Behind The Lens: Interview With Cosplay Photographer Michael P. Hoover
For the first of our Gen Con 2023 Interview Series we meet Michael P. Hoover, Cosplay Photographer.
In a world where fantasy meets reality, the art of cosplay has become a vibrant and essential part of geek culture. Michael Hoover captures this magical art form through the lens and takes us behind the scenes of his work. From his beginnings with a Kodak Disc Camera in hand, to his specialized focus on cosplaying, he has created a niche that resonates with fellow geeks and empowers the same people that he photographs. The Geek Post had the pleasure of getting to know Michael, to explore his journey into cosplay photography, uncover the geek at his core, his connection with his subjects, and his devotion to all things nerdy.
Geek Post: How did you become interested in cosplay photography? What drew you to this niche?
Michael H: I was given a Kodak Disc Camera way back when I was about 8 years old. I used to love taking photos of just about anything and waiting for the film to be developed. Fast-forward to my adult years, and I had put the cameras away in order to chase around my four kids. I was a stay-at-home dad for 10 years, and when my youngest started kindergarten, my wife said it was time for me to find something to do. I picked up a DSLR camera and started taking a few classes to really learn what I should be doing. That’s the back story.
I started my photography life in the digital world shooting everything, you name it, I was trying my hand at it, school seniors, families, weddings, architectural, etc. But I’m a gaming nerd at heart. And I had been attending Gen Con in Indianapolis for years and years. I had my camera with me and started noticing all these people dressing up as superheroes, D&D characters, and all kinds of other characters. I didn’t even know the term “cosplay” at that point. So I started snapping pics left and right. Over a couple years I found “the look” I was after in my head by talking to other photographers and that led me to even more conventions.
What drew me to this niche is two-fold, first, I’m a nerd/geek. To watch people loving that aspect of themselves so carefree was intoxicatingly fun. Second was the reactions of cosplayers when showing them the back of the camera while working with them. Often times cosplayers aren’t nearly as confident as they seem. I’ve had reactions from yelling “Oh my GOD that’s me??” to actual tears of joy. I never got that reaction from any of my “normie” clients. I was really drawn to that, and helping people feel more confident in themselves with my work.
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Geek Post: Are there unique challenges to capturing cosplayers on camera?
Michael H: Absolutely. The biggest of which is capturing all the detail, all the hard work cosplayers have poured into their work.
Geek Post: How do you balance the artistic aspects of photography with the thematic elements of the characters being portrayed? Is there special equipment that you pick and choose to use for each session?
Michael H: What a great question! The way I shoot, with a focus on portraiture, and with dark and dramatic lighting, highlights the cosplayer and their work, rather than thematic elements. It’s a choice I made long ago when starting to shoot cosplay photography. I want the focus to be on the cosplayer and their work, not on the back drops and scenery. Though, I have been known to shoot with that in mind.
Sometimes it’s hard though. Say you have a fantasy themed cosplay, you have to shoot in a way that eliminates any background people or technology (cars, power lines, etc.) so in order to make that background fit with the character. I honestly feel it’s more difficult to shoot with thematic elements in mind, and it challenges, for sure.
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Geek Post: How do you work with cosplayers to make them feel comfortable so that their personality and character shine through in the images?
Michael H: Especially when working with someone I’ve never worked with before, I often start off with, “Tell me about the character,” and “What do you like about the character.” Even if I know the cosplay is Superman, Superman means different things to different people. This helps me envision posing ideas for the cosplayer. It also gets them talking about what is important and exciting to them specifically. I find this helps put people at ease.
I also assure them that no posing experience is necessary, I will help them with that. I never approach or touch a cosplayer without asking permission first. For the most part I help them pose by showing them the pose, rather than moving them into position. Not all photographers are very hands off like that, and it has always weirded me out to watch those interactions.
Geek Post: How well received has your work been by the cosplay community?
Michael H: Very well, really. I’d say 98% of cosplayers I’ve worked with rave about the images. Unfortunately, my style doesn’t jive with everyone, and I get that. But it’s that 2% that sticks with me most. Haha!
Geek Post: What advice would you give to aspiring photographers that also want to venture into cosplay photography?
Michael H: Don’t give up if you’re not happy with your first results. Cosplay, ESPECIALLY when shooting at a convention setting, is much more difficult than traditional sessions. Composition and framing are critical to get rid of so much background noise.
Don’t be afraid to try new things and get the vision from your head to the image. Cosplayers are artists, much the same as photographers, so ask, many are willing to experiment to help you get your vision out!
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Geek Post: Do you consider yourself a geek? What does that mean to you?
Michael H: Oh, for sure, geek or nerd, depending on the day. Those labels were tossed at me very frequently growing up. I finally embraced them as an adult when I realized what I enjoy isn’t hurting anyone else, even if I will talk your ear off about whatever catches my fancy at the moment. Star Wars, Spiderman, photography, cosplay, my wife (trying to win husband points there!) I obsess over it. There’s nothing wrong with a little obsession…right?
Geek Post: What do your friends and family think about your work? How do you balance your professional life with your personal life, especially during busy times with conventions?
Michael H: My wife is a huge supporter of me, but not necessarily of all my work. Regardless, she supports my photography. My kids though are fully into it. They even help at my booths at times. My daughter and oldest son are getting into cosplay themselves, and I’ve no one but myself to blame for it, I suppose!
Balance is tough. I have a 9-5 job that I love, so convention season takes me out of the house in addition to that approximately 12-14 times a year. Making sure I make time to sit and just be with my wife is paramount. My kids are mostly grown and don’t “hang out” with Dad much anymore. But I did convince them to start playing World of Warcraft Classic with me once a week. That’s quality time right there!
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Geek Post: Aside from cosplay photography, do you have hobbies or interests do you pursue in your free time?
Michael H: Free…time??? Haha! I read, mostly WoW and Star Wars novels, here and there. Mostly I play World of Warcraft Classic with my kids. It’s a nostalgia thing for me, but I enjoy the time with my children. Even though some have moved out, it keeps us connected.
Geek Post: Lastly, is there anything else that you would like for our readers to know about you?
Michael H: If you see me at a convention, don’t be afraid to approach me and ask to work with me. Often times I’m doing free shoots to keep getting my name out there in between scheduled shoots! I always wear a light purple bandana, a black T-shirt, and jeans. The bandana sticks out in a crowd for sure!
A very big thank you goes out to Michael Hoover for this wonderful interview. If you’d like to keep up with him on social media, click on the links above or below!