Nerd Caliber
Nerd Lifestyle Magazine


Cosplay & Style

March 22, 2012

The Photography of “SoulCrash” Ron

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Written by: E. Ortiz
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“SoulCrash” Ron aka Ronald Ladao has been involved in photography, including cosplay photography, for over ten years. In his interview with us today, he shared with us about he “accidently” became involved in photography, the issues cosplayers face today, cosplay evolvingfrom the underground to the mainstream, and useful tips for novice photographers who want to advance to the next level of picture-taking.

*****

Tell us about yourself. What were some of your major influences growing up?

I’m “SoulCrash” Ron Ladao, age 27, I’m a car parts resale representative for Toyota. But people mostly know me as the photographer that goes to (mostly anime) conventions. For major influences… I don’t really have one. Yet, the people whom I interacted with give me the stride to become a better photographer. From them I understood what people like in a picture, or just in life in general.

Describe how you were first acquainted with cosplay and photography?

How I first became acquainted with cosplay… It was because of my older sister, who videotaped the FIRST Anime Central back in 1998. Watching that tape made me wanna go to Anime Central the following year with a video camera and film the cosplay contest. I think it was a message from an AOL (America Online, for the younger generation) message board where someone asked for a copy of the Anime Central cosplay contest. I took on the reply, and later that became the very first cosplay friend I had. And because of him, I borrowed one of his cosplays, which happen to be Ash Ketchum from Pokemon. And the rest is history. I guess that’s how I started cosplaying.

As for photography, it really first started back in high school when I did yearbook photos on a Canon SLR (not DSLR) camera. Then that stopped and I went through automotive school for… what else, Automotive Technology. I landed a job in a Toyota car dealership.

As time passed, I was hanging with one my cosplay buddies. One of them had a Nikon DSLR camera. I checked his out, played with it a bit. But that wasn’t the kicker on how it happened…

It all happened when I bought a Scion from work, after a car accident with my Toyota Corolla. I somehow joined a car club and became their “media specialist” because I was the guy with a really good video camera. Cause of that “title,” I had a random urge to get a DSLR camera. I listened to my radio during my drives and heard a radio ad for the Nikon D60 camera. Without paying much attention towards the review for that camera, I bought it just on impulse. When I first bought it, it was during a club meeting. Took some random shots and then one of my members informed the other members that there’s a car gathering down the road at another dealership. Without any proper training on how to use a DSLR camera, I went towards the event. The owner of that dealership thought I was l33t and asked me to take some shots for them and I was like… @.@ wut?? Did a few shots with some of the knowledge that I previous knew and that’s about it from there.

My curiosity of the Nikon D60 DSLR camera kicked in. I took that camera with me when there was a cosplay hangout and took a few candid shots. I started understanding about shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. I learned what RAW is and how much impact it can do in a photo during post processing. Then learned how flash can be used and modified. Every time I used it, every mistake I made, I learn something new on my own. Yet, it didn’t give me an understanding of what I’m doing.

My cosplay peeps started liking what I shot with just a basic consumer brand camera. That’s where most of my pride came from for my photography.

What is the allure of cosplay? Why do you feel cosplay is becoming more popular worldwide?

I think the community aspect was my allure to cosplay. The cosplayers I hung out with away from the cons have some interesting stories about their cosplay knowledge and skills.

As for why I think cosplay is becoming more popular worldwide, I haven’t thought about it much. If I have to take a guess, it is the (underground) coverage it gets. It’s like an easy way to get notice if you have the mad sewing/craft skills, or the (I hate to say this, but I’m going to be honest) sexiest body to show off. :l

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen happen to the cosplay community in the last ten years?

I gotta say it’s the accessibility on the cosplays. Back in the early 2000s, when cosplayers had no cosplay sewing skills, they had to rely on store bought cosplays. It’s stupid easy to cosplay characters from Lupin the 3rd, or Nabeshin of Excel Saga (and the other series that he appeared in).

Now-a-days you can find a good amount of tailors that cater to cosplays, or find a pre-made cosplay for a reasonable price. But, those pre-made cosplay isn’t what you think the quality will be. Like that one time where I cosplayed as Naruto. I ordered a “large size” version of it. The neck size was too small, but the pants was 3 sizes too big…. wtf… ._.

So pretty much anyone can cosplay now-a-days regardless of skill….

What has been the worst or best experience so far as a cosplay photographer?

I gotta tell you my WORST experience as a cosplay photographer. It happen to me last year at Anime Central 2011. So it was Friday afternoon of the con. I was just doing what I do best. Then I made the call to whip out some new mods that I got for my camera. It was a Pocketwizard FlexTT5 + MiniTT1 wireless flash triggers for my Canon 580exII. So I put the pocketwizard to my 580exII flash. Everything was going fine. Then after 100 shots of use, my flash wasn’t producing the right amount of power to my flash when I’m in ETTL mode. It kept on blasting on full power causing my shots to way overexpose. Took me a few days after the con to find the problem. Only way to resolve it is send it in to Canon and get it fixed. Lucky that I bought it 2 months before the con, so I had a warranty on it. To put it in smaller words, I had equipment problems during the con.

For the Canon peeps who wanna know more about this little incident that I had. Here’s a thread about it because I’m not the only one who had this problem: http://www.flickr.com/groups/pocketwizards/discuss/72157623362956049/

As for BEST experience as a cosplay photographer, it is when people know who you are and what you can do. Sometimes, the smaller conventions like ScrewAttack Gaming Convention or RamenCon asked me if they can use my pics for their convention webpage. I’m like, okay, cool. Yeah, I may not get much credit for it or whatever but at least I can proudly say that my pics have been published. So yeah, the feeling of having my pics published feels awesome. Even when people uses my pics as their profile pics.

Do you think cosplay becoming more mainstream is a positive or negative thing? Do you foresee any dangers to the culture?

I gotta say negative on this one. Remember when I said earlier, “(I hate to say this, but I’m going to be honest) sexiest body to show off.” That pretty much sums up what I’m about to say.

Back when it was “underground,” we didn’t have much problems from prop size restriction, worrying about a****les, or (I guess) attention detail to their cosplays. When things became more “mainstream,” the problems become visible. Having cosplay more mainstream feels like high school all over again.  Blah, I really don’t know how to fully explain this even though I’ve been part of the community in the midwest for this long.

What mistakes would you advise novice photographers not to make?

As stated on my worst cosplay photography experience, if you’re a bit more serious of cosplay hallway photography, consider becoming more than a novice. I say have two of everything, if you happen to have extra cash for extra gear, like two camera bodies, two lens, two flashes. Murphy’s Law will kick your ass when you don’t expect it to… ><

When you post process, don’t add in too much of everything. From nuking the exposure to nuking the color vibrance. Post processing a RAW file pic is like cooking in a way. Just add in the right amount of adjustments, and the pic will be as good as food. Or sometimes adding less is good, like doing black & white pics or fading colors.

Lastly for the novice and intermediate level photographer, try to not bumrush a shoot. Pay attention to detail on the cosplayer from costume to face, and pay attention to your shot and camera settings. At least give yourself 10 seconds to check out the shot you took and make the adjustments you have to do.

What exactly makes a photograph a work of art, in your opinion?

This is going to be a hard one for me to answer. I didn’t have much of an art background when I first started doing this. I just take random photographs. Sometimes a good photograph can be as simple as having a cellphone cam, and snapping the right shots at the right moment. Some random “elite artist” will think something like a simple cellphone camera can’t be considered art. We already have random splatter painting from an elephant to random garbage (as in garbage garbage) displayed as art. If the critic artist thinks that’s art, why not a simple cellphone cam shot? (I’m just saying.)

What challenges do you face in your shoots? How do you overcome them?

Most of the time it comes from cosplays from a series that I’m not familiar with. It makes it hard for me to pose the cosplayers. To overcome this, I have the cosplayers give me something they know from the series, and from there I can mold them to make it look good.

What camera(s) do you use and why? Which programs do you use to enhance to your photos?

My current camera of choice as of now the Canon 7D with a Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8. The reason why I went Canon 7D instead of the Canon 5D mark II is the Canon 7D can go 60fps (but at 720p), but the 5D doesn’t have it. Also, at the time, I had enough cash for me to get a Canon 7D. Yup, that’s the reason why I went with the Canon 7D body.

As for the lens, I needed something that has a good balance for wide angle shots to portrait shots and also gave that bokeh that I needed, and manage to get reasonable good shots in low light situations.

Just recently, I accquired a Canon 60D. There’s going to be some tricky blind shots where I need to have extend my arm, and do some blind firing. With the swivel screen the Canon 60D has, it’ll make my job much easier. If I attach a monopod and a remote, I can get some interesting prospective shots of the con. Also the Canon 60D can use my Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 EF-S lens. It uses SD cards, which happens to be compatible with the Eye-Fi cards which can be useful for certain situations.

As for post processing, I use Adobe Lightroom 3. Yeah, I could use Photoshop CS5, but I don’t have the cash to buy PS CS5. Yet as a photographer, Lightroom is all I need. It does a great job processing raw files, and the noise reduction on it is REALLY good! So if I happen to have to shoot at a 1000 iso, I can still manage to get my shots to look like it was shot at a 400iso. Also, I rarely do this. I also use Photoshop Element 10 just to use content aware on some spots, like facial errors on the cosplayer’s face to “unwanted detail.”

What is the correct way to use digital programs, in your opinion, when it comes to enhancing photos?

There’s really not a wrong answer for this one. It really goes towards the photographer (or retoucher) on what they think is good.

As for me, when I do post processing. I usually tweet the exposure level, keep an eye out on my histogram, pay attention to my tone/curves (blacks and lights). If I need a certain color to make the pic more alive, I’ll adjust saturation and luminance. And lastly if the pic looks grainy, I’ll smooth it out with noise reduction.

What projects are you currently working on?

I guess I can consider this as a project. I’m going to do a charity fundraiser cosplay photobooth for the guys at RamenCon this year. A good portion of the profits will go to whatever charity RamenCon is going to support. Last year, it was St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (correct me if I’m wrong on this). I wonder what they’re going to do this year. I did this last year with their charity anime auction, when I donated my photography services to the highest bidder. Kind of shock on how much I got bid on. But yeah, it was cool that I helped out, and awesome that I get to help them out again this year.

Where can someone contact you if they are interested in working with you?

Best way to do it is to  just add me on facebook, flickr, twitter, or Deviantart ( I mostly prefer facebook). I usually like to work people who are familiar with my work and my methods of getting stuff done.

Facebook = http://www.facebook.com/SoulCrash
Deviantart = http://thesoulcrash.deviantart.com/
Flickr = http://www.flickr.com/photos/rladao
twitter = https://twitter.com/rladao

If you guys don’t have either of those, just give me a shout out at the cons where I’m at. I like it when someone asks me to take a shot of them, than me asking them. I’ll admit that I’m a shy guy, and respect people when the time for a shot isn’t appropriate, like having a socible chat with someone, or when they’re at lunch and such.

Share with us three of your favorite pictures you’ve taken and share with us the stories behind them.

Here’s #1

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rladao/6480358651/in/set-72157628275123443

This pic was one of the pics that “put me on the map.” This was taken at SGC (ScrewAttack Gaming Convention) 2009. It was Saturday night, when things were kind of mellowed down on the con floor. Me, Marzgurl (from thatguywiththeglasses.com fame), and her buddies were bored. One of them saw the “Sumo sacks bean bag chairs” on the floor and dragged all the bags into one pile, and dived onto those bean bags. Then the other con-goers tagged along, and same goes with the Screwattack.com staff. Then when Jose el Mexicano was up, the other con-goers just doggypiled on top of him. And that’s how that pic happen. The guy up front, Angel, “The Director of AWESOME,” got in the way of the pic that I took and that’s how it turn out.

Pic #2

http://fav.me/d38md85

This is one of those shots where I wanted to keep it simple.

It was during U-Chi Con 2011. One of my buddies happened to cosplay as the Hunter from Left 4 Dead. Since we’re in a gothic structured area (University of Chicago, BTW), and it’s night time, I had idea to drag my buddy in the outside cold for this pic. I had previous experienced shooting in low light /night time. I mounted my camera onto my tripod, have one of my buddy’s buddy to hold the flash, set my camera to have enough exposure to capture the background and then… bam! Did some tuning on the pic and that’s the result.

Pic #3

http://fav.me/d1ma5sq

Sorry that this pic isn’t cosplay or anime related, yet this is one of the FIRST few pics that I took when I first owned my own DSLR camera. And it happened to be one of my favorites.

This pic was taken on the first day that I bought my Nikon D60. I was just taking random shots for the main guy who ran this event. I had my 55-200mm costumer telephoto lens. Since I had no clue how to fully use my Nikon D60 at the time, I had it on auto and on JPEG.  I knew how to frame a shot and from a distance I saw this frame up and snapped without realizing it. It felt like it had an odd impact. It has some detail that makes me think of what was going on in this pic. You see those two dudes just ignoring the couple in the front and the chick holding up the smokes. It’s one of those pics that makes you think about it. I think the original was shot in JPEG color, yet I readjusted it into black and white.

Everytime I look at this picture, it makes me feel sad that I’ve been single for 23 years… -.-



About the Author

E. Ortiz
E. Ortiz has been working as a freelance journalist, videographer and editor for almost ten years for many different organizations: from MoCCA to FUSE Music Television. Nowadays Mr. Ortiz is the brains behind Nerd Caliber and sometimes you can see him leading his team at conventions.




 
 

 
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