Though Adam Walsh of Speed Force Photography has only been at it for a year, his name is well known in the Arizona cosplay community–and for good reason. Adam’s photos capture the cosplayer in their best light, and his ease and personality make him a pleasure to work with. After having my first professional cosplay photography session, I asked Adam to take a few minutes out of his busy day of contography to talk nerdy with us.
So what made you think, “I want to shoot photos of cosplayers?”
“I’ve always liked Comicon. I’ve always liked the nerdgasm. I’ve never been one to really dress up. I like being kind of behind the photo, so to speak. (laughs). I’ve always loved taking pictures, ever since I was a kid. I grew up and then moved out here and didn’t have anything but pictures of family and friends. I fell into the cosplay thing because my wife, I had taken her to her first con. Her complaints were ‘I never see any of my con photos after someone has taken them. They’re hard to find.’ So my friend actually helped me get started, so here I am a year later.”
Do you have any affinity for The Flash? (Hence the name “Speed Force Photography”?)
“(laughs) Yes! I’m a huge, huge Flash fan. What gave it away? Flash is totally—I grew up watching The Flash. He intrigues me. He’s somebody who exceeds the expectation of what you think he can do. Where he has doubt in himself he somehow figures a way to persevere and make the moment for what it is. That’s why our [motto is] ‘Capture the Moment!,’ because we are Speed Force Photography.”
What is the most difficult thing about shooting new cosplayers who maybe don’t know how to pose and things like that?
“Posing and the ‘Oh Crap Face’ (I call it something else). (laughs) It’s that ‘I’m a deer in the headlight’ look. It’s getting comfortable with the subject. You have to connect with your customer/cosplayer. They’re not just dollar signs; they’re people. They’re here for a service, but you’re also there to make them look awesome. My thing is, if they’ve never actually posed before, they’re nervous; the consistency of looking at the camera—they’re like ‘Oh God, I hope I don’t screw up. What if I derp or whatever?’ You’ve gotta make it more comfortable for them and have them get into their character. It helps learning about their character. You ask them before we shoot, ‘Tell me a little bit about your character?’ You research the character so when you do the photo shoot, you understand what you’re looking at. You may not entirely understand the whole series, but you get the character.”
Do you have any tips for cosplayers who may want to get professional photographs done?
“Don’t be afraid to ask. Because that’s one of the things that I’ve found—that a lot of cosplayers are scared to ask for photos or ask for photographers to shoot. They don’t know how to approach. Just ask. That’s the biggest thing. Now, if a photographer wants photos of you regardless, they’re going to approach you and that helps break the ice. You can see what they have to offer and vice versa. Just don’t be nervous on that aspect. You look amazing; you spent this long on your cosplay; don’t be afraid to show it off.”
What about shooting inexperienced cosplayers—not as far as posing but as far as construction—versus more experienced cosplayers who have the “more quality” designed clothing and things like that. Is it hard to get good shots for people who want good shots of their cosplay?
“No problem. You have to look beyond that and just look at the subject. You can have what they call a ‘closet cosplay’—something they just put together from their closet; they’re Daria or whatever—you’ve gotta look beyond that and look at what you’re dealing with in the subject. You can be wearing just a Spongebob hat and the slacks and not look yellow at all but you’re that person. Or you’re Captain Picard and you just have a tricorder and a [communicator] badge and not have the whole costume, but—you are what you are. If the cosplayer is into it, it’s going to show on their face. If they’re uncomfortable and uninterested, it’s going to show in their face. That’s why nine times out of ten you have to get them comfortable, because it’s going to show. If they’re thinking about something that happened ten minutes ago that pissed them off and they’re not with you and connected, why are you shooting? Give them a cool-off period. I’ve had to do that.”
Do you have any tips for photographers who may want to become cosplay photographers in the future?
“Absolutely! Grab a camera and start shooting. Start exploring. Don’t stick yourself in manual mode the first day and think you’re going to expect to get everything. Get comfortable. Read about your camera. Understand your camera. Lenses are not entirely everything, but they are everything. I say that because you don’t have to spend a ton of money on gear to make you an extraordinary photographer. It’s the posing, the lighting…you’ve gotta learn the aspects and the elements of it. It’s not about how much you spent on a lens and how new your camera is. For example, her [points to another photographer]—she just started shooting. If she didn’t get a kit lens from me from an extra kit that I had she wouldn’t have a lens at all. I critique her, she learns from me, I learn from her—we all learn from each other. With the lighting I learned from somebody who was just roaming around the floor. He taught me lighting because I wanted to learn lighting. There are some photographers who use natural lighting, which is fine. Having a good lens helps too. I’m not going to lie to you. When you’re stuck with a kit, there’s only so far you can go on the F-stops to wide open the lens, and you can see the quality. But you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get great photos.”
Are there any particular challenges to shooting at a con? Do you ever have to MacGyver your way through it?
“Yes! (laughs) She [the photographer] was with me when the mount for the lighting stand shaved off and we had to have somebody hold the light stand. It sucked, but we worked through it though. And people knocking over your equipment. But the MacGyvering—yeah, you have to improvise. Sometimes you’ll forget things. You have to put things together and hope they’ll work.”
What’s your favorite part about photography or cosplay photography?
“Honestly? Their reaction. Making the awesome moment. It’s something that—it’s my art. They post it on Facebook or whatever social media and they make it a profile picture for a little while. And they spread it out and you’re just like…that’s mine. It’s just—my happiness is their happiness. It’s why I keep doing what I do. The biggest thing someone taught me in this field is if you’re not having fun, why are you doing it? If it’s all about the dollar signs then you have no business doing anything in this field. Don’t treat people like cattle. ‘All right, next. Next.’ I want to take time and make sure everything works out, this is what you’re expecting. Communication.”