now that I’m learning CGI, where the possibilities are endless!