Interview: SoulFire Photography


What do Dragon Age: Inquisition, Tolkien, and RWBY all have in common? If you answered they're awesome, well, yes, you're technically correct. But they're also a few of the fandoms with a few of the characters Sonja of SoulFire photography has brought to life through her colorful albeit sometimes gut-wrenching work (yup, the proof's in the pudding) with cosplayers of all genres. Below the cut you'll read about her approach to working with cosplayers, her dream shoot, and her journey as a photographer. So check it out!


C: Can you tell us a little about your journey as a photographer? Where did you start, and how do you feel you've changed the most?

S: I actually started really getting in to photography in high school - I would take my friends’ cameras when we were at Regattas and take photos for the crew team (I didn’t have a camera back then, so I’d use other peoples’ and get to play with the photos), and once I got in to college, I ended up spending time photographing plants and the campus. It wasn’t until 2008 that I really started working with people. I did a few group shoots for gatherings, and people really liked those photos and started contacting me for private shoots. It super surreal, but everyone was so patient with me! I learned a lot that year.

It’s a little difficult to pinpoint where I think I’ve changed the most, really. I went back to look at
some of my older photography and I think where I’ve changed the most is my composition and overall feel-of-direction for the shoot. It was a little painful to look at photos even from two years ago, it’s like any improvements I’ve made aren’t gradual, they’re giant leaps in certain directions. I almost wish it had been a little more gradual so I could be of more help to people!

C: Do you have a favorite fandom (or two, or three) to shoot cosplays from?

S: Oh man, I absolutely love working in a few certain fandoms, and will drop everything for those series.

Bioware - I tend to group both Dragon Age and Mass Effect in to one giant group because Bioware owns my soul, and I love both of them equally. I’ve met some of my closest friends through our shared appreciation of Bioware games.

RWBY - the RWBY fandom is my baby, they are all so supportive and amazing. It’s so phenomenal to see people supporting and celebrating the brainchild of one of my closest friends.

Tolkien - It’s difficult to find Tolkien cosplayers, but when you do, man do they know their stuff. It’s so impressive. Tolkien was a huge part of my Childhood, so I jump on the shoots when I get a chance.

Halo - Okay so this is the fourth one, but Halo is another series I have found myself so absorbed in over the past few years.

C: If the godmother of cosplay photography appeared to you with all the time, money, connections, etc. you needed to set up your dream shoot...what would it look like?

S: Holy cow. This…. is a tough one. I have been so absorbed into Dragon Age: Inquisition ever since it came out, and through Tumblr, DeviantArt, and the online groups...I have found some amazing cosplayers of the series itself, and getting them to be part of a Dragon Age shoot would be so phenomenal.

One of my favorite things to do is add ‘believable’ effects in post (biotics, magic, etc) and Dragon Age is just full of opportunities for me to do that...but what’s better, is beginning with practical effects and expounding upon them in post. So I’d need some extra lighting equipment and people that are good with fire….

If I could pinpoint the perfect locations for each location of the game, I would be so ecstatic to set up Inquisition shoots inspired by the Emerald Graves, Western Approach/Hissing Wastes, Hinterlands, Skyhold…. I actually have a tag on my tumblr solely for dream locations, and it’s looking like I would need access to some locations in Germany, Western Canada, Wales, Midwestern United States, and Iran.

It would be the Dragon Age shoot to end all Dragon Age shoots.

C: Do you have a pretty clear vision of what you want to shoot before you shoot it, or is there a lot of spontaneity involved?

It really depends on the situation. Most of the time I prefer to have a bit of time to prepare and research the series, poses, shots…. and if I want to add in extra compositing afterwards. I prefer to have a clear vision of the shots I want before I shoot it because that idea can evolve into something even better because I started with a solid foundation.

S: How do you encourage/help cosplayers who have no experience with posing get comfortable in front of the camera?

I try to set aside the time to help them relax, I talk to them about what they’re cosplaying. Why they’re cosplaying it, what they love about the series. I also tend to make playlists for the shoot, depending on the feel we’re going for. A little music will help the cosplayer relax and feel a little less self conscious and more focused on channeling whatever they want to show in the photo. (Courtney's note: I love this idea!!!)

Honestly I’ve found the most important thing to be that my model and I have a good relationship. If we’re comfortable with each other, then it will transfer in to the shots themselves.

C: Are there any trademark Sonja touches that you feel often come through in your finishes pieces? (Lens flares, a certain tone, etc.)

S: I’ve actually been asked this a few times, and I’ve had to sit back and wonder if there are any signature things that I do. It’s tough, because if you sit me down in front of a computer with a gallery of photographers work from the cosplay community, I could probably name who the photographer was by the look and feel of the image - and if I didn’t know the name, probably the country the photographer comes from.

But as per myself, I’ve never really developed a certain style - I get bored easily when I stick with similar composition and processing, even the emotional feel of the photo. If it’s all the same, or if any aspect of it is the same for a while, I get antsy and begin to wonder if I’ve stagnated in my progress.

I will say, however, that I have an affinity for darker, more emotional shoots. I’ve been known to publish photos that make people cry before. So….I guess that answer would be emotional content of the photo.

C: And lastly, what cons are you hoping to get to this year?

S: Unfortunately my bank account has taken a hit the past six months due to being unemployed, but I am definitely attending RTX in August, and I’m trying to make it out to DragonCon - and I think for early 2016, I’ll be trying for Magfest.


Thank you, Sonja!

For more of Sonja's work, check out SoulFire Photography's Facebook page and DeviantArt...or sign yourself up for lots of Dragon Age: Inquisition goodness and follow her Tumblr.