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How to Shoot Awesome Cosplay Photography

Last updated: March 13, 2024 - 9 min read
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Cosplay, also known as costume play, is a fun way for people to express their love for their favourite characters from films, books, comics, and more.
You can use cosplay photography to experiment with fantasy themes, take vibrant photos, and give your imagination a chance to roam freely.

Cosplay Photography: Take Screenshots of Scenes You’d Like to Re-Create

Atmospheric cosplay photography of a female in an elf costume
Even if you’re familiar with the character your model is cosplaying, it’s important to do some research. In addition to having a conversation with your model (more on this later), you can watch the fictional character in action.
Cinematography is the perfect source of inspiration. It’s great for photographers who want to improve their knowledge of lighting, depth, and framing.
If it’s a TV or movie character, watch parts of a film or an episode. Take screenshots of scenes that stand out to you. You can use these as posing or lighting references throughout your photo shoot.
If the character is from a comic book or another source, you might still find inspiration by reading the material. Or you can look at other photographers’ approach to the character.
Investing even a little bit of time in cosplay research will make your model feel comfortable and confident in front of the camera.

Understand Why Your Subject Loves a Character to Take Impactful Cosplay Photos

Dreamy cosplay photography of a person dressed as a jedi
The most important part of any photography session is communication. Before the photo shoot, find out what your model wants to express and what cosplaying means to them.
Why do they love that character? If there were different costume options, why did they choose that specific outfit? What kind of atmosphere do they want to see in the finished product?
You can take notes so that you don’t forget anything. Be aware of their favorite angles, poses, and storytelling techniques. That way you’re both on the same page during the shoot.
Also be aware of your model’s personality and openness. This will make it easier for you to befriend them and give them the right kind of instructions as you shoot.

Use a Posing Guide to Make Your Model Look as Flattering as Possible

Cosplay portrait of a person dressed as spiderman
There are hundreds of posing guides made exclusively for cosplayers. A few general rules to remember are:

  • don’t place your arm flat against your body as it will make it look bigger,
  • keep your back straight if you’re taking a casual portrait, and
  • slightly lift your chin to avoid making a double chin and to emphasize your jawline.

Catberry Photography, a professional cosplay photographer, made an extensive posing guide that you might find very useful.

Ask Your Model to Interact With Other Cosplayers so You Can Take Candid Photos

Dreamy cosplay photography of a person dressed as spiderman
Many cosplayers are very active in their community. There are meet-ups happening all over the world as you’re reading this!
This is the perfect opportunity to meet new people and improve your candid photography. It’s also a great way to distract your model from the camera and take beautiful photos of genuine reactions.
If your model finds people cosplaying characters from the same universe, you can take epic group photos of them.
For this to be as natural as possible, use a zoom lens. This will allow you to take a few steps back and take stunning photos from a distance.

Choose the Right Location to Enhance the Character’s Story

Dreamy cosplay photography of a female model dressed in army gear posing outdoors
Sometimes, an empty studio is exactly what you don’t need for a shoot. The right kind of surroundings will deepen the story and give you more elements to work with.
For example, there’s a very popular game called The Legend of Zelda. Its main setting is the outdoors, particularly green pastures and forests.
To make a Zelda cosplay look as authentic as possible, the best thing you could do is shoot in one of the aforementioned locations.
To make a location in the background stand out, use a small aperture like f/11. Don’t use the smallest aperture possible or else you’ll end up with photos that blend into each other unnaturally.

Use Interesting Props and Effects to Make Your Photos Atmospheric

Dreamy cosplay photography of a female model dressed as fairy posing in a field
Once you’ve chosen a location, you can enhance it even more using props and effects. You can use props like fake butterflies or snow to make your compositions stand out. If you make these details subtle, your photos won’t look too busy.
You can also add subtle effects in an editing program or during your photo shoot. Examples of this are additional bokeh and colorful smoke from smoke bombs.
If you want to make your photos stand out even more, use creative photography techniques. Double exposures, heart-shaped bokeh, and panning can all make your cosplay photos more interesting.

Use Natural Light to Take Striking Photos

Cosplay photography of a female model dressed as a witch fairy
Artificial light in buildings isn’t made for professional photography. Try to avoid it as much as possible, especially if you’re at an event.
The best times to use natural light are in the afternoon and during the golden hour. If you’re going for a moodier look, you can shoot during the blue hour.
Since cosplay photography is often based on fantasy, you can experiment with different lighting tricks that might not be appropriate in other styles. Examples of this are light flares, overexposure for a dreamy effect, and harsh direct light to bring out textures.
Unless you have a specific look in mind, always make sure that an even amount of light is hitting your model. This will bring out their best features and make their eyes sparkle.

Shoot From Different Angles to Make Your Photos More Interesting

Cosplay photography of a female model in elf cosplay posing in a tree
Shooting from different angles is useful for a number of reasons.
Your model probably has a favorite angle that makes them feel confident about themselves. If they don’t know what it is, shooting from different angles might help them find their best poses.
Different angles also make for unique results. The more creative and diverse your shots, the easier it will be to choose great photos for your cosplay photography portfolio.
You’ll be able to make the most of the location and your model’s outfit by capturing them from different angles. You might discover new perspectives that you can use in future photo shoots.
If you have two or three points of view, you won’t challenge your imagination or take photos that truly stand out. So feel free to get creative with all kinds of angles.

Take Photos of Costume Details to Make the Shooting Process More Fun

Atmspheric osplay photography of a person dressed as spiderman
Once you’re comfortable with shooting from different angles, zoom in. You don’t necessarily need a macro lens for this. You can photograph the costume’s fabric, patterns, and logo with any lens you have.
Details are just as important as expressive portraits. A photo of a hand holding Spiderman’s mask tells a deeper story than a simple cosplay photo of Spiderman.
It brings out the subject’s humanity and, when used with the right light, creates a moving atmosphere.
You can use these close-up shots in photo collages or double exposures.

If You’re Taking Photos in a Crowded Place, Use a Large Aperture and a Fast Shutter Speed to Avoid Shaky Pictures

Cosplay photography of a person dressed as the mad hatter
It’s easy to feel lost and stressed while taking photos in busy places, especially if you have a specific vision in mind.
Use a large aperture to make your model stand out from their surroundings. The right amount of blur will get rid of distractions and might actually create interesting abstract textures.
Lenses with large apertures such as f/1.2 are considered fast, which means that they’re better at capturing quick movements.
Use a fast shutter speed to ensure that none of your subject’s movements end up looking like a bunch of shaky lines. Most photographers go by this rule: use a number that’s slightly higher than your focal length.
For instance, if you’re using a 50mm 1.4 lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/60 seconds.

If You’re Photographing Strangers at an Event, Ask for Permission to Avoid Uncomfortable Situations

Cosplay photography of a person dressed as a storm trooper
Photographing multiple models in different costumes is a great way to grow your cosplay photography portfolio. It can also lead to new photography opportunities.
If you want to photograph a variety of people at an event, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  • Every country has different rules when it comes to photographing strangers. The best way to avoid trouble is to simply ask for permission.
  • Not everyone will be open to modeling for you, and that’s okay. Be open to rejections, because there will be at least a handful of people who won’t mind collaborating with you.
  • Have a physical copy of your portfolio that you can share with anyone who’s interested. If you already have examples of past cosplay photography work, you’ll find it easier to gain people’s trust.

Color Correct Your Results Appropriately to Complement the Theme

Atmospheric cosplay photography of a female in an elf costume
Once your photos are ready, you can enhance them further by using color correction.
Color correcting doesn’t have to be a long and tedious process. You can simply use a tool like Curves to add contrast or change the entire mood of your photo. Even small adjustments like that will make a big difference.
You can also use other photographer’s pre-made Lightroom presets or Photoshop actions to do all the work for you. Just one click will transform your image within seconds.

Conclusion: Cosplay Photography

Cosplay photography might seem more challenging than anything else. But it’s actually vibrant, fun, and inspiring.
You’re taking photos of imaginative people and their stories. This will help you embrace your inner storyteller and learn how to take awesome cosplay photos in the process.
Why not check out these articles on photo etiquette in Japan , glamour photography or getting people to smile in your photos next!