The people you meet at a Steampunk Convention

For the past couple of years I’ve had the privilege of photographing the Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention held out Old Tucson Studios just west of Tucson.  I’m often asked what Steampunk is and the best one-line response I’ve heard is that “Steampunk is Victorian era science fiction” (for a more detailed explanation go here).

I love Steampunk. I love the costumes people wear because it’s a mixture of influences and it’s generally pretty classy. Guys wear a lot of top hats and vests. Women often wear amazing dresses, corsets and carry parasols etc. It’s just interesting and goes far beyond the realm of the normal. I’ve met vampire hunters, time travelers, slave traders, airship captains and even the Emperor of the Red Fork Empire

As I wandered around the convention photographing people, there was one character that really stood out to me. This one guy was walking around as a robot that was extremely well dressed (for a robot) and named appropriately “The Gentleman Robot“. Sometimes I saw him with a cane and sometimes I saw him with a huge mace and other times I saw him he was wrapped in chains but every time I saw him I was intrigued and kept thinking, “I have to photograph this guy”.

I finally managed to catch him in a quiet moment and that’s when I met John and Sabrina Floyd for the first time. They are a  husband and wife team that build some of the most amazing costumes I’ve ever seen. We talked for a bit and I learned that they are part of a creative group called “The Foundry“. I expressed my interest about doing a dedicated photo shoot with them. They agreed that that might be fun and so we set a time to talk later.

Red Riding Hood goes Steampunk

Early one Sunday morning about six months later,  I watched  as John and Sabrina pulled up to the studio with van packed full of costumes, props, large furry body parts, boots and lots and lots of hats and headgear. I realized that this was not just going to be another photo shoot. Once we got everything unloaded, Sabrina climbed into Kristopher Osuna’s  (Perfection Artistry) make-up chair so that he could begin to weave his magic. As we went along, I realized I was going to see a steampunk version of Red Riding Hood who worked with this cybernetic wolf. All of the details in her costume were there right down to the oil can on the her belt to keep the wolf’s joints loose.

With Joshua Reed playing the role of assisting photographer,  he and I started working with John to get him into this huge cybernetic wolf costume and light it correctly. I was astonished how how tall John was once he got completely dressed. Fun fact: he has a small fan in the back of it to keep  air moving through it due to the heat that builds up inside.

And so, our adventure began. Despite the long day, we all had a great time working together. John and Sabrina are truly two of the nicest people you will ever meet. Friendly, creative and enthusiastic with just a hint of mischievousness they displayed a passion that made them fun to work with. They were willing to do anything I asked and demonstrated an amazing amount of patience with me despite my constant refrain of “just one more…just one more…”.

Putting the pieces of the puzzle together

From a photography standpoint,  I wanted to create some dramatic images that could work as pieces for a fictitious movie poster to be assembled later in Photoshop. With that mind I began photographing John and Sabrina both individually and together. I was paying a lot of attention not only to the light but to the head angles and how it might all fit together.

One thing I really learned to be careful of is where the horizon line was in different shots. They need to be pretty close in order to make the shots line up believably in Photoshop later .  We shot for most of the day stopping for lunch, costume changes and to refresh make-up occasionally. Kristopher handled all of this ease and Sabrina looked great. When we finished I began downloading the images into the computer eager to see what we were able to capture.

For the next couple of days I didn’t do that much but sort through the images and think about how they might/could fit together. After letting it all percolate a bit I finally got down to work. For a while I was kind of worried that I might not be able to bring something together because several of the ideas I had visualized that looked so good in my mind just simply would not work once I started playing with them on the computer.

Despite some of the frustrations that come with creating a good composite,  I’ve decided I love doing them. In the beginning there is a period of time where you feel like nothing fits and then, suddenly you find a photo that “just works” and then just like a jigsaw puzzle, things suddenly start falling into place. The sense of excitement and the joy that comes with that is amazing as you begin see this vision you’ve had in your head to start to come to life.

In the end I created five different composites from this shoot and I probably have material for a couple of more. Some of the files were huge. At one point one was 5.5GB and when I tried to save it, Photoshop notified me that it physically was unable to save the file to disk. This was at midnight and so, unwilling to lose the work I had done, I just stayed up and finished it and then flattened the file to reduce the size so I could finally save it.

After it was all completed, John and Sabrina got some photos that they can use to promote their characters and I got some valuable photographic and lighting experience that will hopefully serve me well for future projects.