First of all, let me warn you that by the end of this journal entry, you may find yourself sick of my face. (If you aren't already.) I'll be using mostly myself as an example for the things I'm going to discuss, because I'm the only person I can poke fun at without restrictions.
I get asked a lot of questions about these cosplay photos that most of you have come to know me for. Sometimes it's about the techniques we use, requests for tips and advice for other people who want to do something similar. Other times, the comments come from people who aren't familiar with cosplay, but are curious about it and are interested to know more. So I thought of making this little introductory lesson of sorts for cosplay photography.
I'm not speaking for everybody who does cosplay shoots. I'll be discussing my own views and the techniques my friends and I use, though some of which might be considered general knowledge anyway.
I can understand why people who aren't familiar with the concept of cosplay might be turned off by my submissions. I get a lot of "It's too edited! or "The people don't look real!" or "Too much Photoshop!" comments from more traditional/classical photographers. Perhaps the style I use just doesn't suit their taste, or they misinterpret my intentions. Coming up are some points I'd like to address.
What is cosplay? (from our FAQ section)
For the sake of the people who aren't familiar with this concept at all, let me try to briefly explain it. Or what it is to me, at least.
Simply put, it's a hobby that involves dressing up as existing characters from different genres. The term cosplay comes from the phrase "costume play", the word "play" pertaining to the act of roleplaying, as opposed to plays of the theatrical sort.
Most of our cosplay shoots are based on anime series. There are certain things we take into consideration to make the photos more convincing since we are after all, three-dimensional beings trying to simulate the look of two-dimensional characters. And more often than not, the settings and circumstances the characters are in are not realistic. In that sense, the photos are not meant to look entirely realistic either.
The following are some of the things we keep in mind to achieve that effect.
The face should be lit up to minimize the appearance of shadows. It gives the face a slightly more two-dimensional quality, which is appropriate for anime cosplay. Lighting's a big thing, and can really affect the way you look.
Makeup is used to even out the skintone and make the skin more matte to look better in the photos. I've only recently gotten used to putting this stuff on, but it's an important part of our shoots. Everyone, even the boys, could always stand to put on a bit of makeup.
I can't really about brands, mainly because I don't really keep track of all the brands of the stuff we use. And it's best if you go out and try stuff for yourselves to figure out what will work best for your skin.
One thing about cosplay makeup - as opposed to makeup for fashion shoots or whatnot where they do stuff like contour your cheekbones and bring out the shapes on your face - we aim to pretty much flatten and even out our skintone and make our eyes the most striking features on our faces. That also draws the focus onto our colored contact lenses, for those of us who wear them. (Eye color is a distinguishing factor for a lot of anime characters.) That adds to the doll-like quality people always seem to remark on in our pictures.
We tolerate overexposure and oversaturation to a certain extent because for some shots, it helps to make things look more two-dimensional.
Remember that not everything has to be done using Photoshop. We make use of our camera functions to get certain effects, like for this photo:
Hair and eye colors need not be completely realistic. I get some weird comments sometimes from people complaining that people aren't born with blue hair and red eyes, or something like that. It's not our fault that those character designers can be a little crazy, haha.
Take my Kurama cosplay - bright red hair, bright green eyes, bright pink uniform. Ugh. Hahaha. Not to mention Kenshin's flaming red hair and bright magenta kimono. I intend to redo these cosplays, though. Particularly with better wigs. Sometimes the color can be compromised to better suit the cosplayer. Even though that shade of red can be considered rather accurate for Kurama, that also means that more often than not, it's going to end up looking like a saturated red fuzzy thing in photos.
Make sure the angle of the shot is flattering and best suits the character you're trying to portray. Like for characters with sharper chins, high-angle shots usually work better. And in contrast to that, characters with larger, more angular jawlines may look best when shot from relatively low angles. (Though not necessarily nostril portraits like this all the time.)
Let's face it, everyone has their bad angles. Same goes for awkward facial expressions, especially when you're not exactly properly posed. It's really hit-or-miss, especially for event pictures. But for shoots at least you have the luxury of picking out photos where you look your best (and hope that your friends don't use the bad pictures of you for blackmail).
Choose a setting/background appropriate for the series you're cosplaying. Keep your eyes open for possible shoot locations even if you're just walking to another building in your campus, or on a car ride home, or when you're just randomly out with friends. That's how I scout anyway, haha.
Then, secure the location for the scheduled day and time you intend to shoot there. Get permission from whoever's in charge. Unless of course, it's a forest or something that nobody really owns. You need not go on a quest to find the Lady of the Lake. We have no need for farcical aquatic ceremonies.
When you shoot, make sure the lighting is sufficient, whether by choosing the right time of day or bringing lighting equipment. (Though we usually just go with sunlight.) PLEASE try as much as possible not to resort to default flash photography. It's not always bad but, uh, it usually is. Okay, well maybe not BAD bad, but you won't get that cinematic quality you're capable of achieving if you don't use flash.
People often comment about how unnatural my submissions look. The photos are not meant to look entirely realistic. Everyone has their own editing styles, and mine happens to be about making the photos look a little bit surreal. Most of the time, I take inspiration from official artwork, or try to emulate the look or atmosphere of the series we're doing a shoot of. Here are some examples to show you what I mean:
Before you ask, kindly check out our Frequently Asked Questions page!