Cosplay Photography – a Cosplayer’s Perspective
Prior to attending conventions, I didn’t have a lot of experience working with photographers. I can’t say I knew any personally until I started attending DragonCon and even then, it wasn’t until three years in that I even started to notice a difference in the quality of my images. That anyone actually wants to take my picture blows my mind, and I’m always surprised and grateful even though I look like it totally doesn’t matter. It does for me and many other cosplayers.
Photography is one of the tricky areas to navigate when it comes to cosplay, though. I know that when I initially started going to conventions, it wasn’t to have my picture taken. It quickly became one of the bonuses of attending - this ego stroke that became entwined with my convention experience. I was lucky that I had friends who were interested in taking pictures more than being in them, but over time, that changed and I became dependent on other attendees for pictures of me in costume. This was when I began to notice that all cosplayers were not treated equally.
Because of my body shape and skin color, I will never closely resemble any characters. I will always be a person dressing up for the fun of dressing up. There is no amount of work I can put in that will make me look like anyone in the comic universe, and that’s ok. I get that there are people only interested in those that look very close to the characters in the books and movies, and that’s ok, too. We’re all fans celebrating our fandoms the way we choose.
And while I wasn’t looking for people to approach me and ask to take my picture, it kinda sucked to see someone with a set up like anyone could walk up for a photo, only to be turned away. Or to have them take two quick pictures to get you out of the way for someone that they would then take 20 minutes to photograph. That’s not fun. I’d rather a photographer be upfront with me and say they aren’t interested in taking my picture than to pretend they are and then treat me like an annoyance.
The thing is, no one is obligated to take my picture. No one. Just like I am not obligated to pose for anyone, photographers have the right to say no. It can suck, especially when they give you some excuse about why they can’t and then hustle over to take a picture of someone else, but it’s their camera and their time. Photographers don’t owe cosplayers shit and vice versa. This is one of those “rules” of which I need constant reminding. Sometimes you get so many offers to have your picture taken that you take it for granted. That’s not a good look for any cosplayer. The day will come when you won’t be sought out as often, and when that happens, you will appreciate the people who sought you out for more than your fuckability.
The same goes for how you treat photographers. If you are only treating them well because you think they are the next best thing, it’ll show. There are a lot of people out there cutting their teeth on cosplay photography. There are also some professional photographers out there. It’s really hard to tell who’s is who. I’ve seen professionals out there taking candid shots that should look like shit, but turn out beautifully. I’ve seen amateur photographers with full light set-ups taking crappy picture after crappy picture. And I’ve seen amateur photographers grow into professional photographers through their love of cosplay photography. Treat them all with the respect you wish to receive.
So, real talk. Cosplay is a hobby - an expensive ass, time consuming hobby that most people will not segue into a career. Photography is an expensive ass, time consuming hobby that actually is a career. People pay a lot of money for talented photographers and for good reason – getting that shot is a skill, not a fluke. If you meet a photographer whose work you like, think about hiring them for some of the more intense or complicated shoots. If money is an issue, ask if you can split the session between you and a friend. Many of the super-hot shots happen because the cosplayer and photographer worked out a deal to make it happen…i.e. they paid them, offered to cross promote, did it for charity, etc. All of this means that it wasn’t 100% free. Not all photography is and should be free and not all photography deserves compensation and that is something I’m still learning to navigate.
As I said, cosplay photography is tricky. You never know which kind of cosplay photographer you’ll meet. Sometimes you meet an introspective photographer who has respectful tips on getting that good photograph. Or you may meet that creeper cosplay photographer who needs to be banned from cosplay conventions. Even with years of experience behind me, I still get tripped up. But when I get that photo that captures my cosplay and the feel of the character that I envisioned, it’s worth every misstep I made – which leads me to some basic things I’ve learned about photographers and cosplay photography - from the cosplayer perspective.
Basic Guide to Cosplay Photography
Before we talk about anything, let’s talk safety.
- NEVER leave the convention areas with a cosplay photographer you don’t know, especially not alone.
- NEVER go back to the room with a cosplay photographer you don’t know.
- NEVER be afraid to ask for a cosplay photographer’s credentials and references, ESPECIALLY if they ask you to leave the grounds. In fact, just don’t leave the convention area with a photographer.
- DO NOT let anyone touch you unless you ask them to do it. Sometimes I need help posing and I give the photographer permission to tweak my body positioning a little.
- DO NOT work with any cosplay photographer who makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Cosplay photography is NOT erotic photography - unless that’s what you want but make that VERY clear between you and the photographer before you start.
- SET BOUNDARIES. You know what makes you uncomfortable. Do not be afraid to say “no” to something the cosplay photographer asks you to do.
Cosplay conventions are ideal hunting grounds for predators and if someone sets off your Spidey-sense, walk away. No picture is worth risking your safety and well-being. There have been incidents where sketchy people took advantage of the convention to harass and proposition cosplayers. Pretending to be a cosplay photographer is an easy way to gain trust.
Just remember that cosplay is all about you. Only do cosplay photography that you feel comfortable doing and feel free to end any conversation with someone who makes you uncomfortable. Also, Google searches are your friend and you have a community of cosplayers who you can ask for photographer recommendations.
Types of Cosplay Photography
1. Convention floor
Someone stops you and asks to take your picture at a convention or event. You will not know the person or skill level and many times you will never see these pictures. Sometimes they offer you a card to their site where they upload their pics, but most often these go into the void. These are also the most common type of cosplay photos. You will see everything from amateur to professional level shots.
Pro tip: These pictures are always free. The ONE exception is if someone is sponsored by the convention and has a public price list. Otherwise, if someone tries to sell you a convention floor picture and they are not officially part of the convention staff, report them. If you aren’t sure they are part of the convention staff, ask information. Selling convention photography without permission is against convention rules.
These are almost identical to convention floor pictures, but you will move off to the side and use the wall as your background. Same rules, though. You may never see the image and they aren’t supposed to charge you.
Pro tip: This is a great strategy if you are looking for cleaner pictures, ones with less background noise than your usual convention picture. It is also a free picture if you get the photographer’s contact information.
Some photoshoots are held in areas that have less convention traffic, or more interesting backgrounds. These are often held in green spaces around the event venue or on some public property and landmarks. There is nothing like doing a Justice League photoshoot in front of an archway reminiscent of the Halls of Justice.
Pro tip: This is where the photography boundaries start to get fuzzy. It’s not good practice to leave public convention areas with people you don’t know, especially if you are alone. Also, some photographers charge for off-site shoots – and this is an arrangement that would have been made prior to the shoot. If someone tries to get you off-site and tries to charge you, report them.
4. On location
This is when you and your photographer have scouted a location and schedule a shoot there. These shoots are a business deal and require a contract. You will have to pay for these, unless the photographer asked you to do this for a personal project. As previously stated, ask for credentials and references, as well as to view the contract prior to signing anything.
Pro tip: Choose a cosplay that works with the background. The two should enhance each other. If you have an urban environment, choose a character that’s generally in an urban setting, like Spiderman or Luke Cage. If you are in a cemetery, choose a vampire or a ghoul. If you are in the woods, choose an elf…you get the idea.
Studio photoshoots are often considered to be the gold standard. They are held in a private studio where there is climate control and you don’t have to account for the weather. They are the most comfortable shoots, also, as you have more resources for preparation and rest between poses.
Pro tip: This is not really at tip – more like a reminder: check the photographer’s credentials and read the contract before scheduling a shoot. Theses shoots will most likely require a fee.
This list is by no means all encompassing. I am sure there are plenty of other types of cosplay photography that I don’t know of. For example, I’m sure there’s a subcategory called “cosplay fashion photography” that I haven’t yet seen. I know some photographers that bring that type of high fashion look to their photos, so I can totally see this being something. But this should help for people just beginning to tiptoe through the cosplay photography garden.
Good luck and remember to have fun!
This article featured cosplay photographs by: