Capturing Soul in Cosplay Photography

Cute, but boring.

Too often in cosplay photography, the subject becomes an object. Cosplayers are fairly bad at doing anything other than looking sexy (?) and photographers focus too strongly on simply making cosplayers look good. I think we can do better than that.

The photo at the top of this post is a pretty good example of a standard cosplay shot. Single subject, decent composition, nice costume— but what else? Upon further examination, I’ve noticed that there isn’t much else, and that’s the problem. 

The problem with cosplay photography doesn’t have anything to do with models or photographers. Each model is interesting in her own way, and there are plenty of technically skilled photographers out there. There’s a problem with the way that cosplay photos are conceived of and taken.

In my experience, here’s how one generally takes a photo of a cosplayer:

Photog: Hey, uh… heh, uh, let me, uh, get a picture of you?

Model: ハァァァイ*・゜゚・*:.。..。.:*・゜(n‘∀‘)η゚・*:.。. .。.:*・゜゚・* !!!!!~~~~~~ <3

Photog: *click* Eheheheh… *wipes drool, walks away*

And the two never speak again.

This is foolish. No matter how interesting the model, or how technically skilled the photographer, this kind of photo-taking process can’t possibly result in outstanding photographs. Hence, we’re left with photos of cute girls looking cute— which is fine, just not good enough.

The photographer is not solely to blame for this state of affairs. It is, in part, the model’s responsibility to make himself or herself interesting. A creative cosplayer will make himself or herself interesting by acting in character or striking a creative pose. More often than not, however, cosplayers will simply assume some generic position (peace signs, anyone?) while having their picture taken. Generic poses lead to generic photographs, and the entire process seems cursory and artificial.

Part of the problem is that the cosplayer has a disproportionate amount of power over the photographer. The photog must first ask the cosplayer for permission before setting up a photo (although this is completely necessary, but one can argue that asking for permission results in a better shot, which is true in most cases). He then proceeds to compose his shot based on whatever pose the cosplayer has chosen for herself. Rare is the photographer who voices his own opinion on how his photos should be composed. This lack of questioning and back-and-forth dialogue between photographer and subject is damaging, and runs contrary to common sense. It’s only natural that the photographer tells the subject how she should pose herself.

Naturally, a photography studio is a very different setting from an anime convention. When one considers the unique environment under which cosplay photography occurs, one might be tempted to say the following:

                “Cosplayers are busy. They don’t have time to sit here and pose for me.”

                “Just because cosplayers are in costume, doesn’t mean they want to be photographed, much less listen to my requests.”

                “I’m not comfortable telling strangers what to do.”

Taking into account the context of cosplay photography, these are all sensible things to say. However, I insist that the context itself is fucked up. I’m not commanding that cosplayers suddenly make time for photographers, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that most cosplayers are incredibly proud of their own work, and genuinely want beautiful photos of themselves. Communicating with the photographer certainly can’t hurt. Besides, this is not an especially time-consuming process. Telling a Kuroko cosplayer, “Excuse me, do you mind flashing your Judgment armband a bit more prominently?” takes about ten seconds, and is much more interesting (in my opinion) that a simple shot of a Kuroko cosplayer not doing that. (This is also much easier to do when the photographer is familiar with the cosplayer’s character. A good cosplay photographer always does her homework.)

Interaction between subjects usually helps, too. Cosplayers often roam around with their buddies, no? Instead of just having a group of cosplayers do a generic group shot (lined up neatly in two rows), perhaps one could politely ask them to interact and play with each other in the same way that their characters would. Offer suggestions to cosplayers in order to expedite this process. If they refuse and think you’re weird, hey, well, at least you tried.

FUUUUUWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

I’m sure most of you have seen this photo. Though the quality of the photo itself is low, this photo makes up by being utterly hilarious. Both cosplayers are in character, but the introduction of dakimakura-Cristina . There’s stuff going on here, and that makes it better than static photos taken by far better cameras.

It’s the job of both the photographers and the models to create meaning. Lack of communication results in an active resistance against the creation of meaning, which is how one ends up with cute yet bland photos.

Finally, I want to talk briefly about photosets. The set of photos above is a pretty representative look at what most cosplay photosets look like: one model, different angles, different poses. However, these photos are independent of one another. There’s no real common thread here.

What this photoset (and others like it) is missing is narrative. I haven’t seen many sets which attempt to tell some story, or display any kind of chronological sequence. I think it’d be a fun idea if someone tried that; one assumes that when doing photosets, photographer and subject already have some kind of working relationship with each other. If this is the case, why not exploit it? Cosplay yon-koma sounds like a delightful idea to me.

In short, I think that cosplay photography, for the most part, suffers from a lack of deeper thought. Photographers have done a great job of capturing the physical beauty of both cosplayers themselves and the costumes they wear, yet photos generally lack emotion. When one considers the context in which cosplay photos are generally taken, perhaps this isn’t so surprising— after all, cons are crowded and stressful, and it’s often difficult to get more than a few seconds’ worth of a cosplayer’s time. Perhaps it’s time for a paradigm shift. Photographers can put a bit more thought into composition and narrative, and cosplayers should entertain reasonable suggestions. I think everyone would be happier with the end result, no?

What great examples of cosplay photography have you all seen? Share and discuss, either here, or on Twitter, @Akirascuro!

5 Responses to “Capturing Soul in Cosplay Photography”

  1. Eh well this post depends on what function one expects cosplay photos to serve. And for some, I don’t think they’d have any issues with the first or last pictures in your post.

    That being said, I love seeing the “joke” cosplayers at a convention. Kishida Mel, Ishihara, etc. They always manage to be so photogenic haha.

  2. A link to something called Epic Anime Time.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/GakAttack#p/u/4/dsYgqKJr4mE

    Its a really great use of amateur cosplayers by a guy who knows enough of fake fighting techniques and special effects post processing to make the costumes come to life in a way similar to what I see you calling for in this article.

  3. This. This this this.

    In all honesty, I can’t see con photography improving–those photos seem to be done largely for the sake of memories, to remind oneself and show others all of the crazy cosplayers at the con that year. Not to mention it’d be hard to communicate properly with a complete stranger in the middle of the busiest part of the convention center (especially if she’s dressed like the first picture, heh).

    But you’re absolutely right about the problem with cosplay photography, and it’d be nice if the fans who do real photoshoots at cons would put a bit more thought into their pictures. They’re more likely to have a working relationship with their models and they have the opportunity to request more interesting poses, etc. And I’m not talking about studio photoshoots here; I’m just referring to the regular fans with big cameras who go to cosplay.com and get involved with the community as photographers rather than cosplayers.

  4. As a cosplay photographer, I loathe these kind of pics for the same reasons. The swarm of photographers crowding around said cosplayers doesn’t help the fact that one can’t move around freely.

    My modus operandi involves inviting cosplayers to my corner “studio” (anywhere with a blank wall or uncluttered background) and go about brainstorming ideas for a mini-photoshoot. They can last anywhere from a minute to 30 minutes. There may be other photographers sneaking in a shot but I let them be unless they try their own directing.

    That said, I am not familiar with most anime (there’s only so little time a salaryman can spare to watch anime), so I rely on the cosplayers to know their character poses. However, first time cosplayers tend to not know their poses. I will then ask them about their character traits and pose/light them accordingly.

    Once the mini-PS is complete, I will ask them for their contacts to mail them the completed pics. I will then ask for their permission to post their pics online. I also take care to not post the more risque material. (Yaoi/yuri/smexy)

    Thankfully, there is a growing trend of these mobile studios and personal photographers with every convention, so the standard of cosplay photography is on the rise.

  5. good cosplay photography samples can be found here: http://z3llll.deviantart.com/ ..he is a good friend of mine and is already a gr8 photographer. always takes time to capture great photos during conventions.

    i’ve worked w/him on and off cons, his pictures always tell a story~! *thumbs up*

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