SoulfirePhotos – Artist Profile
Boring question out the way first, did you get into cosplaying, and how long have you been cosplaying?
I’ve been cosplaying since about 2006 I believe, I had a nice baptism by fire with Lulu from FFX. I ended up starting because a few of my friends were super into it and it was a great way to spend time with them and meet new people.
Out of all your cosplays, what was your favourite to make or wear? And your least favourite?
My favorite cosplay is a toss up between Riza Hawkeye and Torchwick – they are both so ridiculously comfortable and I can actually still do my photoshoots while wearing them!
But my least favorite is Ivy Valentine from Soul Calibur. I looked great, but man the combination of 5in stilettos and a lacefront wig in the middle of summer was a super bad decision.
What are your favourite, and least favourite aspects of cosplaying?
I live the fact that virtually no one can recognize me when I’m in cosplay. Honestly that’s my favorite part, I love surprising people. But holy cow I learned super fast that I can’t walk in heels to save my life. I can manage for about an hour or two, then they come off. No matter how great they look. The first time I wore my Ivy cosplay I actually sprained my ankle about two hours in!
Do you think you’ve had any real life side-effects from being a cosplaying?
I’m a lot more confident in who I am as a person, actually. Cosplay has helped me begin to fix my rather broken self-image.
What do you pride yourself on with your cosplays?
Posing and accurately portraying a character are two things I pride myself on. I’m pretty sure these developed in tandem with me as a photographer, because these two things are so important in a photo.
And when you’re choosing your cosplays, what influences your decisions?
I almost always have to feel a connection with the character in order to cosplay it. If I don’t love a character, I don’t cosplay them. I always joke that I’d be literally the worst magical girl ever – but no, I’m serious. I don’t connect with any of them in any series. I’d be the worst. Ever.
Now you’re arguably most known for your amazing cosplay photography. As someone who is primarily a photographer, any advice for cosplayers from a photographer’s standpoint?
I could probably write a term paper on this but let’s see if I can narrow it down.
Don’t work with a photographer you’re uncomfortable with, it shows in the photo. And if you’re in a shoot and feel uncomfortable, say so. The buddy system always is a plus for making sure you don’t feel uncomfortable in a shoot, and they can always help you leave if you do feel uncomfortable and are nervous saying something. There are some creepy/rude people out there, so safety in numbers. (Just make sure they don’t disrupt the shoot if you choose to stay)
When you’re fabric shopping, or if you order swatches online, take a photo with a camera flash to see how it reflects light (camera phones have a decent enough flash, you don’t need a nice camera). Save that picture. Memorize that picture. That is how 90% of the photos you find will look because most people don’t know how to photograph fabric with any sort of sheen to it, or even sequins. If you don’t like how that looks in your picture, find another fabric choice.
If you have any insecurities, tell your photographer beforehand so they can work with you to keep you as happy as possible with the resulting photos.
Practice posing in front of a mirror at least a bit. Sometimes signature poses feel a little strange when they look the most accurate – important things to note under this are also how to properly hold a firearm, and proper fighting stances. I’m luckily very familiar with both, so I am able to help my shoots. But not every photographer is.
Try to show up early or on time. And if you can’t show up on time for whatever reason, don’t hesitate to tell your photographer. Do so as soon as possible, they may be able to rearrange things to still be able to shoot with you.
Has your experience as a photographer influenced your cosplaying at all?
I always iron my cosplays. Always.
Wrinkles look terrible in photos. I’m also hyper-sensitive about wigs and how clean they look (cleaning up wig fibers in post processing is one of the most tedious things to do and it drives me insane).
What do you pride yourself on with your cosplay photography, and what do you look to achieve?
I’m always learning, and I’ll never stop learning. I do my best to work well with other photographers so I can learn from them, and they can learn from me. What’s the point of having knowledge if you can’t exchange it?
I’m also constantly trying new things. I don’t really have a notable style because I don’t like being creatively boxed in. I live being able to make people both laugh and cry with my work.
If you don’t feel emotion when looking at artwork then what’s the point?
What are some of the frustrating parts of cosplay photography?
I have had people post my work without crediting me, this happens on a near constant basis so I’ve gotten obnoxiously obvious with my watermarking. I also do a regular Google Image search at least twice a month to catch any major offenders.
Also, believe it or not, there’s a lot of gatekeeping in the photography community. I’ve run into more and more rude photographers who think they know better than you, and refuse to help out or give insight/tips on parts of their work. It’s really disheartening.
Do you have a particular process for your shoots?
I try to speak with my shoot [cosplayer] a few weeks beforehand to start throwing back and forth ideas. I research the series (if I’m unfamiliar with it) and put together an image board of inspiration and ideas, along with writing up a doc on what conversations have occurred. Sometimes I have a music Playlist that helps get me into the mindset I want for the shoot itself.
Then, once the shoot is done, that’s when the hard part starts. Most of the time I go in with an idea of how I want to process the images – but sometimes I don’t. That’s when I end up staring at my
photos for hours, drinking coffee, and wanting to bang my head on a wall until I figure something out.
Who has inspired you most for cosplay and photography?
Zhang Jingna and Von Wong are two photographers that heavily influence what I strive for in terms of photography.
Monty Oum has always been an inspiration and close friend, always will be. The talks we had have gotten me out of my worst times.
And last but not least, I work to surround myself with creative and positive people. They push me to keep going and keep trying new things. If I listed them, I’m pretty sure I could go on for hours. MindFall media, Mirzers, Mica Burton, Sheena Oum, Daniel, Atelier Heidi, Shane, Dillon, Suzanne, Burloire, Mariel, Tania, Resa, Brittany, Katie, Matt Norris, Sam and Mae, Rob and Alanna, Jeff and Casey Williams – just to name a few. I will fill up this page with influential people.
My friends keep me going, they give me ideas and inspiration. Don’t underestimate the value of who you surround yourself with.
What is your most ambitious shoot to date, or the shoot you are most proud of?
My flagship photo for my art shows is from a mountain trip I organized in 2014. The initial inspiration was Ophelia from Hamlet, and that shoot was such an undertaking with the hiking and the almost-hypothermia we faced after spending too long in the water that high in the mountains. But the photos were absolutely worth it.
Any last stage advice for cosplayers or cosplay photographers?
Always keep trying for more, learn new things, level up your skills. There is always something more you can learn, always ways to get to where you want to go, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t ever hold back.
Sonja is a cosplayer and photographer based in North Carolina, who is known for her beautiful and imaginative cosplay photography, and for her female Roman Torchwick which became the inspiration behind the character design of Neo in RWBY. For more of her work, you can find her at facebook.com/SoulfireStudio, or on twitter as @SoulfirePhotos.
Written by Riot Rogers (@_iron_wang) from the Rooster Teeth Community.