The Sanzo shoot was the second cosplay shoot I did in Taiwan during my trip there a few weeks ago. I had previously met enyen in 2012, when I did a shoot for No. 6 with Jermany and Pie, and she helped out during that shoot. This time, when I contacted her again about doing a shoot, we arranged to do a Sanzo shoot at a tea house in the Banqiao District called 逸馨園書香茶坊 (warning: auto-playing music on site).
It was actually quite interesting to start with, as we drove there, and it was a bit of an elusive place to find, hidden away in the middle of a smallish street, amongst a whole lot of other buildings – one wouldn’t have guessed on the road that a tea house and garden lay within.
We started off the shoot by ordering tea and snacks, and certainly there was a much more relaxed atmosphere as enyen got ready and we browsed pictures of her dog Leslie.
When it was time to shoot, I could see immediately that there would be issues with using over-much equipment, as not only was there quite a lot of foot traffic from the other guests at the teahouse, but we also had to deal with narrow corridors, choke points, etc. I still ended up using predominantly one light stand with my soft silver collapsible umbrella, and another flash on a mini-stand, bare bulb or gridded.
The challenge then was to really be very flexible with the way we shot, in order to best utilise the traditional settings, while working around limitations within the environment. As we were constantly moving around, having a relatively (for me) simple setup of just two lights meant I had to be really creative in the way I placed them. It take some time for me to find the “look” I wanted for the shoot (a lot of early shots were too evenly lit with the umbrella providing soft light for key, but missing the point of the character), but eventually I did find it.
For example, in this shot, I took it from across the garden using a 50mm lens (the longest I had for this trip), placed the umbrella to camera left (in front of the cosplayer), and the bare flash at her feet to separate the bottom half of the body from the darker tones of the wooden wall).
Or this shot, where the umbrella once again acted as key, but I placed the gridded flash precariously on the same ledge she is leaning on, in order to provide that extra splash of illumination for the wooden door, providing additional texture and additional lines leading to her revolver.
For this one, I really liked the bamboo patterns etched on the glass panes of the door, and since the little corner we were shooting in was fairly dark, and the room had recently been emptied, I asked one of the waitresses to place my bare flash on the table inside, face up. I then bumped up the power so it would bounce all around the room, allowing the light to come through the glass very softly, effectively constructing a room-sized softbox, while highlighting those leading lines and the bamboo patterns. In this case, the umbrella was relegated to fill.
And perhaps my favourite shot, done in an empty tea room that we snuck into. Of course, it was still daytime, but I really wanted to give that moody sort of look to the shot. I placed the umbrella outside, allowing it to shine in through the window behind the cosplayer, then double-gridded my other flash, placed it on the table aimed at her, pretty much full power to kill off most of the ambient, and went for it. The edge light from the flash outside the window was just enough to not just separate the cosplayer from the darkish wall, but also glanced off the tea bowl and revolver on the table, to complete the view of the character.
Post-processing wise, it was also a matter of breaking out of my usual comfort zone, or rather the instinct to “never make faces orange”. I decided a warm sepia kind of look really suited the character and the environment we were shooting in, and enhanced the mood of the images. As a result, I count this as one of my favourite shoots this year.
Shooting cosplay in Taiwan is really a very different experience. Sydney-based photographers and cosplayers may remember days when multiple groups would just happen spontaneously at popular and well-known locations like Cockatoo Island.
Well, in Taiwan, that pretty much happens most places. The number of photographers and cosplayers, and their sheer level of activity, means for both cosplay shoots I did there, we would rock up to a location, and encounter three or four other shoots happening at the same place. One group of cosplayers at the tea house basically fangirled enyen, and later on we also met an awesome photographer doing another shoot, Mr Rabbit who enyen will be working with later on.
Of course, most groups tend to keep to themselves, but they turn out quite friendly when approached.
The general public knowledge and tolerance of photography in Taiwan is also much greater than what we have in Australia. While shooting in the teahouse, we did get in the way of quite a number of guests and wait staff (besides, obviously, shooting in an private establishment), but I didn’t observe any kind of anger or annoyance or “commercial photography” bureaucracy – rather most reactions were curiosity and polite passing to and from. Even the type of curiosity is different – most people already know what cosplay is, but are rather curious about equipment setup and such things. Certainly a very different experience from say, the ironically named Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney, which has unfortunately taken on an anti-cosplay, anti-photography stance.
Overall, while it was pretty hard work to shoot in the heat and humidity of Taiwan summer (and I can’t imagine how enyen managed to look so cool and composed in the costume, while I was dripping in t-shirt and shorts), I really enjoyed the shoot. Special thanks to enyen for agreeing to the shoot and arranging it all, and to her parents for their magnificent hospitality and understanding.