The next Senpai Spotlight Interview is with Shaded Lenz, an experienced Macro Photographer/Media Documenter in the Toronto area. Throughout this interview, I learned so much about cosplay photography that I have shared in some of my articles. One of them includes how to start into cosplay photography, even if you’re a beginner and only have a smartphone in your hands (if you’re interested in learning, click here to read the guide).

And I’m sure by you listening or reading this interview, you’ll learn a lot from Shaded Lenz and his perspective on cosplay photography. Unlike a lot of cosplay photographers, Shaded Lenz’s journey into photography was different. He came into the hobby with a different approach, which I found very intriguing.

In this interview I conducted with Shaded Lenz, you’ll get to hear some interesting things, including:

  • Using photography to find clarity in his life
  • How he became a staff photographer for various conventions in the Toronto area
  • Why he doesn’t charge any money for his cosplay photography services
Senpai Spotlight Interview with Shaded Lenz!

Rogersenpai: How did you get into cosplay photography? Were you a photographer to begin with, or did cosplay get you into doing photography?

Shaded Lenz: I got into Cosplay Photography because it was a dynamic shift from my ordinary routine in my online life. What motivated me to take it up more seriously was forcing myself outside of my shell, and my far-leaning introverted life online. I was only a walk around Photographer to begin with for a good part of half a decade. I basically had a period of my life where I rarely went anywhere, and the venues that I did go to, I took just random stills and hall shots. Starting out I was a nature Photographer and I photographed animals or still life, like during field trips. I never took Photography seriously as an artform till after 2018 until after I had a falling out with my friend Kayla..

My friend Kayla who I met in 2017 helped me through a bad time, and I did the same for her when we found out we were very similar in terms of personality and life events. Feelings between the two of us got complicated in the latter part of 2018 when she was getting through a bad relationship and breakup. I think in the moment, I realized she had feelings for me being the one who helped her through it. When I found out about it, I didn’t take it in the best way, and it put a rift between us.

Kay was always loving, caring, positive towards me and saw the best even in the worst people. Even though I wasn’t always the more reciprocative person, she always saw the best in me.

Not surprisingly, considering how blind I was, I wasn’t grateful for having her in my life, and I took her for granted.

Hence, why I call my Photography “Shaded Lenz.” It was basically a metaphor for my greatest personal flaw at the time. I had this great person, and wonderful friend in front of me, and I was blinded to the fact I couldn’t see her, or what she meant to me. In a way, I am a blind Photographer, because what needed was a change in perception.

There were moments earlier on in my journey, after we stopped speaking for almost a year I went to places like the Japan Festival and I got caught in the rain that I thought about her. But I kept moving forward and documenting life, and trying to see life in a different way and beautiful things. That’s the short story of what prompted my jump into Photography, but another aspect was curiosity. I had spent so much time at a desk in the office that I needed to venture out. One of my early phrases in my Photography career was “My camera takes me places.” That was totally true because if I didn’t take my camera, I wasn’t literally gonna go anywhere. Lol.

In summation, my origin story of my journey involved honoring my friend “Kay” who was always a positive influence in my life. She always gave me something to look for. In that period of my life, I didn’t see her the way she saw me, and she always saw the best things in the most tragic people including myself. My journey was always to be more like her, and see the world with a more positive perspective.

Shaded Lenz does lots of cosplay photography, including this photo of @redfive.cos.

Rogersenpai: If someone wanted to get into cosplay photography, what advice would you give to them? How do they start?

Shaded Lenz: Do it for you, but find some aspect of it that inspires you, then stick with that for a while and see what happens..

My reasons for getting into Photography were partially to keep myself busy but also as previously stated for a change of pace, and perspective. Everyone’s reasons for doing things may be different, but the reality is, you should do it for you, and no one else. I forced myself to document events because I think in some way it was to balance the other parts of my life so I wasn’t so introverted. The main reason for anyone getting into anything is a genuine interest and not for something superficial like money, or fame.

One of many cameras he uses, a Nikon Z5 camera with 28mm f/2.8 Lens.

Rogersenpai: What photography len(s) would you recommend a new photographer to buy for cosplay photos?

Shaded Lenz: That’s super difficult because situationally, cosplay Photography can be varying? It really depends on the environment more than anything, but I’d recommend the Sigma 16mm f/1.4, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 and / or the Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 (which is my signature lens).

Rogersenpai: I’m sure a lot of aspiring cosplay photographers wonder what type of camera they should buy and how much they should spend. What advice would you give them?

Shaded Lenz: That is also a “it depends” question but the best answer is any camera that doesn’t break the bank that is within their budget. If they have a smartphone my advice is to start with that and just get out and start shooting. Play around with the apps, and see how it goes. Some Cosplay selfies are excellent.

My journey was always portraying things positively, and getting a positive portrayal of the venue, and all it’s aspects.

Rogersenpai: What are some differences between regular human/subject photography and cosplay photography?

Shaded Lenz: It’ll largely depend on the genre but for the most part. Cosplay photography is just *Geeky Fashion*. I am oversimplifying it but the same techniques that you use in normal human or portrait photography works the same in Cosplay. It’s just the situation, genre or theme may be different. One of the hardest parts of Cosplay Photography I had was understanding the mood, and the character. The soft aspects of photography I find more challenging because I have a technical mind. I’m a lot stronger on the camera settings, such as f-stop or shutter speed, but for the most part, you shouldn’t over think it and focus more on the person in front of you, and the message you’re trying to convey, if that makes sense. Cosplay Photography ultimately is storytelling and that’s how I see it. I’m the narrator of my own story. One big quick tip whenever possible use natural outdoor lighting. This is key to taking great clear well lit photos.

Rogersenpai: What are some of the cool things about being a cosplay photographer? Any not-so-nice things?

Shaded Lenz: Long Explanation: Photography gave me the opportunity to be in touch with all sorts of different people from different walks of life and from different cultures. One of the great things that Photography did was connect me to Artists, Designers, Fans, and even Bloggers like you. I learned a lot from knowing different people from all different ages and genres. It really helped me to grow as a person and gain perspective that you’re not the only one who has geeky interests, and having an entire community full of fandom with people are into the same things as you was made it a fun ride from start to finish.

To further focus on that, everytime when I went to venues to document things in artist alley or at panels I got to see something new, or hear a different story be told on stage. As someone who came strictly from a Sci-fi, Superhero, Adventure, and Gaming Background, I didn’t know a single thing about Anime or J-fashion and J-culture. I know for example seeing idol live performances at Anime North was something very new to me, and was one of the major memorable things in my journey as a Photographer.

Not so nice things:

  1. Drama between Staff Goers
  2. Liability, Legal and Copyright permissions
  3. Asking permission
  4. Awkwardness
  5. Being in uncomfortable situations

To keep this answer as positive as possible, in Photography there’s a lot of complexity and legal risks that you don’t realize especially as a beginner. The one thing I recommend to any photographer starting out is to know the risks that come with taking someone’s photo, not just the permissions, but the social and professional boundaries that come with it. You have to set your price, and also copyrights on your photos, especially when you’re trying to make money from it or establish a contract. One problem I know is establishing a proper contract especially when both parties are trying to make money from the other, it can get quite heated and conflicts can arise. As the Comic Con / Cosplay community’s Media Photographer and being a central figure across multiple venues, I had to be very careful when establishing this, so for the most part, I kept my photos free and available to use in any medium. The professional term is CC Attribution, so it’s good to study up on those terms if you intend to sell or distribute your photos at scale.

The other things that were not so great is working with youth, or women as a Male Cosplay Photographer. Sometimes assumptions can be made when you take a simple hall shot or even when given permission when your cosplayer is a female, or if you awkwardly don’t know how to speak to them. There’s a whole diverse group of cosplayers and creative professionals I met in the community that I had to be delicate when talking, or dealing with, especially if they were a lot younger than me, or had special needs.

A great example is one idol I worked with, who had a sensitivity to light, so I remembered not to use the Flash on her, or any bright lights. Being attentive, and considerate is super important when dealing with people with diverse needs.

Rogersenpai: How much do you normally charge a cosplayer for a photoshoot?

I’ve always made my shoots mostly, FREE, with some exceptions. Complex editing always requires time, and expenses on my part. I’m a central Photographer, so I consider myself similar or analogous to a public service Photographer, which is a FREE and accessible service.

My goal was always to make Cosplay Photography an accessible format for everyone and to portray everyone in a positive way. Costs do get involved but luckily for me, I can absorb most of those costs.

Rogersenpai: Lighting is very important when it comes to photography. How did you learn? Is there any books you would recommend a new photographer to read when it comes to photography lighting?

Shaded Lenz: See, that’s super true, I’m still mastering lighting which was a huge challenge for me at the beginning. I wore sunglasses 95% of the situations I’m in, and I still more often than not do that. To me, working with less light, and lack of light helped me figure out the exposure settings on my camera. So starting out at a disadvantage I worked out ways around that, using faster lenses. Image stabilization, tripods, and post-processing correction

For books I’d recommend you go with your learning style. There are some great books you can *read* about lighting but my recommendation is you go out and start actively shooting after you read, watch or listen to any material or content. The back and forth action of doing, and reading helped me learn better the basics and mechanics of lighting. I learned quickly because I am a technical learner, but also kinesthetic. I understand how light mechanics work natively with a combo of training, self-learning, and doing. There’s no magic formula to learning, what works for one person will not work for another. I’m mostly self-taught but I did have one Introduction class by Henry’s (yes the camera store). I encourage you to follow and subscribe to popular Camera / Photography channels on youtube such as Tony & Chelsea Northrup.

Shaded Lenz perfectly describes his journey as a photographer.

Rogersenpai: Most memorable moment(s) as a cosplay photographer?

Shaded Lenz: When I first got into Cosplay Photography, I met a young idol by chance with the stage name of “Sunii”. I photographed a few of her cosplays that were idol based at the venues I was working at. She first introduced me into the Love Live Idol Cosplay segment after taking a few of her portraits at a Hamilton based convention. After learning a bit more about her, her talent, and the character “Honoka” from Love Live  I grew from there as a Cosplay Photographer, but also it paved the way for me learning more about Jculture, Jfashion and Idol performances. This challenged me in new ways as I was constantly learning new characters and names. My first idol group I worked with for a brief period of time was a group called “Moon Muse” where Sunii / M4tcha.min was their leader. Eventually we just went our separate ways. I believe she eventually went along to become a model, and join a few other Idol Groups and Kpop groups in the years succeeding.

During that same Fall – Winter 2018, I moved onto documenting smaller community-based cosplay based events in Toronto such as Kimikon. I travelled even as far as London Comic Con. After a short period of time in December 2018 to early 2019. I started working with another group called Kaeru Idols. Kaeru was headed by one of my friends, Redfive.cos. Kaeru became my primary idol group for most of 2019 and the year. My most memorable experiences with them were getting started at their mini live events because it challenged me in a lot of ways as a Non-Portrait Photographer. Furthermore it forced me to be a director. I vividly remember the music, dances, and the characters of Love Live which were unfamiliar but interesting all the same to me.

I covered a small shoot and mini live at Toronto Comic Con with Kaeru, before Toronto International Fan Festival, which preceded Anime North in 2019.  Working at the stage with live action subjects was particularly easy for me since I take action based candids, and it doesn’t involve directing. These aspects came very naturally to me while challenging more soft aspects of Photography that I wasn’t used to. Some examples include learning the character’s names, personalities, fan ships, and expressions. My only wish at the time was to get to know the cosplayer’s characters but also the people behind them better. We were always so busy and everything was always moving so fast.

I had to deal with complex group shoots and portraits that were outside the realm of Panel, Guest Q & As and artist alley shots. “Redfive” who is the *stage name” of one of the Cosplayers in the community became one of my primary subjects and one of my closest friends and it turns out we had a lot in common interest wise. We practically had almost everything in common. She really helped me grow as a Photographer, and taught me a lot of new things about idol culture, Fandom, and live performances.

Kaeruidols had their first idol live debut at Anime North 2019 which was one of my most memorable moments. The final group shoot at the end was hard, but I somehow managed to document everything and pull it off. That was the start of more events to come for the year and one of the most memorable events. It was the first time I was Media at Canada’s largest Anime Convention. Red got the whole main floor to herself with her group and I was happy to make all her and her group’s wishes come true. Towards the end of the year, it signed off slowly leading into the current Public Health crisis.

I’ve changed a lot since then, during the Public Health crisis, I’ve done a lot of work in Product Photography, Aerial Photography, 3D Photogrammetric Scanning and AR / MX Development during the COVID19 crisis and beyond.

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