Ten Preparation Tips for Cosplayers in Photo Shoots

These are simple, but effective, things a cosplayer can do to prepare for a photo shoot to make good use of time and minimize poor features in photos taken. Get in a state of mind to prepare for it like you would for a prom or wedding shoot so you know some shots you want, practice it and have your cosplay in as nice a condition as possible. Then leave the rest to improvisation. Here is a checklist summary with details in each to follow: 

  1. Iron your cosplay
  2. Take care of maintenance details of your cosplay
  3. Get a list of your cosplay character’s well-known poses
  4. Get a list of your favourite poses for photos
  5. Practice those poses
  6. Work hard on facial expressions
  7. Summary description of your cosplay character
  8. “Outside the box” ideas
  9. Give your photographer a heads-up of who you’ll be cosplaying
  10. A little make-up or few good nights’ sleep before would be nice

Iron your cosplay

A good camera, and certain digital SLR, can pick up very fine details. Wrinkles in your cosplay will be very obvious and can spoil a good picture, like wrinkles in your tuxedo or prom/wedding dress can ruin a picture. A steamer is probably better than the traditional iron if you have access to one, but be careful not to damage your cosplay with either. If you can’t get all the wrinkles out, try to get some out… and minimize new ones on the trip to the shoot. Stand on the bus or bring your cosplay on a hanger in a bag like a dress or tuxedo. The latter is just a good investment and can be used at home to protect your favourite outfit, real or cosplay.

Take care of cosplay details

  • Are there rips you can cover?
  • Threads you can cut off?
  • Dust you can brush off?
  • Dirt or stains you can get out?
  • Rough edges you can tuck away or finish?
  • Buttons missing you can put back on?
  • Other details you see you can fix?

For the more serious, can you tailor to fit better so your arms don’t disappear in excessively long sleeves or so you don’t look fat in the cosplay that’s just a tad big for you. These are thing you can do that will prevent annoying distractions in a good photo, but they are really just good cosplay maintenance. You need not have the perfect looking cosplay, but whatever you have, you can minimize these things by paying attention to it and taking care of the details. It comes down to showing the world how seriously you take your cosplaying. So how serious are you?

Think of your cosplay character’s well-known poses

Your cosplay character likely just doesn’t stand or sit around all the time. What are his/her poses that you like and would like a picture of? These can be still poses, like deep in thought, or action poses, as if just finishing a sword slash, or even real action like mid-swing of hammer if there is enough lighting and your photographer can capture action shots without motion blur. Whatever these poses are, if you have an idea for a picture, you can minimize “thinking” time to come up with shots during the shoot and spend the time on doing actual shots. Plus, you’d get shots you want and like because you wouldn’t go get shots you didn’t like! Come with ideas because the photographer won’t have all the ideas, but most would be happy to get you shots you want.

Think of your favourite poses

This is different than your cosplay character’s favourite poses. This is more about you.

  • Maybe your cosplay character is never happy but you think a happy portrait might nice for something out of character.
  • Maybe you just like certain types of portraits for yourself, like looking to the side or over your shoulder.
  • Maybe you don’t want to show you haven’t gone to the gym as much as you would have liked to so only upper body portraits
  • Maybe you want to show off that elaborate make-up job so only close-up portraits on all angles of the face.

Practice poses you want in front of a mirror or friends

Posing comes naturally to very few people, and a bad pose easily looks unconvincing, if not outright awkward, in a photo. Whatever shots you come up with, try it out in front of a mirror, or friend with a small camera or camera phone, to see how it looks. See if it looks as good as you thought, whether the pose and/or your ability to do the pose. There are a lot of people who simply can’t do the pose/s they want well without practice so try it before show time. Real artists and performers do it, why can’t you? Further, if you practice, you will be able to give the photographer better instructions or ideas on how to execute the shots. Some photographers won’t like that but the good ones to work with will appreciate the help more than dislike it.

Work extra hard on facial expressions

A face is how we best “connect” with another person, including one in a photo. Every face in a photo has an expression, including the “expressionless” look. Know the expression you want in each photo, whether ones you plan or improvise on the spot. Ask yourself what expression should I have with each photo, answer it and execute it well. Fortunately, there are probably just a dozen generic expressions we have so they’re easy to identify and practice. What’s hard to perfect is the thousands of degrees within each expressions because people tend to exaggerate when they pose for expressions. Practice them using a mirror so you will look convincing doing them, getting in the mindset of each associated feeling to help you succeed. Your ability to do facial expressions will be useful for life as well as shoots, I guarantee you that!

  1. Happiness (smiling and outright laughter)
  2. Anger (contained steaminess and outright rage)
  3. Sadness (unhappy or disappointment frown, empty look and tragic crying)
  4. Stare (sexy, tough, stare down, kill you, direct straight or side out of corner of eyes)
  5. Expressionless (pensive thought, soulless, empty look, speechless, death, sleeping)
  6. Puzzled (slightly and clueless)
  7. Shock (surprise, drama, trauma, good and bad)
  8. Dislike (gentle and outright repulsion, rolled eyes)
  9. Pain (“I can take this” cringe and “I can’t take it” scream, physical and emotional)
  10. Arrogance (snobby, smirk, and megalomaniacal)
  11. Monster look (look like the monster you’re supposed to be)
  12. Whimsical (winks, tongue wagging, teasing, anything exaggerated beyond normal)

Be able to describe your character well in 2-5 minutes

For the many unplanned shots at shoots which are often the funnest, or just for brainstorming ideas, be able to give a good description of your character in 2-5 minutes. Details that can’t be seen, like his/her name aren’t terribly important, though do include a few for reference. Things like their history and/or nature that can lead to a shot idea, or that someone seeing the picture who knows the character/series can relate to, are most important. If someone else from the series is there, describe their relationship and try to get a few shots with them because they may not be with you on other shoots. The other key to describing your character is that shoot time is valuable, so pick out the most important details and summarize in 2-5 minutes to leave more time for the shoot than the description.

Think “outside the box”

So far everything suggested has been “in character”, or typical of what one might expect of the character you are cosplaying. Don’t limit yourself to that in your fun, though. Shots atypical of your character, like a warrior sniffing flowers, or one who is never happy just beaming about something (maybe a pretty girl from another series?), can be lots of fun. I personally like what I call “cross-series” shots. I just go with whatever I can think of among the cosplayers in a group, if I’m among a group, as if they were just all characters I had to work with on a set and I can do as I please. I do just that and some results are just hilarious!

Give your photographer a heads-up of who you’ll be cosplaying

The photographer can be expected to do some homework, too, of course. Let him/her know who you’ll be cosplaying, and maybe even write out a small version of that 2-5 minute description. The photographer can look up the character, read a bit or just look at the picture for visuals to know what sort of outfit, colours, props, etc. there is to work with, or be limited by in some cases (like dark clothing in dark setting). The photographer can then brainstorm some ideas as well. However, you’ll likely be far more knowledgeable and passionate about your character, as well as having to pose with the right expressions and/or posture, so the brunt of the preparation is on you. For some reason, a lot of cosplayers just don’t see it that way, nor do some photographers. The photos that result are often under potential where one looks at it and have immediate new ideas as to what else could have been done, or could have been done to make the photo better. The ideas presented here are intended to minimize that.

A little make-up or a few good night’s sleep before would be nice

Make-up isn’t everybody’s thing so it’s a luxury as far as I’m concerned. However, if you can or have access to a little make-up, and know how to do it “right”, please do so. The make-up industry is what it is because it generally does make someone look better. But if you don’t know how to do it right, or don’t have access to it, just get a few good night’s sleep before shoot day. Those bags under your eyes or other signs of a rough or long night before are easy to spot and hard to Photoshop out. The shot had better be worth the effort for the photographer to Photoshop it out. S/he won’t likely do it to many photos, either, reducing the number of great photos you could have.

Bring it! and have fun

If you follow these steps, and perhaps more that I’ll add as I think of them or as people suggest them, you’ll be well-prepared for your cosplay photo shoot and increase your chances of getting more photos you like. I don’t think anything asked here is “extreme”, even for the recreational cosplayer who does it purely for fun and isn’t too serious with it.

For those who are extreme with their cosplay, there is an irony in that they probably follow the same practices suggested above… just to an extreme. Just look at pro performers and athletes. They do many of the same drills the amateur or recreational counterparts do. They just do it longer, more often, to greater depth, etc. The good news for those who aren’t pro is that by the law of diminishing returns, a minimal amount of time and effort you put into it will get you rather far. Compare that to the massive amount of time and effort beyond that only gets you relatively little further. Think of it in terms of studying for a test. You study an hour and you might get 50%. You study two hours and you won’t likely get 100%. You study three hours and you definitely won’t get 150%. What you do get for the latter is something like being ahead of most of the people who didn’t study two or three hours. Extreme work can get you extreme results, but a little work will get you relatively far by comparison.

So the ultimate question is, then, are you serious enough about your cosplaying to put in a little work?

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