Is it a problem of the age of the internet or is it just a lack of respect? I suspect that later.
It was first brought to my attention early in the day that a handful of cosplayers post-Anime Matsuri were up in arms in regards to the issue of a photographer’s image gallery of cosplays from the convention, where prints were being sold. The general consensus of the matter from what I could gather was that people were angry that profits were being made from their hard work and for a moment, I could feel this intense brain pressure as my head exploded. I’m gonna ramble, but please, try to push through and understand, because it’s a pretty serious subject to me and I’m sure others feel the same.
I’ve been doing photography for a little over six years now, maybe four with the intent to actually improve upon my skills and in this time, I have come to accept that cosplay photographers are one of the most under-rated, often over-looked role in the cosplay community, despite the fact we are the engine that allows you to promote yourselves. We’re casually thrown aside the moment someone else comes along and people deem them superior (whether it be better equipment, better knowledge or a unique editing style), we’re a hotly discarded commodity in a crowd that’s becoming increasingly over saturated. There’s so many cosplay photographers now, it’s not as easy as it used to be to keep track of names, particularly now, more than ever, now that more commercial, professional photographers are entering into a field many of us had for a long time viewed only as a hobby of passion.
People may see you in a costume at a convention, but we help you sell your identity to the world, because that still shot immortalizes that costume and that location forever. Let me briefly explain a day of last A-Kon. I woke up at 6 AM to confirm that my equipment was charged and ready for the day and that everything had been backed up. By 10 AM, I was in the dealer’s room line for an hour to briefly check it and shop for one or two things I could afford for myself, my special loot of the convention. The rest of my tightly budgeted allotment would be for food/drinks throughout the day.
By 11, I was in my first photo-shoot. I had planned one small lunch break for myself, but a friend requested a shoot and happily, I obliged. I continued shooting photos until 6:45 PM that evening in 90-100 degree, humid, weather. This had been a non-stop shooting session. By the end of the convention, I had dehydrated myself to the point that my body was physically shaking at times. I would have one meal each day (dinner around 8) and would rehydrate during that time. During this convention, I had three no-shows and one cancellation.
At the previous convention, Oni-Con, sharing the photography area in front of the stage with an unprofessional “media-agent,” a camera lens had taken a dive and lodged itself into the DSLR body. Unable to afford the 1000 dollar bill on the dated camera (then a 50D), I was forced to follow a YouTube video’s advice and forcibly snapped the 50mm off the camera’s lens mount, destroying the already broken lens. It was one of the most heartbreaking and dramatic moments of my life. The camera since then had been temperamental and was prone to having ERROR messages if I leaned too hard on the lens, which completely de-railed one shoot.
In December of last year, I obtained a new camera and a new lens. This convention prior to the lens damage and camera damage at the time, had promised to promote me on the website and access to one guest (my only request that year was to meet Nobuo Uematsu a few minutes before he performed just to handshake and get a brief photo) and the badge to the convention for free coverage of their entire event. I had no private sessions that convention and spent one whole day crouching by a stage in main events because nothing was on time. My knee was shot, I had sake spit on me during the performance (and the next day, evidently) and limped down the street in freezing weather to a crowded hotel room. I paid my own travel and hotel as well, just for the privilege of contributing to a convention I then, loved. Many of their promises were empty and never fulfilled. I had to track down a PR person and put them on the spot to make my one simple request even happen.
I have been quiet for quite some time on my misgivings with some elements of the community. I need the reader to understand the financial burdens of a cosplay photographer. To travel from my hometown of El Paso to a central Texas convention, Dallas, for example, there’s a 90 dollar fee from the Greyhound bus ride (traveling in groups sometimes mitigates the cost), which is then followed with a 250-500 dollar hotel bill (assuming I’m alone) plus the cost of food (20 a day is a cheap estimate) and entry into the convention (25-50 bucks). You’re talking about an estimated 200-400 dollars a convention for an out of town photographer. It’s easier on local photographers, I’ll admit, but I live in an area with ludicrously small conventions that show no sign of ever growing larger.
My camera was 1,600 dollars. My flash was 700 dollars. My lens was another 1600 dollars. It uses two batteries plus a grip (200 dollars) and memory cards which can range from 80-200 dollars on their own. I want you to understand that your cosplays each may cost 200 dollars+, but this gear is slowly obtained over many years and will eventually break over time. I wanted people to understand that our equipment is not comparable to a cheap 100 dollar point and shoot or a hand me down pocket camera. It’s a highly precision, sensitive device that has to be maintained and cleaned, including a delicate sensor and mirror inside.
For far too long, it’s bothered me that people don’t understand the rights that a photographer retains over their property. I need the reader to understand that our works are scrutinized, subjected to debate, picked apart by other photographers and dismissed by others as not meeting their standards. The general belief is that if a cosplayer is photographed, they are automatically given rights to that photo to do whatever they would like with and this is simply not the case. Just because you’re in the photo doesn’t mean you inherently possess rights to it. We give you those rights for giving us the time, however brief to photograph something we found interest in. We own those photos, not you, but it’s our generosity that lets you take them for free.
Personally, I and several other photographers post the photos to image sites such as Flickr and Facebook and we invite the cosplayer to use the photo as they would like, provided they credit us. Cosplayers for the longest time have simply taken these images, scouring the internet for images of their costumes for the personal pages/memories and the common mistake is that we are the same as the casual congoer who isn’t trying to build a reputation with our peers or other cosplayers. Thousands of images each convention are simply taken by people all over and used for any and all purposes, undocumented, unreported, without attempt to contact the photographer. It’s an implied freedom of the image and for the most part, most people don’t care, but we’re photographers, not some wayward attendee. We do care, even a little bit where our images end up and at the minimum would at least like a small amount of credit attached.
I originally hated the idea of watermarking photos, but after finding my images circulating deviant art and other pages without credit, links or any appreciation towards my time, equipment and work, I bit the bullet and began destroying (in my opinion) my photos with watermarks, trying to make them as small as possible to retain the original intent of the image.
Up until this time, I had been completely fine with being the disconnected observer who provided free services while asking for nothing in return. I know some photographers ask for donations via PayPal, or other things, but I’ve always found the concept to be like begging. I never ask for money and even if people tried to offer me money for photos, I’d probably push it back at them. I once was given a cake for my photos and that’s probably the extent of what I’d be willing to accept, mostly because it was made for me and would spoil if I didn’t take it.
But then, I heard about these cosplayers that were up in arms over this photographer possibly making profit from prints. I was furious and outraged. From my understanding of the situation, the images were put on in a gallery with a third party site that offers the option to print photos for individuals. Many photographers outside of the cosplay side utilize these, especially in event-type photography. The website offers the option to print, but of course, they won’t do this service for free-they have precision equipment as well. A print company doesn’t utilize in cheap Kodak EzBake Printers that you put some cheap 12 dollar paper into and moments later it inks out a 4x6 or 8x11 print.
These are massive multiplexers with calibrated systems. They have to pay for bandwidth for the website, the employees, the electricity, the water, etc. The photographer might make a 3-5 dollar profit, but generally, the company takes almost all of the money. 3-5 dollars go to the photographer (that’s a generous estimate), maybe 7-11 dollars to the company. The photographers are stiffed so harshly that printing this method is extremely costly. It’s provided in the event some stray person wants a photo of themselves and saves the photographer a large hassle. Try selling a print on deviant art and you’ll understand what I mean about getting cut out of the money.
Now, it’s not uncommon for cosplayers to want to support their hobby or lighten the financial burden and often they’ll approach a photographer with the request for rights to sell the photo as prints to fund their hobby and more often than not, a deal is worked out or usually, the cosplayer is given what they want, no strings attached. These cosplayers turn around and sell prints for 15-25 dollars at the highest end, sometimes 5-10 in a more realistic depiction and these are printed from their home photo printers. The photographer, once again is usually giving these for free out of respect to the cosplayer, or taking a small share of the profits.
Is the community so greedy and so heartless that they’d mob the photographer with pitchforks for making an attempt at trying to recoop the losses on their thousands of dollars spent in equipment, travel expenses, food, gas, etc? The truth is, they won’t. I saw the site in question and it was a gallery of the entire convention. If it was just one popular cosplayer being exploited, I’d be the first one in your corner (this is what the paparazzi does to celebrities every day). But this was a huge gallery and to me it was aimed with the intent of “If you like my photo of you, feel free to buy it.” There’s an option to download a small resolution image. They knew it was going to be downloaded and shared. They weren’t trying to exploit cosplayers.
It’s truly outrageous and offensive to me that the community would be so cruel to someone who took their time to show up and take their picture. How selfish. I’m not trying to attack anyone, I’m just asking the community to objectively look at our situations, as well. Part of me feels that even talking about such a thing will generate some ugly backlash for me, but I felt I needed to voice my opinion.
I’ll continue to do what I do for free, because I love cosplayers and the community, even though sometimes, you make my head and my heart hurt, but what I take back from each trip and each encounter is what drives me forward. I don’t expect fame, I don’t expect piles of cash, but I do expect a little respect and courtesy to myself and others who are doing what they do, probably because they feel exactly the same. I look forward to seeing everyone at A-Kon and Anime Expo and all the amazing costumes that I know you all will bring and I’ll do my best to capture what I love and respect.