This awesome Photographer has some really good answers. Don’t miss the helpful hints they gave us.
HI, WHAT ARE YOU KNOWN AS?
My name is Matthew Pyle and I own and operate BeardedOkie Photography. I also recently started BeardedOkie Events as a sub-account on Instagram in order to have a place to post more con and event photos and keep my main page a little cleaner and more dedicated to actual photoshoots.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BEVERAGE?
I really love flavored water and tea (iced and hot).
TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF.
I’m a Cosplay Photographer based in Oklahoma City. I have been the official photographer for cons across 5 states. I’ve been published multiple times in magazines and papers. I work two full-time jobs including photography, and I look forward to the day I can just do photography. I enjoy meeting new people, hanging out with friends,
When did you start cosplaying?
I haven’t really. I have dabbled in it a little over the last few months, but haven’t really put anything together and done it yet. I’d like to at some point.
What got you into photography?
My parents ran a photography business when I was young. I started dabbling in photography when I was about seven years old. I’ve shot most of my life, but I only got really serious about forming my own business about 3 years ago.
What made you go into cosplay photography specifically?
When I was young, I was basically Peter Parker. Not Spider-Man. Peter Parker. The nerdy young kid that got bullied constantly. The kid that spent most of his time alone. You know the type. I always felt connected to Peter, and as you probably know, Peter was a freelance photographer that took pictures of superheroes and villains. I remember being young and thinking about how cool that would be. I wasn’t ignorant enough to believe that the superheroes were real, but I always thought it would be awesome to get people to dress up as those heroes so I could photograph them as if they were. I always figured it would be an impossible task. Then, several years later, cosplay really caught on and suddenly that was an actual option.
How long have you been doing photography?
What types of cosplay do you like to shoot?
I love almost all of it, but my absolute favorite is the classic American comic book. The characters that bring a sense of hope, wonder, and nostalgia back to the viewer. Your classic JLA or JSA characters on the DC side and Spider-Man, Avengers, and X-Men on the Marvel side.
What is your photo shoot goals, or something you would love to shoot?
My long-term photography goal is to build a business that I can retire into and do full time. As for short-term shooting goals, I have a few themed group shoots I am toying with, and there are always individual characters that have significant sentimental meaning to me that I would like to do. I hope to find some quality cosplayers I can work with regularly on some upcoming projects.
What is your favorite kind of cosplay photo shoot?
I’m known for doing a lot of “on-location” shoots and finding locations that really match the character I am shooting. I love exploring, walking around and just taking a few hours to get to know someone better as we play around and enjoy getting some fun shots. I’ve shot in burned-down buildings, woods, urban areas, mountains, canyons, lakes, and rivers and had great results. That being said, lately, I have been doing some studio stuff that has been really fun. It seems to go a lot quicker, and gives me more artistic control over things like lighting that lets me easier emulate the story I am wanting to tell with that particular photo.
What do you love about cosplay photography?
I love the variety for one. Not only are there SO MANY characters available, there are countless variants of each of those characters. Everyone has an image pop into their head when I say “Batman” but that image might be slightly different for everyone. From comics to cartoons to video games to TV to movies, there are a lot of different versions of that character. Those variants create a different look, feel, and mood. I enjoy helping to develop and capture that cosplayer’s vision and artform in my own art.
What is the most difficult thing for you about cosplay photography?
This is somewhat of a tie, so I will name both. 1) I typically become friends with most of the cosplayers I am around very easily. This, plus the fact that I enjoy myself makes it very hard to charge them what I should be charging them, which makes it really hard to run a business and to obtain new equipment that I need to better myself professionally and artistically. 2) Sometimes I feel constrained by the character that I am shooting. If I am shooting an “Adam West” style Batman for example, then I (and the cosplayer) will typically feel that it needs to stay bright and campy, in tradition with that particular character. So if I am wanting to get creative in a dark and dramatic look, I just have to wait. Add to this that there are so many characters I don’t know, it can be a chore to try and research them ahead of time to know what I am going to need for a location or mood of the shoot. This is especially true when you get into the outskirts of anime, or into the anime-style video games. I’ll do everything I can to make that cosplayer’s vision come alive, but sometimes that takes an extreme amount of communication and planning.
Do you have any camera equipment you can’t live without?
Depends on the format of the shoot.
On con floors, I love my mini softbox for my flash.
For outdoor on-location shoots, I can’t live without my reflectors.
In my studio, I love my boom light.
If you could live in or visit any fantasy world, where would you go?
That depends. If I could move into the Marvel Universe and gain a superpower to keep me safe while performing my photography, I’d be all over that. Otherwise, without any powers, I think I’d rather just recreate those scenes here.
If you could give cosplayers tips about working with a photographer, what would they be?
I actually give a panel on this and have a hard time condensing that information into an hour. There is so much to cover. Here are a couple highlights, though:
1) Practice your poses and facial expressions in advance! Have an idea of what suits your character and get that pose (along with the attitude) down! Practice in front of a mirror. Practice these poses in costume so you can know the limitations of your body and costume when it comes to those poses.
2) Make and bring props for your costume! Props open up so many options when it comes to shooting.
3) Take a handler with you! This is for safety reasons (don’t go off alone with someone you don’t know) and to help you. You may need help getting in or out of a costume. You may need someone to carry your stuff. And you may need someone to help watch out for things the photographer may not notice. If I am shooting with you, I am watching my camera settings, light, background, framing, pose, expressions, etc. I may not see a lock of your hair fell out from under your wig or that hot-glued seam came undone.
4) Watch the weather! Be safe and take care of your costume. if it is 105 degrees outside, you might not want to wear that oversized full set of armor. If it is windy and raining, that 7-foot cardboard sword might not survive.
What are your “fandoms”?
Marvel and DC are the biggest by far. I consider myself a Marvel guy overall, but the nostalgia of DC puts them at the top of the list also.
What is something you wish cosplayers knew about working with a photographer?
A photographer is looking at how to transfer a 3D image of real life into a 2D image of a photograph and still make it look like it has a depth to it. Sometimes a pose that you really want may not quite work out in a 2D photo, but usually, a photographer can work with you to tweak it for a camera. Sometimes people are hard-set on what they want and won’t listen to or work with the photographer, and then blame the photographer when they are disappointed with the results.
What misconceptions do you feel cosplayers have about working with a photographer that you’d like to clear up?
Most photographers feel that this is their art form. I commonly see cosplayers, in particular, get their photos done with a photographer and then turn around and slap some cheap in-phone special effects or filters on the photo before posting them as work done by that photographer. Personally, I have had some of my absolute favorite photos absolutely ruined by this, and have been embarrassed by the people posting it as my work (not to mention hurt that they didn’t feel my art was good enough for them as it was). Please keep that in mind when you are getting photos done, and talk to your photographer about anything you plan to do to the photos.
What is something you wish cosplayers knew before they booked a photography session?
The amount of time that goes into photos outside of actually taking them. For most photographers, every hour of shooting equals probably half an hour of sorting, at least two hours of editing (this doesn’t include any special effects), an hour of setup time, and probably at least an hour of research. So when it comes to cost, remember that every hour you pay for might actually be 5-6 hours of the photographers time. If you can’t afford the shoot, that’s ok, but it isn’t ok to complain about someone charging a certain hourly price for their art, especially when there is a lot of work that goes into it that you don’t see.
What is your creative process?
It depends on if it is a “for-me” shot or a “for-money” shoot.
If someone is hiring me for a certain shoot, I usually try to research the character in advance, get an idea of the mood and attitude of the character, look at art of that character and see if something strikes me. Maybe it is a certain location I want to use or a certain story arc that strikes me. My favorite shoots are the ones that convey an emotion or a story. But if the cosplayer has something, in particular, they want to be done, that’s what we focus on.
If it is a shoot that I am doing for myself because I am inspired or wanting to try a specific look or feel, that changes dramatically. These are the most fun shoots and typically involve working with friends that I can goof off and experiment with.
What are some proper etiquette tips for booking a photoshoot and participating in one?
Research your photographer in advance. Look at the work they have done, and decide if that style and quality are what you want. If so, don’t ask that photographer to do something drastically different. It is ok to ask in advance, but I have literally had people show up for shoots without their weapons/props or major parts of their costume and then ask me to just “Photoshop that in later.” I’ve also had people ask me to “CGI” an entire scene/background for them. If you look over my history of work, you can see pretty quickly that I don’t do that. But there are some amazing photographers that do, and if that’s what you really want, you should look for those photographers.
Also remember that when you book a block of time with a photographer, that is a block of time that the photographer can’t schedule someone else if you don’t show up or cancel at the last minute. This usually means money directly out of that photographer’s pocket.
Have some ideas on shots you’d lie to do and feel free to share them. If you have some fan art or cover art you’d like to try to recreate, send them to the photographer ahead of time and communicate what you are looking for. My best shoots are when the cosplayer has some ideas, I have some ideas, and then we collaborate to make those ideas come to life. My worst shoots are the ones where the cosplayer shows up and doesn’t know their character and has no idea what they want.
Remember that paying to have your photos done does not necessarily give you full rights to the photos, and you need to have an agreement with that photographer before you use them. For example, my typical agreement/contract allows the cosplayer to post their photos to their social media, but only if it is unedited and they credit me. It specifically forbids sells of those photos. If you are getting your photos done for commercial reasons (which includes selling prints) this is a different contract.
Where can people find your photography?
What is your greatest achievement (regarding cosplay photography)?
For June of this month, I shot and released a “Cosplay Pride” project. This was a project to celebrate and bring awareness to the LGBT+ community in cosplay and comics and consisted of me releasing 3 photos a day, every day in June, of a different LGBT+ comic character, for a total of 90 photos. This was a huge undertaking and involved around 50 people, several months of work, and very little sleep. Overall, it was a huge success and I feel it had a positive impact on our community and beyond.
What are some tips for photographers wanting to get into cosplay photography?
1) This is a big one: Remember that cosplayers are not usually models. Many cosplayers I work with have never had their photo professionally taken before. We work together and get great photos. However, I see a lot of other photographers struggle when their subject doesn’t have experience posing or doesn’t know certain technical terms. You have to be patient and know how to communicate your instructions to that person clearly and consistently.
2) Never ever ever touch your cosplayer/model without permission. This is something that a lot of people forget. Not out of malice, but just because it is quicker/natural to make a needed adjustment without thinking. A strand of hair across the eyes. A wig slightly askew. A head that needs to be tilted a certain way to catch the light. It just feels natural to want to make those adjustments, but always ask first.
Please remember I do not own any of these pictures and the opinions in this survey belong to the interviewee.