Morning everyone! I’ve noticed a few people recently who have some funny ideas about what a “proper” photoshoot is and should entail, and how to go about organising one. I’ve been photographing cosplayers for a few years now, and cosplaying myself for over a decade, so hopefully I’ll have some advice that will help. DISCLAIMER: I’m not a tutor, I’m not a full-time pro, and I shoot largely outside conventions. I’m not cosplay-photographer-jesus, this is just a few things I’ve found to work for me and my shooting style. Every photographer is different, and they’ll all have more to add, and probably things that they do differently or straight-up disagree with, and that is fine. Read on!
First off - if you are a photographer, and you would like to shoot with cosplayers, you need to ask them. Don’t just wait until something happens, or you may end up waiting a very long time! Cosplayers are not fearsome beasts with sharp teeth and claws, they are people. Usually people who are very keen to have their photo taken if you ask nicely. If you prefer to work in a group environment with other photographers, ask them :) Photographers are also people! But you do need to be pro-active if you want things to start happening.
As a cosplayer, I really enjoy having good photos of my costumes. I like photoshoots. What stops me personally from doing them is that I’m also a photographer, and very very fussy about how I am presented on film - it’s nothing to do with how I feel about another photographer, and everything to do with not having full control over my face and how it looks in photos! If I am approached by a photographer, I really want to see examples of their work - if you’re approaching a cosplayer for a shoot, give them a link to your portfolio. Don’t wait until they ask for it, give it to them in the first message you send. If you don’t have a portfolio, that’s okay, just say so :) Everyone starts somewhere!
As a photographer, I’m a little bit confused by what people mean when they say “real” or “formal” photoshoot. I work freelance, and have done headshots for models and actors, portfolio shots for models and costumers and publicity for theatre productions. I get paid for my time, and also I met Tim Finn on my last job at BATS, so does that make me a “real” photographer? In the end, as far as my cosplay models are concerned, that’s pretty irrelevant. As a photographer, you’re always going to have your strengths and weaknesses, but you should be able to cope in most situations. For example - when you’re outside with no additional lighting, or in a studio with full control over multiple light sources, or in a theatre with only house lights on stage. Know your equipment, and know what it can and can’t do.
Photography is 99% the manipulation of light to achieve a set goal, whatever that goal (or “vision”) might be. Change your lighting, and you change the whole mood of the image. This is something that really only comes with practice, and I personally feel like I have a very long way to go until I feel like my lighting approaches a level where I can rest on my laurels and stop practicing and learning and trying new things. You can do an awful lot with a reflector - they’re cheap, easy to use (though exercise caution in strong winds) and make a world of difference. Some examples below of images lit using only a reflector and available light:
HOWEVER - everyone is different. Everyone has a different level of experience. Convention photography is a totally different beast than a dedicated shoot in studio, or out in the wilderness. Give yourself lots of time, allow time to build up rapport with your model, and just have fun. It’s much more difficult to get a successful shoot happening when everyone is on edge or uncomfortable, or even just doesn’t know the other people there. If you have an assistant, introduce them, and SMILE.
Another really important thing to consider is research - if you don’t know what a “good” image looks like, or how different things translate to film, how are you going to take one yourself? Look at images - magazines, film stills, favourite cosplay shoots, paintings etc. Look at what different lighting setups can do, what they look like in the final image. Not every editorial or magazine spread will have 100% high-energy, dynamic poses - sometimes lighting or angle does a lot of the work. ALSO remember that most cosplayers are not professional models. Posing in the mirror is one thing, posing for a photographer (who may move and change up their angle) is another. Keep up communication with your model - there’s a lot to keep an eye on when shooting, but try and see if something looks better from a slightly different angle. Rotating an ankle slightly, or turning the head or shoulders can make a really big difference. Just keep talking to your model, and look at what you’ve shot to make sure you’re getting what you want - or if you’ve just done something unexpected that looks good too :)
- If you want a shoot, organise one
- Show potential models your portfolio, don’t expect people to take your word that you’re good (or not a random creep - it sucks, but creeps happen and you’ll want to let people know you’re not one)
- Work with what you have, and be prepared
- Communicate. Cosplay photography is a collaboration, it’s not all on you as the photographer, but it’s also not all on the model.
Thanks for your time - happy shooting!