cosplay photograpy

Photographer Advise from a Cosplayer

Someone sent me this message last week and I thought it was a really good question and should be  shared.

“Hello how are you? I follow you’re blog and have recently decided to branch into cosplay photography. With such a competitive market I was wondering if you Could help me with a few tips or resources that could help me get cosplay clients. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. And keep up the good work.”

 I’m not a professional photographer myself, I do shoot on occasion for fun, so I will not be able to answer any technical or business questions thoroughly. However, I would be more than happy to answer  this question from a consumers view.

I’ve worked with quite a few photographers over the years both professionals and armatures. Here are things I like to see :

1)    Make Sure You Have an Online Portfolio

I want to see your past work. I want to know what you’re capable of. Make sure it’s your best stuff too, no crappy hall shot. Albums on a FB page or a link to a file hosting website are fine but make sure it’s easy to find and updated frequently.

2)    Make sure your rates are reasonable.

Find out what the other photographer in your area charge and price accordingly.  Where I live I generally pay $30-50 for a shoot. I know that in other areas $100+ isn’t unreasonable for a pro to charge. It all depends on location, saturation of the market and how much post editing the photographer is willing to put into it. I’m not really big on supper photo shopped pictures.  I don’t require a ton of post editing work from my photographer. However, some photographers have been super nice and gone up and beyond to create a fantastic picture for me with extensive photo shop work. I also know that some photographers will charge more at certain conventions. If I’m going to a small 500-2000 attendee convention I’ll probably spend less than if I went to a 20,000 attendee convention and bought a shoot.

3)    Make Sure You Have an Appropriate Watermark

This is one of my biggest pet peeves with working with photographs. There are some photographers I just will not work with because I hate how they chose to watermark their photos. Let me expound on this a bit but I first want to say that I think all photographers should watermark their photos. Just as a painter signs his/her painting and a sculptor imprints  his/her mark on his/her creation you too are an artist an should take credit for your work. However, your mark should not be a distraction from your subject matter.

If I glance at one of your photos and the first thing I notice is your watermark and not the photo itself then you’ve already lost me as a customer.  What that says to me is:

  •   You more concerned with promoting yourself then you are about giving me a good picture.
  • You are more concerned with promoting yourself then creating good art.
  • You do not have a basic understanding of composition and subject matter.
  • This is a rooky mistake and if you’ve been doing the same thing for years it shows me that you aren’t open to growth.

Don’t know what an appropriate watermark should look like? It should be small, it should be unobtrusive, and it should be an appropriate color in contrast to the rest of the photo. I know several photographers who have their watermark in 2-3 different colors or shades so they can customize it depending on the final colors of the picture.

Helpful tip: pick your top 5 favorite professional photographer and pay attention to how they place their watermark. You want to be as professional as possible, right? Then study others and learn from them. If you are still unsure there is a quick test you can do. Look at your photo, turn away from it and count to 10, quickly glance back out the photo. Without hesitating what is the first thing you notice in the photo? Whatever it is should be the focal point of your picture. If it is your watermark then think about how you can adjust it so it blends in more.

4)    Advertising

Whenever I’m looking to work with a new photographer at a convention I always check the FB pages of that convention and see who is advertising. Most have a nice photo with a sample of their work and a list of their rates. Some a have links to their portfolios.  Either one works for me. I just like being able to find you easily. Some of the photographers I like working with make sure they post a list on their websites or FB page with a list of the conventions they plan to attend.

If you need a good jumping in point host a photo shoot at a convention and be the official photographer for it. This will not get you paid shoots right away but it will introduce you to people and help you make connections. If people like working with you they may approach you about paid shoots later. Or you in turn may find someone you like working with and offer to do a one-on-one shoot later. Popular ideas for shoots are: Disney, Disney and Dreamworks, League of Legends, Gravity Falls, DBZ, Steven Universe, Undertale etc.

Be sure to have business cards. Anytime you shoot someone, especially quick hall shots, give them your card! It will be easy for them to find you later and then they can start tagging and sharing your photos. Now you’ve got your name circulating around.

Reach out to cosplayers you know or would like to get to know and offer to shoot with them. They will be sharing your finished work with their  fans and possible approach you in the future about paid shoots.

I’ve seen some photographers host contests where the prize was a free shoot with them. I like this idea because it’s better the just going around giving out a bunch of free shoots for a while to drum up business. You are giving away one shoot but your attaching worth to it. You’re saying that your time and skills are valuable and you’re allowing someone to have it but they have had to work for it in some way.

Possible approach a small convention and speak to their cosplay contest director. I know that small cons, especially ones starting out, are always looking for prizes for their contests. Offer a photo shoot (s) to the winner (s) of the cosplay contest. One contest I entered had a photographer who sponsored the contest and bought a super nice trophy that had his and the conventions logo on it.

5)    Don’t Get a Bad Rep

Don’t just be willing to shoot certain body types. I’m 30, I’m a size 14 and I am by no means the most beautiful Belle at the ball.  Basically, I’m not a photographer’s first pick of most characters. I’m not saying this to put myself down but this is something I realistically have to be aware of. Some photographer will not want to work with me because of how I look. Please don’t be someone like that. Be willing to work with all types of people.

Cosplayers talk among ourselves and if a photographer isn’t behaving professionally we like to get the word out. Be mindful of how you conduct yourself. Keep shoots to open and public areas. If you are going somewhere private extend an invitation to the cosplayer to invite a friend if they want.

I know some photographer don’t want other people around while they are shooting but I find they can be very helpful: carry gear, watch for wigs slipping and costume pieces out of place, hold lighting etc. Be open to having other people around. If a photographer says I can’t have at least 1 other person around during the shoot it sends up red flags about what their intentions are.

6)    What I Want and What You Want Can be Drastically Different.

What I’m expecting from a photo shoot can be way different they what you expect. This is ok, nobody is in the wrong. It’s just something you need to be aware of. Be sure to talk to the cosplayer at the beginning of the shoot and discussed what poses and types of shots they are wanting to do.

There have been times when I’ve shown up for a shoot and I’ve already scoped out what backgrounds I want to shoot against, have a list of poses and know which full body and which close up shots I want. Wham, bam and we are done in 15 minutes. Then there are times I’ve shown up and have a vague idea of what I want but I’m going to leave it you the photographer to do most of the directing. And then there are those rare times I show up, look the photographer in the eye, and go “Do you want to do something crazy? Let’s do something crazy!”  And then I ran through a creek in high heal, fell down a muddy embankment and climbed on a tank in a ball dress. And I’ve got pics to prove it thanks to my photographer who just kept shooting no matter what I did next.

Be ready to roll with it. Your model may be shy and this is their first time and you’ve got to coach them on poses and facial expressions. Be gentle and patient. Study their character and be ready to offer suggestions for poses.

I however have been doing this for years and I don’t want gentle- I want the hard truth. I had this bad habit of trying to look serious and instead looking constipated. I have tons of early pictures of my stupid constipation face! Why didn’t any of you photographers tell me! Uggg!!! But I now know what to do to hide it and my favorite photographers knows to remind me to raise my chin and not look like I need to take some laxatives.

Let your model look at the pictures periodically as you take them. You have a lot to focus on: background, lighting, making sure people aren’t walking in the back of the picture etc.  If you show them snap shots they can pick out detail on their costumes that may need adjusting. Most of us don’t bring mirrors to shoots, we need to check the photos to make sure our wigs aren’t slipping or our petticoats aren’t showing.

Also, give them a quick overview of the photos you’ve taken. I know you want to edit them before showing them to the world but it’s important to make sure the cosplayer got what they wanted out of the shoot. Pay attention to the ones they mention they like and include them with the finished photos.

               Other useful tips

  •   The photo you thought was the best of the shoot isn’t necessarily the one they will think is the best one. That’s ok, everyone has different taste.
  • Make sure you get photos that will be usable for FB profile and banner pictures. Landscape photos with negative space to the left are particularly necessary for the banner photos.
  •   Cosplayer like up close shots of the details on their costumes. This may sound silly but we often make tutorials and having those types of photos are a necessity. Otherwise we may need to crop a photo and we don’t want to offend you or get in trouble by cutting out your watermark. If we ask you to crop it or for permission to crop it ourselves please be willing to accommodate us. I promise we aren’t trying to cramp your style or dictate your art we just need something to fit in certain parameters for a tutorial or FB layout.
  •   Having the model sign a waiver is ok. This lets us know what we can and can’t do with the photos as well as know you aren’t going to exploit us in any way. This helps protect everyone involved.
  •    If you are going to start shooting Deviant or risqué shoots be careful how you approach people about shooting these types of thing. It’s generally wise to let the models come to you rather then approach them about the shoot. You can mention that you do those types of shoots but make sure you aren’t making someone feel uncomfortable or hounding them to do something like that. That’s a fast way to get labeled a creeper in the community

I’m sure I’m forgetting some things. If anyone else who wants to add to this feel free.