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I shoot Spider-Man cosplayers a lot. I’m willing to admit that it’s become my bread and butter when it comes to cosplay photography over the past year. There’s just something fun and charismatic about Spider-Man and the overall Spider-Verse to me. Spidey poses tend to be more dramatic than typical superhero poses, with someone just standing there looking steadfast and heroic.
Photographing Spidey forces low angles, weighted poses, implied forward motion, dynamic balancing acts, and all the good stuff that makes a Spider-Man shoot really pop. I fell in love with that aspect of characters like Spider-Man, Spider-Gwen, etc. In turn, I always gravitated towards cosplayers who don the suits and are willing to get crawling or climb on things.
At some point, I started to feel as if I had a grip on how to take pictures of Spider-Man. I was willing to bet that even J. Jonah would pay me at least $50 for a picture.
I had that confidence in mind when it came to Gwenom, a fan interpretation of what it would be like if #SpiderGwen got herself a #Venom-flavored symbiote suit.
I booked a shoot with cosplayer TheRaeStew and headed to location and the entire time I was thinking of all the great pictures that would come out of the experience. When I was actually there though, I was faced with a very surprising problem.
The Thing About Spider Suits
This is the Spider-Gwen that comic book fans know and love. It’s actually one of my favorite designs for a spider suit. I love the color scheme of it with the black and white with swaths of color. I love the addition of a hood for reasons I can’t really explain. All around, it’s just a very awesome looking suit.
The one thing about Gwen’s standard suit (and really all spider suits) is that they’re all very sleek. It’s skin-tight fabric and it really makes every angle of your pose pop. With the right stance, you can look really compact like you’re coiling up for an attack. As long as the cosplayer is willing to climb on stuff or get down real low, you’re going to have a good time.
Gwenom doesn't quite work the same way.
A Different Kind of Suit with Different Problems
Off the bat, the color of the suit threw me off. We were shooting outside in broad daylight and it was basically acting like a reflector. I should have known that going in, but I kept plugging away at it anyway. I tried to take pictures of the cosplayer on a ledge or crouching low in big open spaces and it just wasn’t panning out the way it was supposed to. Not the way it always had.
The same old tricks of using a wide area and isolating the spider perched on a spot looking like a sentinel wasn’t doing it. For a while, I didn’t get what was going on and I was starting to get frustrated with myself.
How am I not framing her right? Why do these photos look so flat? What am I doing wrong here?
Eventually, I realized that my usual approach was useless and I had to rethink who it was that I was taking a picture of. Big open spaces in bright daylight isn’t really a symbiote’s thing. They’re darker, more constricted, more confined. They tend to favor erratic over Spider-Man's calculated and clever.
So, I started putting Gwenom in smaller spaces or spots where the environment keeps her in a tight frame. I also tried angles I don’t typically use like downward angles taken from high above the subject. That’s when things started making more sense.
There was still a lot to deal with, though. It was pointed out to me later that her claws were sometimes made less prominent depending on hand placement. At times they might blend into the black parts of her suit. Also, her hood is way bigger than the standard Spider-Gwen hood and getting it to rest right on her head got tricky.
Sometimes the inner lining of the hood would show up because the edges of the hood would roll and bunch as she moved her head (it’s super prominent in the header photo).
Basically, the suit was a lot more to handle than I previously estimated.
In The End, It Was Still Worth It
At the end of the day, I felt like I could have done better. Despite that feeling, I managed to keep more photos than I thought and ended up falling in love with a few. Nevertheless, I still think that I didn’t do the suit proper justice. To top it off, it was the cosplayer’s first time in a spider suit with a full mask and face shell on. Throw on a hood and claws and it was a hell of a suit to pick for a first-time spider shoot. We came out of it alive, though.
Spider suits are still my thing and I love them to death. I might even be convinced to put one on someday. This suit was more challenging to take pictures off than I previously thought but that’s all part of the fun.
Live and learn, right?
I’m just flailing a camera around hoping for the best most of the time anyway.
On to the next one.