Thursday 9 February 2023

Rob Summers Photography Interview

Rob Summers and Liz Castleman

The feeling of excitement and anticipation you get as a Cosplayer when you receive a message from a photographer you met at your last comic con is unreal. Having people want to photograph all the hard work, creativity, time and effort you’ve put into your cosplays is a wonderful feeling. A true compliment.

For me personally, I find a lot of joy in creating my cosplays. The planning of what I am going to do, the making process and seeing my ideas come to life. It’s not always plain sailing and it really is a case of trusting the process more often than not. I obviously enjoy wearing my creations at conventions, but that is only a small factor of the experience in the cosplay world.

What we cosplayers don’t often think about is the point of view from a photographer attending the same conventions. What their preparation is, their thought process and the creation of their art work. As a cosplayer it is easy to forget how much work goes into photography. It isn’t just rocking up with your camera, taking a few photos and sending them out into the world. There is so much that goes into being a photographer. The equipment, the physical endurance of attending a convention and shooting with many cosplayers, the hours upon hours of reviewing and editing photos.

I wanted to find out more about cosplay photographers and their experience with the cosplay community, so I arranged a meeting with Rob Summers Photography during MCM October in 2022 to ask him some questions about his experience with photography.

Cosplayer: Katiedoescosplay

ow long have you been doing photography?

I first bought my digital camera at Uni about 24 years ago, one of the original 1megapixel digital cameras but I just liked taking pictures - essentially snapshots of nights out and goofing around with mates. Basically, before people had mobile phones inbuilt camera. I loved the technology of cameras; fast forward a decade I kept buying cameras but rarely used them. I’d buy a camera and a lens but not use it, then a year later I’d buy another one because of new technology. Since I’ve got into cosplay photography, that i focus on the ergonomics of the camera to enable me to shoot comfortable with my disability. By doing this it allows me to unleash my creativity.

That’s awesome. That kind of leads me into my next question actually - what drew you to photography and Cosplay photography?
Initially the technology. I like the idea of being able to capture that moment in time. Then I got more involved in model photography and starting learning about light, and the effect it had on the atmosphere of the image. So this started my collection of soft boxes as they allow you to really control the light.

Soft boxes really do make the difference between a simple snapshot and a really dramatic pose, or using a slither of light you can completely change the story and the vibe. I really like that. But I never had anyone to shoot with, so I had all these ideas and if I wanted to shoot with a model, you’d have to pay money and it was an expense I couldn’t afford. I went to MCM a year ago, my first convention taking photos and everyone was just so nice. You could tell everyone put so much work into their cosplay, they wanted to be photographed and they were happy to have an input into the picture. It wasn’t just like me taking a picture worrying about technology, it was more about the creativity and the collaborative process.

Yeah, I get that. The cosplay scene is a community isn’t it. You get that sense?
That is a big part of it, we’ve made friends in the cosplay community. It’s nice to have a chat. You bump into so many people. Not even just working with them as a photographer, you say hello and having fun.

Cosplayer: Ley Ley Cosplay

Whose work has influenced you the most?
Hmm. I might have to come back to that one.

No that’s fine. I always used to love Rankins photos. I did photography at college, and I heavily relied on his work for my inspiration for mine.
Oh, I suppose. It’s not so much who has influenced me. My inspiration is being able to see my skills improving, experimenting, and seeing inspiration on Instagram. Though there is one photographer called Monaris, she is a street photographer, it’s her use of colour that I love - her colour grading on street photography makes it look so cinematic. I would love to do that for cosplay . She’s only been shooting for a couple of years I think, and she is already phenomenal. She has her own style, and it is amazing. I would love to shoot like that. 

It sounds like you influence yourself as well. The more you grow the more you learn, you gain more confidence in yourself.
I must admit, my brain is wired in a way that I’m not really able to visualise stuff that well, so I take the pictures and then when I am editing it that is when I get my inspiration and I start playing around with colours, light and applying different effects, but I don’t have the idea at the start of the shoot. As my confidence has grown , I’ve started talking to the cosplayer to try and get an idea of the character and take it from there. But really It’s when I look at the photos and I’ll see one and just think that’s the one I want to edit.

What is your favourite thing about going to conventions?
I’d say that has changed. It used to be photography, now it is seeing friends I’ve made at various cons. From the money side of things - with the cost of hotels, travel etc, unfortunately there maybe some conventions I don’t attend and opt to do location shoots instead. But it is so nice seeing so many people and such a good vibe.

If you weren’t a photographer, what would you cosplay?

I would cosplay pinhead from hellraiser.

Cosplayer and Writer for this article!

Good choice!

But again, I’ve yet to do that yet. I would do it but…

You should, at least one time!
I’d have no idea where to start.

You’ve got lots of friends, we’ll help you! Having worked with you both at Secret Con, I can tell there is a lot of trust and mutual respect with each other. What are the advantages to working together? What are the cons?
I shoot with my fiancĂ© Liz Castleman Photography as a duo. When we first started cons Liz was my assistant holding the light stand or whatever. But as her confidence has grown she’s leading on more and more shoots. The pro for me is I am really bad with anxiety and speaking to people, whereas she will go up to someone and say ‘do you want to work with us’ and greet people. That was really important in our first year. Now I have more confidence and I know people, we don’t have that issue as much.

Yeah, I get that. The anxiety can be hard. What tips do you have for models wanting to shoot with you?
Just say hello I suppose.

What are some of the most important skills a photographer should have?
To be a really good portrait photographer i think you have to really understand lighting, composition but most importantly be able engage with the subject. Ensure that they remain focused and don’t drift into their own world which can affect the spark in their eyes.

When you go out to do a shoot, do you take any other essential items other than a camera and a lens?
Depends on the shoot. If it is an interior shoot then lights, your flash. If it is a location shoot, we’ve learned that gear isn’t that important. If you are a good photographer, you can visualise it and you can use a cheap camera. I mean I’ve seen some people take amazing photos with their phones, its about a good eye for detail - as long as the pose / expression is decent the chances are the photo will be amazing.

We have started to bring our pug to shoots which always brightens everyone day.

It is amazing what some people can do with their phones. Among the photography gear you’ve purchased, what is your favourite thing and why?
Ah, it is actually a new edition. Just started using it since yesterday, I now bring along an iPad. I tether it to my camera so the cosplayer can see the photos as they’re being taken so they can make adjustments, go through the photos on a large screen and see if there is something they don’t like, they can change it. Or if they like it, they can decide to do more of that. Whereas on the small camera screen it can be really difficult to see - especially in direct sunlight. That has been great.

Cosplayer: Pastelscout.cos

And that is a wrap! Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. We can’t wait to see more of your work in the future! Head over to Rob Summers Photography and his partner Liz Castleman Photography Instagram pages to check out more of their work!

*All photos are provided by and taken by Rob Summers Photography



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