Interview with Cosplay Photographer Thomas “Hexlord” Kuan

In our search for Cosplay and Convention greatness we came across one of the best in the world.

I’ve been a gamer geek ever since I was a kid. I grew up playing everything from ColecoVision to my current PS4 set up, and in all that time the characters that stand out became as widely known as movie stars and celebrities to most people. Along with my love of games comes a deep love of those characters, the ones that make or break a story, the kind of that make you love them or hate them intensely; and with cosplay and conventions around us all the time, I became interested in this process. I’ve made a costume piece for myself once or twice, so seeing the amazing results of other people’s labors I wanted to find some that were absolutely awesome.

I scoured the internet for cosplay models, photographers and costume makers, and looked for those that stood above the rest: The costumes that make you wish you had them; the models that embody their chosen character so perfectly in appearance or in spirit; the photographer with the eye to find that perfect angle, that singular spot, that will take you from the convention floor or the ragged warehouse that you’re shooting in and drop you into the reality of the game or show that you love. I was lucky enough to land an interview with a photographer recently shown off in a Titanfall cosplay featurette in Kotaku and gifted enough to receive the Cosplay Photo Of The Year award on, Thomas “Hexlord” Kuan.

Den of Geek: First of all, how old were you when you first became interested in photography?

Hexlord: I got interested in photography when I was in my mid-20s. It was a very interesting period of time for me.

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How did that passion become geared towards cosplay photography?

I have a few friends who love to cosplay at local conventions, and they invited me to join them and have fun. Back then, photography to me was just to capture my friends’ costumes, and over time I guess it grew to something even more.

Did you always love cosplay? Did it come from a love of something else, such as movies, anime, or videogames?

Before my involvement with cosplay, I had been very active with my gaming. I spent a considerable amount of time with my old consoles, as well as on my PC gaming rig. So in other words, the love for cosplay came about from a totally different and personal reason, even though I am a gamer.

In your experience, what has been your most difficult photo shoot so far, and what made it so challenging?

Hexlord: I don’t have any particularly difficult photo shoot so far, there were a few challenges but I was able to deal with them effectively and get some amazing pictures.

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However, for a recent shoot of mine (which led to the shot that won the 2012 Photo of the Year), it had been challenging because of a few issues. Suitable locations for the series (Guilty Crown) have been very hard to find, with the rather strict security environment nowadays. There was also a time factor. We were lucky to shoot at a day where the weather was ideal and trouble-free.

When it came to the equipment setup, due to the location factor of issue 1, the area that we settled to do the shoot wasn’t exactly decent enough to do all the lighting setup/preparation. There was also the concern of passers-by interfering with or delaying the shoot if they came around at the wrong moment.

So if you ask me how I dealt with things like all this, I just stick to the concepts I have in mind, making sure I get the test shots out of the way… after a few false starts I bagged the final shot!

(The Prize-Winning Shot)

It was amazing. To me, it looked perfect. Do you always go into a shoot with a concept of what you want your shots to look like, or do you just let the shoot flow creatively on its own?

I tend to do a bit of both. Most of my shoots were planned early on, with discussions together with the cosplayers involved. If that’s not possible for some reason, I will work out a few ideas and bring it to the shoot itself.

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Of course, given the nature of cosplay photoshoots, sometimes the best ideas happen with the least amount of planning. This is something that I appreciate, especially with new ideas that pop up during the course of the shoot itself.

Do you have any photo shoots that come to mind as being one of your favourites to do? What made that shoot so special to you?

I have a few favourite shoots, so one that comes to mind would be the Demonbane shoot I did last year with Senyakun (as the character Another Blood). I love the series, especially the way the characters were designed, and I love the outfits too!

I’m sorry to say I don’t know that series, but after seeing some of your pictures I might want to check it out. What about Characters themselves? Do you have any favorite characters to try to capture?

I love Shana (from Shakugan no Shana), Ashura (from RG Veda), Inori Yuzuriha (from Guilty Crown), Ignis (from Jingai Makyou), C.C. (from Code Geass), Master Chief (from Halo), and most recently Kougami Shinya (from the series Psycho Pass).

How much time does a typical shoot take to set up? How long do your shoots usually take?

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A shoot typically take less than half an hour to get ready. However that doesn’t include the time involved in transporting the cosplayers to the location. Overall, most of my shoots take less than 3 hours to complete as I usually like to keep them short and sweet.

What kind of camera and equipment do you usually use?

I usually use equipment that is standard among the cosplay photographers you see nowadays. I own two DSLRs (Nikon D80 and D300s), a set of macro/prime lenses (35/50/60/85mm), an ultra-wide angle lens (11-16mm), a telezoom (70-300mm) and the standard kit lens that come with most entry-level cameras.

Yeah, my girlfriend has wanted a DSLR forever, so she’s going to be envious of your set up. *laughs* Okay, so how often do you seek out models for specific concepts that come to mind?

Whenever an idea comes to mind and I am able to make some time for the concept shoot to be done. So to answer this question… maybe a few times a year.

I know you love photography so I know you probably wish you could do it more often, though. How long have you been doing cosplay Photography specifically?

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Since 2004, so that would mean around 8-9 years so far.

Okay, the big one: How did you feel when you won 1st place Cosplay Photo Of The Year on

I am happy to have won the competition, but at the same time I know that this is just the beginning and there are other greater and more talented folks out there. I need to keep on improving myself, and to learn from my past mistakes too!

That’s awesome. If you had one piece of advice for a cosplay model or photographer starting out, what would it be?

That it is alright to make mistakes, as mistakes are the foundation for your growth in either cosplay or photography. Nobody starts off perfect or well-versed in their chosen craft. As long as you learn from your mistakes, you are already making good progress in your chosen craft. Don’t give up!

Your winning shot was beautiful, probably part of a full shoot. What made that specific picture special to you that made you choose it to submit?

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Thank you. I guess it was because of the choice of angle and the end result of the concept where the character was expressing herself (in terms of freedom and love) that made me choose this as the favourite from that shoot.

What is the most exhilarating part of your shoots to you, the capturing of the moment? The end result? Something else in between?

To me, the most exhilarating part of the shoot has to be when everything works out and the captured image was able to define the emotion or feeling of the shoot itself.

How often do you go to Cons and what is your favourite part of the experience if/when you do?

I frequently attend the local/overseas cons when I have the chance to do so. My favourite part of the experience is meeting up with old friends, and making new ones!

What defines cosplay to you? Do you have a set definition of it in your mind or is it more open to different people’s visions of which characters are memorable and defining to them personally?

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I am sure cosplay has different meaning to different people. To me, cosplay is the act of bringing a character in a series to life as accurately as possible. What I do appreciate and respect about cosplayers is that they try their best to do that as well as to engage in fun-filled activities with their fellow peers, which is to me is great.

Again, I want to thank you so much for taking the time out to answer my questions, and I hope that both your words and your pictures inspire others and bring more of this awesome culture to the forefront.

For those of you who want to check out more of Hexlord’s amazing work, go like him on Facebook and DeviantArt.

And for those of you attending any cons, keep up the awesomeness because you never know when it will reward you in new and interesting ways, like photographer of the year.

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