Cosplay Photography – The Artists Behind the Lens

Cosplay Photography – The Artists Behind the Lens

March 13, 2015 1 By Alanna Smith

When it comes to epic cosplay photos, cosplayers are only half of the equation. Cosplay photographers are just as responsible for bringing a character to life through stunning images. We recently spoke to 6 talented photographers from around the world – Lauren Pihl (USA), Mokrushina Oksana (Russia) Amaleigh (Canada), Andy K. (Germany), Greencat (Austria) and Lucas Ambrosio (UK) – who shared some of their insight and experiences in the world of cosplay photography.

What’s your favourite thing about cosplay photography?

Lauren: For me, it’s creating something that inspires me. I love gaming, anime, dramas, fantasy, sci-fi, so many things that I never thought I would even be able to touch. But now I can create my own version of characters or recreate my favorite scenes from the series I watch.

elsa frozen cosplay

Coronation Elsa by Ali Mahou Cosplay
Photography by Amaleigh Photography

Amaleigh: I absolutely love getting “the shot”, that shot that is just perfect in any way. Being able to pass on a stunning shot to the cosplayer is not only incredibly rewarding but makes them feel wonderful as well!

Andy: You don’t just try to take a pretty photo, you also try to convey an existing character and the relationship with others. Or maybe you try to recreate an entire plot point from the original source. This is a challenge I try to meet again and again and it keeps me motivated with every single new shoot I do. It never gets boring.

Mokrushina: I like to be part of the “magic” and see how small pieces add up to a big picture.

Do you do your own effects editing? If so, what’s your process like?

Andy: No, my process tends to be limited to standard RAW editing. I adjust the exposure or temperature a bit, nothing more. Mostly I aim to get everything right in camera, including lighting effects. If I really need special effects added afterwards, I have a couple of friends who can help me out with that.

Greencat: Most of the time I edit my photos by myself. For photo editing and effects I use the open source programs Darktable and GIMP.

Lauren: I spend an average of 4 hours on each photo editing; most of this time is retouching skin (acne, scars, blemishes, color correcting, etc) since I do very in depth, pixel-peeping, high-end retouching. I don’t have to really, but I feel like it gives my work a more polished finished look. After this I start fiddling around with the mood of my image using color and contrast adjustment layers in various ways (curves, dodge and burn, color filters, etc) Whatever I feel my image needs really, for some it’s more contrast and darker tones and for others it requires lighter tones and warmer colors. Every image is different but I put the same love into every image.

Amaleigh: I do the majority of my own edits though there are a select number of cosplayers I will let do minor edits on the photos. My general process consists of multiple layers focusing on dodging and burning as well as general cleaning up of the background and skin. I like to put a lot of focus on eyes so I will often do more work on them in the form of intensifying the colour or darkening the makeup surrounding them.

Galadriel Cosplay

Galadriel by Michelle Norris
Photography by Lauren Pihl Photo

Do you prefer taking pictures at conventions or doing location/studio shoots?

Andy: I honestly prefer convention shoots. I tend to not take more than 3-4 pictures per costume and then move on. A convention is the perfect setting for that. Also I like the challenge to get everything right as fast as possible, the cosplayer and I both can move on quickly if I succeed with that. Location and studio shoots on the other hand require very much preparation and on site work that I’m honestly too lazy to do most of the time.

Amaleigh: By far I prefer on location shoots though that isn’t always available. Studio is nice but I do prefer finding location that works well for the character and series.

Lucas: I definitely prefer to shoot out of conventions, it is a lot more relaxed so it is easier to achieve exactly what you want. In studio you have full control of the light and you don’t have to worry about the weather, but I also like locations shoots if I can find places that suit the character.

queen of hearts cosplay

Queen of Hearts by Galina Morgevich
Based on art by Sakizo
Photography by Mokrushina Oksana

What kind of camera and equipment do you use?

Greencat: I use a Canon 5D mk II with prime lenses.

Lucas: My camera is a Canon 5D mk II and my two favourite lenses are Canon 85mm f/1.8 and Canon 17-40mm f/4.0.

Amaleigh: I have a pretty basic set up of a Nikon D90 with the 18-55mm 3.5-5.6G kit lens as well as a 50mm 1.8G prime lens and a SB700 flash. Occasionally I will use a nice wide angle lens or an 80mm portrait lens.

What difficulties have you encountered with cosplay photography? What might you consider to be the hardest part?

Mokrushina: The hardest part is location. Of course we try to pick a location as close to the original as possible, but sometimes it’s impossible for various reasons.

Andy: I sometimes struggle a bit with how it is recognized by more traditional photographers. I have met a number of photographers whose work I highly respect and most of them tend to dismiss cosplay photography as child’s play, kids playing around in funny costumes and me taking a few snapshots, ignoring the massive amount of work and creativity that is often involved. I’m not aiming to elevate my hobby to a professional level but I’d still like people to see the work for what it is and not judge it solely on the premise behind it.

Lucas: Well, not everyone is a model, so some cosplayers can be a bit awkward in front of the camera, as much as we try and direct them, if they aren’t comfortable it will show in the image. But it’s the photographer’s job to make their models look good so we always need to find a way around it.

Lauren: I think the hardest part of cosplay photography for me is location scouting. Unlike fashion photography where you find your location and then match a wardrobe and model to it, cosplay photography to me is about re-creating the world the character is from, and to do that you have to find the location to match the model instead. It’s very hard sometimes when you need to find a space that mimics Bloodmyst Isles from WoW for example when you live in Boston.

avatar cosplay

Zuko and Korra by chocolate-hero
Aang by nunuki-chan
Bolin by Hubert
Photography by Greencat

What is your strategy for directing cosplayers during a shoot?

Mokrushina: I discuss all details of the shoot with the cosplayer so I know what they want as an end result and I can fix
anything in the process.

Lauren: When I first meet my client I study how they stand, how they walk, and how they hold their hands and use their natural body posture to direct them into a pose similar to or identical to that of their character. I try my best to study the character before the shoot by watching the show they’re from and gathering reference photos in a binder or pintrest board, and I review this before the shoot. So this way when I show up I am prepared to help the model pose. Not all cosplayers have a modeling background, and for some it’s their first time in a photo-shoot or their first time cosplaying, so it’s my job to make it comfortable and easy for them to be in the shoot.

Lucas: At first I normally let them do their own poses so I can see what they can do, but if it’s at a convention they have probably posed like that for many photos so I want something different. So I just ask them to make a few changes – most of the time I have to do the pose myself so they can see what I mean.

Greencat: It really depends with whom I’m working! Most importantly is to talk what the cosplayers about what they like.

Amaleigh: I do my best with a no touch strategy unless they’ve given me explicit permission to do so. I motion with my hands for cosplayers to move a certain body part or I’ll pose with my own body if I have a very specific pose in mind. This helps them to visualize what I’m going for and they can communicate with me if that is what they’d like as well. Communication is key. I used to try and research the character poses beforehand but I can find that detrimental in getting stuck trying to recreate those specific poses. I like letting creativity flow between me and the model to get the best imagery.

snk  cosplay

Erwin Smith by Kat
Levi Ackerman by Kato-Yue
Photography by Andy K. Photography

What tips do you have for both cosplayers and photographers when it comes to posing?

Greencat: Especially for beginners posing can be difficult. For the cosplayer, maybe try some poses before the shooting. For the photographer, don’t force anything. Both have to be comfortable with it. Tip for both: try to find some reference pictures of the characters that are cosplayed and look for some typical poses.

Lucas: If you are shooting at a convention you may not have time to research, so just talk to the cosplayer and ask what the character is about, what they do, that will help you come up with some ideas.

Lauren: For cosplayers I’d say don’t worry about that part – just stay relaxed and trust your photographer in how he or she choses to pose you. In my opinion it’s the photographers job to take care of making sure the cosplayer poses correctly. This is because a pose that might look good in person might not look as awesome in camera since you are compressing a 3D world onto a 2D surface.

Andy: Don’t try to exactly recreate poses from a Manga or Anime. Most drawings are not physically possible in real life so most of the time you are better off making compromises. Cosplayers should practice a handful of poses before the shoot, trying everything from scratch usually eats up lots of valuable time. Photographers should find out as much as they can about the involved characters before a shoot, including personality and typical poses, so they can get an idea of how to portrait the character correctly and what to ask of the cosplayers.

Mokrushina: You should know your character: what he can do or not, his emotions, characteristic postures and your good angles.

Any other tips for people getting into cosplay photography?

Lauren: Have fun, seriously, and respect those around you. Your work will get better naturally as you progress, you can go to school for it or watch youtube videos, tutorials, and of course learn under your fellow photographers. But if you don’t have fun you’ll eventually grow tired of it. So have fun, learn from your peers, and create work that inspires you!

Amaleigh: Start small and work your way up in the community and your confidence in your own work will grow as well. Mistakes will happen but don’t let that stop you! I found starting with photographing my friends to be the easiest and went from there. There is no scale of where you need to be at a certain point so take your time. Treat cosplayers as friends and you may just get some friends and great photos out of it in the end!

Greencat: Conventions have a lot of impressions. First of all try to be nice to the cosplayer! Always ask before you are taking pictures! Just be creative and try to find your own style!

Mokrushina: Have fun! Sometimes it can be hard, but the end result is worth it.

poison ivy arkham cosplay

Poison Ivy by Skunk Cosplay
Photography by Lucas Ambrosio Photography