My name is James Rulison, a cosplay photographer located in Southern California. On average, I cover 14 conventions that cosplayers attend per year. I literally have taken thousands of frames of cosplayers from all over the world. Samy’s Cameras, where I frequently shop for my cameras and equipment, asked me if I would share some cosplay photography tips. Hopefully, the tips below will help to improve your own cosplay photography.
Clean backgrounds make or break cosplay photography. The most common place to find cosplayers is, of course, at comic book or anime conventions. These conventions, as you can imagine, are not the best locations for photography. You usually have mixed lighting and tons of people running around in the background.
So, the first thing is to avoid shooting on the convention floor. Unless you can isolate your subject the convention floor will have tons of background people for distractions. Look for a plain wall or clean door to act as your cosplay photography backdrop.
A good idea is to scout the location ahead of time to see where you might be able to shoot. Don’t just settle on a single location as more often then not another cosplay photographer will be using it as well. This particular cosplay photo was taken just outside the main doors at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Off camera light
Control the lighting by supplying your own light. You can get by with available light especially with today’s digital cameras but electronic flash can give you something more dynamic. Now, when you use electronic flash be sure to get it off camera. The straight on flash does give you some options but it’s not what I would call cosplay photography friendly.
Use a flash extension cord or wireless trigger to control your electronic flash. If you have the option I would use a light modifier like a soft box. Samy’s sells the Westcott Rapid box which is a small quick soft box that you just pop up and you can attach it to your speed light quickly. Using an off camera flash also gives you the option to overpower the light provided on the show floor.
For instance, I attended the LA Cosplay Con which was a small venue at a hotel. The location was actually several floors down which meant I really couldn’t get the cosplayers from down there outside at least not easily.
The flash and rapid box allowed me to create a unique lighting situation directly on the show floor.
Cosplay really does have an angle that works best. Super Heroes look better tall and intimidating which means you can’t shoot them from level height. You should instead be getting lower to the ground.
With today’s cameras that is no longer required. My camera, the Nikon D750, has a tilt screen that I can flip out to allow that low angle without laying on my stomach. Canon, Sony, and several others also have the tilt screen option as does the brand new Nikon D500.
Control Depth of Field
In some cases,you will find that you have to shoot on the floor or where the background is just not great. The best way to handle this situation is control the depth of field.
I won’t go into explaining DOF here. What you need to understand is that it can control your image so that when you focus on your subject just a couple of feet or sometimes inches behind them will be out of focus and soft.
Now, not everyone can afford these lenses so there is another way to control your DOF. If you buy a variable aperture zoom lens you may be able to zoom in and make that background fall out of focus. This usually happens on the large zoom lenses so 200-300mm.
Cosplay Photography Etiquette
The last cosplay photography tip I want to give you is on etiquette. If you treat cosplayers with respect they will treat you the same way. This may sound like a no brainer but you would be surprised. If a cosplayer is on the phone or talking with someone, don’t interrupt be patient and wait. The cosplayer will see you and break off the conversation for you to grab a couple of frames.
Be ready to shoot. Don’t ask a cosplayer for a shot and then spend the next 20 minutes figuring out your lighting. Have that done and be ready when you ask them. Be quick about your shots. Don’t spend a long time with each cosplayer. They are trying to get their epic builds out to lots of people,including the fans walking around that means you need to be efficient and know what you are going to do ahead of time.
Do not touch the cosplayer! If you see a piece of costume out of place or if something is not right on their costume tell the cosplayer. Almost all cosplayers have a handler with them who will fix the issues. Just remember cosplay is not consent.
Make sure you get the card of the cosplayer you are photographing. If they don’t have one provide them with yours. I like to have the cosplayer hold up the card that they hand to me so that I can take a picture of them with it. This helps me line up who the cosplayer is when I am editing and posting.
Above all, remember that everyone at a convention is there to have fun. So, relax and remember there will always be someone with a better shot or a cosplayer you missed. It is just the way it happens.
Armed with these cosplay tips, I hope you will find your first or next cosplay outing to be fun and productive.