Guest Post: So… You Want to be a (Cosplay) Photographer?

This article was originally posted by MindFall on his Deviantart journal and I had to share! Hope you enjoy this and learn some new stuff as well! 😀

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Ladies and Gentlemen, due to an overwhelming response of “Yes” on one of my latest polls (I think it was something like 35-3 in favor), I’m going to write this journal about my experiences when it comes to photography, and, in all honesty, a majority of it will be aimed at cosplay photography given that that is what I have done the most of since I decided to get a bit more serious about photography. I also feel like it is very important to say that I’m not at all, in any way, saying that this is the “right” way of doing things. What I write about in this journal, and what I say are my own opinions, formed from 4 years and multiple conventions/outside shoots worth of experience. You all are more than welcome to agree or disagree with me, and I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section, as well as ask me any questions you might have (PLEASE keep it respectful, folks).

Also, I’m warning ya now, this is going to be a long journal. So brace yourselves! (You might have also heard some of this before from previous journals!) Without any further ado, let’s begin!

I’m going to begin with some suggestions for do’s/don’ts as well as etiquette that I try and follow when it comes to cosplay photography.

1. Be respectful: This can be really hard to do with the attitudes that are becoming prevalent, but I find that the easiest way to get to know someone or to work with someone is to be polite and respectful. There are certainly people that I don’t get along with in this hobby but I’ve found that drama and gossip only get you further sucked in, and leaves everyone with bad feelings and more drama.

2A. If you want to work with someone, ask: Honestly, the worst thing that anyone can say is “no”. As a photographer, I’ve worked with so many amazing individuals because I saw their work and sent them a message, and we found a way to make epicosity happen. I’ve also gotten so much good advice and amazing critiques because I asked for them (Katsucon 2012 with ~drteng springs to mind, as well as multiple sessions with SM Sullivan photography [link]) Bottom line, cosplayers want photos of their work, and there have been very few times where I’ve had someone say no when I asked to work with them. To quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you do not take…”

2B. conversely (and especially at conventions) No means no. Period.: I’ve railed about this before: [link] but seriously, no means no. Now, first of all, I tend to do private shoots instead of random hall photography at cons, but even I know it’s respectful to ask for a photo of a cosplayer, mainly because they have time to present their best side/pose for a photo. Cosplayers work hard, and they want to look good in said photos. I’m talking about sniping shots and just walking up and taking pictures. Or worse, being a fricking creep about it if someone says no to a particular pose or getting their picture taken. That kind of behavior only makes you look like a stalker and a douche. Ask before you take a picture and respect the answer that is given. That is all.

3. Know. Your. Equipment.: When you get a new camera or piece of equipment… get comfortable with it. I cannot tell you how uncomfortable I’ve seen models become when their photographer has a brand new camera or piece of equipment and decides that the first time they’ll use it is during a shoot. Seriously, it’s going to make cosplayer nervous about how the pictures are going to come out, and it’ll most likely be frustrating for you as you won’t know the settings, and that can certainly be frustrating in and of itself.

4. Do your homework!: This is a generalization, but I intend to cover a couple of things under this topic. Plainly, when it comes to photoshoots, put in the work. If you’re photoshooting from a series or game or books (/whatever else there is out there), do some research. Look up some poses, talk with your model to see how they feel, get familiar. Speaking of that, whether it’s an outside shoot or at a convention, know what the areas you’re shooting in are going to be like. Do location scouting (film/photography jargon for looking for areas to take photos). Know where your light is coming from and how much you have. Does it have power outlets? Does it have furniture or things that can be used as set pieces? How will it look if you have a flash attached? Does it match the costume your model is bringing? All of this can make or break a shoot, honestly.

5. Conduct yourself in a professional manner: I realize that I’m not really a “pro” photographer in the eyes of many people. I’ve done paid work before, but most of the things I do are TFCD. Regardless, I consider myself to be a professional. That means that I try and conduct myself like a professional. I want to be on time to a shoot, and if I’m not, I’m in touch with my model letting them know why/when I’ll be there. I try and get phone numbers from everyone, and make sure they have mine. I’m respectful and courteous while “on set”. I’m constantly trying to make sure my model is both having fun and comfortable with what we’re shooting (There is a wide range of what people are comfortable/like with when it comes to poses, moods, lighting, and styles of shot).

6. Have fun!: This is pretty self explanatory. Crack jokes, smile, laugh, have a good time, photography is about capturing moments, and I find it much harder to work if things are tense and uncomfortable. I find that if I act like the goofball that I am, most of the times, the people I’m working with also relax more, and it ends up being a lot more fun.

7. Remember that the work you do is a collaboration: I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a model say that they love working with me because I ask for input, show them the pictures we’ve taken so far, and make sure they’re comfortable. Honestly, to make the magic happen, both the photographer and the model (in this particular journal’s case, cosplayer) need each other. I approach every photoshoot having ideas in mind (see #4), but I’m also relying on the person that I’m working with to bring stuff to the table as well, and I find that you get better results with that kind of mentality. Now, to be fair, and to disclaim, I have a particular shooting style that works for me. I’ve developed it over years, and it’s not going to be the same all over. This is just how I feel on the subject.

8. Listen to feedback and requests: I feel like I should note here two different things. One, I very, very rarely give out unedited photos. I’ve been burned more times than I care to count because certain people are dicks and take credit for work I’ve done. Two, I tend to promote myself and my pictures by putting a watermark somewhere on the photo. I’ve heard complaints saying that it “ruins the shot” but frankly, I don’t care. I try and tuck my watermark out of the way, but I like people knowing who took the photo. (Haha, yes, that’s my ego talking). Advice to budding photographers, protect your stuff. Very rarely will someone else for you. Now then, onto the main point of this point, listen to feedback. Some models will see a photo and have certain request about the way editing was done, or the way things were cropped or cut. Honestly, 9.5 times out of 10, I accommodate them because it’s really not that hard to make changes to a file and save it as a different one than the one you yourself put out there. I’m also very willing to listen if someone wants something taken down. Now, there will definitely be discussion there, and there will have to be a good reason, but remember, it’s a collab, and your models have a say as well (unless they signed something that says otherwise… but generally, that doesn’t happen in cosplay photography).

9. Plot out your time/allow for changes/plan accordingly/be flexible: This is something that, especially in cosplay photography, especially at conventions, you need to plan things out if you’re going to do private shoots! Now, I know not all the photographers do private shoots the same way that I do, but if you’re going to to do something similar, you need to understand some things. First, a LOT of cosplayers do multiple costume changes, and will be involved in multiple photoshoots and gatherings. They may need to go back to their hotel to change or fix something, or they may be coming from the opposite side of a convention center. I usually plan for hour long shoots. It doesn’t generally take me an hour to do a good shoot, but I like having that leeway, and I think that the people I work with like it as well. Second, things are fluid. I know that I’ve had to cancel or reschedule things at cons. It happens. There’s really no reason to be upset or mad, just roll with the punches and have a plan B (or sometimes C).

Alrighty! So that wraps up the do’s/don’ts and most of the etiquette stuff. Let’s talk about my opinion when it comes to photography, and in particular cosplay photography. It’s definitely something I love to do (as if you all couldn’t tell XD). At the end of the day, I think what photography is all about is collaborating with others, working at improving your craft, either by getting out and trying new things, evolving your style. I can’t stand stagnation. I’m not the same photographer that I was back in 2008 when I started being a cosplay photographer, and thank goodness for that. I view photography as something that should be explored, new things tried. Now that’s not to say that you shouldn’t have some signature shots/poses, I know that I have some stuff you’ll see throughout my shoots! Overall, I love trying new things, and taking pictures of new costumes just as much as I love revisiting costumes with more experience than I previously had. I think, when it comes to cosplay photography, what I love about it is that I get to take pictures and help create a moment of a person’s interpretation of a character from their favorite game, show, or movie. With cosplay, and especially being a cosplay photographer, I get to help capture images, help recreate scenes, and work with so many different people who often have a shared mutual love for an anime or videogame. So, photographers out there, I’d love to hear your thoughts in particular here!

Finally, let’s talk techniques! Honestly, there isn’t too much that I do that is different from anyone else. I scout the area ahead of time, and when I get back, I make necessary adjustments to my ISO, shutter speed, f stop, and white balance. I’ll switch up lenses, and take test shots until I’m satisfied. While I’m shooting, you’ll pretty much see me turn the camera every which way as I look for the right angle (I’m a fan of vertical portraits as well as Dutch angles) to capture what I have in my head. What does everyone else do?

So, wow, that turned out to be a long thing! I want to hear what everyone else has to say, comments, questions, etc!

Until next time, as always:

…see you space cowboys…

~C

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About Yunie

I am a cosplayer, a nerd, a geek. I am whatever you call me. However, I have a brain and tend to use it.
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