How to Take a Good Cosplay Photograph

It’s just a typical day on the internet – I’m frolicking through message boards, wading through my twitter feed, and giggling wildly over pictures of cute cats. As usual, I click around until I find the most recently over-shared cosplay image from the most recent convention – right now I think the one going around is a pretty epic Witchblade cosplayer at C2E2. I groan, feeling bad about myself and my own cosplay abilities, lust wildly over the cosplayer’s body/skills/adorable facial expression/having a boyfriend who will cosplay with me, and then I switch into photographer mode.

My father was (is) a photographer. HIS father was a photographer. I was handed a (film!) SLR when I was 8 years old and instructed to “figure it out”. Naturally, this led to many blurry photographs of my action figures and the family chickens, but that is neither here nor there. My love for photography seems to be genetically engrained into my molecular make up, so there’s a sort of magnetism that makes it so a camera is always in my hands. If I don’t see the life through a lens I get this annoying niggling feeling that things aren’t as substantial as they seem – because there’s no documentation to prove they existed. Yes yes, I am aware that makes me sound a bit loony, but bear with me.

Due to the fact that a camera is constantly on my person and I have also always been a giant geek, I have combined the two into ONE AWESOME BEAST: Cosplay photography. I’m sure you have all seen my incredibly image intensive posts here on ifanboy over the years – a picture dump that would put Getty images to shame. I have essentially perfected the art of shooting from the hip when it comes to talented nerds in colorful costumes. Yes, a lot of this technique may have to do with the fact that I am shooting with a ridiculously overpriced camera, but you too can make awesome cosplay photographs!

But wait, back up. That whole bit about looking at cosplay photographs, until I fell into a “I’m a photographer!” tangent. The point I was trying to make there is that despite the incredibly quality of the cosplayers, ofentimes these super popular cosplay photographs are downright TERRIBLE. Half of the person’s head is cut off, they’re blurry or grainy, the cosplayer looks awkward and is caught mid pose with an intensely strange facial expression, there are other attendees elbowing their way past the subject, the color is terrible… there’s just a myriad of things that I have seen wrong with cosplay photography, and I’m not just saying that because I am a pretentious camera hipster.

But you don’t have to be a good photographer or have an expensive camera to take a good cosplay photograph… if you just follow these simple rules! (And buy my how to program at the low cost of 650 installments of $9.99!)

Ask your subject

This is a crucial part of the entire photographer/cosplayer relationship. If you see a Harley Quinn chowing down on some french fries in the food court, ketchup streaked mercilessly across her face… you may just want to snap a photo. But as you position your camera to your eye, your finger hovering over the shutter for that moment of truth… she looks up, a rabid snarl passes through her lips and she jumps up from the table, brandishing a mallet and rushing you. You turn, ready to make your great escape, but the wiley Harley is too much for you: She leaps upon your back like some sort of monkey freak and kicks the camera out of your grasping hands. It goes flying across the convention floor, and before someone can bend to pick it up the cosplayer you were about to take a photo of is upon it like a pack of hungry lions on a downed gazelle. She jams her heel into it with a nasty “crunch”, and you feel your heart crumbling just as surely as the guts of your camera are.

The Harley Quinn approaches you. She grabs your collar, pulls you in close. Sweat breaks out on your palms – you can’t tell whether to be excited or terrified. Maybe a little of both.

She stands on her tippy toes, leaning in towards you. You can feel her breath on your ear. She smells like ketchup.

“Next time,  just ask.” She purrs. And then she waltzes off, mallet in tow.

So yeah, you should probably ask a cosplayer before you take their picture.

Re-position your subject

HEY GUYS DO YOU KNOW WHAT SEEMS LIKE A GOOD IDEA?! Asking the HOTTEST GIRL AT THE CONVENTION to pose for a photograph in the MIDDLE OF THIS VERY BUSY AISLE. YEAH! Let’s do THAT! That’s definitely not going to cause a huge traffic clog and piss off the convention center staff! I deserve a nobel peace prize! I’m obviously a genius.

…Do you feel this? This is me staring at you through your computer screen, much in the way your mom used to when she was really disappointed in you. Seriously, it’s not hard – You stop a cosplayer, ask them nicely for a photograph, then say “how about against that super not in the way wall over there?”. Just don’t ask them to come back to your van with you for a “private photoshoot”. That’s not ok.

 

 

Wait until your subject is ready

Oh look, I totally got this really awesome Dr. Doom cosplayer to let me take a picture of him! His mask is half off and I can see the wirey kid underneath but now I am so flustered from this much social interaction that I must snap a blurry photograph as quickly as possible and be on my way! Oh look, now I have a picture of Dr. Doom trying to put his mask back on! Oh well, the internet will still love this!

NO. Wait until the cosplayer is ready. It’s okay to take a WHOLE MINUTE to take a photograph. You’ve asked them to stop and you’ve asked them off to the side – obviously this is not a quick snap and run. Smile, be friendly, compliment them on their costume. It helps them to open up to you, changes the body language. And then when you ask “ready?” and they respond positively, you take a great photo of a happy cosplayer that is NOT mid belt rebuckling or wedgie picking.

Don’t use flash

“But red eye is so IN this year!”

Unless you have minions standing off to the side with a $2,000 off camera flash, we are going to have a problem. The built in flash on most phones and point and shoots is entirely unnecessary and makes the subjects look like washed out ghosts or rabid eyed monsters of some variety. Taking a picture of Emma Frost? FLASH oh look she’s just pure white.

 

I was crawling all over EVERYTHING to get this shot

 

Try unique angles

I frequently shoot conventions with a 50mm lens. This means that I usually have to get right into the cosplayer’s face for a good portrait and halfway across the convention hall from them for a full body shot. The results are awesome, but it means I have to do a lot of manuevering. In order to get the best shot possible I’ve rolled around on the floor, belly crawled underneath fake plants, scaled platforms and walls, hung over a 400ft drop (the Seattle convention center has some strange architecture), and hung one handed from a railing. All of these shots, attained through feats of bizarre physical strength that an out of shape pasty girl should not be able to muster, have wielded me incredible results.

So even if it’s as vanilla as doing a portrait from their waist up instead of their whole body, people like to see variety in photographs. It’s likely that super hot Black Widow is going to be photographed approximately 500 times that day, so make your shot stand out! Then promptly upload it to the internet.

Don’t be afraid to take more than one picture

Snap and go is for cowards! If your first picture is blurry, you just don’t like it, or if you desire different angles, GO FOR IT. The cosplayers know they are going to be having to pose. If they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t have worn their costume.

Thank the cosplayer

Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?

Selective editing

You just got back from the convention and you ARE SO EXCITED OH MY GOODNESS you just want to upload ALL THE PICS you just took. Stop. Hammertime.

I’m sure that your facebook friends are on the edge of their computer chairs, frantically refreshing the page with bated breath as they wait for you to upload your album form the convention that just happened. But they can wait a little longer, partner. Take the time to go through your photos, pick out the best ones – the ones that resonate with you, etc. Very rarely will a straight from the camera picture be something to boast about, so do a little editing. There’s tons of free photo editing programs out there, even web browser based ones, so you shouldn’t have to look hard to find one that suits your needs. Bump up the color, crop that weird guy out of the back scratching his balls, etc.

 

And now you’re a cosplay photographer!

Your mother would be so proud.

 


Molly McIsaac likes adorable animals, diet coke, and dancing in the middle of grocery stores. You can follow her on twitter… if you dare.

Comments

  1. Was kind of hoping for something more technical, but a fine article nonetheless.

  2. kennyg kennyg says:

    When reading this, a lot of it seems like it would be common sense stuff, but it isn’t always. Some of it just seems so obvious if you were to stop and think about it. Most people don’t stop and analyze what they are doing or how they are doing it, myself included. Maybe if you are an experienced photographer it becomes second nature, but these are excellent suggestions that should BECOME second nature. So it is very helpful to have things like these pointed out!

    You are definitely a talented photog!

  3. Grandturk says:

    How about “don’t get between your light source and your subject?”

  4. JoshSHill JoshSHill says:

    How to take a good Cosplay photograph? Hope that your subject is a girl, apparently.

  5. Walter Walter says:

    If you are in a public setting like a convention and you are in costume and get upset because someone takes your picture without asking then you probably should not be dressed up in a public setting to begin with. Just my 2 cents.

  6. barry_ii barry_ii says:

    These are really great tips. Thanks for the article. I actually really like the fact that I can see your shadow in the last one.

    • ed209AF ed209AF says:

      i am honestly wondering. not trying to troll. what about the shadow being seen do you like?

    • barry_ii barry_ii says:

      I’m actually more of a fan more of the candid journalistic type photography. I’m the guy taking a picture of the guy taking the picture. I like the “behind the camera” type glimpse.

  7. edward says:

    Number one rule: Be an attractive woman. Over 24? Forget it

  8. g0ofgnewt g0ofgnewt says:

    Also get out of the way of other patrons at the con. The high traffic areas like intersections might give you enough space to take that photo of the fantastic four with the watcher but you’re stopping everyone else getting past. They are here at the con as well. Be considerate!

  9. AugieDB AugieDB says:

    Ah, the beauty of a prime lens. Nothing beats one, whether it’s the 28, the 35, the 50, or the 85. The 85mm f/1.8 is my favorite, but it would never work inside a convention center because you literally have to stand ten feet away just for a head shot. Go back another two steps if you want to see the shoulders.

    My technical tip for these kinds of things: Take lots of test shots, if possible. Take test shots in the area you’re going to shoot in before bringing your subject in.

    Get to know the light. Know what settings work in the camera given a particular look to the lighting. Try to keep your ISO low, but if you have no flash then you have no choice. You’re likely starting at 800ISO and up.

    The trick I used in DisneyWorld with my flash when I had no place to bounce the light? Shot the light straight up, but put my hand behind the flash. It acted as a bounce card, basically, and redirected enough light to get the shot. If I needed more light thrown forward, I’d curl my fingers forward just a bit to make the light more direct. Plus, it warmed up the light a little bit, as it reflected off my yellow skin, photographically speaking.

    Finally, f/1.8 and full frame is awesome, but nailing the focus can be tricky, whether your doing it manually or letting the camera decided.

    Molly — Are you shooting in Manual Mode or Aperture Priority? And do you manually focus the lens, or let the camera handle that part? I figure if your training is with film Back In The Day, there’s a chance you might be manually focusing. I know some people who swear by it, but I just can’t get the hang of it.

  10. Great advice Molly, earlier this year I got my first taste of Convention Photography, which was also my first time out with my Sony-A35.
    I had a really great time and I’m hoping to get some more under my belt soon.

    Here are some of the better results from the day… http://www.flickr.com/photos/gaviinnansoong/sets/72157629758156905/detail/

  11. ato220 ato220 says:

    I’m not so sure I agree with no flash. Sometimes in the neon lit con floor you cannot stand up a tripod so better a flash than a blurry mess. Also, the best tip for beginner photographers is stand closer to your subject than you think you should

  12. pyynk pyynk says:

    That last point CANNOT be stressed enough. Seriously.

  13. hamish11 says:

    Great article Molly, but I think I have to disagree with the blanket “no flash” statement. Flash can be your best friend or worst enemy depending on the situation. As you stated ” on camera” flash can lead to red eye, which is easily fixed in post or massive over exposing which can be fixed with beforehand with some flash compensation. If you are a little more serious, you can add a flash bracket to help with the redeye or ugly shadows if your subject is up against a wall. Without a flash you are sometimes left with ugly overhead lighting that can leave you with a raccoon effect or in the case of your shot of Valerie Perez as Zantanna partially obscured eyes. I make the call based on the shot normally but even with my 30mm 1.4 i still try to add some fill just to counteract the over head lights.

    Oh yeah, always thank your subject, they put a lot of effort into those costumes!

    Flash:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimblair/6997400051/in/set-72157629620816203

    No Flash:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimblair/6851264610/in/set-72157629620816203/