Turning Comic Book Fantasies Into Photographs: Fstoppers Interviews Cosplay Photographer Jay Tablante

Turning Comic Book Fantasies Into Photographs: Fstoppers Interviews Cosplay Photographer Jay Tablante

Have you ever dreamed of using photography to recreate your favorite superhero scenes?

Have you ever gotten inspired by reading a comic book or watching a superhero film enough for you to start working to recreate these scenes into photographs? Well that is exactly a day in the life of cosplay photographer, Jay Tablante.

Amanda Lynne as Batgirl (Photograph by Jay Tablante)

Origin Story

Tablante started shooting professionally way before he got into such a unique line of photography. Jay is a commercial, glamor, and fashion photographer by profession and has mastery of shooting portraits among many other things. But long before he first ever picked up a camera, Tablante has always had dreams of illustrating his favorite comic book and superhero moments. As a kid, he spent much of his time drawing his favorite characters but when the glorified stick figures couldn’t compare to what his friends were drawing, he put these fantasies aside.

Maria Song as Asuka (Photograph by Jay Tablante)

It was when he started shooting professionally when he infused these ideas into his work. He would create scenes that border vintage, fantasy, and the whimsical and later on ventured into homages of movies and animated films. It was in 2009 when he first did a full-on superhero shoot. At this time, the word “Cosplay” has not grown the popularity that it has today. Through the years, the term stuck to the kind of photography that Tablante did and hence the label was associated to his work.

Inspiration Strikes Like Lightning

As an overall pop-culture lover, Tablante’s daily life outside of work involves a lot of video games and watching movies. He says that inspiration often strikes during those times and he would wander off and grow the idea in his head at an exponential rate. When an idea hits and inspiration strikes, he would stop whatever he is doing and look for further inspiration. He would start collecting inspiration images of different pieces of the scene on Pinterest and brainstorm on certain elements that he would need to fully recreate a certain scene.

Dinny Grayson as Mantis (Photograph by Jay Tablante)

As the creative process for this kind of work would take a lot of time, preparation, production, and shooting, Tablante emphasizes the importance of jotting down all your ideas to avoid ever missing an important aspect of the project. The next step would be to list down props that would be needed, and of course, reach out to people he would want to collaborate with to see the idea into fruition. At this point, a much more concrete flow of execution comes to life and he decides on locations, lighting, props, and of course, his would-be models.

The Creative Process

Tablante’s images aim to strike viewers in a different way. This is one kind of photography where you wouldn’t even assume of the reality of the scene. With just a glance of his images, you would know that a single photo takes hours of work to recreate a scene that only happen in movies and illustrations.

Jinri Park as Psylocke (Photograph by Jay Tablante)

According to Tablante, the main bulk of his photographs are shot in either a studio or a designated location to fit the requirements of the environment that he would be trying to recreate. A lot of shooting also happens around and outside of this main shoot to be able to produce certain special effects elements that would give the scene its magical and dreamy attributes.

Alodia Gosiengfiao as Sailor Moon (Photograph by Jay Tablante)

One fact about how Tablante shoots is that he’s often on the lookout for certain items, places, or environmental conditions that he would randomly see around and photograph them. This lead to building a strong but odd collection of personal stock images for future use. He recalls shooting such intently taken shots of random rooftops, manholes, clouds, leaves, and anything that one might find in the pages of a comic book or in a scene of a sci-fi move. This library has proven beneficial as these are elements that he would be able to use over and over again for when the need arises for them. Though Tablante is primarily a portrait photographer, he says that he would not turn down an opportunity to shoot dramatic and moody sunsets as he would know that they could come in handy for a concept in the future. Artistic intent can go so far in creating such a masterful composites and having your elements readily available can definitely make things easier.

Weapons of Choice

Rian Synnth as Psylocke (Photograph by Jay Tablante)

As with any interview about a photographer’s creative process, I had to ask Jay Tablante of the role that his gear plays in turning these superhero dreams into high quality photographs. Though Tablante has been a local Canon brand ambassador in the Philippines, he sticks with the principle that his camera gear is always secondary to the skills and techniques that he as developed through time. However, more often than not, having the right gear that fit your workflow matters greatly. He says that though talent may not be affected immediately, it’s apparent in the output and efficiency of how you execute your work. Tablante uses a variety of full-frame cameras such as the 5D Mark IV, the EOS R, and says that the new EOS R5 has made incremental improvements in his work.

Your Own Superhero Story

Amanda Lynne as Supergirl (Photograph by Jay Tablante)

For any aspiring and inspired photographer who might be thinking of trying out cosplay photography, Tablante shares a few tips that might help you succeed. As a first, he mentions that this can be done much easier if you yourself are actually a fan of such characters and stories. Being a fan of pop culture enables you to point out certain nuances and minute details that only real fans would see. Your viewers who are knowledgeable in the stories and scenes that you recreate would also in turn be able to appreciate better how well executed your concept was.

Create a world beyond the frames of your shot.

Dinny Grayson as Rikku and Foxrots as Yuna (Photograph by Jay Tablante)


Tablante emphasizes that you must aim to suspend the disbelief of your viewers into thinking that at least, even for the duration that they are viewing the image, those characters are real. You must also evoke an emotion. The charm of cosplay photography, according to Tablante, is in appealing to the nostalgia of these characters and stories and how your viewers relive them through their fandom. It’s all about harnessing that emotion and converting it into a tangible image.

Lead image details: Alodia Gosiengfiao as Gogo Tomago (Photograph by Jay Tablante)

Story and images shared with permission.

Log in or register to post comments

23 Comments

Nox Vega's picture

These photos are absolutely fantastic and beautiful. I admire the creativity in it and it's something I could never create myself.

Buuuuuut... it's still not photography 😉

David Love's picture

And yet when you look at a finished puzzle, do you see puzzle pieces or a photo? Doesn't matter how it was done, in the end your viewing a picture. And don't kid yourself, models don't look the way they do in the finished image, landscapes are edited, drugged insects on a plant are staged. Nobody cares.

My only gripe here is he says photographs by himself and yet he has a team doing 3d modeling, etc for his images. He credits them on his Instagram.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

I did mention that he works and collaborates with teams above. There is no claim here that he does it alone but the feature is indeed about him and his work in general. If you want further info on the individual artists he works with, almost everything is written in detail on his website. :)

David Love's picture

I believe the correct term for photography today is a "jpg version of a photoshop document."

Hunter Chan's picture

It could be tiff, or downright a psd......

Brahm Sterling's picture

Yes it does matter how it's done. If the only part related to "photography" is the photo of her face and the rest of the entire image is 3D or airbrushed, it is not photography.

red pixelero's picture

they CC jay tablante work's. they think they're good at photography LOL. they're not famous they dont have masterpiece also. all they can do is just take a pic edit then done. nothing special. people who hate someone's work's is fucking jealous they cant make something good art LOL. these scumbags are nothing compare to him. bitter people. still noob in photographing and editing. WEAK

David Love's picture

Did you create this account just to troll everyone?

Timothy Turner's picture

I would like to see the before photos. What child would not want a poster of him/her self like this on their bedroom wall portraying their favorite super hero.

Brahm Sterling's picture

I don't hang solo photos or collages of myself on my wall. Who does?

Timothy Turner's picture

Just trying to have a little fun here, relax it's just photography.

red pixelero's picture

you dont coz you cant make something like this. how many years are you in this industry??? still newbie?

Hunter Chan's picture

I don't hang photos on my wall too "cuz" I am a student and I don't even have a proper bedroom wall to hang my collages...By the way, I'm not in the industry but I have been in photography for 2yrs+. So sometimes there are insane reasons why people don't do stuff that a "pro" advertising for his YouTube channel is doing...😂

Alex Herbert's picture

These are excellent, I see a lot of not great 'fantasy' shoots that kind of turn my stomach, poorly lit, bad costumes, bad makeup etc. This is really next level!

Jay Tablante's picture

If you want to see the raw shots used for Mantis, they're here:

http://www.jaytablante.com/blog/2020/04/17/mantis/

I wrote a short blog entry on the materials and method.

Brahm Sterling's picture

I smell the "male gaze" backlash cooking up.

Bokeh Master's picture

interestingly- not a single male cosplayer photo here on the feature. interesting indeed

Ryan Cooper's picture

Does that surprise you? Just like with fashion photography, most photographers in the space are mostly going to be shooting women. There are certainly high tier male cosplayers just as there are high tier male fashion models but that space is dominated by women.

red pixelero's picture

a bunch of weak people here. they can't accept the're not better than him pfft

Taylor Guerrero's picture

Thats the great processing work. You can argue if it is photography, but you can`t deny looks are gorgeus! Asuka is my favourite!

Nada Ivanova's picture

i am always amase by the quality of those costplay ... those "amateur" make really a very nice job