There are four location types for shooting cosplay photos. Each has its own style, and each has its pros and cons.
The types are:
- Convention Hallway photography
- Convention scheduled shoot
- Cosplay Gathering shoot
- Non-Convention shoot
With a non-convention shoot, the possibilities are wide open. You can work with the cosplayer ahead of time to select the cosplay to be photographed, to find a location that matches that cosplay, to select the time of day, and to decide on a shooting style. You can spend as much time as you need (within reason, of course) to pose the cosplayer and to get every shot exactly right. Done right, your best cosplay photos will be from non-convention shoots.
Of course, all that freedom also means you have ample opportunities to make mistakes. You can pick a bad location. You can get stuck on a 4 hour shoot with a hard-to-work-with cosplayer. You’re also on your own. If your batteries run out, there are no other photographers around you to borrow spares from. If you don’t know what to do, there are no other photographers to watch and learn from. If you’re stuck, there’s no one to ask advice from. (If you’re really lucky, the cosplayer may have enough photography experience to make suggestions and help you out, but in the end they will usually look to you as the photographer to run the shoot.)
I’ve found that non-convention shoots work best if the shoot is with two or three cosplayers instead of just one. (They don’t all have to be from the same group/series, as long as they all work well in the same background and shooting style.) This has several advantages. First, whichever cosplayer(s) you’re not shooting can help out with lighting and posing suggestions. Second, alternating between cosplayers gives each cosplayer a chance to rest between shots. Finally, having several people there really helps with the energy of the shoot, making it more fun and improving the quality of the photos. Because of this, unless I’m doing a quick shoot of a cosplayer I’ve already worked with a lot, I always shoot with at least two cosplayers at every non-convention shoot.
I don’t recommend shooting more than two or three cosplayers at a time, as having that many tends to bog down shooting until you get comfortable with large group shoots.
Safety Warning: Do not go someplace alone with a cosplayer you don’t know! Bring a friend along! Yes, even if you’re a big strong guy! (Then you can put your friend to work as a lighting assistant too!) Cosplayers, this also applies to you too! Almost every cosplayer and cosplay photographer would never do anything bad, but it only takes one bad person…
When setting up a non-convention shoot, here are some things to consider:
- What cosplay will the cosplayer be wearing, and what’s the series it’s from like? (For example, My Little Pony has a very different tone than Death Note.)
- What background is suitable for that cosplay? This is important in terms of tone (robot pilots don’t usually work in the middle of a park), cosplayer comfort (bikinis and very windy locations don’t mix), and public-appropriateness (revealing costumes don’t work well in crowded public places).
- What shooting/lighting style is best for that cosplay? For example, Pokemon and Soul Eater require very different shooting and lighting styles. The choice of location also figures into this; trying to do studio lighting on a windy beach would be quite challenging, for example.
- How much time does the cosplayer have for the shoot? How much time do you have? Don’t forget to allow for cosplayer prep time before the shoot. In windy or otherwise costume-unfriendly environments, the cosplayer will also need time between shots to fix up their costume.
- How will you meet up with the cosplayer? Are you carpooling, or will you meet at the shoot location? What time will you meet up? Exchanging cell numbers ahead of time is very important in case something comes up at the last minute.
- What expectations does the cosplayer have for the shoot? What expectations do you have? When does the cosplayer expect to see the photos?
- What equipment do you need to bring? It’s important to bring spares (batteries, an extra lens if you can, etc) in case something dies, but it’s easy to go overboard and bring everything you have. Then, not only is all that gear a distraction, but you also have to carry it around with you for the entire shoot. Keep it as simple as possible!
On the subject of equipment, being flexible enough to handle unexpected challenges or opportunities is good; bringing everything you own and redoing your whole setup for each shot may be a bit extreme. Even though time is not as tight as at a convention or gathering, it’s still very important not to waste the cosplayer’s time, so keep the shoot moving! Remember, if you ever decide to shoot pro models, you will be paying them by the hour! Learn to make the most of the time you have.
Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun! Cosplaying and cosplay photography are supposed to be enjoyable hobbies; don’t get so stressed out shooting that you lose sight of that.
There’s a lot more that can be said about non-convention shoots, but I’ll leave that to future posts. If you have questions or suggestions for topics you’d like for me to cover, please leave them as comments or PM me!