Maybe you’re the kind of person who absolutely loves cosplay, but you don’t really want to wear a costume. Instead, you love the creativity of cosplay photography and want to learn how to capture the beautiful details of a costume with your camera.
To become a cosplay photographer all you need are two general skills: the ability to take good photos and the ability to network with cosplayers. As you learn to practice and master these two skills, you’ll be able to turn your cosplay photography into a business.
If you want to become known as a cosplay photographer, you will have to spend time setting up photoshoots and scheduling your time both in and out of conventions. As you gain photography and interpersonal skills, you’ll learn how to direct your models and get unique photos that highlight the costume. You’ll find that the more you challenge yourself, the better your photos will become, and the more you’ll be recognized as a photographer in the industry.
1. Don’t wait until you have professional equipment
If you’re just getting started with photography, there is nothing wrong with using your phone to take pictures. With the cameras that come built into our phones these days, the quality of pictures you can get on your phone is actually pretty good. If you can’t afford a fancy camera, you can still take good cosplay photos.
Eventually, you’ll want to level up your equipment and learn how to use a DSLR or a mirrorless camera. After you start to get better at working with natural light, you’ll want to learn how to use a flash effectively too. But remember, it’s not the camera or equipment that’s going to make your photos great. Instead, it’s gaining an understanding of lighting and composition, and you can learn these skills with a phone camera just as easily as you can with an expensive alternative.
2. Practice taking photos of friends and family at home
When it comes down to it, cosplay photography is a subcategory of portrait photography. It’s easier to take creative liberties with cosplay, but you are, in essence, taking pictures of people. If you want to get better, the best way is to practice taking pictures of family and friends whenever you get the chance.
If anyone you know is also a cosplayer, you can easily ask them to put on a costume and do a little photoshoot with them for practice. Even if no one is willing to be your model in costume, you can still do mini photoshoots with your friends to practice portrait photography. You’ll learn how to frame people in your photos, how to direct your models, and how to use the environment around you for better photos. Then it’s only a matter of applying these skills to your cosplay photos.
3. Don’t be shy about asking cosplayers for photos
When you’re at a convention, it can feel intimidating when you see an amazing cosplayer. You might think they wouldn’t want to stop in the hall for a novice photographer, or you couldn’t possibly do their costume justice. But the reality is, most cosplayers will be happy to stop and pose for photos if you ask.
If you want to take a few photos in different poses or do an impromptu photoshoot, be sure to make your intentions clear. Some cosplayers only have time to stop for one photo, but some will be excited to have the chance to get some good photos out of a small photoshoot with you.
4. Bring business cards with your social media accounts
An important aspect of becoming successful or well-known as a cosplay photographer is your social media presence. People need to be able to know what kind of photos you take and where to find them after the convention. It’s become pretty common within the cosplay and photographer community to exchange business cards with social media handles. The cosplayers can look up your Instagram after the convention to find their pictures, and you can tag anyone who gave you a business card in return.
In order to be successful at connecting with cosplayers, you’ll want to try to post your photos relatively quickly after a convention. Some people will still be looking for photos of themselves up to a week or two after the event, but the sooner you can get yours up (especially when you’re getting started), the more likely people will remember you next time and be willing to work with you.
5. Learn about photo composition and lighting
There are two main aspects to becoming a successful cosplay photographer. The first involves the marketing and social media presence so people can see your work. However, you also need to be good at photography.
Of course, everyone starts as a beginner sometime. No one expects you to be an amazing cosplay photographer when you first start out. It will take time and practice and, frankly, taking hundreds and thousands of pictures for you to improve. To help you along the way, I recommend learning about photography. Learn about photo composition, depth of field, and how to use lighting to your advantage. The more you can learn and apply to your photos, the quicker you will improve.
It’s also really useful to learn how to use Photoshop (or a similar photo editing platform). It may seem intimidating at first, but a photo editing tool can help you bring your photography to the next level. You can clean up the lighting and color, add special effects and even change the background of photos you take. It’s worth spending some time watching tutorials on Youtube to figure out how to use photo editing programs to your advantage.
6. Plan photoshoots with individuals and groups of cosplayers
Sometimes in cosplay photography, you will be working with a single cosplayer, but quite often people will attend conventions cosplaying as a group from the same show or game. Taking photos of individual cosplayers is a very different experience from taking photos of cosplay groups. You’ll want to make sure you learn composition and practice with multiple people in the photo so you can capture good pictures regardless of the size of the cosplay group.
7. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things
What I love most about cosplay photography is the chance to be creative. You can try tricks and techniques to highlight different parts of the costume or bring out the character’s personality. If you have photoshoots scheduled in advance, it’s a good idea to research the characters so that you can come up with creative photography ideas ahead of time.
You can play around with props and elements in your environment, and try framing the photo in creative ways. Climb on top of a ridge or stairway, or lay flat on the floor to see what kind of photos you get. Not every photo is going to come out good, but the more you experiment, the more you will find what works, and the quicker you will improve your skillset and find your photography style.
8. Take advantage of the morning at conventions
The best time to take photos at conventions is in the mornings before 10 am or 11 am. The natural light in the morning tends to be the most consistent and easy to photograph under since you’re not dealing with the direct sunlight of the afternoon. The other major advantage of getting up early is that the convention is much less crowded. It’s a lot easier to find a spot for your photoshoots that won’t have a crowd in the background.
If you can get your cosplayers to get ready early enough, I recommend trying to schedule time with them in the morning. If not, you can still get some nice hall photos of cosplayers who are early birds.
9. Pay attention to convention policies for photographers
As a photographer at anime and comic conventions, there are rules you’ll have to follow. Typically, you will be required to purchase a badge if you want to have access to any place within the convention or event buildings. Sometimes tripods and bulky professional equipment (such as a lighting setup) are not allowed because they can end up blocking traffic. So be sure to check the event policies ahead of time.
There are also often places that are off-limits for photography. For example, narrow hallways might have signs prohibiting photographs as well as some art exhibits and performances. Also, be sure to check if any garden areas are off-limits since the event hosts might want to avoid plants and flowers being trampled.
10. Schedule photoshoots outside of conventions
You don’t have to only practice your cosplay photography at conventions. In fact, it’s much easier to improve and get great photos when you don’t have the crowd and the rest of the event to worry about. You can find cosplayers in your community and schedule photoshoots with them at any time.
This also really opens up the possibilities for choosing the best location for the cosplay. Maybe you’re photographing a character from a fantasy setting that works best in a forest or park. Maybe there’s some great architecture near where you live that makes for a great sci-fi setting. By scheduling outside of conventions, you have more freedom in choosing a place that matches the character and costume you’re photographing.
- Read more: 8 Tips to find the best photoshoot locations
When is it okay to start charging money for photos?
Some people are only interested in getting into cosplay photography as a hobby, but it’s also understandable if you want to turn it into a business or side hustle. Many cosplayers really want good pictures of their costumes and are willing to pay to work with a photographer for access to the photos.
Generally, no one is going to pay you for pictures that you took as hallway photos at a convention, but they will pay for a scheduled half-hour photoshoot. You can start charging for your time as soon as people are willing to pay. Usually, this means you’ll have to build up a portfolio of cosplay portraits and have some sort of social media presence so that the cosplayers will know what kind of quality to expect from your photos.
Many photographers will list open time slots and prices a week or two ahead of a convention they’re going to so that cosplayers can sign up and work with them. You can also have prices posted for private photoshoots so that cosplayers can contact you to work together outside of conventions as well.