Monthly Archives: April 2015

Cosplay: Katamari Damacy, Cousin Ace

My daughter loves the game We Love Katamari for the PS2. (We got her the PS3 Katamari Forever game, and she refuses to play it, even though it’s essentially the same game.) Anyway. When asked which of the cousins was her favorite, she responded after a bit of thought, Ace. (I prompted her with some of the female cousins, but she came back with Ace.)

Cousin Ace, Katamari Damacy
Left: The original appearance of Ace in Katamari Damacy. Right: Appearance change in We Love Katamari.

I thought, since I still have a few days before Free Comic Book Day, maybe I could throw together something really quick for her in time for the weekend. Tim is nearly done, just waiting on something to arrive in the mail for an accessory, my Bitch Planet cosplay is done. Sure, why not start something else with only 5 days to complete it? /headdesk

Here was my thought: I needed an A-line tank dress in gold, with a matching long-sleeved shirt underneath. Red-violet tights or leggings. And some sort of headgear as yet to be engineered on a headband.

I ended up with a tunic that had a pointed center (Butterick 6170) and a hooded long-sleeved shirt from Goodwill. I made cones for the sides of the hood with the same material as the tunic, and an antenna for the top. That will give the idea of Ace without going full-on headgear (which I don’t think my kid would tolerate).

When I got the pattern out of the envelope, what I thought was an off-center point due to a couple of gathers turned out to be an actual asymmetrical pattern piece. I ended up drafting my own pattern pieces* based on the pattern pieces it came with, since I was planning on lengthening the point anyway, I just created a whole new front piece that was symmetrical, cutting it on the fold. Considerably more work than I had intended, but I got what I wanted in the end.

I modified the back first, since it was already symmetrical, being a two-part piece with a seam up the center. All I needed to do there was lengthen the point. I pinned the pattern piece to some craft paper (we have a roll of it), I determined how long I wanted to make it, marked that point and used a straightedge to connect that point to the original corner on the other end of the pattern piece.

modifying-back
The pattern tissue is pinned to the paper to be cut out.

Since the front of the garment was asymmetrical, not on the fold, and one large pattern piece, I laid it out on more craft paper, and put the back piece over the top so I could mark the point. I wanted to make sure that the two pieces were the same length!

back-front
Hard to see in this photo, but I have the shoulder and armscye lined up, so I know I’m marking the length in the proper place.

I cut the front on the fold and I used the pattern piece’s mark “center of garment” line to make my new pattern piece. After I marked the line based on the back piece, I was able to use the straightedge to create the new bottom hem.

modifying-front
The center of the pattern is on the edge of my paper, the new hem is marked, and the rest of the pattern is pinned in place for cutting out.

To make the cones, I just sewed yellow cones and stuffed them with fiberfill. I used a small coffee can to get the base size, thinking that was a size that would give enough of a suggestion of the character without being too obnoxious for her to wear on the hood. When I painted the stripes on the tunic, I painted the cones, too, because I was mixing the paint (yellow and white) and wanted the colors to match, and it’s nearly impossible to match colors if you don’t do it all at once. The antenna is stiff craft felt as a base, covered with golden yellow felt (the more conventional stuff), with a red pompom glued to the top.

Ace's hood
The side cones are too high, and need to be moved down about 2 inches.

The katamari ball is a “bumpy ball” we lucked into at Michael’s for $5. I painted the nubs, and there it  was! (Or close enough, anyway.)

Katamari ball
Yes, it has too many “bumps.” Close enough. Yes, I hand painted all those. (Yes, it was a PITA.)

The yellows do not match. At all. I needed a more golden yellow for the tunic, but I’m on a tight budget and that was the color option in the price range I was comfortable with. This is good enough for now. If she likes the costume and wants to wear it again, when I have more time I can make another tunic in the right color. If not… she has a cute yellow tunic she can wear with leggings, with a couple of random stripes at the bottom.

ace-tunic
The tunic is sort of a cross between Ace’s original look, and his current “pointy” incarnation.

I’m calling this a “simplified cosplay” because it’s representative of the character without being 100% accurate (like I tried to do with Tim the Enchanter, or the Bitch Planet prison coveralls), but it’s not “stealth cosplay” either. Plus, remove the hooded tee, and the tunic is wearable on its own, not as a costume piece.

*NOTE: This may be obvious, but even if you think you’ll remember later, label your created pattern pieces immediately after you’ve made them. Like, right after you unpin the original tissue from them. Who the pattern maker was, what the pattern number is, what size it is, what pattern piece number (or letter) it is, all the marks/darts/dots/notations, everything that’s on that tissue should be on your created pattern piece. That will also help you know which side is the right side up. That way you won’t come back to the space where you do your sewing later, with miscellaneous pieces of paper that are clearly pattern pieces… but you can’t quite remember which pattern, or which side is the right side, or..? Just do it. You’ll be glad you did later.

Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 5)

Welcome back! In this installment, we’re going to talk about the least important thing to consider when photographing cosplay: Equipment. (If you missed any prior installments: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.)

Why is equipment the last thing you talk about?” you might ask. “Isn’t a big fancy camera the most important thing for taking good pictures?”

In response, I offer you this joke, a favorite among photographers:

A photographer was invited to dinner at a couple’s house. He brought along his portfolio and showed the couple some of his work before dinner was served. “Those pictures are amazing,” they said. “You must have a really nice camera.”

The photographer just smiled and thanked them.

After dinner, the photographer turned to his hosts and said, “That dinner was wonderful. You must have some really nice pots and pans.”

BWAHAHAHA I LOVE THAT… Sorry. I got carried away. I do that. The point is, as I hope is obvious. the camera doesn’t make the photographer, any more than the pot makes the cook. A more powerful camera can give the photographer options a less powerful model can’t provide, but, as Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the greatest photographers in history, once said, “The best photographer in the world is not as good as the worst camera.” Hand Henri your iPhone (and show him how to use it) and he could have made pictures with it that you and I couldn’t make with a $10,000 dSLR.

Incidentally, the excellent photographer Chase Jarvis makes the same point in his excellent book, The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You. He uses nothing but an iPhone to make some excellent photographs, and explains how he did it. If you’re mostly going to use your phone or tablet camera – and phone/tablet cameras have gotten scary good – I recommend the book to you.

So, given that equipment isn’t all that important, what should we know about it to improve our cosplay photography? Well, the same thing as we need to know about it to improve all our photography. Namely, we need to know how to use it. First, go back and read all the prior articles in this series. (I’ll wait. Okay, you back? Good.) Note that there is nothing in there that is camera specific, although some of the ways you can control light (f-stop, shutter speed, ISO) can’t be used if your camera doesn’t offer those settings. Learn all that, and you already know 90% of what you need to know to use any camera.

Once you’ve got the basics of photography down, it’s time to learn the basics of your camera. What do all the buttons do? Where are the settings menus? Which settings can be manually controlled, and which ones can’t? You learn this by reading the manual. Camera manufacturers spend millions of dollars developing those manuals. They are, usually, not that hard to read. Get it out, get your camera out, and go through it. As you read, pick up the camera, and play with the settings that are being described. Doing it as you read will help you remember much better. If there’s something in the manual that doesn’t make sense or you can’t seem to make work, visit the manufacturer’s website for more information, or just Google the name of the feature. You’ll find that no matter what it is, somebody else has already had the issue, and somebody else has probably told them how to fix it. Yay, Internet! :)

Okay, now that I’ve totally denigrated the importance of equipment, I will discuss a few of the more important items you can get to improve your cosplay photography.

1) A tripod, a monopod, or both. One of the cardinal rules in photography is, “If you can get steadier, get steadier.” Removing camera shake lets you take sharper pictures and/or open the shutter longer without having to worry about camera blur. If you’re in a position to use one, use a tripod. If you’re going somewhere where a tripod would be in everybody’s way (remember, respect) you could consider a monopod. Plus, if somebody annoys you, you can really whack a person good with a monopod at full extension. (DISCLAIMER: Do not whack people with monopods unless you are legally justified in doing so.) You can even get tripod adapters for iPhones, etc. Try one, you’ll like it!

2) A portable reflector. It’s unbelievable how much just a little more light can improve a photograph. Find something shiny (although not colored, because if it’s colored, where it reflects will have a different color cast than the rest of the image.) Use it to reflect a little light onto the subject’s face, or that amazing decoration on their cape, or what-have-you. In a pinch, you can use a large piece of paper, but portable reflectors are awesome. Plus they make you look like a pro – a pro who knows magic. I have a Litedisc Photoflex, like this one:

http://www.amazon.com/Photoflex-Litedisc-Circular-Collapsable-Reflector/dp/B00009UT0E

Folded up, it fits neatly in my camera bag. When I want it, it opens with a snap of the wrist. Plus if I want to warm up the subject a little (Fluorescent lights, need I say more?) I can use the gold side, or I can just shine accent light with the white side.

3) An external flash. You can get what are called “slave” flashes which have little electric eyes on them. When they see a bright light, they go off. These can be very useful even if you don’t have a camera that has a “hot shoe,” which is the bracket you use to mount a flash on a camera, and that’s why I list them before a dSLR. Here’s an example:

http://www.amazon.com/PLR-Mounting-Bracket-Digital-Cameras/dp/B008MBDWJU/

These will even work with tablets and cameras, as long as they have a flash. You just put them where you want some extra light. However, if you plan on getting a dSLR, it’s probably better to wait and get one that goes with your dSLR (see below.)

Like reflectors, external flashes allow you to put more light where you want it, but unlike reflectors, they let you ADD light when there’s not enough. Plus, with the flash further away from the lens, the phenomenon usually known as “red-eye” is greatly reduced.  (That red glow in people’s eyes is caused by light from the flash bouncing off their retinas, which are red. If the flash is off-axis with the lens, the amount of light so reflected is reduced or eliminated.) If at at all possible, get a flash with a “bounce” capability – in other words, a flash that pivots. This gives you far more options when using it. I love to point my flash at the wall behind me. This lets me add what is effectively a very large, very diffuse light that hits the whole scene without causing red-eye or “hotspots” where the flash is concentrated.

4) A Digital SLR or dSLR. This is basically the sort of camera that serious photographers have been using for decades, only instead of 35mm film it has a digital sensor in it and saves the image to a memory card. (Speaking of memory cards: buy several. Swap them around. Don’t rely on just one. Generally speaking, it’s better to have two 4GB cards than one 8GB card, because if a card dies you only lose half as much.) As for which one, well, buy the best one you are comfortable spending the money on, and other than that, don’t worry about it. They’re all pretty good, really. I shoot Canon, but I’ve used Nikon, Sony, and Olympus dSLR’s and they all worked fine.

If you have a friend or family member who shoots a particular brand, you might think about using the same brand just so you can ask them for advice (or *ahem* even discreetly ask to borrow things.) Otherwise, shop around. Go to a store and see what fits your hand. Visit review sites (my favorites are Steve’s Digicams and DPReview) and see what people are saying about current offerings. What’s important is to get what seems to suit you best.

NOTE: Do NOT, I repeat DO NOT, get all worked up about megapixel count. I’ve licensed photos I took with 6MP dSLR for book covers and major academic presentations. A good, clear, sharp picture at the resolution of even a starter-level dSLR is fine for almost any commercial use, let alone taking good pictures at a Con for your website. If your budget is comfortable with an intro-level Canon Rebel series, get a Canon Rebel series. It will make great photographs. If you have the budget for a six thousand dollar 1D, and you want to tote around a brick like that, go for it. It’ll make great photographs too.

If you get a dSLR, one purely optional but really nice accessory to have is a “battery grip.” They’re called that because they a) allow you to put two batteries instead of one in the camera, and b) they give you an extended area to hold on to the camera. However, what’s really nice about them is that they have an extra set of exposure controls on the corner. (Warning: Not all battery grips have this feature, especially third-party battery grips. If you’re going to get one, make sure it does.)

Here’s why that’s important: Normally, if you want to take a picture in “portrait” aspect – i.e. the picture is taller than it is wide, which is how you usually photograph people – you turn the camera sideways and twist your arm around to work the controls. With the battery grip, there’s a shutter button and exposure dial on top of the camera when you turn it sideways, and you can hold it normally. Plus if you have larger hands like I do, it makes it much easier to hold on to the camera, while not making it awkward for more petite users in any way. It just makes life much, much more pleasant, trust me.

5) Once you have a dSLR, obviously, you need lenses. Lenses, dear reader, are all about compromise. There is no One True Lens. If you get a lens with a large zoom range, it will be heavier than a lens with a shorter range (or a fixed or “prime” lens) and will not be as sharp at the extremes of its range, nor will it be as “fast.” That is, it won’t have as large a maximum aperture. Plus it’ll cost more. If you get a lens with a shorter range, well, it has a shorter range. So what should you do? I recommend two lenses to start with

a) A reasonable zoom lens with Image Stabilization. Image Stabilization is a technology where the lens has a little gyroscope in it that it uses to try to compensate for any camera shake. It sounds like magic – because it is. It really works. Anyway, most entry-level dSLR come with an Image Stabilized 18-55mm lens these days. That’s perfectly serviceable for learning. If you can spend a bit more money, you can usually upgrade when you purchase and get a faster 17-85mm or so lens instead of the 18-55mm lens. This is definitely worth it. It’s heavier, but not dreadfully, and that extra zoom can really be very useful. This is your “walking around” lens for most Cons and other cosplay situations, and can be used for studio shoots as well.

b) A fast prime lens. A “prime” lens is a lens that doesn’t zoom. It only has one focal length. If you want to zoom out, you move back. If you want to zoom in, you get closer. :) Ugh, sounds primitive, doesn’t it? Well, it is. But there is a reason to get one. In fact, there are three.

i) First,they’re WAY lighter and smaller than zoom lenses. Much less intimidating to potential candid subjects, much easier on your back.

ii) Second, they produce sharper, less color-divergent images than zoom lenses at equivalent focal lengths.

iii) Third, and this is the big one, they are much faster than zoom lenses of equivalent price point. You can buy the Canon “Nifty Fifty” f1.8 50mm prime for a hundred bucks, and there’s a similar lens for Nikon and most other dSLR. F1.8, dear reader, is screaming fast compared to the standard zoom lens, or your phone camera. You can take pictures without flash in fairly dark rooms and they will actually look like something.

I have a 35mm f2 and a 50mm f1.4 (the 1.4 is only a third of a stop faster than the Nifty Fifty, but it costs four times as much because it’s better made. It’s a semi-pro level lens. I love it, but you’ll be fine with the f1.8 to start with.) Depending on what I’m up to, I might walk around a Con with the 35mm on instead of my zoom. It’s faster, it’s less intimidating, and I don’t have to shine a flash in people’s faces. If I’m going out at night, I’ll put on the 50mm f1.4. It can take pictures, with the ISO cranked up, of things I literally can’t even see with my actual eyes.

Speaking of lenses, it is probably worth noting that often manufacturers or retailers sell cameras in “starter packs” with a bag and some lenses, one of which is usually something like a 75-300mm non-stabilized lens. I have one of those, but I never, ever use it for cosplay or convention work. I only use it for landscape and sports photography (which I rarely do.) If your subject is going to be indoors, you absolutely do not need that 75-300, and you’d probably be better off buying a different configuration of stuff. Likewise, the manufacturer bags aren’t awful, but you can usually buy a much better bag for not much more money. Plus, they don’t have big ol’ “Canon” or “Nikon” logos on them, which are often interpreted as “I am full of very expensive camera equipment, please steal me” badges by people of questionable morality.

Note also that I didn’t talk about things like studio backdrops or strobe lighting. They’re awesome, don’t get me wrong. However, once you decide to spend that kind of money, you need to do your own research into the current state of the market as well as your specific needs and desires, and that’s outside the scope of these articles. You’re welcome to inquire by email as to my opinion on any particular piece of equipment you’re considering: you’ve probably figured out by now that I love to talk about photography!

I will put in a quick plug for Alien Bees, though. In my opinion they are the best intro level studio lights for serious beginners. You can see them here:

http://www.paulcbuff.com/alienbees.php

Note: I don’t get paid by Paul Buff to plug Alien Bees, nor have I been provided any other incentive to do so. I have owned four Alien Bees lights and a Vagabond pack for years and they have served me well, and that is the entirety of my relationship with them. That being said, Paul, if you see this, I’d love some free stuff, or maybe just some money in a box. :)

I hope you enjoyed this article and that you find it useful in future. Please check out the other parts of this series and the rest of our articles here on Sew Your Cosplay!

You are welcome to ask questions in the comments and/or by emailing me at any time. Thanks for reading!

Marc

Cosplay: Bitch Planet Prison Coveralls

Bitch Planet cosplay
Are you WOMAN enough to survive?

I am a Kelly Sue DeConnick fangirl and I don’t give a damn who knows. I love Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly is weird and awesome, but Bitch Planet is f’ing EPIC. This cosplay is my love letter to Kelly Sue and artist Valentine De Landro.

The best part of the Bitch Planet cosplay is that you can literally start it on Monday and be ready to cosplay for the weekend. It’s that easy.

Start with pajama pants; McCall’s 2476 is perfect (and has sizes that run up to XXL, with 48-50 inch hips). Buy enough fabric to make the bib and straps of your coveralls; I erred on the side of caution and twice as much as I needed — I figured if I messed up with my experimentation on the bib, I’d have plenty left over. Since I was using inexpensive broadcloth, that wasn’t a budget-burden. Make the pants but leave out the elastic; the straps will hold up the pants, you don’t need elastic.

The prison uniform in Bitch Planet shows a center seam up the thigh. The pajama pants don’t, but after I made mine, they were enormously too large. I wanted them to be a little shapeless and oversized, but this was ridiculous. I was able to solve the center seam issue and take them in a quarter inch at the same time, just by stitching straight up the leg.

Bitch Planet center seam
I took this after the coveralls were finished, obviously, but you can see where I took in the pants and formed that center seam.

Making the bib will vary depending on your height and waist, so I can’t give you numbers, only show you what I sketched for mine. It’s a sort of wonky “L” shape, that tapers on the vertical and horizontal sides. The skinny side piece that wraps around the waist is where the straps will attach in the back; it wraps around the waist, but not all the way around. (For mine, they ended up being about where my Latissimus dorsi muscle was in my back, because that’s what was comfortable for the strap placement was for me.) I cut four of the pattern piece, so I could have a very sturdy bib with no exposed raw edges. I could have done that with two pieces, but then it wouldn’t have had the center seam that De Landro’s design has.

BP-bibpattern

Bitch Planet bib
My pattern piece and the two sides stitched, but not pressed open.
Bitch Planet bib
Top: Right sides pinned together. Bottom: Stitched and turned, before the bottom has been stitched.

After I stitched the bib together along the top edges and turned it right side out, I pressed it, and zigzagged the bottom edge and trimmed it with pinking sheers. Then I folded over the top of the pants twice, essentially forming a casing that would have held elastic, but all I wanted was to enclose the exposed raw edge and shorten the top of the pants. I basted that, then pinned the bib to the inside (so the raw edge was not visible). I double-stitched the bib to the waist of the pants; better safe than sorry.

The straps are another thing that you’re going to have to measure for yourself. It will depend on how tall you are, how broad your shoulders are, etc. Mine are permanently sewn in place, front and back. The coveralls, as far as I can see in De Landro’s illustrations, have no fasteners like buttons or buckles, but do what you need to to be comfortable. My straps are 1 1/2″ wide with a 1/2″ seam allowance. I started with 38 inches, because I didn’t want to run short. I box-stitched those to the corners of the bib from the back, so I’d have a nice solid attachment. Then I took safety pins and asked my husband to pin the other end of the straps in place on the back “tabs”, snug but not tight — I wanted to see if I could get out of the coveralls without too much trouble, and it was really no problem.

Bitch Planet strap detail
This strap should not be coming off. I did this on all four ends.

Pockets. What a pain those turned out to be. The back pockets are smaller than they should be, especially since I really didn’t leave enough for the “cuff” at the top. I hemmed the pockets, back and side pockets, all the way around before I sewed them on the coveralls, just so they’d be a little easier to manage. The size of them will be dictated in part by the size of your coveralls and personal preference — just use the comic as your reference. One thing to consider: if you are using thinner material, like broadcloth, these pockets are not going to hold up to keys and wallets like blue jeans will unless you reinforce them, and the material they’re sewn to, with interfacing. I didn’t do that, and I don’t plan on stuffing anything heavy in my prison uniform, although I did reinforce the corners with the V-shaped stitching often seen on pockets.

Bitch Planet hip pocket
Measuring the placement for the hip pocket. The notebook underneath was to ensure I was only pinning one layer.
Bitch Planet reinforced pocket
Reinforced corner of the back pocket.

When I sewed on the side pockets, I tried to get them as close to the seam as possible. Truthfully, those should have been sewn into the seam when the pants were constructed; that would have made a lot more sense. But I didn’t know how big I’d need them to be, so I didn’t do it that way. It still worked out.

Bitch Planet side pocket
Side pocket pinned in place over the side seam.

The hem of the pants ended up very bunchy. I think I should have cut them off and hemmed them, rather than try to double-roll the cuff (enclosing the raw edges again). But they’re still a little too long, and still ill-fitting, and look just like they do in the comic, so you can’t really even see the hem.

To make the non-compliant “NC” stamps for the uniform, I used a Plaid® stencil blank that I had on hand. It’s a thin sheet of plastic that you can easily cut with a craft knife; Michael’s and Joann’s should carry them. I printed out the logo (found online), 3 1/2″ high, used double-stick tape to stick it to the plastic, and used my knife and a straight edge to make my stencil.

BP-stencil

Here’s a tip: Mark where you need to put all the stamps before you start painting. It’s a lot easier than trying to do it later, believe me! I was pinning aluminum to the fabric so I could gingerly climb into the coveralls and mark where my knee was. Don’t do that. Mark first! Use a safety pin to mark where your knee and back-of-the-knee is on one leg, then you can measure the other side. You will need stencils on the bib, the knees, behind the knees, the side pockets, and the side calves — nine in all.

From there, I had white fabric paint and a stiff brush designed for painting on fabric. I used painter’s tape to attach the stencil to the coveralls, put aluminum foil under the fabric and/or between the layers, and carefully painted my stencil out from the edges (never into the edges). The first layer didn’t have a lot of coverage, so I did touch it up. Even being careful in the corners and on the edges, I still have  some errors. I’m calling it a feature, not a bug — hell, maybe on Bitch Planet, one of the things they make the women do is paint NC on their own coveralls. (How messed up would that be? Painting “non-compliant” on clothes you had to wear, every day, forever after?)

Bitch Planet stencil
First layer of paint.
Bitch Planet stencil
Second layer: stencil removed, excess paint revealed.

The paint does dry fairly quickly, but you’re still going to have to wait a while before you can get to all of it, since there’s paint on the front and back and the sides of the coveralls. Clean the back of the stencil of any stray paint before you move it to another area. A little bit of painter’s tape works really well for that, just use it like you’re removing lint off a shirt. Once the paint’s completely dry, follow the directions on the paint bottle. Mine says to let it dry for 24 hours then heat-set it with an iron. I’m debating whether or not I want to try to “age” the paint with a light sanding in a few places — carefully! — and not all the way down to the fabric.

The shirt I got to wear underneath is an oatmeal-colored pocket-tee (with the pocket removed) I got at Goodwill for $2. I’m wearing beat-up black sneakers that don’t really show because the pants are so long, and my cosplay is complete. From beginning to end, in less than a week.

Things I would change: I would take the bolt of fabric to the window at the store, because in sunlight it starts to look a little pinkish. I should have gone with a darker red. The pants are HUGE; I should have gone down a size. The stencil is a little big; 3″ would have been better than 3 1/2″, I think. But even with those things, I am enormously pleased with the way this turned out. I feel it looks very much like De Landro’s design, and I’m really happy with it.

So… are YOU woman enough to survive Bitch Planet?

Knowing When to Revise Plans

Free Comic Book Day is less than two weeks away, and my cosplay is not complete. My original idea is one that (I thought) sounded very cool and different, and I bought the pattern and (not inexpensive) fabric for it. Once I got Tim the Enchanter more or less done except for the accessories, I panicked. Was my concept clear? Did it make sense? Was I going to be able to pull it all together, and pull it off? So I procrastinated…

Then I looked at the calendar and panicked again, and went to my stash to find enough fabric to do a muslin of the pattern, because the material was too expensive to screw up with, if I messed up. I found some, and set out to make my mock-up. Things went really well until I got to lining the bodice — something I’d never done before. The directions made no sense, and after ripping out seams four times, roping Marc into reading the instructions and looking at the diagram (he said they were bad, too), and trying to find YouTube videos that would give me some insight, I gave up and did it my way. After a few really frustrating days, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t have time or enough skill to make my original idea come to life, plus my concept was still not solid enough (and I need to work on that).

Talking to a friend, he suggested that I do Zoot from Castle Anthrax — then Marc and I would be cosplaying from the same movie, even, and the lines of Zoot’s dress are simple. So, off we went to the fabric store… only to determine that the fabric I would have to buy to make it look right (even on sale, or with a coupon) was still more than I was willing to spend after I already spent a pile on the stuff for the original idea. We even went to the thrift store, looking for less expensive fabric there (no dice).

So! Plan C was the simplest one yet, and even it has had complications. I’m making the prison coveralls from Bitch Planet, but I couldn’t find a convenient coverall pattern that looked like what I wanted, so I am using pajama pants (or you could use scrubs) and drafting the bib and straps that will go with it. I’m using budget-friendly red broadcloth (on the theory that they’re not likely to spend good money on quality fabric for prisoner’s uniforms, anyway) and will get the tan/beige/grey shirt to wear under it at the thrift store. Painting “NC” (Non-Compliant, the “crime” that got them sent to the facility in the first place, for those of you not reading this comic) will be the only other thing I need to do.

bitchplanetcover

So what complications have I run into? Well for starters, the pajama pattern that I thought I was going to use turned out to be a size for child/teen (I really hate those letter size codes). The pattern was actually one I bought in a bundle at Goodwill, and it would be great, if I was a skinny little teenager like my daughter… but I’m not. So I checked my pattern file on the off chance that I had a pants pattern that might work, and I actually had a pajama pattern that I’d forgotten about, that had pants. I have them cut out, and I think I have it worked out how I want to do the bib, so today is a sewing day. Hopefully I’ll have finished pictures next time.

Anyway, here’s my advice:
* Know your limitations. Know when to back away from an idea, and go to Plan B. Know when to go to Plan C, for that matter.

* Try not to procrastinate too much, but if you are procrastinating, consider why. In my case, I was avoiding the task because I didn’t think my skill level was up to the challenge, and my concept was too nebulous. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I was unable to complete the muslin as directed and nearly burned the thing in the yard in frustration.

* Know when your budget cannot handle the burden of that awesome cosplay, when compromising on the fabric means compromising the whole look (and know when you can compromise, substituting the less expensive stuff and saving your budget, without sacrificing your look). If you’re not sure, the people at the fabric store can help with this.

* Know when to step back. If it’s not fun anymore, if you’re tearing out your hair (or burning things in the yard), then it might be time to step away from the machine and take a break. I haven’t scrapped my original idea, I still love it, I just need to flesh it out better, and get a better handle on what the hell they’re trying to get me to do with that bodice lining… And I still love Plan B, and will be on the lookout for inexpensive fabric to make that, too. It’s not like cosplay opportunities expire, right?

Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 4)

Welcome back! In this installment, we’re going to talk about the fourth-most important thing to consider when photographing cosplay: Angle and Perspective. (If you missed any prior installments: Part 1Part 2Part 3.)

Angle and perspective is just what it sounds like – what angle is the camera at relative to the subject, and what perspective does it create?

Here’s an image with a really, really flat/square/straight perspective:

The camera is facing subject straight on, and with little or no angle either horizontally or vertically. This results in a classic portrait-style image, with no part of the cosplayer given particular emphasis (or de-emphasis.) Most of your pictures will be shot like this, for obvious reasons. But like everything else, it needs to be deliberate. If you’re shooting from a classical portrait perspective, then get it right.

Square up. Make sure you’re not too high or too low. If you’re a lot taller than the cosplayer (I almost always am) hunker down a bit. Ideally your lens would be even with the center of the subject – for example, if you’re shooting a person who’s standing up, you would want your lens about even with their waist. This is why when I take pictures of people, even just quick snapshots, I almost always kneel. That way the center of the image is even with the center of the lens, and the sensor is perpendicular to them, so there’s no perspective distortion. It’s okay to be a bit off, but the closer you are to them, the more difference it makes.

If you’re not going for a pure straight perspective, again, do it deliberately, and think about what you’re doing. Here’s a picture we’ve seen before:

I chose to shoot this image from below the level of the subject. Although the model is still clearly visible, the angle emphasizes the crate and the message written on it to some extent, which helps counter the fact that the crate is much less visually interesting than the model and the eye would be drawn to her first if the shot had been taken from a purely straight perspective. It also draws out the door behind the model, making the entire image slightly surreal. (Remember, like I said last time: The failure mode of “surreal” is “pretentious and/or stupid.” Use discretion.)

The thing to remember about perspective is this:

  • Things that are bigger look closer.
  • Things that are closer look bigger.
  • The eye gives more attention to things that look bigger or closer.

So if that cosplayer has an amazing helmet on, shoot from as high as you can. Maybe even have them kneel down and you shoot from head height. From that angle, the helmet will seem closer, which will make it seem bigger, which will make it the focus of the shot without completely removing the rest of the costume from the image. Likewise, if they have some super-cool boots that you want to emphasize, have them stand and you get as low as you can. (Maybe even put them on some steps and you get below them!) Shoot up slightly, and the boots will be emphasized because the lower portion of their body is closer to the camera and will therefore look bigger.

This is also a very, very useful technique to help cosplayers (or any subject) look their best. Shooting from relatively high or relatively low will tend to stretch out the body, making the figure seem more slender. Shooting from up high draws attention to the face. Shooting from down low draws attention to the legs. Shooting from straight on draws attention to the body as a whole. What do you want to emphasize? What does the cosplayer consider the most important features of the costume? Get that part closest to your camera, and it will jump out at the viewer without having to crop the field of view so that only that part is visible.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that you find it useful in future. Please check out the other parts of this series and the rest of our articles here on Sew Your Cosplay!

You are welcome to ask questions in the comments and/or by emailing me at any time. Thanks for reading!

Marc

Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 3)

Welcome back! In this installment, we’re going to talk about the third-most important thing to consider when photographing cosplay: Environment. (If you missed any prior installments: Part 1Part 2.)

Every photograph tells some kind of story. After making sure that the photograph is respectful, and that it’s lit the way we want, now we are starting to consider the story of the photograph. (That is, the story which is external to the inherent story of the cosplay.)

Environment is the surroundings of your cosplay subject – everything in the picture, basically, that isn’t your cosplayer. When you are taking professional cosplay pictures, you usually either try to find a really appropriate location (like, say, Doctor Evermor’s Forevertron, where I would give my eye teeth to photograph some really rad steampunk cosplay) or photograph against some kind of very plain and uninteresting background Usually this is just seamless paper hung from a rod, or walls painted white. The former is just called “seamless” and the latter is sometimes called a “cyc.” (Pronounced like “psych.”) As an example, here are two models shot on seamless, which is literally just a 9 food wide roll of heavy white paper, and a model shot on a crate I found next to the loading dock of a place where I used to have a studio.

   

The model with the dreads is the same model in both shots – quite a bit of difference, though! In the first shot, the models and their unusual makeup/clothing/actions are the entire focus – they are the story. In the second, while the model is striking, she’s part of a story. The environment tells the rest – and tells us that there’s probably more to the story that we don’t know.

You may not have ready access to either an amazing set or a nice clean seamless drop, but they are great examples of the two basic approaches to using environment in cosplay. Namely, minimization and utilization. If you’re minimizing environment, you want your cosplayer to be the story. If you’re utilizing the environment, you want your cosplayer to be in the story. Although there are no absolutes in photography, these are some pretty firm opposites. Try to decide which you’re doing, and do it as best you can.

If you’re minimizing, minimize. Remove every distraction you possibly can. Look around. Consider what, within the available environment is the plainest, least-distracting possible backdrop. Is there a white wall around? How about a brick one, or one with large, regular tiles or other interesting but not distracting elements? Never underestimate the power of a good brick wall to provide a background that punches up the photograph but doesn’t distract from the cosplayer:

Where can you stand to have the absolute minimum of furniture, equipment, or other people visible in the shot? Can you use nothing for the background (in other words, shoot against a window or the sky itself?) Example:

This was shot on a rooftop: from any other direction, there would have been buildings much closer as opposed to the ones visible in the far distance. However, I wanted the emphasis on the cosplayers. Had it just been one, especially with a more subtle costume, I might have used the buildings to make the image more visually interesting. Here, it’s not necessary – they’re already a highly interesting group.

If you’re utilizing, be bold. Drop that cosplayer in the environment. Make them part of it. (Although it can be clear, as in my crate picture above, that they don’t belong in it, but rather they are something extraordinary which is nevertheless in that environment. It’s okay to look weird: try not to look fake.) Here’s one of the models from the picture above in a much more utilized environment.

In this picture, the model is much more integrated into the backdrop of the city. She’s sitting on a rooftop, with other buildings nearby. You can imagine her looking for someone on the street below, or moving above the crowds unseen. She looks much more human, more a part of her environment, than she did in the first picture. In the first picture, you knew she (and the other models) were badasses. The picture was about their badassery. This one’s different. You wonder how she got there, what she’s doing, where she’s going. But it’s still appropriate for her badass self. The same model, photographed in, say, a kid’s park, would still be badass, but the story wouldn’t make sense. (Unless you were going for surreal. I love a good surreal image, but remember that the failure mode of “surreal” is “pretentious and/or stupid.” Use discretion.)

There are some good examples of the two approaches to a pre-arranged cosplay shoot. What about if you’re just walking the Con? Then what?

Exactly the same thing, that’s what. Here are some examples taken at an auto show, which is kinda like a Con in that it’s utterly chaotic and not very inclined to arrange itself to help you. :

 

In the first example, the model is against a weird sort of patterned wall thing that I found. (In the compressed version here, it’s a bit moire’d. It’s not so bad in the full size.) Interesting, but with no other actual objects to distract from the model. In the second, she’s in front of a fancy sportscar, looking fancy herself, and with the large ad slogan-which happens to be completely appropriate for the image-placed to make it part of the story, just like the car and the model herself. That’s the whole of it, right there. In the first one, the model is the story. In the second one, she’s in a story.

So, to sum up, ask yourself that question – is my cosplayer in a story, or are they themselves the story? Do I want the environment to be part of the story I’m telling, a character in its own right? Or do I want it to simply be unobtrusive?

If you want it to be unobtrusive, minimize it. Look around, turn and move, to find the largest, plainest, most uniform environment you can.

If you want it to be part of the story, make the cosplayer look like they are in that environment for a reason, that they are moving through it, reacting to it. Use the environment. Make it do some work!

I hope you enjoyed this article and that you find it useful in future. Please check out the other parts of this series and the rest of our articles here on Sew Your Cosplay!

You are welcome to ask questions in the comments and/or by emailing me at any time. Thanks for reading!

Marc

Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 2)

Welcome back! In this installment, we’re going to talk about the second-most important thing to consider when photographing cosplay: Lighting. (If you missed the first installment, just click here.)

Photography, as we word-nerds know, translates as “writing with light.” Light is everything in photography. If it’s too dark, you can’t make a good photograph. If there’s enough light, the only problem is harnessing it. (If there’s too much light, we also have a problem but that’s much easier to deal with.)

So, first ask yourself: Is there enough light here?

If there isn’t, you have some options. The easiest one, by far, is to move to where there’s more light. Back up a few steps and get your cosplayer in the sunbeam coming through the front doors of the convention center, or closer to a lighting fixture.It doesn’t take much: what may not look like a very bright light to you might be more than your camera needs. Your brain automatically adjusts the apparent light level you see – the camera doesn’t. What looks like just a little more could be plenty. And you can be creative about using light fixtures. For instance, I wanted a dramatic shot of this model at a trade show. There were lights in the FLOOR. Problem solved!

8074_surreptitiousGet them out of the shadow they may be standing in. Move toward a large light-colored wall, which will reflect light from the room onto the cosplayer and illuminate them more strongly. Look for light. Go to the light. (However, if you see a small woman saying, “Come to the light, my children,” consider not getting any closer. And possibly fleeing. I’m just saying.)

Your second option is adding some light. Is there a light nearby you can turn on? Does your camera have a flash? Try it and see if it helps. Here are two pictures taken seconds apart. In the first one, there’s no flash – the background, where the stage lights are, is too bright and the dancers are too dim. In the second one, I turned on the flash (although it wasn’t aimed directly at them – see the upcoming “Equipment” post for information on bounce/indirect flash. It’s easier than it looks)

CRW_5835 CRW_5834

Big difference!

Your third option is helping your camera use what light there is better. Here are the potential adjustments you might be able to make to get more “light” out of your camera.

A) Does your camera have an aperture setting? This is usually labeled in f-stops or just “f” and then a number. Don’t worry about what the numbers mean: that’s advanced level. Just remember that the lower the number, the more light will get into the camera. At f4, a lot more light gets into the camera than at f16.  The “middle” of most f-stop ranges is f8, which is a nice compromise between letting in light and losing depth-of-field, which is the tradeoff you get when you use lower f-stops. (Not going to explain depth-of-field as it’s usually not that important in this kind of photography: Google it if you’re interested.) Start at f8 and go up or down from there. Changing the aperture – lowering the f-stop number – is usually the best bet for trying to improve your chances of a good picture in low-light situations. But not the easiest, because you still have to set it manually. Easiest is increasing the ISO setting – see below.

B) Does your camera have a shutter speed setting? If so, decreasing the shutter speed will let more light into the camera. If you go from 1/100th of a second to 1/50th of a second, you’ll get twice as much light! But the longer the shutter is open the more chance things have to move while it’s open. If the camera moves, you get camera shake, and the entire photograph will be blurry. If the subject moves, you get motion blur, and whatever moved will be blurry. Either way, blurry. Unless that’s what you want, blurry is bad. So try not to decrease the shutter speed any more than you have to to get the shot. This is why messing with shutter speed is probably the least good way to get more light.

As a rule of thumb, most human beings in reasonable health can handhold a shot at 1/60 of a second or faster without much difficulty. If you have to go lower than that, get as steady as you can and if at all possible get your subject to hold as still as they can. The best way to get steady is to use a tripod, but that’s obviously not good for spontaneous photography. (It’s WONDERFUL for planned photography. If you’re going do any serious photography, get a good tripod!) So short of that, improvise. Can you put the camera on a table? Can you sit down and brace against the arms of a chair? Can you lean against a wall or a pillar? Whatever you can do to get the camera steady, do it, and you can get away with surprisingly slow shutter speeds (I’ve successfully taken photographs handheld at 1/5 of a second with minimal blur, and acceptable photographs that just looked a little soft at lower speeds than that.)

C) Does your camera have an ISO-equivalence setting? That’s a number, usually starting at 50, 100, or 200, and going to anywhere from 800 to 25,600. What it means is “how sensitive do you want the camera to be to light?” The lower the number, the less sensitive. “Why don’t I just leave this turned up all the way all the time?” I hear you ask. The reason is that the higher the ISO setting, the “noisier” the photograph will be. “Noise” is the digital equivalent of grain in film photography – the picture gets less detailed and starts to look “speckled.” Noise isn’t inherently bad, but most of the time we want the least noise we can get away with, so we want the ISO setting as low as we can get it. Upping the ISO, especially higher than 400 or so, is our last choice. (ISO 400 or lower, in most modern cameras, is pretty darn good and noise shouldn’t be all that big a deal.) However, if a higher ISO makes the difference between getting a good shot and getting a picture that’s motion-blurred, shaky, and dark, up the ISO and be glad you can.

Here are two pictures, taken with everything exactly the same except the first was taken at ISO 100 and the second was taken at ISO 12,800 (which is as high as my camera goes.) No other adjustments, no added flash. Just changed that setting.

_MG_0201_7s _MG_0201

Again, big difference! Now, you can’t really see much in the first picture, but the second one does have some grain or noise – speckly distortion bits, to use a technical term. That’s the tradeoff. However as you can see modern cameras (and the camera that took that isn’t even that modern, as I took it several years ago) are pretty good about minimizing noise. So find that setting and go to town!

Another sort of compromise is to see if your camera has an “exposure compensation” setting. This is usually labeled “EV,” and you can move it up or down in increments. Moving it up will make the camera try to make the photograph lighter. Moving it down will make the photograph darker. Changing the EV is a lot easier than manually changing aperture, shutter speed, or ISO, so if you don’t want to monkey with manual settings, look for EV and give that a go first. Note that many less expensive cameras which may not have manual setting mode will still have EV settings. Even some high-end cell phones have it. Find it. Play with it.

Once you’ve got enough light, look at where the light is coming from. Is it right behind the cosplayer? Is it right behind the camera? Is it to one side or another? Whichever it is, is that the best angle, and if not, can we move the light or the cosplayer? Moving the light is often tricky. If you’re in a convention center and don’t have your own lighting equipment, it ain’t gonna happen. So if you can’t move the light, move the cosplayer.

Here is an example of using the light you’ve got well, followed by an example of… not.

V0010_nefarious _MG_2767

Notice that in the first one, the light (from a large fixture) is coming from the subject’s right and in front of him. It lights up the important part – his face and hands – and provides dramatic shadows. In the second one the light is coming from directly above them. I did get the marvelous Malificent costume reasonably well lit, but that was at the cost of the shadows on their faces.

In my defense, the second picture was a candid. I did ask, and they were very gracious. But I didn’t want to wander them all around the con (this was GeekGirlCon 2014) to get perfect light. I just wanted a memento. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Don’t obsess over everything, and don’t think all your pictures have to be perfect. If you just want a picture of a cool costume to remember it by, ask and snap away. These tips are for when you need more than that, and to encourage you to be mindful of the light. And if I’ve helped make you more aware of how being mindful of light can enhance your photographs, they are a complete success.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that you find it useful in future. Please check out the other parts of this series and the rest of our articles here on Sew Your Cosplay!

You are welcome to ask questions in the comments and/or by emailing me at any time. Thanks for reading!

Marc

Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 1)

Hi there! I’m Marc, Wendy’s husband and co-conspirator here at Sew Your Cosplay! She thought it would be helpful if we had information on how to photograph cosplay. I mean, you went to all that work, why not get some nice pictures? Whether you’re photographing your own or someone else’s cosplay, this article will help you get the most out of your pictures.

Here are the elements I’m going to cover:

  1. Respect
  2. Lighting
  3. Environment
  4. Angle and Perspective
  5. Equipment

As you can see equipment is the last thing on the list, because it’s the least important, and I don’t want anybody to think for a second they can’t make cool photographs without an expensive camera. The great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, pioneer of “decisive moment” photography, once said, “The best photographer in the world is not as good as the worst camera.” As usual when it came to photography, he was right. If you know what you’re doing and are mindful, you will get better pictures out of your iPhone than someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing and isn’t mindful will get out of a multi-thousand-dollar DSLR with all the latest whizbangs. So don’t be afraid, grab your camera and let’s make some photographs!

Continue reading Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 1)

(Western) History

Do you ever try to put history in context with other things, the stuff they didn’t teach you in school? I’ve tried to put together a basic timeline that includes a little history, a little art, some books, some movies, major historical figures, and some patterns to help put everything in perspective. It is not exhaustive, and admittedly it’s pretty anglocentric — I’m going to remedy that ASAP. There’s so much more I need to add, but in order to make it readable, I had to be pretty selective about what I included.

My goal was to help you, as a costumer/cosplayer, get a better feel for the time and place your costume was from, if it’s coming from a time not now. To be honest, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for myself for a long time, so finding a site that enabled me to do it and share it was pretty fantastic. I hope you find it interesting and useful in your costuming!

It’s pretty enormous, spanning a couple years — beginning in 330CE with Constantinople becoming the capitol of the Eastern Roman Empire and goes all the way to 2263 to The Fifth Element. It can’t be embedded, so it will take you away from Sew Your Cosplay.

http://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/402296/Costumes-Culture/