Very Frank Pics Interview

Canadian Photographer Greg Payne has been a photographer for the last 5 years, under the name Very Frank Pics. We sat down with him to find out a little bit more about him and his work.

Written by Tracey Cramp, Edited by Jennifer Maillet

Professor Snape – Dee Elle Cosplay

T: So let’s start off with an easy one, what got you into photography or cosplay photography, and what piqued your interest in the hobby?

VFP: I had been going to Fan Expo and Toronto Comicon for a few years and even cosplayed a couple of times, but decided I was more comfortable behind the lens than in front of it. When I upgraded to a much better digital camera from my old point-and-shoot, it coincided with my starting to make a lot of friends in the fan con community and was getting to know and hang out with cosplayers. I went to film school many years ago, but hadn’t worked in film in a long time…cosplay photography seemed like a creative outlet where I could direct and create something and have some fun.

T: How long have you been shooting in general, cosplay and otherwise?

VFP: In early 2014 I’d been thinking about getting serious about it. My friend Gina (Gina G. and Red Ribbon Cosplay) posted on Facebook asking if any ‘togs wanted to shoot her Kyary Pamyu Pamyu at Comicon and I offered. A handful of the pics turned out really well and Gina shared them a lot, and that was a real boost to my confidence. A few other people were encouraging enough that I started my Facebook page that summer, roped a few folks into shoots at Fan Expo and I was off.

T: Why do you continue to be a photographer? What drives you?

VFP: I’ve always been a bit shy and never had a big social circle, but I feel like I’ve found my tribe in this community so the social element is a big part of it. On the creative side, I’m always looking to improve my skills both in shooting and editing; I’m my own worst critic and when I pull off a gallery that actually makes me really happy it’s a big victory, but I know I could do better. I wouldn’t say I’m competitive, but there are some Toronto ‘togs whose work I admire, that when I see their photos I’m like, “okay, I need to step up my game.”

Gamora – Allure Cosplay

T: What are your thoughts about copyright and ownership? I know there is a lot of controversy over who owns what as well as cosplayers selling prints of your work or paid photo shoots versus non-paid.

VFP: I don’t charge for shoots because I work with people I like, and I figure nothing screws up a friendship faster than bringing money into it. And if someone’s willing to take thirty to sixty minutes out of their con weekend to hang out and collaborate, they’re doing me a favor helping me work on my portfolio and if the gods are smiling, they get some good shots for their own page out of it. As far as I’m concerned, their pics are theirs to do with what they want, and as long as they credit when they share, and let me know where the pics are appearing, I’m happy.

T: Lately there have been a lot of harassment claims in terms of photographers crossing boundaries and making people feel uncomfortable. There is also a lot of drama surrounding photographers refusing to take photos of certain cosplayers, or only certain types of cosplayers, What are your thoughts on this?

VFP: It’s depressing and frustrating. I try to make my own shoots as open and friendly as possible, which is I think one reason I get so many return customers. However not a convention goes by where I don’t seem to hear about photographers who are either creepers or are acting outright predatory. I’ve witnessed stuff in person and heard horror stories from models, and I still think that sunlight is the best disinfectant for this. Document it and call it out. That said, it doesn’t always work: some photographers with years-long reputations for pervert behavior still get bookings. I don’t know what the answer is. As for refusing to work with certain cosplayers, I’ve shot with men and women, plus-sized models, cosplayers over 40, cosplayers of color, LGBTQ+ cosplayers…I’m happy to shoot with anyone who’s cool to work with and has a real spirit of collaboration. When I see a photographer’s portfolio and he shoots nothing but size two white women, it says a lot about where he’s coming from, and it ain’t a good place.

HourqueenSnowhawk CosplayRed Ledger Cosplay

T: What are your thoughts on “Sexy Cosplay or Boudoir cosplay?

VFP: I resisted going this route for many years, not out of any moral issue, but just because it didn’t really interest me. Maybe 1% of the galleries on my page have much skin showing at all, and those are body paint sets. But I did finally make a post offering boudoir shoots, and will hopefully doing my first with a longtime collaborator soon. I’m curious to see how it goes and if I’m any good at it.

T: What would you say is your photography bucket list or dream?

VFP: Last year I checked off the Goldfinger shoot from my bucket list; that was really satisfying, but now I’d like to do some other body paint galleries. I’d love to get my editing skills to the point where I can drop the same model in different outfits into shots and do a gallery of four of the “seestras” from Orphan Black interacting with each other. There are a few cosplays I’d still like to shoot…a latex Silk Spectre II would be up there.

T: What gear do you use?

VFP: I use a Canon EOS 77D and my main lens is a Sigma EX DC OS 17-50mm. When I’m doing private shoots or I’m at a smaller con, I bring along my speed lite kit, which is a 28” medium Apollo.

White Phoenix of the Crown – Firestarter Cosplay

T: What gear do you wish you had?

VFP: I’d like a more portable external flash setup. The one I have is good for off-site shoots, but it’s too ungainly to haul around a crowded event.

T: What would you recommend to someone just starting out in photography?

VFP: Be brutal in your editing. I shoot about 10:1 or sometimes 15:1 in terms of shots taken to shots used. You can always give your models any outtakes that are pretty good if they want them, but what you show to your followers has got to be something you’re really happy with, not something you think is “fine.” Always be prepared at a shoot: come with specific ideas for poses to show the model. Google image search is your friend for that. And courtesy goes a long way. Telling the cosplayer “I have an idea, tell me what you think of this” is much better than “here’s what I want you to do.”

T: Do you prefer location shoots over studio? Is it more challenging being on location rather than a controlled studio environment?

VFP: Location shoots away from cons are my favorite. I’ve made treks out of town for shoots with some of my regulars over the past couple of years, and being away from the stress and crowds of a convention has resulted in some of the best work I’ve done.

Amalthea – Hayley Christine

T: What in your opinion is the hardest thing about photography?

VFP: Clearing backgrounds! I can’t stand the clutter of quick floor shots, and people wandering into the frame during a proper shoot is aggravating.

T: What has been your favorite convention to shoot at and why?

VFP: I travel to the UK every couple of years and have been able to do some shoots at MCM London Comic Con. That one’s incredible: the ExCel Centre is a great location with cool backdrops, and the European cosplayers that attend are both crazily talented and super chill so there’s a fun vibe.

T: So, as we come to a close I just have one final question: What is next for you?

VFP: Another trip to MCM in the Spring. And just continuing to get better at Photoshop. This is a hobby for which you really need to put in the hours.

Jill Masterson – Megan Murray

Sailor Moon – Trillian Zee

Poison Ivy – Peekaboo Cosplay

Black Cat – Ammie Cosplay