Silicon Savy Tech Bargain Store | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | Affiliate Disclosure

Cosplay Photography – Unmasking A Booming Genre

In this article, we’ll look at all there is to know about the growing trend in cosplay photography.

Cosplay involves a little costume design, a little hair and makeup, and a lot of dedication to a particular pop-culture fandom.

Geek and pop culture has enjoyed a boom in popularity in recent years – especially Japanese anime and manga.

I recall watching Astro Boy on television as my first exposure to Japanese anime.

Little did I know it would spark a lifelong fascination with Japanese culture, anime, manga, and the multiverses of fandom.

Streaming services and digital graphic novels have resulted in an increasing number of people becoming aware of and falling in love with geek culture icons.

As a result, conventions celebrating geek culture and fandom take place all over the world.

A convention is the ultimate stage to showcase and photograph cosplay artists on parade.

Cosplay photography requires dedication, the right gear, the best location, and an understanding of the lore and background behind any cosplay character.

The world of cosplay has strong links to a wide range of universes, with dedicated fans attracted to science fiction, fantasy, gaming, manga, and anime.

A great cosplay photographer must create images as whimsical and mysterious as the world from which they originated.

Let’s dive into the world of cosplay photography to learn how to get into this fascinating genre.

What Is Cosplay Anyway?

Ian Tan | GFX 100S + GF45mm f/2.8 | @cpt.eleanore

The Urban Dictionary says it best: Cosplay is literally “costume play.”

In essence, cosplay is dressing up and pretending to be a fictional character.

Those living in North America have practiced cosplay for decades through a little holiday known as Halloween.

While Halloween has its own origins, cosplay dates back to the popular Japanese culture of dressing up as a much-loved protagonist from anime, manga, or video games.

Japanese teens and young adults have been practicing cosplay since the 1970s.

However, the term cosplay dates back to 1984 when a traveling Japanese reporter, Nobuyuki Takahashi, attended Worldcon in Los Angeles.

He wrote a report on his observations of attendees dressing as popular characters and used the Japanese term Kosupure. The English translation is a portmanteau of “costume play.”

I had to look up what “portmanteau” meant to use such a big word confidently! It means to blend the sound and meaning of words.

How Much Do You REALLY Know About Photography?! 🤔

Test your photography knowledge with this quick quiz!

See how much you really know about photography…

Since its early beginnings, cosplay has blossomed into an influential and faithful way for pop culture fans to celebrate their fandom.

Today’s cosplay devotees replicate and produce exceptional costumes with thoughtful detail and accuracy.

A whole industry has evolved to support cosplay artists with services to purchase everything from screen-accurate props to air-cooled suits.

Adam Savage, famous for his tenure on Mythbusters and now, is a huge fan of cosplay and attends many conventions incognito as one of his many favorite characters.

The growth in cosplay popularity has seen an equal rise in the use of social media to promote cosplay artists.

As a result, the call for photographers to capture lore-accurate images has risen.

Heading To A Con Near You

Group of five people in colorful costumes and makeup, standing closely together, smiling up at the camera on a cobbled walkway.

Ian Tan | GFX 100S + GF45mm f/2.8 | @emjainecosplay @rebe.doran @classypollu @shockjockeycosplay

While the origins of cosplay began in the parks of Shibuya and Harajuku in Tokyo, artists now parade their costumes and creations at conventions around the world.

It’s become so popular that many big conventions, such as ComicCon, SuperNova, and PAX, celebrate the art and hold cosplay competitions.

It’s a serious business with awe-inspiring costumes that put Hollywood hair, makeup, and wardrobe departments to shame.

Many cosplay artists build careers from their craft by elevating the quality and complexity of their costumes to new levels.

Many DIY their builds from faux fur, neoprene, foam, and 3D printed elements, and harness gadgetry to include sound and lighting effects.

Events such as Comic Con, PAX (Penny Arcade Expo), SuperNova, and electronic gaming expos have long been the stomping ground of cosplay artists.

Most conventions hold dedicated showcases and competitions for artists to display their creations and pose for the adoring audience.

Some artists go to such lengths that it’s hard not to stand and stare in awe.

As the popularity of cosplay, Japanese culture, and fandoms bloom, so too do the opportunities and events for cosplay exhibitions.

Anime Expo, SMASH! Sydney Manga And Anime Show, and many more, make the list on the Worldwide Anime Conventions schedule.

Conventions are the perfect place and time to capture stunning cosplay photos.

Cosplay Photography Elevates The Experience

Person in pink costume aiming a glowing bow and arrow in a dramatic pose.

Ian Tan | GFX 100S + GF45mm f/2.8 | @springdreamer_

As cosplay continues to grow in popularity, so does the demand for photography to capture the essence of the art.

Old and new photographers are turning to cosplay photography to make the most of the growing demand.

Being a cosplay photographer is like working with professional models or capturing headshots.

However, with cosplay, the photographer must understand and appreciate the world from where the cosplay theme originated.

A good cosplay photographer will work hard to set the right mood in a studio or out in the field.

The photographer must know how to pose the artist to capture dynamic environmental portraits and to stay true to the character’s story and influences.

Cosplay artists working with a photographer often need images for their social media accounts, to enter competitions, and as part of their cosplay-bio for modeling work.

Cosplay is a showcase of art, inspiration, and dedication, and as such, it demands to be documented in glorious detail.

What’s The Best Gear For Cosplay Photography?

Person in a tan and red costume with antler hat and paw gloves stands excitedly outdoors with a Ferris wheel in the background.

Ian Tan | GFX 100S + GF45mm f/2.8 | @emeraldcosplay

Cosplay photography takes a lot of influence and guidance from traditional modeling and the types of portrait shoots.

The core elements of lighting, location, background, and pose are essential.

However, a cosplay session is dynamic and often more whimsical or dramatic than with modeling shots.

Sometimes, cosplay photographers work at conventions to capture an artist in their natural habitat.

It’s essential to have the right gear on hand to accommodate a range of locations and lighting conditions.

Sometimes, you’ll follow a cosplayer as they walk the convention floor.

Sometimes, you may need to photograph them on stage or as part of a group shot of cosplayers from the same themed world.

What’s The Best Camera For Cosplay Photography?

A Fujifilm camera with a large lens is placed in an open camera bag.

To make a start in cosplay photography, the best camera is the one you probably already have.

I tend to rant about shooting with the gear you already have rather than worrying about filling your camera bag with a new kit.

If working with a smartphone appeals to you, that’s precisely what you should do.

After all, current-generation smartphone photography and all the editing apps that accompany it are excellent, and there’s much to gain from working with a smartphone and posting directly to social media.

However, your camera should tick a few boxes if you want to improve your cosplay photography.

A full frame or mirrorless APS-C camera is best to optimize ISO management in low light settings.

Most digital cameras capture images in RAW and JPEG formats; a camera that captures RAW files is essential for this genre.

I recommend shooting cosplay photography in RAW format so that you can optimize the editing process on a computer.

RAW image files contain all of the data captured by the camera sensor and deliver greater flexibility during editing. They allow you to push back highlights and pull details out of the shadows.

Shooting images in RAW also delivers a greater dynamic range of highlight and lowlight areas.

Another beneficial feature is the ability to shoot a high-speed burst with either the Electronic or Mechanical Shutter.

While many cosplay artists perform stationary poses, others prefer to be in motion to demonstrate their costumes or to align with the character’s behavior.

A fast, continuous burst of around 8fps (frames per second) lets you capture a character in motion. Later, in post-production, you can choose the best shots.

Syncing your camera with a camera-mounted flash or a wireless speedlight is often necessary.

Consequently, your camera must have a hot shoe to attach a flash or a wireless trigger.

Check out our guide to the best mirrorless cameras.

Choose The Right Lenses For Cosplay Photography

A person wearing a jacket holds and aims a Fujifilm camera with a Profoto flash attached. The background is a plain wall.

Because of the genre’s dynamic nature, a range of different lens focal lengths is required.

Again, don’t get carried away and rush to the camera store to buy every focal length you can afford.

A standard zoom lens is by far the best lens for cosplay photography.

If your digital camera includes a kit lens, chances are that’s an excellent choice to begin with.

Typically, a standard zoom has a 24-70mm full frame equivalent focal range.

The wide 24mm range is ideal for capturing action in a scene with greater background context or for group shots.

The narrower 70mm range is perfect for capturing headshots, portraits, or full-body images from a distance.

Beyond the standard zoom, a wide aperture portrait prime lens between 50mm and 85mm is perfect for portraits where you wish to blur the background.

Since many cosplay shoots occur indoors or in dark, shadowy alleys, wide apertures are best for optimizing lowlight performance and capturing the excellent depth of field and background blur.

Essential Lighting

A photographer adjusts a lighting setup while capturing an image of a person in a cosplay costume indoors.

Another essential element of a cosplay photography kit is lighting.

Getting the lighting right is crucial to building upon the theme, intended mood, and drama within an image.

As with portraiture, cosplay photography benefits best with additional lighting to add drama and appealing exposure and for working in darker conditions like a convention space.

On-camera flash units are suitable; however, they can result in unappealing exposure of your model.

Off-camera flash or LED lights deliver the best outcomes.

A constant LED light delivers color temperature and RGB control. Applying colored light to a cosplay shoot enhances the drama.

LED panels and tube lights are available in various sizes, from smaller compact ones to larger panels that mount to a tripod or light stand.

The size and convenience depend on where you intend to hold a shoot and what you can carry.

A single portable RGB tube light may be all you need to get started and make the most of any setting.

However, a single speedlight with a fitted diffuser is best for indoor and outdoor cosplay portraits to push back shadows and make your subject stand out.

An off-camera flash unit relies on a wireless trigger connected to the camera’s hot shoe.

Planning A Cosplay Photography Session

A woman in a denim jacket and black tights lies back and lifts her legs off the ground while wearing headphones, against a red background.

Ian Tan | GFX 100S + GF45mm f/2.8 | @becky_cosplays

When planning a cosplay photography session, doing a little fandom research is always advised.

Work closely with the cosplay artists to understand the theme of the costume and the story of the character behind it.

If the character is from a manga, anime, or science fiction cinematic world like Marvel or DC, watch videos to understand it better.

Get to know the antagonists and protagonists of that universe so that you can inspire and guide your model to get into character and immerse themselves in that world.

The next step in planning is to select a suitable location.

If you’re attending a convention, ensure that you book tickets early – due to their growing popularity, cons sell out quickly.

It’s a good idea to find a location close to the convention center where you can go before or after the event to capture environmental portraits.

If the artist is cosplaying a dark and seedy character, find a local underground car park or dimly lit alleyway to take shots.

If the character is from a fairytale world, try to find a local park or nature reserve to set the scene.

Posing A Cosplay Artist To Capture The Action

A person with glowing pink eyes, holding playing cards emitting pink energy, wears a sleeveless shirt, black gloves, and has tousled hair with a dark background.

Ian Tan | GFX 100S + GF45mm f/2.8 | @ragincajuncosplay

Working with a cosplay model is similar to a fashion model.

As the photographer, your role is to guide the model on where to stand, sit, or lie and how to position and pose their head, face, and limbs.

Check out our guide to flattering portrait poses!

One key difference between cosplay and traditional costumes is that cosplayers often have to contend with additional limbs, wings, horns, oversized weapons, and headwear.

Another consideration when posing a fully costumed cosplay artist is how their attire impacts lighting.

Many costumes feature shining armor, glossy latex, reflective Perspex, sparkling crystals, and built-in lighting effects.

When selecting poses, use the knowledge gained from your research to guide the pose so that it stays true to character.

Although, you’ll quickly discover that a big part of cosplay includes the artist knowing every little detail about the character they portray – from the smile to how they hold a mace!

Be sure to utilize any props the artist has on hand.

If conducting a shoot at a convention, the cosplay artists will likely know other attending cosplayers.

Get the group together for some fun and dynamic shots. It’s not just a costume party; it’s a profoundly immersive physical and psychological experience.

Chances are the artist knows the moves better than anyone.

An Interview With A Cosplay Photographer

A man wearing a jacket and glasses is standing and using a camera with a large lens outdoors, near glass windows. He appears to be focusing intently on taking a photograph.

My friend and photography mentor, Ian Tan, agreed to let me tag along to his recent cosplay shoot at Melbourne Comic Con.

I’ve known Ian for a long time, and he’s proven time and time again that he understands the photography and videography craft better than most.

What’s more, Ian’s an incredibly generous, supportive, and warm individual who is quick to build relationships with anyone he meets.

I spent the morning following him as he worked with cosplay artists attending the convention.

What amazed me most was the relationships Ian had built with his cosplay clients, not only knowing them but also knowing the characters and lore they represented.

I interviewed Ian to better understand his focus and motivation in cosplay photography.

Please tell me a little about your photography journey.

A group of people pose for a photo taken by a photographer standing on a ledge in an urban area with modern buildings in the background.

I started photography seriously around 2012 when I bought the first release of the Fujifilm X100 camera.

I enjoyed the simplicity and ‘cool’ factor of the camera, and it made me want to bring it along and take pictures.

My motto at the time was to ‘find beauty in the mundane’, so I took photos of everything with it.

What genres of photography or videography have you shot professionally and as a hobby?

A person with a camera takes a photo of another person posing in front of a backdrop indoors.

Originally, I cut my teeth on travel and landscape photography.

It was a shared joy between my wife and I and we both learned the basics of photography there.

It has also brought us to many amazing places like Alaska and Norway to shoot the aurora borealis in winter.

Then we branched out into corporate and event photography, which we still do as a side business.

It introduced me to the world of photographing people.

I also started shooting video and then began regularly shooting video of Fuji X Aus events, which was a great learning experience for me.

From there, I eventually got into cosplay photography, a merging of my interest in pop and Japanese culture with photography, which I have now been doing for five years.

Cosplay photography is my creative outlet (not work), and I do it for the pleasure of bringing my creative ideas to life with other cosplayers and just hanging out with them, many of whom are good friends of mine.

What have been the three most beneficial lessons you’ve learned?

A group of six people, dressed in various styles, gather around a camera on a sidewalk next to a corrugated metal wall.

The first (and easiest) is to master camera craft – the basics of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

How to work my camera so that I can free up my mind to be creative.

The editing aspect of photography is also important to my work, so I’m constantly watching YouTube videos to expand my knowledge.

Again, this allows me to bring my creative vision to life. Photography is part science and part art. This is the ‘science’ aspect.

The second is to understand the theory behind what makes a good image: lighting, composition, use of color, how to pose my subject, etc.

To do this, I watch videos on cinematography because cinema is all about telling stories, and an image with a story is very powerful.

Photography is part science and part art. This is the ‘art’ aspect.

The third is to be intentional with my photography. Without intention, photography is like fishing – throw out the line and see what you catch.

Do it enough times, and you’ll end up with a nice catch eventually.

Being intentional has helped my photography to improve by forcing me to ask questions like, “Where should I place my light in relation to my model?”.

If my intention is to recreate a golden light scene, then I know I need to place the light source just above the horizon rather than high above.

I also need to use an orange gel to warm up the light to simulate golden hour.

Then when I edit the photo, I also know I need to add some blue into the shadows for more impact.

All these conscious decisions stem from a clear intention, a creative idea, and results in an image that you can’t create by just taking 100 shots.

What inspired you to get into cosplay photography?

Three people are standing and smiling in front of a building with large glass windows. One person is dressed in a furry costume, another is holding a camera, and the third is wearing a beanie and glasses.

I’m a huge geek and love pop and Japanese culture.

Star Wars, Marvel superheroes, and Japanese anime are some of my interests and also the source for much of cosplay.

Cosplay photography is one of the best ways to gain valuable portrait photography skills.

Cosplayers love having their photos taken and will usually do it for free. I also provide the edited images for free as well and it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.

To make images that tell a story, have a lot of impact, and that ‘wow’ factor, I shoot in a variety of conditions (outdoors/indoors, in the city, in a forest, in the snow).

I use a variety of gear (camera, off-camera flash, various light modifiers, remote triggers, LED lights).

I also have to solve a multitude of problems, from finding suitable locations, dealing with challenging lighting conditions, and deciding on what is the most appropriate gear to bring without overburdening myself.

So, cosplay photography can be very simple (just a camera) or extremely challenging and complex.

Also, cosplayers are such friendly, warm and amazingly creative people, many of whom have become dear friends to me.

They can spend weeks and months perfecting their cosplays and a successful photo is a collaboration of their hard work and creativity and my skill and efforts as a photographer.

What’s been the response of the cosplay artists?

A man shows a woman in a hat and costume an image on a camera's LCD screen. They are standing outside in front of a modern glass building.

Responses do vary but are mostly positive.

I love hearing cosplayers be so happy with how they look when I show them the images from the back of the camera – it means I’ve gotten it right in-camera.

I’ve also heard comments that my images look cinematic and dynamic, which also makes me happy because I spend a lot of time editing my photos to look that way.

And I’ve had comments that they enjoy working with me because I give good direction during shoots.

It’s important to understand that cosplayers are not professional models and while some are veterans and are comfortable posing on their own, many need direction.

I see this as an opportunity to practice and experiment with posing, and just as importantly, how to talk to the cosplayer to get them to pose.

What camera, lenses, and lighting do you use for cosplay photography?

A person in a costume poses outdoors as a photographer takes a picture, with photographic equipment set up nearby.

For the first few years, I shot with a Fujifilm X-H1 and the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 lens or the XF 56mm f/1.2 APD.

Then I upgraded to the X-H2S. I’m also a fan of the XF 35mm f/1.4 and XF 23mm f/1.4 prime lenses.

Recently I was fortunate enough to purchase a Fujifilm GFX 100S medium-format camera with the GF45mm f/2.8 and GF 100mm f/2.0 lenses second-hand from a friend.

Currently, I shoot with the GFX more, but I still use the X-H2S when I don’t need the 100MP resolution.

For lighting, I use the Profoto A2 with the Clic Softbox Octa and a lightweight Manfrotto light stand.

I always shoot off-camera flash using the Profoto Air Remote TTL-F trigger.

Sometimes, I will use a second flash (a Profoto A1X) or even a Profoto B1 if I need more power.

But the A2 is my most used flash because it’s compact (the size of a beer can), tough (I’ve dropped it many times, and it just keeps going), and the battery lasts forever.

The quality of light is also lovely, and it pairs perfectly with the Clic Softbox Octa, which I can deploy in under a minute – very important not to keep my cosplayers waiting too long while I get set up!

Are you a geek, and if so, what are your favorite fandoms?

I am definitely a geek and proud of it!

I love most of it: shows from the Marvel and Star Wars universes, movies like Dune and Blade Runner, and animations like Robotech, Naruto, Food Wars, Avatar, Blue Eye Samurai, One Punch Man, etc.

There are literally too many to name!

Do you research the cosplay lore before photographing a specific artist?

Three people are interacting indoors. The person on the left is in a costume, the middle person is examining a box with interest, and the person on the right is also in a costume, holding a small item.

I usually do as I think it helps if I have an understanding of what the character being cosplayed is like – are they a cute and funny character, or dark and moody?

It will also guide me when selecting a suitable location to shoot in.

A quick search on Google Images will usually yield some reference photos that can be used to start off the shoot.

I will also usually try and put my own spin on it and have some fun experimenting. For example, shooting SpiderGwen in a high fashion, editorial style.

What’s been your experience when working with cosplay artists? 

I’ve worked with cosplayers from a range of experience levels, from first-timers to veterans with over 10 years of experience.

The veterans are usually very comfortable in front of a camera, have many poses in their arsenal and require little directing.

However, I do usually still provide some direction because I like to experiment with different ideas, and cosplayers are usually game enough to humor me!

But there are also cosplayers who are new, or perhaps more introverted or concerned with their body image, who require more direction.

I love working with them because it gives me an opportunity to practice my communication and directing skills.

Pop culture often glorifies people with athletic bodies, beautiful features and perfect skin.

Cosplayers are ordinary people, young and old, with a range of body shapes, with the same fears and insecurities that normal people have, and a desire to be accepted and treated with courtesy and respect.

So no matter who I shoot, I always show them the photos on the back of the camera during the shoot and ask for their feedback.

If they don’t like it or seem hesitant and unsure, I engage with them to understand what it is they don’t like.

It could be the pose is not realistic with their body type. Perhaps the framing is emphasising a body part they dislike.

I’ll suggest perhaps modifying the pose or a totally different pose, perhaps a different composition or changing the position of the lighting.

Sometimes it just doesn’t work, and we just agree to move on to a different shot.

But always communicating with respect and courtesy, being reassuring and having a laugh together also helps.

What advice do you have for others wishing to get into cosplay photography?

Person dressed in a red and white cosplay costume with a crown, standing against a wooden wall.

Ian Tan | GFX 100S + GF45mm f/2.8 | @cheesecake.cosplay

The barriers to entry are low, but please do take the time to learn what cosplay is about and show genuine respect, curiosity and care about the cosplayer and their art.

Please always ask for permission before you take a photo.

It’s as simple as saying, “Hey, I love your cosplay! Could I please take a photo of you?”.

Most cosplayers love having their photo taken and will usually say yes.

Sneakily taking a photo without asking, or standing behind another photographer to piggy-back off their shot, that’s very much frowned upon.

It’s about treating people with courtesy and respect.

The best places for cosplay photography are conventions. The major conventions in Melbourne are OzComicCon, Supanova, and PAX.

There are also other conventions and a simple Google search will inform you of the dates of when these are happening.

If you have a photographer friend who shoots cosplay, it does help to initially accompany them on shoots and get introduced to cosplayers directly.

Where can people view your cosplay photography?

You can find me and view my work on Instagram @guitarpug.

That’s A Wrap

Two individuals in detailed cosplay costumes, one dressed as a character with long white hair and purple attire, the other with a short black hair and a red cloak, both looking up at the camera.

Ian Tan | GFX 100S + GF45mm f/2.8 | @ali_whoop @prometheus023

Putting aside the photography, cosplay is an art form celebrating the many fandoms of fictional culture.

Standing in the convention center hallway during Comic Con is a pure delight.

Cosplayers of every age and ability dedicate time, effort, and resources to their craft, cosplay persona, and presence as that character.

Cosplay photography takes the art form to the next level by faithfully documenting and celebrating a cosplayer.

Many cosplay photographers, like Ian Tan, don’t charge cosplay artists for their time and efforts.

Like Ian, they see a mutually beneficial and fun opportunity to explore their photography skills in a new genre while providing a service to the cosplay artist.

I want to thank Ian for his continued guidance and contribution to this article.

I’d also like to thank all the cosplay artists I met at Melbourne Comic Con and who agreed to have their images appear in this article.

So, what are your thoughts on cosplay photography? Is it a genre you’d like to try out the next time a convention comes to town?

Share your thoughts and questions below.

Featured image by Ian Tan featuring @himekou_ @molecular.mage @empressyenni.

Credit : Source Post

SS Author
We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply
Shopping cart