Thursday, 13 August 2015

ConBravo: Leather & Photography

That title scans a bit weird. Oh well, it’s better than just “workshops”. This post is separate from the main ConBravo chronology. It will focus on two workshop presentations: Saturday’s “Leatherworking 101” and Sunday’s “Advanced Photography”. Cosplay, in a sense. I’ve never been huge on it myself, but aspects of it are interesting, and I felt I could apply it to writing or drawing. (Hey, some of my story characters probably like cosplay.)


Leatherworking 101
Atelier Heidi is a cosplayer and designer based out of Texas, who came all the way up to Hamilton for the convention. She started her presentation by noting there’s two different tanning types. Vegetable tanned leather is “tooling leather”, it tends to maintain it’s shape (useful for something like a holster) and must be stitched by hand (or industrial machine). Chrome tanned leather is “garment leather”, more pliable, useable for coats and such; it can be stitched on most sewing machines (with a leather needle).

There was a slide of a “bare minimum” toolkit for working with leather. I didn’t write everything, but of note, a stone slab is good to absorb blows away from your wrist, and with thicker leathers, a knife gives a clean cut that scissors cannot (they make an angle). Any time you do tooling, you will want to moisten the leather: Water is to leather as heat is to foam (in what makes the material malleable). When the leather dries, it will hold the shape.

As with anything I suppose, Heidi said you’ll want to do costume mockups first, to test for length, and location of holes (where you can put snaps or chicago screws). Craft foam is good for this, as it has a similar weight and thickness. A single point of articulation is handy in design (hence snaps). For adhesives, “LeatherWeld” for leather-on-leather, or “contact cement” to connect leather to anything else. (Careful: it’s toxic.)

Suction cups are not part
of these procedures at all
For dyes, you can use a water-base, an alcohol-base, or an oil-base. That last is harder to dilute, as you need more oil (as opposed to, say, water). A dye will create a stain to soak into the leather, rather than be paint, sitting on top. Meaning adhesives would then bind to the paint, not the material, plus acrylic paint has little flexibility, and could flake off (from repeated use). The other nice thing about dyes is that the features of the leather are still apparent (like stretch marks).

Sealants are needed to avoid dye transfer - such as onto your skin, as you sweat from wearing the costume - so bear that in mind. Again, be aware of toxic chemicals, and don’t work in an enclosed garage. (My own curiosity after all this compelled me to look up patent leather - like on mary janes - which these days seems to be leather treated with some sort of plastic/petroleum finish, though the glossy finish was originally done by applying several treatments of a linseed oil.)


The “Advanced Photography and Post Production” workshop was actually a follow-up to Friday’s beginners workshop - I didn’t go to that, but I’m not a complete novice, so what the heck. It was given by Alex Rose and Ailes Noir. The first part of this workshop was more about taking the pictures, the second part more about working with the photos themselves.

This is @IAmMyOwnMusical !
It's not merely a TARDIS dress, her
hair accessory also lights up!
First, some discussion on equipment. Much convention/cosplay photography is portrait, not landscape (so 35 mm lens). A mirrorless camera means the image is digitally projected, so limited, but good for the casual to semi-serious photographer. A DSLR camera allows you to see the real life image, so you can play more with lighting. Cameras can be expensive, but a $1200 new camera can be $700 used - only make sure shutter use is low. Also “you don’t need a fancy camera to take amazing photos”. (You can be the judge, I'm including some photos I took.)

A WHITE umbrella is a bigger diffuser of light than one mounted on your camera, and gives more versatility than the same. But it can fall over/blow away. A BLACK umbrella (silver inside) is used for studio work, as it fully reflects (not letting any light through). There are four types of reflectors (all on one inside/out frame): Gold, giving a warm tone with contrast, for beach/sunset photos. White, which gives the truest light and colour. Silver, giving a more metallic feel with contrast, for night shooting. And black... mostly useless.

ON POSING: Physical movement is great. Jumping, turning (flowing coat), tossing hair, splashing water. Likely needs a fast shutter speed. You can use props to create action and movement. Angle from down low, or go up high to make things ten times more interesting. (Note: If you go up high, don’t have them still standing. And if you’re tall and they’re short, bend your knees a bit to get on their level.) Research poses - walk through artist’s alley, look at prints to get ideas, or go on Flickr or Imagr. (Instagram crops photos.) Do some trial and error.

This is Toronto's Pink Power Ranger !
Her outfit is based on Amy Jo's
original! She does events.
For group shots, use layers to create depth. Symmetry (“mirroring”) is key to a good look, but you also need individuality. Consider where people are facing. Candid shots can be good, or recreate a cosplay scene from the original work. Stairs are amazing. Get people to bend or sit. Do put heads in the same zone, or you’ll get too much negative space around the people. You may also have to contort yourself or stand on a chair to get a great shot: “Photographers Yoga”.


To touch up a photo, Photoshop Elements and Adobe Lightroom are good investments. The process as used and described by one of the panelists was: (1) Bring into MS Office to touch up brightness, contrast. (2) Into Photoshop to fix blemishes or odd shadows. (3) Into Lightroom for light work, highlights and sharpness. (4) Back to Photoshop for final touchups, and to add a watermark.

When in photoshop, the clone stamp is your friend (watch the opacity). DON’T blur, that wipes out the tones and gives a dimensionless “plastic” look to a face. You can liquify, but not to the point where it’s unnatural, and note this tool ALSO pulls the BACKGROUND. Perhaps handy for chin shape or awkward bulges? KEEP natural shadows (eg. under the nose). Note that removing blemishes isn’t a “self esteem” thing, it’s eliminating visual distractions, where the eye will naturally gravitate. Rule of thumb, “less is more.”

This is @kurumasha !
I actually know her. She
does some amazing cosplays.
Lightroom itself only tweaks the LIGHT. More advanced workers should use this to help with contrast and coloration. It’s designed for constant changes, so you don’t save here, you export. Use an sRBG colour profile, or colours will warp. (Versus, I guess, Adobe RBG or CMYK, which are variations I found online. Interestingly, the RBG model mixes light together, the CMYK model removes light.) One thing I know I still need to fix is 'red eye'.

There was some Q&A towards the end. It was noted that, in Canada, you legally own the right to all photos taken, no matter what. That said, people in candid/unposed shots can ask you to take it down (and don’t be a dick) while models have the right to a take down if any money is being made using their image. For children (under age of consent), get parent/guardian permission.

A wider pinhole for light will mean a blurrier background, while a smaller pinhole makes the image darker, the focus shifting to the background. Also, “Selfies” are often taken from up high looking DOWN, because it makes the chin appear smaller and the eyes bigger. (“Often” in this case meaning being done by women; male selfies may well be from down low looking up, with less regard for aesthetics.)


The posing stuff is definitely applicable to when I’m doing drawing (reversing the inspiration idea), and recalls the drawing session I attended at Anime North. The “legally owned” thing makes me feel better about posting up cosplay pictures, and so you got a few of those in those post too. Everything else is more tangentially applicable in terms of my interests, but I definitely learned some new things - and I hope that you did as well!

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