SMC’s series “Behind the Lens” where we interview some of your favorite cosplay photographers is back again for another run. Our third entry in “Season 2” features up and comer Craig McNelley.
SMC: What interested you in photography?
Craig McNelley: I’ve been interested in photography since I was a kid when my Dad got this really nice Minolta 35mm as a gift. He would shoot everything, and I and my brother picked that up from him. We also had one of the early models of home VHS camera/recorders and we’d shoot our little league games, try and recreate movies using our Star Wars toys, etc. I studied film in college, and have always enjoyed storytelling. Like film, photography is an outlet for your creativity and imagination and for me, it’s a way to express myself, and I think that comes out in my photos. Lastly, I’m a big history buff and genealogist for my family and going through tons of old photos takes you back to another time and place, and for me that’s the magic of photography.
SMC: What interested you in photographing cosplayers?
Craig McNelley: A few friends of mine were going to AX2012 and they literally dragged me there. I had never been to a convention before and knew very little about anime honestly. I didn’t know what to expect. They talked up the fact there would be tons of people WANTING to get their photos taken in amazing costumes. I’m extremely shy, which often doesn’t help when you’re a photographer wanting to shoot with people. The cosplayers were so open and engaging and it helped put me at ease. And over time, being around these wonderful people with such amazing passion has really helped me open up and be more comfortable and confident in my photography and frankly in other parts of my life. AX’12 was a tremendously positive eye opening experience and I’m grateful I went.
SMC: Do you have a preference shooting between studios, outside or conventions?
Craig McNelley: Not really. I think each one presents unique challenges, ideas, possibilities. In studio it can be pretty controlled which is nice, you can build sets or certain backdrops that you may want. Potentially unlimited power for lots of lights if you use AC powered equipment. On location is exciting because if you find a place that fits your character, it really adds that element of realism that you’re actually there with the character. Cons are fun because there’s access to so many people. Sometimes they can be limiting, but I look at it as an opportunity to create. Find a unique spot and shoot there. And I’ve shot cons so often, I can figure out what a particular shot is going to look like before I shoot which is helpful.
SMC: Any upcoming cosplay events you will be shooting (2016 Schedule)?
Craig McNelley: Yes, going to be nice and busy! I have Silicon Valley CC in a few weeks, and then the next week I’m driving cross country to North Carolina for a horror convention, Mad Monster Party Charlotte, that a friend runs. I love road trips! Potentially Emerald City CC a few weeks after that. There’s another Mad Monster in Phoenix in early May, Phoenix CC after that. AX, SDCC and then some in the late summer/early fall I’m looking at.
SMC: What photographers inspire you?
Craig McNelley: My biggest inspiration is from a photographer that doesn’t shoot cosplay. Nick Saglimbeni with Slickforce. We shared a photo studio in downtown LA so I’ve known him a long time. He’s a master at lighting and composition and the most professional person around. He did create his own comic book, Slickforce Girl which everyone should check out(shameless plug)! So he’s certainly familiar with the various styles of cosplay photography. He’s someone I talk shop with, bounce ideas off, things that work, don’t work, etc. He’s shot some of the biggest names in the world, so it’s been great having someone with his kind of knowledge around. As far as strictly cosplay photographers, there are certainly some great ones out there. There are a lot of guys over in Europe and Asia that do some really cool stuff. I have to say though; I get a lot of inspiration as a person from some of my fellow photogs here in LA. Sonny Meas, Ed Ying, Geri Kramer, Doug Stidham, Bill Ostroff to name a few, who are dedicated photographers and great people. We all have our own styles, but their passion and drive inspires me to be better.
SMC: Any favorite cosplayers you have liked working with in the past?
Craig McNelley: Wow, too many to name! I’ve worked with Toni Darling a few times which was fun, she has so much energy. I’ve only gotten to work with Callie Cosplay once, but we had so much fun, it was an amazing shoot, it’s a shame she lives so far away. Lara Lunardi was my first real cosplay friend and she’s been one of my closest friends since and is always great to work with. She’s so talented and passionate. I worked with HendoArt a lot when she first got started and we had some great shoots. Tia Maria is awesome to work with. VertVixen, Angi Viper, Alexandria the Red, AmberSkies, Maid Of Might, Elizabeth Rage, Loki Hates You, and of course Lonstermash. I’m going to get in trouble for not naming people, but I literally could go on for an hour. I have so many Cali and AZ friends that I love to see, hang out and shoot with.
SMC: Any cosplayers you hope to work with in the near future?
Craig McNelley: All the one’s I just mentioned? Ha! As a cosplay photographer, there are definitely some cosplayers you want to shoot with. Nigri, Yaya, Vampy to name a few. Ivy Doom Kitty, LeeAnna Vamp, Traci Hines, Nicole Marie Jean, Adrienne Curry, Precious Cosplay, Danielle Vedovelli are some folks that immediately come to mind as far as cosplayers I’d love to work with as well.
SMC: Any cosplay shots you’re best known for?
Craig McNelley: Early on I was most known for action shots and natural light shots, so that’s where I really got noticed. I captured a great pic of Toni Darling’s Bride and through that, I was able to work with her on a Thor and Mother Russia shoot. Those did really well. I did some boudoir-ish type shots with Alexandria the Red that were popular, as were some action shots with VertVixen. Some of the stuff I did with HendoArt were pretty popular and the shots I and Maid of Might shot recently have gained a lot of attention. The PrincessesPreferPink Charity shots have gotten a lot of attention. One of my latest pictures, a shot of Katara from Avatar blew up on Instagram. It’s been a great ride so far.
SMC: Do you have a geeky side? What’s your favorite way to pass the time? (Comic books, video games, movies, anime, etc…)
Craig McNelley: Well if I’m not working on photos, which seems like all the time, I’m getting my butt kicked in Battlefront. I LOVE Star Wars. I bought a PS4 just so I could play it. No regrets. Me and my brother had just about every SW toy they made. I usually watch the OT once a week or every other week. I’ll just put it on while I’m working just to have it going on in the background. I read comics, loving all of the Star Wars titles out now, dabble with Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen among a few others, but if I don’t read ’em right away, it may take me a while to get back to them which is frustrating. Other than that, watching movies and trying to catch up on a ton of TV shows. I love all of the superhero shows out there now. Arrow, Flash, Gotham, Agents of Shield. When I was growing up, there was The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man TV shows that I loved but they didn’t last long. The 90s came along and pretty much ruined it all, they were pretty terrible. Same thing with movies. Some of the late 70s and 80s comic book hero movies were awesome. Superman, Batman, Conan and even Flash Gordon still stand up. The 90s came along and they just weren’t good. Thankfully technology and the story telling came together in the 2000s and I’m so excited with what’s come out and what’s on the schedule.
SMC: Any upcoming / ongoing cosplay related projects?
Craig McNelley: I created a charity called “Princesses Prefer Pink” where, along with the tremendous help of Angi Viper, gathered up a group of amazing cosplayers and created pink versions of various Disney Princesses to bring attention to breast cancer awareness. We released group photos and single prints of each of the girls for Valentines Day. And will be releasing more throughout the year, culminating with a coffee table book and calendar that we’ll sell come October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. ALL of the proceeds from the sales of the prints, book, calendars, will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. We’ve had a great start to it, and we all are so excited to see it continue. Folks can check them out at princessespreferpink.storenvy.com
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