Cosplayer Sivene Delynn...image taken at Alamo City Comic Con

How to Improve your Cosplay Photography in 4 easy steps

As artists, we are looking to tell a story — a tale, if you will, of the subject that we are photographing.  We sometimes find ourselves in a less-than-perfect environment that doesn’t lend itself to a stellar picture.  So, it’s our job to create that environment, to find the diamond in the rough.  To take the flower in the concrete and make it look perfectly natural and beautiful.  So, throughout my career, I’ve discovered a few tricks that, when combined, allow a photographer to take the very best event picture that they can. A Pop Art Convention of any type can be a hectic event.  People running here and there, looking for a specific cosplayer, a car, a celebrity, or whatever has tickled their fancy at that particular moment.  They don’t have a ton of time in between events to stop and pose for a picture.

4 Quick ways to improve your Cosplay Convention/ Event photography

Build a rapport with the subject:

One of the easiest things is to start a conversation with your subject.  Begin by saying something like “Fantastic Cosplay, did you make it yourself?”  (please note, not all cosplays are handmade, so if they say no, ask them where they got it).  This initial interaction can be molded to whatever  type of event you’re at.  People like to talk about themselves and their things!  Whether they built the cosplay (or rebuilt their car) themselves or look incredible in it, they are more than happy to discuss every detail with you.  Once you have them talking, they will be more at ease with you and open to different posing, and have more genuine facial expressions.

I removed the subject from a group of Star Wars cosplayers, lowered my angle, and used artificial lighting to isolate him.

Remove the surrounding clutter by Isolating your subject!

At any type of gathering or convention, you will have people — tons of people, surrounding your subject. They tend to get lost in all the background commotion in the crowds behind them.  Solution?  Move your subject to a less cluttered location! Once you have the report established, getting them to take a few steps out of the throng should be easy. Basically say “If it’s ok, let’s go over here,” to a pre-selected location that is within the vicinity.  Remember to talk the to them as you make your way over.  Keep that rapport going as you move to a different location!

Isolated the subject from the crowded hallways by finding a suitable background. Provided artificial lighting

Pay attention to lighting!

So many convention photographers will ask for a picture without taking into account how the lighting will affect the mood of an image. Lighting can be a key element to adding drama to a picture, allowing a photographer to tell a better story. You can go from broad, all-encompassing light that will give a nice welcoming feeling and clearly displays every piece of the costume/car etc.,  or you can go for a moody lighting, where the shadows are heavy and the light cascades down the subject, giving it a sense of gravitas! Take into account your subject when deciding this type of light and then figure out how you will achieve the look you want. There are two primary ways to light your subject… using natural/available light, and providing your own.

  1. Available light is using whatever light is available to you.  Whether you didn’t bring strobes or the situation doesn’t allow for it, natural lighting is a fantastic way to get incredible shots.  But you have to look at it like any other lighting setup.  You have to analyze your environment and take stock in what is providing the light you’re going to use.  Some of the things you have to take a look at is: how the sun is hitting your subject? Is there cloud cover or trees diffusing the direct light?  If you’re in a building, is there a window that will give a nice soft light? Pay attention to how the lighting provided helps tell your story.
  2. Provide your own lighting through artificial means.  This is the method of providing lights through the use of speedlights, strobes, or constant lighting (ex. LEDs). This allows you to shape and create lighting patterns that your audience will find pleasing. It also changes how you look at the natural lighting at a location.  You will have to see if you need to overcome the lighting by shooting with more power, filling in facial shadows with some fill light, or brightening up an otherwise dark venue.  Artificial lighting gives you plenty of options to work in any type of situation.
Used subject isolation, lower angle, and artificial lighting to photograph the subject

Use creative angles or perspectives!

Most convention photographers will ask for a shot and when they are done, they move on.  Taking no less than a few seconds to compose their shots, usually, they don’t care about the location and lighting.  They pretty much ignore how the audience’s perspective can create even more drama in an image.  If you’re looking for a super hero shot, get down and shoot up! This gives your subject a larger than life appearance!  If you want to convey a sense of vulnerability, shooting down from above will easily achieve that goal. You don’t need to always shoot from straight-on. Remember, you aren’t limited to shooting only from the front of the subject. Use your feet! Move from side to side getting different angles.  Try having the background fade off into bokeh or shadow to create a sense of depth that shooting straight on doesn’t always have.

Using available light and lower angle to create an imposing image.


Remember to have fun!

In the end, whether you’re shooting as a professional or a hobbyist, the key to creating a stellar image is to have fun! If you’re stressed or worried about how an image will come out, your subject will feel that as well, and will lead to an awkward and uncomfortable picture. By practicing and perfecting these 4 simple techniques, your “bag of tricks and techniques” and confidence will grow. Your skills at analyzing, evaluating, and utilizing any location will be strengthened, and that will allow you to enter any event confident that you will produce the very best image you can. It will ultimately allow you to have more fun!

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