Fandom can cause all sorts of creativity to leak out of people in some of the most amazing ways. Alain is an upcoming cosplay photographer who is quickly making a name for himself in the community, and you can see why.
Ginny McQueen: How did you get started with photography?
Alain Rivas: Well, I started with a really durable, yet hardly fully-operational, Canon Digital Elph point and shoot camera. I began shooting on days when my friends and I would hang out. It started with simple shots of my friends doing things like surfing the internet or playing NFL football on Sega Dreamcast. It would make me laugh whenever I would catch them doing silly things or making funny expressions without their knowledge of me shooting them. Then it led to shooting our trips to theme parks and places like Las Vegas, from which I have really funny photos.
Then it was conventions.
The first time I shot a convention was a real treat for me. I had never been around so much talent just BEGGING to be photographed. After a while, people really started to take notice of the photos I was taking, which was really odd because I didn’t believe them to be anything special. Before I knew it, I was setting up shoots with people only using my little point and shoot. It blew my mind to say the least. Then I moved to Denver, Colorado where it transformed into a different animal entirely. All of a sudden, I had people in foreign countries looking at my stuff. Like I said, it blew my mind, because again I didn’t think they were all that great to be honest.
I’m really hard on my photos. I expect to see great things from them which is why I work so hard at improving myself and my skills. It’s a never ending journey, but I feel fortunate that it’s happening to me, so needless to say that I value everyone that’s ever helped me bring all of this to life.
GM: How did you get into the cosplay scene?
AR: That’s a funny story actually. (well, funny to me) First of all, let me just say that it was completely against my will at first. A buddy of mine from high school introduced me to the future live events coordinator for Anime Expo, and he talked me into going to my first convention in 2000. Now keep in mind, I’d never been exposed to anything from this scene at that point, so needless to say that things like The Legend of the Overfiend really took me for a loop back then. I didn’t know what to expect at my first Anime Expo. Luckily, however, I ended up meeting a lot of really awesome people there. Some of the costumes I saw there were out of this world, coupled with the fact that the people wearing them made them themselves. It was awesome! I never regretted my first convention and have been going to cons ever since.
GM: Do you have a day job?
AR: I do actually. I’m a licensed property/casualty/life and health insurance agent. Yeah, totally the job every photographer wishes he could have, right? On top of that, I’ve come into much work doing freelance photography with local publications here in Denver, CO.
GM: What types of equipment do you use?
AR: Ooooh. Ok, where do I begin? The basics first I guess? My workhorse camera is a Nikon D-300 12 megapixel DSLR. An array of pretty versatile lenses ranging from a wonderful Sigma portrait lens, a Tamron 18-300 mm zoom lens, a Nikon Zoom-Nikkor – Wide-angle zoom lens – 17 mm – f/2.8 D ED-IF AF-S (Yeah, I know, a lot of numbers). As for strobes (flashes) I have four that I carry with me at all times. Most times, I like to work with as little as possible and end up only using two, but it’s always good to have backups. A bunch of home made equipment like strip-flashes, ring-flashes, honeycomb snoots and let’s not forget the radio triggers used for setting everything to work in unison. I take my craft very seriously, because quite frankly I adore doing it.
GM: How much post-production goes into making a complete photo?
AR: See, that’s a tough one to answer. I always try to get an ideal, or close to ideal shot in-camera before ever resorting to post production. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but most times it can. I generally tend to correct color balances and clean things up within the image, but only as much as it will allow without unbalancing the look of it and causing it to appear “more photoshop than photo,” you know? You can easily overdo the post production if you don’t know when to say “when.”
GM: Do you prefer on-location or in-studio shooting?
AR: I don’t really have a preference between the two. I can be happy with both types of environments if that’s specifically what I’m looking for on a particular day. It really just depends on which environment will give optimal “feel” to the photos.
I love location shooting because it gives the photo lots of life and it can change on a whim if you want it to. Locations will make a photo or completely destroy it if you don’t take advantage of environmental elements/aspects. You tend to be more on your toes when shooting on location and always fighting against or using the sun if outdoors. Depending on the person shooting, it can cause you to focus or to fold under the difference in pressure from a studio, which is generally more controllable.
The studio is what I call “Alain’s evil laboratory of wild and wacky photo fun.” It’s where I attempt to learn to completely deny the rules of lighting. I don’t tend to care too much for the rules of photo lighting. They’re important to understand, but they’re more like guidelines really, and I love breaking them, thus totally screwing up a photo shoot for no reason at all. I’ve taken some of my favorite photos in this way. However, there is a method to the madness, so don’t just go into a studio and start knocking lights over to get a good shot. It takes practice. I tend to work really well in-studio, but there’s only so much you can do in such a controlled environment. Studios tend to lack interesting backgrounds or colors to fill your frame with, but at the same time allow more creativity in the lighting department.
I guess if I did have to choose one it would be on-location. I’m good on my toes, and the more practice I get on those toes, the better I’ll get.
GM: Do you go into shoots with a plan of action, or do you tend to just go with the flow?
AR: That’s about 70-30%. I normally know what I’d like to see, but sometimes you just can’t get it all formed into a cohesive mold. Bad weather, frustrated/bored models, bad lighting, me feeling sick from that hotdog I ate about an hour ago or BEES STINGING US, etc (Sorry, Diana, I hope they didn’t hurt too badly). I like to plan things out as much as possible before shooting. Then there’s times when NOTHING goes right and you have to improvise. I tend to go into shoots with a stable plan but nothing concrete because I have a tendency to change things up half way through the shoot as well. So long as the shoot is fun for all involved I’m happy.
GM: Do cosplayers make good models?
AR: YES! They absolutely do. Here’s why I say this.
A shoot with a clothing model for instance has them come in, get dressed, apply makeup, shoot and then… go home. Very very impersonal because usually the model has no vested interest in the clothing. The model wore the clothing, but they didn’t create the clothing. That’s the difference.
Cosplayers put in a ridiculous amount of effort into their craft, and usually have a pretty good idea what the character they’re representing is all about. They’re generally more knowledgeable about their work and like to see it all pay off with a good photo shoot to top it all off. Heck, I would, totally. Be that as it may, cosplayers tend to lack “professional modeling experience” but rarely does that matter to me because I’d just rather have fun with the shoot. Why put undue pressure on someone that’s supposed to be having fun with their craft in the first place right? Either way, I tend to shoot cosplay just like I would a spread for a magazine. I don’t tend to disregard their efforts. There is NO simple “cosplay shoot” in my opinion. I always treat cosplayers as professionals of their craft, because they are in most cases.
GM: Where do you see yourself in 5 years with your photography?
AR: Quite simply, shooting professionally full-time. Oh and shooting with a newer camera obviously. I want to travel the world shooting photos with my camera. My mother would like to see this happen most of all, she’s my most supportive fan. I love that little lady so much!
GM: What inspires you?
AR: Mirrors do. I know that doesn’t make ANY sense whatsoever, but I see mirrors in a very unorthodox way. Allow me to explain:
Mirrors reflect exactly what you show to them. They reflect exactly what you see with your own eyes but only in reverse, which automatically makes them appear different. Photography works in the same way. I shoot something to make it appear different than how you would normally see it. You ARE the mirror when you’re shooting. You can take a photo of a tree and represent it with a world of difference, yet not making a difference at all because it’s still essentially… a tree. If I lost you I’m very sorry. I tend to understand my own mindset most times but it’s really hard for me to describe that mentality with words or any sort of elegance. It’s all a matter of perception. I just do what “feels” right to me, I guess?
GM: Are you a fan of anything – anime, video games, sci-fi, etc?
AR: Are you kidding? I’m the biggest gamer nerd ever. My first system was a Magnavox Odessey. It’ll take too long to go into specifics, but let’s just say that a few of my friends fear my sniper rifle on Halo 3. Oh yes, they fear it in their dreams as well, yes indeed. I’m so mean to them, but It’s okay. They dish out the trash talk to me as well (Marc I’m looking in your direction).
As for anime, mostly stuff that was around on or before the turn of the century. I’m a bit more old school about my anime. My favorite series is Evangelion. My favorite hero is Jubei from Ninja Scroll. My favorite villain is Vicious from Cowboy Bebop. (Honorable Mention: Saya from Blood the Last Vampire). Oh, and Code Geass is actually really cool now that I’ve seen a few episodes. Oh and Trinity Blood, oh yes… Trinity Blood is awesome!
GM: Thanks Alain! Is there anything else you want to say? A shout-out? Some AR)prose? Declaration of war?
AR: Haha, declaration of war? Okay, sure, I declare war on Square Enix for making so many games for me to want to buy with not enough time to ever play them all. I want to send a shout out to Einlanzer and Lord Masamune, without whom I wouldn’t have been able to take the Advent Children shoot that was recently released. I also want to send a shout out to everyone that has been so supportive with the development of Idolatry Studios. I couldn’t have done it without them. And to you Ginny, who has given me this great opportunity. Thank you.
You can view more of Alain’s work at these links: