San Diego, California

Darryl Pamplin's Photos

Afternoon talk with Mike Rollerson

  For those who don't know, Mike Rollerson and I have known each other for quite a few years. We have worked closely with each other and often hang out when we're not doing conventions or our own personal projects. So just to give you an insight into his world, I'm going to speak to with him so you can know about his recent, current, and future plans.

Mike: Good start

Darryl: Heh, yeah. Well to start asking, what have you been up to recently?

Mike: In the past I've focused mostly on at-convention shoots and covering live events. Lately I've changed that focus more towards piecing together specific photoshoots that I've been wanting to do (working with models/cosplayers, scouting locations, developing themes/ideas to shoot, assembling costumes as needed and often working with a team (makeup artist, prosthetics artists) to create specific looks for what I'm trying to accomplish. Some of these have been cosplay or horror related, some being ones that provided something I thought was a little out of the ordinary and unique.

Darryl: Yeah, it's been funny when people ask me what you have been up to and I generally have to say I don't know unless I was at your house or talking to you about things specifically. So I know the reason for the switch has been just to the over saturation of events as of late and it being hard to achieve the results you want onsite just because you have had more gore and blood as of late and a focus on more a... I would say a bit of a more intimate approach to the horror genre. Has this provided any challenges? Made any things easier?

Mike: It's definitely been a mix of both -- I've found it much easier to go "all out" with the effects as they're something that are only being worn for one specific thing (a photoshoot) opposed to something that needs to last all day with the model/cosplayer walking around a convention center. It also allows for the effects to be done a little more "extreme" than what would be appropriate at a convention center. On the other side, however, finding a location to do shoot a horror-themed set any time outside of October can be challenging. Typically during conventions and larger events (something along the lines of Comic Con), these are a bit more accepted in public areas. This limits some of the locations that can be used and requires you to be a bit more creative. Some sets were shot in-studio to give specific looks such as an empty area with the model in the spotlight.

Darryl: So when it comes to your more extreme stuff as I've seen, you really do go all out with the makeup, location, and editing. I can see how this all is easier when you don't have to deal with being in a public or semi-public area from both having to deal with onlookers(a problem I know you've had at events such as Anime Expo), being kicked out of an area, or just having to edit out random people in the background. But speaking of events like Comic Con, do you have any big plans for it or any other cons? I know I haven't really asked as of late since we kind of do a lot of fly-by-wire stuff when it comes to planning.

Mike: I haven't planned anything for future conventions yet -- with convention plans always changing (even right up until the last minute -- someone may change their costume lineup to accommodate a gathering, panel or other friends wearing a different costume), I've found it to be easiest to see who will be attending any events and set up actual plans/shoots as close to the time of the convention as possible. I'm definitely planning on attending San Diego Comic Con, a couple days of Anime Expo, PMX, Comikaze and hopefully another convention or two this year though.

Darryl: Any considerations for any new cons or are you just waiting to see what pops up and looks good for the moment?

Mike: A few smaller conventions popped up this year around the LA area -- I might make the trip up there to check one out for a day. Typically these smaller conventions are more laid back and a place for cosplayers and anime fans to just relax. I can definitely appreciate that, but from a photographer point of view, the bigger conventions are definitely going to be my priority this year.

Darryl: And with big priorities I have to ask a simple yet loaded question: When it comes to all that you do and the styles you choose to do them in, what causes you to prioritize a certain aesthetic in your work? Does it rely more on what you think you will do based on equipment choice, at the time of the shoot with the location, or more so when you're sitting down editing everything with all the post-process tools available and can bridge everything together?

Mike: One thing I've always appreciated were the details -- whether it's in a horror prosthetic, a hand-made costume/prop or anything else that stands out during a shoot. Using different lights and modifiers, I try to get some shots that focus in on those details. I try to have an idea going into a shoot on how I'd like the finished shot to work, light it accordingly and then do any additional work in post-processing. Having tried out all sorts of equipment over the years, I'm comfortable with setting up different types of lights, sets, poses, etc.. in a way that would allow me to create the end-result I was going for. A lot of times the shot in-camera will look completely different from the final shot.. but shooting it any differently (softboxes and umbrellas opposed to gridded lights, for example) can make it much more challenging to achieve that same end result.


Darryl: Grand statements and thoughts. For you it's not so much the result, but the challenge in reaching it. I mean I've seen what you bring, how you set it up, and how you use all that gear seeing as we often hang out and do shoots in conjunction, even at times having to hold each other's lighting equipment for that one shot. But knowing that all of that and seeing what you pull out of a shot is still an amazing and refreshing experience, particularly because you are so in depth and willing to put in the extra effort. Also it goes to say that you're also well known, where as people around the world have seen your work because it's published so much! Xbox Brazil and Konami's UK portal both have been graced with your photos. So withstanding all of that, is there one thing you would want to say to fledgling photographers and cosplayers respectively on just achieving a goal or dream?

Mike: Try new things, see what works for you. Move outside of the "Auto" settings, try new angles, lighting and lenses. These won't always work out, but find out why (Was the light too strong? did it need to be re-positioned? was the angle too distorted?) and work off of these to find what does work. Staying in the "safe" zone and only going for one look can be easy, but it won't open new possibilities or styles. Ask for critique/feedback on photos and don't just accept the positive feedback.

Darryl: Wow, yeah, that's all the sort of stuff people need to know and try to go for instead of being stuck in a rut wondering why they can't progress. If anything I really have to thank you for answering that as well as everything else. I know you're like everyone else and have to deal with work and all, so this means a lot to be able to share your thoughts and views with others! But otherwise, is there anything else you want to say before we end this? Some inspiring parting words?

Mike: Go out and have fun with it. That's what this is all about. Don't be afraid to try new things, but also don't be afraid to say "You know what, I didn't enjoy (ABC) as much as I do (123)" and learn from those experiences. In the past I've tried new things -- common photography areas like weddings and engagements [unpaid shoots to get a feel for them] and quickly learned that I just didn't have fun with them and they weren't something I wanted to continue in. I don't regret trying them at all, but I wouldn't want to do them again. Too much stress and not the same level of enjoyment I'd get out of other shoots. On the other hand, trying new things can quickly become something you're very interested in. I attended a circus a few years ago when they were in town -- bought a cheap seat in the bleacher and sat at the very back with a zoom lens capturing the show. I quickly learned just how much I liked these types of live-event coverage and sent the finished photos to the circus who has been inviting me back for several years since then, and has been a fantastic experience and something that has made me want to attend and cover other types of live events such as concerts and haunted houses.

Darryl: Well there you go folks, go out and try new things. Explore the world around you and make the most of the experiences, whether you fully enjoy them or not! Most people don't start off knowing what they want to do exactly, nor do they start off good all the time. So do something when possible and learn from everything. Also generally Mike and I are easy to catch at events if you want to ask anything or talk about any amount of topics. We also are on Google hangout too in case you would ever want to stop in if we're talking or editing. But until next time, thanks Mike, it was a pleasure to speak with you today! If you guys want to check out more of his work, you can find it over here.

All photos used are © Mike Rollerson