Cosplay photography has become more and more popular and it’s more important to get a number of things clear.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of comic book, video game, cinema, television, and pop culture enthusiasts descend upon the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the west side of Manhattan to attend New York Comic Con, an annual convention that’s being held later this week for its 13th year. Last year, New York Comic Con attracted over 200,000 attendees, and it is projected that attendance numbers will possibly exceed nearly a quarter of a million this year. While a majority of the people in attendance are average consumers looking to check out the latest offerings from comic book publishers, video game developers, movie and television studios, as well as panel discussions and meet and greet photo ops with their favorite celebrities, there has been a rapid growth in attendees donning costumes of characters from their favorite fandom. Ranging from casual to wildly elaborate, cosplaying (the practice of dressing up as your favorite character) has become such a big component of conventions like New York Comic Con that the Eastern Championships of Cosplay competition has been held at New York Comic Con since 2014, with winners going on to compete at national level cosplay competitions.
Cosplay Photography is Fun!
The rise in cosplaying’s popularity has directly resulted in an increase in the amount of photographers who attend conventions like New York Comic Con for the sole purpose of photography. Being such target rich environments, it’s not uncommon to find photoshoots, both impromptu as well as organized, happening throughout convention floors and in areas surrounding convention centers. Some photographers even specialize in cosplay photography, and it’s something that members of the Phoblographer team including yours truly have enjoyed doing. While it’s not uncommon to see cosplayers taking selfies with one another at conventions, some cosplayers, especially those that take cosplaying very seriously and go all out (having spent months sewing, hot gluing, molding, and 3D printing their costumes and props), want photographs that will show off their blood, sweat, and tears in all of its glory.
Cosplays from New York Comic Con: Soldier 76
As visual storytellers, cosplayers make for some highly interesting subjects around which we as photographers are able to create images that tell compelling stories. In commercial production terms, these cosplayers are not only the talent, but are also pulling double, triple, or quadruple duty as hair & make up artists, prop stylists, and costume designers as well. Rather than haphazardly taking snapshots of cosplayers, it is only fair that we treat cosplay photography as an art form, matching the energies and dedication cosplayers have poured into their cosplays. Dramatic character and environmental portraiture can bring a cosplayer’s character to life, as if they came directly out of the pages of a comic book, or a scene from a video game, TV show, or movie. Don’t just take pictures, create photographs.
It Starts with Ideas
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider cosplay
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider cosplay. The gallery above features images that I created with the talented cosplayer Nixie Sweet, cosplaying as Lara Croft from the 2013 Tomb Raider video game. As you can see from the images, it follows Lara’s journey from a shipwreck, to her finding refuge on an abandoned island and finding means to defend herself from the elements as well as potential enemies. With Nixie’s help, I was able to create a series of photographs that emulated the game’s signature cinematic look. This entire shoot was shot during golden hour using natural light, with the Sony A7R III and Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master.
Here’s the whole gang! Cosplayers are a dedicated bunch, willing to brave the bitter arctic chills of the New York City winters for the sake of creating some memorable images. As you can see in the above gallery, this Game of Thrones photoshoot was quite an undertaking, featuring almost 20 cosplayers with some coming all the way from Canada specifically to take part in this project. Belvedere Castle in the heart of Central Park made for a compelling setting where I was able to create a handful of environmental portraits with all of these talented cosplayers. This shoot was shot on the Sony A7R II, with the Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master, Sony 50mm f1.8, and Sigma 35mm f1.4 ART attached to a Metabones Canon EF Mount to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter (Mark V), using a combination of natural light as well a Flashpoint Xplor 600 monolight modified with a Westcott Rapid Box Octa XXL.
If you grew up during the late 80’s into the 90’s, you were most likely swept up by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fever. The original movie trilogy, the comic books, along with a series of cartoons, a ton of toys, and even a rap song by Vanilla Ice made the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a cult classic. For this shoot, all of the cosplayers brought their A game with their cosplays, and I knew that in addition to capturing dramatic character portraits of all of them in the style found on old movie tie-in trading cards, I also wanted to create some images that are reminiscent of production stills. With the help and participation of the cosplayers, I think we managed to achieve that goal. All of the images in this gallery were shot on the Sony A7R III, with the Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master, Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8, and the Sony Zeiss 35mm f2.8. A Flashpoint Xplor 600 Pro monolight (review coming soon) modified with a 60″ Glow EZ Lock Octa Quick XXL Softbox served as the key light, while a Flashpoint eVOLV 200 pocket flash (review also coming soon) modified with a 42″ Glow EZ Lock Collapsible Beauty Dish was used for fill.
Cosplay Photography Etiquette: Don’t Just Be a Guy with a Camera
Cosplay photography can be very fun and rewarding, because everyone involved is passionate about their cosplays and fandoms. However, it is very important to remember that cosplay photography at it’s basest form is the act of creating portraits of human subjects. Now, more than ever, we must all remember that cosplay is not consent. Just because you bought a camera from Costco the week prior does not make you a photographer, and it most definitely does not give you carte blanche to photograph cosplayers without their consent at a convention or in any other setting. I have witnessed countless incidences of these Guys With Cameras, commonly referred to as GWCs, rudely interrupting cosplayers that happen to be taking a breather from traversing the crowded convention floor or grabbing a bite to eat with their friends, because they felt entitled to take pictures of their cosplays. Just because you happen to have a camera in your hand does not mean it is okay for you to demand to photograph cosplayers, or anyone for that matter, without consent. If you’d like to photograph a cosplayer, ask for permission politely like a civilized human being, and if a cosplayer declines to be photographed, move on, end of story.
Some GWCs don’t even have the basic courtesy to first ask for permission, rudely sticking your cameras in front of a poor cosplayer’s face and start snapping away without their consent. If a cosplayer happens to be working with an actual photographer in a photoshoot, don’t stick your camera over the photographer’s shoulders and snipe away with your camera. Not only is this extremely rude, but it is very distracting to the cosplayer, and highly disruptive of the photographer’s workflow. Wait until they are done shooting and then ask the cosplayer nicely if they wouldn’t mind having their picture taken. Worse yet are creepy GWCs out there that specifically target cosplayers in revealing costumes, taking pictures of them without consent, often in compromising angles. Knock it off. If you see someone doing this, call them out and notify convention security. I like to stare these people straight in the eyes until they walk away in shame, and you should do the same if you catch them in the act. Cosplayers are human beings just like the rest of us, it just so happen that they’re wearing costumes. You wouldn’t run up to someone wearing a costume at a Halloween party and stick a camera in front of their face, and you shouldn’t do that to cosplayers at a convention. Respect their boundaries and don’t be a creep.
If you ask to take a picture of a cosplayer and they happen to be generous enough with their time to oblige your request, do them the courtesy of getting their contact info (most cosplayers have a Instagram page dedicated to their cosplays) and send them a copy of the image. I keep lots of business cards handy whenever I attend one of these events, and give them to any cosplayers that I end up photographing so that they can reach out and get their images after the event is over. At the end of the day, cosplay photography is a creative exchange between us photographers looking to create interesting and meaningful images and cosplayers that express their creativity and love for their fandom through their costumes. If you’d like to see additional images that I’ve created with cosplayers throughout the years, as well as my commercial portraiture work, or if you have questions about how I created a specific image, feel free to find me on Instagram @thepicreative. Be respectful, be creative, and go make some art!