Many have never heard of cosplay photography. Those who have heard of it are split into three camps:

  1. The indifferent
  2. The scoffers
  3. The enthusiasts

I fall into the “enthusiast” category, but I’m realistic. The truth is that cosplay photography isn’t right for everybody. There are some individuals who are so decidedly left-brained that just the idea of enduring someone who spends time playing make-believe is tiresome. That’s fine. These people are needed in many other photographic genres.

There are enough of us in the business that it’s wonderful to be able to spread out.

cosplay photography - girl in costumePhoto by Joey Phoenix Photography

Where did cosplay come from?

Over the last few years, modern cosplay possibilities have exploded worldwide. This can be attributed predominately to social media. Yet, cosplay itself is not a new phenomenon. People have been dressing up in costumes for thousands of years. ‘Cosplay’ essentially comes from two words: ‘costume’ and ‘play’. And people take it seriously. Very seriously.

For many people, cosplaying is more than just putting on a costume and attending conventions. For many, it’s a lifestyle, one that creates amazing chances for photographers to make a name for themselves.

Why you should be a cosplay photographer

If you’re a portrait photographer looking to break out of the studio, to try something that doesn’t involve cheesy kid smiles and strategically placed sunbursts in family portraits, cosplay photography may be the ideal choice for you. It gives you the opportunity to work with some truly creative people, it’s a lot of fun, and, maybe most importantly, cosplayers travel in groups, meaning more work for you in the long run.

cosplay photography - cosplayer in the woods Photo by Joey Phoenix Photography

But I’m not a nerd!

So what? And stop stereotyping. You may not be an expert in Japanese subcultures, listen to Final Fantasy soundtracks to relax, or speak a made-up language, but you don’t have to. When you became a photographer, you didn’t know everything there was to know about the trade; you learned as you went.

The same applies to cosplay. If you are willing to take the time to learn about the field, know what gets cosplayers excited, and maybe teach yourself the basic difference between manga and anime, you’re well on your way.

Sound interesting?

Here are some tips to help you get started

1)    Start with conventions

Although just shooting cosplay at conventions won’t be a lucrative option long-term, it is one of the best ways to both a) get the hang of cosplay photography and b) network. In my experience, cosplayers are extremely loyal. If the images you send them after the convention are to their liking, odds are they will hire you for an individual portrait shoot, and they will tell their friends about you too.

Uncertain when a convention will be in your area? Try

2)    Do your research

The best cosplay photographers are the ones who produce dynamic images of cosplayers which accurately represent the characters in both tone and style. Before you shoot, talk to your client, find out who they will be cosplaying, and then scour YouTube for examples. Your job will be to recreate, to the best of your ability, the original character in your images. Do this well, and you’ll never be short on cosplay clients.

3)    Shoot on location

Studios are great. They protect you from the elements and allow you to control the light. But when it comes to cosplay, except in rare circumstances, scrap them. On-location cosplay portraits have much greater impact when done well than their in-studio counterparts. This isn’t to say that you can’t take a great cosplay portrait in-studio; you’ll just have a better image if you do it on location.

cosplay photography - cosplayer on top of a house Photo by Joey Phoenix Photography

However, like everything else, when choosing your location, make sure you’ve done your research. For example, you don’t want to capture a cosplay of the Disney Princess Merida in the middle of a modern city, or Lara Croft in the middle of a sun-kissed field. Pick a location that suits the cosplay choice. Don’t try to change the Cosplay to fit the location.

4)    Trust your creative instincts

Although at the beginning you may want to look at other cosplay photographers’ work for inspiration, your success is contingent on your ability to do something different—to create something original that your clients will be proud of. Many of these individuals will cosplay the same character over and over again, and having a unique take will be a large part of your appeal.

5)    Respect your cosplayer

Cosplayers put in hundreds of hours planning, designing, creating, and maintaining their costumes. Need proof? Check out one person’s adaptation of a BioShock Big Daddy. Anybody who puts that much time and effort into any craft deserves respect. Your job as the photographer is to do honor to what they have created.

About The Author

Joey is a Boston-based freelance writer and photographer passionate about cultural development and fascinated by people. Her website is:

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