Behind the Lens: Nelson Castro Cosplay Photography
Nelson Castro was born to be an artist and cosplay photography is the perfect medium for a guy like Nelson. For starters, he bought himself a fancy DSLR that had so many functions it was difficult just to learn how to switch the darn thing on. But that didn’t stop Nelson from attending his first big Anime convention just a few days later. Overwhelmed by a “grandiose amount of nerdiness,” Nelson was instantly hooked. He was utterly captivated by the way cosplayers were willing to go the extra mile to create a great shot.
Over the next eight years, the L.A.-based photographer shot thousands of photographs to fine-tune his skills to their very essence. Today, those “terrible photographs” from the convention just remind Nelson of the day, which directed him to an extremely successful path in cosplay photography. Nelson is a state-of-the-art-photographer who has an eye that sees the perfect angle that will transport you from the convention floor and drop you into your favorite game. Nelson is a gifted artist who goes the extra mile to propel you right into the action.
COSPLAY CULTURE: What about cosplay inspires you?
Nelson Castro: I’ve always been an artist. I have drawn and painted for as long as I can remember. I think what inspires me the most about cosplay is the artistic skill you need in order to produce a great cosplay, and when I say “skill,” I mean many skills. The cosplayers have learned to sew, paint, sculpt, mold, create special effects make-up, construct props, leather and metal working, crafting, textiles, design and, not to mention, modeling/acting in order to portray the character’s persona. It’s simply amazing how much work goes into it. I appreciate the art form, and that motivates me to do my best when it comes to capturing it.
What are the necessary qualities that a cosplay photographer must have?
People skills. Cosplay photography involves interacting with high volumes of different personalities, cultures and backgrounds. Learning how to communicate appropriately and professionally is key to good portraiture. Especially when it comes to giving direction on posing. The ability to adapt is also an important skill to have. Cosplay events are most commonly held at venues like convention centers and hotel lobbies, where the grounds and lighting pretty much work against taking good exposures. Having the ability to find all the “good spots” at any given venue, and the knowledge on adapting to the constant variables of light, are very important as well.
What kind of characters do you enjoy shooting the most?
So many! I love all kinds of characters from different series. My top picks to shoot are any character from “Trigger” (i.e. “Kill la Kill,” “Gurren Lagann”), anything from “Metal Gear” (video game series) and “Devil May Cry” (video game series) or Capcom in general, and Marvel/DC, and armored characters…and robots…and the list goes on and on.
What would be your dream character for a perfect photo shoot?
I have two perfect shoots that I’ve been trying to make happen forever. One is a shoot with female versions of Dante and Vergil from “Devil May Cry,” focusing on dramatic action poses and effects. The second one is a shoot featuring a crossover with Ryuko from “Kill la Kill,” and Yoko from “Gurren Lagann.” These shoots might have been done already, but I would like to put my own spin on these ideas. I’ll hopefully have the opportunity to make this happen one day.
How do you come up with locations for the perfect cosplay shoot?
I tend to do a lot of research when it comes to my photo shoots. One of the important factors is to find a suitable location that fits the story or background of the character being showcased. It’s difficult in Los Angeles, CA. You need a photo permit just to snap a pic of your lunch here. Luckily, I’m always finding new locations through Google Street, photography forums, and when all else fails, asking my many photographer friends for any good locations.
What motivates you to keep shooting?
My motivation comes from the need to express my thoughts and ideas. I have this strong urge to create—so strong, in fact, that I get depressed if I’m unable to do so. I also feel the need to break away from the mundane. This is the reason most of my photographs have fantasy elements in them. I want people to look at my photos and be taken from their reality into the story that I’ve constructed. It brings me much satisfaction when I know that I have succeeded in accomplishing this. While most people want e-fame, or to go viral, my goal is just to be happy making art. For now, at least, that’s all the motivation I need.
If you had to pick one thing, what would you say makes your photos one of a kind?
There really isn’t anything new that I could say that I do. I think what makes a photographer unique is the techniques they choose to mix together, sort of like putting together a great outfit or making a good meal. I tend to mix compositing techniques, ambient light, special effects and various retouching techniques. The outcome is weird-looking photos that look kind of like paintings. So, I’m basically saying that my photos are unique because they’re weird.
What’s been your most extraordinary shoot so far?
I’m currently working closely with a very talented cosplayer and it has been a very awesome experience for me. We collaborate online and get everything ready for when she flies to L.A. We schedule like three to four (full) on-location photo shoots in a matter of a week. It’s stressful, hectic, exciting, there’s last minute changes, there’s unforeseen problems, it’s a lot of running around, and it’s so much fun. We manage to get them all done back to back. There isn’t one shoot I can pick out from our time working together, because the whole experience has been extraordinary.
Do you enjoy any other genres of photography?
I love fashion and beauty photography. I suppose it’s not too far off from cosplay photography, but each genre comes with its own set of rules, and I enjoy the conceptualization process for each one. I’m also working on putting together a fitness lifestyle portfolio.
What’s your dream shoot?
I would love to, one day, construct a fairy-tale-themed, semi-permanent structure in the woods, and have a large team of artists, make-up artists, set designers, assistants, and models to make a really elaborate high fashion shoot based on one of my ethereal concepts. Right now, that’s too large of an investment for me, but the dream still stands. I’m designing a series right now based on that idea. You never know, right?
What are some of your photography goals? Besides getting rich and famous, of course!
I would like to, one day, run some workshops focused on compositing and fantasy-based photography. I would like to eventually rent/own some studio space to take my concepts further. I would also like to expand my network, in order to get a chance to work on big projects with more wonderfully talented people, and I would also like my photography featured in future issues of Cosplay Culture magazine [winks].
Photography by Nelson Castro