Cosplay Photography 101
Updated: Aug 29, 2020
I've wanted to write a bit about Cosplay Photography for a while. I'm still an amateur in the field, and if I'm being honest, I am very much a hobbyist that's improving and learning as I go.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a super fancy DSLR camera, or take in-depth photography classes to learn how to get good cosplay photos. Does it help? Sure. But it's not necessary.
All you really need to do is understand the basics of photography.
Understanding the Object and Subject of Your Photo
Simply put, the object of your photo is what your picture is of (a person, a building, an object, a bowl of fruit, etc.), while the subject is what your picture is about such as a couple on a stroll or a detailed look at armor.
There can be simple subjects and complex subjects. A simple subject could be focusing on a single person, maybe trying to highlight the details of the cosplay, armor or makeup. (Terra is a perfect example of a simple subject) A complex subject is a picture with multiple subjects or objects. Either way, the picture tells a story. For example, a simple subject is an image of two people hugging each other, and a complex one would be an image of a bustling family reunion (where maybe not everyone gets along).
Elements of Composition
There are many elements of composition in photography. To name a few:
Depth of field
Lines & curves
Shapes & frames
Foreground & background
You can utilize one or more of these elements to help compose an image, although this is not a comprehensive list of photography concepts either. These give you the tools to put together your cosplay pictures exactly how you want them.
Composing Your Shot
Shot composition is important in photography of any kind. Composition is the arrangement of the elements and objects in a photograph. If composed the right way, the lines and shapes in a photo can lead the viewer's eye through the image in a specific manner. Take the picture above as an example. Your eye starts at Genesis and then travels down the stairs, drawn in by the lines along the wall to focus on Cissnei on the right. This is also a great picture to demonstrate a complex subject. There is clearly a story here.
You've seen this before whether you knew it or not. Focus draws a viewer's attention to the object of the picture by blurring out anything around it, making what you're trying to show center stage. You can consequently bring multiple objects into focus in such a way that it tells a story.
For details or atmosphere, lighting is super important. No matter how great the cosplayer or camera is, a lack of proper lighting will make the object and subject seem mediocre. I'm a huge fan of natural lighting in cosplay photography, as demonstrated in the shot here of Isabella from Dragon Age. The lighting adds a depth to both her face and armor.
Whatever your object or subject is, a picture is all about perspective. You can use perspective to create optical illusions and give your photo more depth. Using the right angle while taking a picture of one character reaching out for another as they walk away tells a powerful story on its own. Adding in other elements such as the blurred background and perceived distance between the two reinforces that story.
Maybe height is a concern for the cosplayer you're photographing. Taking pictures from above can make a person appear smaller, and taking the photo from a low angle can make them appear taller. Perspective is one of my favorite things to play with during a photoshoot, though I often favor upward angles for added dramatic effect to a photo.
Photography Tips and Tricks
Always take a few test shots: I have made the mistake of skipping this so many times. Start shooting without checking your camera settings, and you could realize hundreds of photos later that your settings are for low light on a bright, sunny day. The results are disheartening. You'll have to stand there and fiddle with your camera while your object, friend and/or client waits for you to get your collective sh** together. Always (and I mean always) check your settings and clean your lens with a cloth before starting a photoshoot.
Communicate with the object(s) of the photo: Always ask someone before you touch or photograph them. This includes if you can help them adjust their armor, adjust their pose, etc. Ask them if there's anything they want to show off about their cosplay or any poses they would like to try. Both of you should communicate what you want to get out of the shoot. The more involved you are in the shoot, the more enthusiastic your object will be about it as well.
Do your research and ask questions: Get to know the character your object is portraying, Look at "best of" videos on YouTube for the character, then look up images and screenshots of the character to see how they pose. Take note of what sort of environment they would be found in. Read a Fandom Wiki on the character for some backstory. The more familiar you are with the object's character, the easier it will be for you to guide them through the initial stages of the shoot. Plus, it may also help you find a good location for your photoshoot.
Location is key: Find a place with plenty of natural light. Some indoor lighting will be alright, but natural light for photos is ideal. If you can, find a location that seems natural for the character to be in: parks or temple-like settings for Link, the city or a school-like area for Boku no Hero characters, etc. If not, just finding a quiet spot with a picturesque element will work.
Never use the flash that comes with your camera: It almost always washes out the colors in the picture. I can't say it enough: natural lighting is excellent for all cosplay shots. If you are blessed to have fancier lighting equipment, that is also a nifty tool and can reduce the need for natural light. You can position your equipment to illuminate your object better in certain scenarios depending on your subject, setting and the space you have to work with.
Experiment with angles: If you have a short cosplayer portraying a tall character, photograph at an upward angle to make them look taller. Downwards angles are also fun to play with and can make large objects look small.
Have fun with it: Play some music, encourage the client's friends to come along or help out and crack a few jokes. It's art, but it's also supposed to be fun!