Arisa Chan (小莎) as Zetton from Kaijuu Girls! Taken at Winter Comiket 2017 in Tokyo. An example of a hall shot with fashion-style post-processing. Photo credit: PC’s Convention Adventures
Hi! If you enjoy anime or comics you’ve probably heard of or been to a convention. You might have marveled at your favorite characters brought-to-life by talented cosplayers in vibrant cosplays. That’s how I felt when I first attended Fanime almost 10 years ago, awestruck and feverishly taking snapshots of everything in sight. Eventually this led me to pursue cosplay photography as a hobby, which continues to be an enriching experience for me. I hope newcomers will find it rewarding as well!
The Internet already has many excellent photography guides available, but I think cosplay photography is unique enough to warrant its own discussion. I hope both cosplayers and photographers will find this interesting!
Cosplay Photography Styles
Just as there are many genres of photography, such as fashion, lifestyle, journalism and more, there are many styles in cosplay photography as well. Many photographers and cosplayers draw inspiration from other genres such as fashion in order to develop their own unique approaches.
To give a sense of the wide variety of styles, here are some examples of a few broad categories:
The humble hall shot is how many cosplay photographers get started: the photographer comes across someone in a cool cosplay and asks for a quick snapshot. There’s little planning ahead of time. The resulting photos are often fun, spontaneous and reflect the excitement of the event.
Getting a good hall shot can be quite difficult! Convention halls are typically lit with dim fluorescent lights; these typically have a greenish hue that can create an unhealthy-looking cast on skin tones. Hall lighting is often directly overhead which creates unflattering shadows as well. Also the photographer only has mere seconds to get the camera settings right. But I think the spontaneity and urgency are what make hall shots particularly challenging and fun.
Event coverage photos are closely-related to hall shots but more akin to photo-journalism. Their emphasis is on capturing the event rather than a specific cosplayer, and give a sense of what it’s like to be there. For example the photo above captures the colorful chaos of an Overwatch cosplay gathering. Another photo might show cosplayers performing on stage for an event such as the Masquerade. Cosplayers don’t have to be in-character either; the photo could simply be about people enjoying the event.
Glossy. Punchy. This is the look we associate with fashion magazines. In portrait shoots the emphasis is squarely on the cosplayer: to capture them as the character in the most flattering way. Unlike hall shots or event coverage these shoots may require more preparation and planning, sometimes up to several months in advance. The photographer may scout and research a location to match the source material’s setting. Additional props might have to be added to embellish the set. To maintain suspension-of-disbelief the photographer has to carefully avoid out-of-place elements such as cars and passers-by, or remove them in post-production.
Speaking of post-production, this style often involves a fair amount of post-processing. Despite the considerable advancement in camera technology, most unedited straight-out-of-the-camera shots will not look quite the way we want. Depending on the photographer and cosplayer, the amount of post-processing varies. Some prefer simple edits, such as tweaking overall exposure and cropping the photo. Others may do more labor-intensive changes, like beauty retouching and special-effects. Post-processing can take anywhere from ten minutes to several hours for a single photo, all for the sake of creating the perfect image.
This is a very emotive style where the emphasis is on the scene or narrative rather than the person. Like fashion/portrait shoots a significant amount of pre- and post-production work may be required. However the focus is more on the mood of the overall scene. In this style the cosplayer may be in their own world and does not make eye-contact with the camera. They may take up less space on the image but nevertheless play a key role in the composition. Narrative-style photos may also form a chronological sequence to tell a story, like a storyboard for a film. These photos feel like still frames from a movie.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. These examples are just to illustrate the many creative directions one could take in cosplay photography. It’s not a strict taxonomy either: photographers often use different styles for the same photoshoot. They may also try out different approaches to expand their repertoire.
Cosplayers, photographers, which styles resonate with you the most? Do let me know and add a comment below?
Much thanks to everyone who helped proofread this; your feedback and encouragement were invaluable.
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