Jason Nishi is a talented photographer from California, who knows how to capture beautiful portraits!
How many years have you been into photography and what got you into cosplay photography?
I’ve been doing convention photography for over 10 years, which includes cosplay photography.
What regions do you usually cover, and do you charge for photoshoots? Also, how does one get in contact to shoot with you?
I’m a So. Cal’er, so I mostly cover So. Cal, though I do hit Fanime every year, and have been hitting Katsucon in DC and Dragon*Con in Atlanta the last few years mostly for fun. I’ve never charged for photoshoots, and don’t really intend to start, as I’ve always come to the conclusion that the fastest way for me to hate the hobby is to have to do it for money. Contact is easiest through my site’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org I’ve been admittedly a slower cosplay photographer as of late, owing to real life, but it doesn’t stop me from trying to get out and shoot every once in a while.
What type of photoshoots do you prefer and why?
I’ve always felt comfortable doing smaller, simpler, and generally more placid and set type shoots. The strengths I’ve built over the years have been in portraiture, and it’s where I fall back to. Also, smaller and simpler shoots give me more time to get to know people, and it’s what’s allowed me to become close friends with some people from this community.
Action shooting has generally been a weakness, and I have a serious, almost pathological inability to shoot large groups, though that hasn’t stopped me from trying and usually not doing so well.
What is some of your favorite equipment you work with and why?
My golden gear as of late has been my Canon 5D paired with my Canon 135mm f/2 lens. It’s the one combination that just makes pictures that I just love, especially since I love closer-up portraits.
Otherwise, frankly, it’s been my GF1 with the 20mm f/1.7 lens. It’s relatively discreet, but can shoot pictures better than the equipment suggests at first glance. It’s the camera I can pretty much take anywhere and use anywhere that isn’t my phone.
What are you excited to be working with in the future and why?
If I’m honest, I got better gear recently (a Canon 5D Mark II, which is a bit old, but it was a nice bump up from the 5D original I had), so that somewhat excites me. Otherwise, I guess I find it hard to get excited by things, though I always am excited when I get to shoot with friends. And I get to do all sorts of strange things this year, and I might hit a new con or two, so all sorts of little bits of excitement are coming.
What are some of the traits you like to see in other photographers and who do you think does them well?
Most of the traits I like have almost no correlation to the quality of their output nor their fame. I think the best traits are an active and creative mind in thinking about possible shots, an attention to detail when shooting, and a friendly personality that translates well to situations outside of just shooting.
Unsurprisingly, I think Lionel Lum does this expertly, and given his persistent support of the community, I’m always happy to support him when he’s the one who needs a hand. Joseph Lin hits these points as well, and I’m pleased to call him a friend. And I generally have the utmost respect for fellow So. Cal’ers Tony Quan, Andy Rak, and Minh Soi, amongst others. I could name a pile more, but the end of time will occur before I can finish. Conveniently, I happen to think all of the photographers I’ve named so far actually also do good work. Maybe there’s a good correlation after all.
What is your view of the “cosplay scene”?
It’s kind of a strange place. I’m getting into the old fart territory of convention crowds, and well above the median age of the cosplayers I see at most conventions. Clearly, this isn’t the same crowd I knew when I started.
I confess I’m a bit disturbed by the culture and personalities that seem to have popped up from the dark corners of the hobby. I’m not a big fan of the meme-driven culture that elements of conventions have become.
But at the same time, the fact that the culture seems to have developed the dark corners arises from the fact that it’s far less stigmatic to be a cosplayer now. Pop culture embraces the term reasonably well. Many younger folk don’t think of cosplayers as weird, but in fact perhaps a bit cool. There’s something to be said of acceptance.
What are some of the things you want to see change in the scene?
In short, I wish people were less angry, less emotionally driven by little things. The fact that “cosplay drama” is such a bandied about term makes me sad. It’s also an impossible fact of life that as long as a hobby has people, it will have some degree of drama.
I also wish that the maturity level of the community could rise up a bit, but that’s also probably an impossible request. Other than that, the things I might wish to change, I would almost feel I’d need to take a hand in helping with. I’m getting old enough though that this is more plausible every day.
What is some advice you could give people starting to get into photography?
First off, it’s a very different world from where I started. If nothing else, the biggest change is that with so many budding photographers out there, it’s far harder to make a lasting impression. But some basics still hold. Be polite, be friendly, be communicative (ie: make your pictures available, findable, and talk to people), and seek to build strong friendships in the community.
There is a position in the world for both the photographer who shoots for breadth (ie: trying to get as many people in pics as possible so that people know where they can find at least some shots of themselves – Lionel and Al/Eurobeat Kings are the best generalists), and the photographer who shoots for depth (ie: maybe focusing on getting to know a few people, but trying to do strong serious shoots with them – I’ve become much more of this latter style), and it’s mostly a matter of finding a niche.
But the biggest point that needs to be made is this: shoot for your own sake, shoot to satisfy yourself first, though never forget that helping your photograph subjects is what they want. You will improve most as an artist when you learn to be your own worst critic, and you seek to better yourself. It’s what’s driven most of my own improvement in my photography, and surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, when you become a far better critic of your own work, and seek to improve it, you will find that others will start liking it too.
What are some of your favorite conventions you’ve attended and why?
Right now, my favorite is Dragon*Con. This has less to do with photography and more to do with the “Oh wow” factor that can only come from wandering around the floors and seeing people in costumes that can drop you to the floor in awe or laughter. It’s nerd Mardi Gras for a reason. I love Katsucon’s current location as a photographer. And if it snows while not preventing me from getting in to shoot in the snow, it’s a super bonus. I like the laid-back nature of Anime Los Angeles, but I’m not fond of it photographically (which is why I spend time in the photo studio there). And I frankly miss the old Yaoi-con, years ago when it was a small con with a somewhat odd mix of folks. I’m not into the fandom, but watching the subculture was amusing at least.
Thanks for the interview, Jason Nishi! To check out his work and contact him for a shoot, you can check out his website!