*Blogger’s Note: This article contains a lot of generalizations. It is not intended to offend, nor is it intended to sell anyone short. There are a lot of talented people out there in both cosplay and photography, and everyone’s journey is different. The intention of these generalizations is to point out the differences between having a professional cosplay photographer shoot your cosplay, and other photographers.
Work with who you are most comfortable with, and gives you the best results.
Spend a few minutes on a cosplay groups page on your social media of choice, and you can find plenty of photographers with varying degrees of expertise. Although there are exceptions to every rule, most of these photographers fit under one of four categories…
The Four Different Types of Photographers
Someone with a Cell Phone: This can be you with a high end phone and a ring light in your home studio, or a friend who has a few apps on their phone to make your photos “pop” a bit. The nice part to this is that you get your pictures back almost instantly (in mobile format), and you have more creative control over how the photos are edited. The downside is the technology. A phone camera has a very small sensor, and because of that cannot pick up the same fine details of a full-frame camera. It also does all of the post-processing immediately after taking the shot. Most of the “information” of the photo is edited before you even see it. Great for Snapchat, not so great for prints.
Amateur / Hobbyist Photographer: This can be a friend who went to the local electronics store (or Online) and got a crop-frame camera and a “Kit lens”. They may also have a small home studio / lighting setup, and they probably haven’t been shooting for very long. The results are very hit-or-miss of the four types. There are times where you can get some of the best photos that have ever been taken. There are others where they are poorly lit, the pose/frame are messy, and it’s unlikely that they are doing any post-processing or composite work (although it is possible – There are some really good ones out there). The greyest of grey areas however, is that they usually don’t have insurance and they do not have you sign a release. I won’t go too great into details on either, as there are articles pertaining to both here. Getting prints is also a challenge, as they usually do not have a lab they work with that prints photos. If you go this route, make sure you both have the same expectations where timing is concerned. Also, make sure everything is documented, even if they do not have a release (more on that later).
Professional Photographer: Not to be confused with a Professional Cosplay Photographer, this Pro Photographer does it all; Weddings, Senior Pictures, High School Seniors, Baby Pictures, and even occasionally does the local car show. They have seen the recent uptick in cosplay (despite not being much involved with the community) and are trying to profit… As you can imagine, you will get some really good pictures when it is all said and done. However, they don’t really understand cosplay. They treat your shoot like any other shoot they would do. They do the same poses, regardless of the character. They do not utilize the props you have (if they let you use them at all), and they spend a lot of time post-shoot trying to get you to buy a print package that is priced to the moon and back. When you ask them about any composite work, they look at you blankly (not knowing what that is) or they ask for several hundred dollars an hour to even begin to work on it. Although the possibility exists that you are going to get good pictures, there is also just as great a possibility they are not going to get the best pictures possible.
Professional Cosplay Photographer: This is where you are guaranteed to get the best results on your cosplay shoot. Cosplay photographers will have the commitment to photographing your cosplay correctly, while having the knowledge and background in the cosplay/pop-culture community. Working with you pre-shoot, they should work with you on creating photos specific to your cosplay. Using a combination of software, lighting, props, greebles, and an assortment of other equipment to make sure that your shoot is the best possible geared towards your cosplay. Once your shoot is completed, they should have the ability to utilize composites to create photos of you in environments that your cosplay would be in. Ideally, this is the route you want to go with as a cosplayer.
No matter what type of photographer you use, make sure you do the following…
-Communicate as much as possible your expectations, and make sure the photographer does the same of theirs. If possible, recap everything via e-mail or text to make sure everything is documented. In case anything happens, you can go back to the correspondence to follow up on any unmet expectations.
-Short of it being a close friend or family being the photographer, DO NOT COMISSION ANY SHOOT WITHOUT A RELEASE! I cannot stress this enough. If a photographer doesn’t have any sort of release they want you to sign before shooting, that is a good sign something fishy is going on (or they have no experience). Most Photographers are the opposite; they have a policy in place that states they will not shoot without a release. For more info, check out This Article
-On top of the previous, negotiate payment up front. Once you have agreed on a price, make sure that it is clarified and documented in the release and contract. This will protect you from the photographer to ask for more money after the shoot for your photos. Also inquire about print costs, especially if you are looking for large quantities (for cons or social media). If you end up wanting large amounts of prints (to sell) make sure you discuss licensing said photos. If you do not have any documented licensing agreement with your photographer, they can come back to you and demand payment for the prints you sell (more on that below)
-When you work with a Pro, inquire about who they use for a print lab. Getting good prints is just as much an art as the photography itself. Do your due diligence on the lab before you commit, most pros will provide you with several options.
-If you are planning on reselling your prints or distributing your digital copies to the masses (Patreon, Buymeacoffee, OnlyFans, Conventions, Etc.) Communicate this with your photographer. There (can) be royalties associated with distribution. Although a lot of photographers are pretty cool about it, some aren’t. There can be – (I am not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be one – always have a licensed contract attorney look over whatever you are signing) - be legal ramifications if you decide to distribute them without their permission first. Communication is key. As I said - most photographers are pretty cool about it, they just don’t like being surprised. A licensing agreement is usually involved in this, but a documented agreement of some sort is your best option. No matter what, do NOT edit the photo they gave you, or try to eliminate a watermark without speaking to them (and get it documented) first. This can (and probably will) Haunt you later on if you do not do your due diligence.
-Check out their social media, and ask the community about them. Guaranteed, someone has worked with them before, or at least knows of them. Don’t get me wrong: Equipment failures / bad weather / the wrong day happens, and not everyone is going to be happy with the results they get. Try to get at least two to three people’s opinions on the photographer you are vetting to work with.
-Bring a plus-one to the shoot. Some photographers (such as us here at HCWC) have a policy regarding this, and will not shoot without at least one other person being there with you. This is more of a redundancy thing, but also keeps everything on the up-and-up.
-There are a small amount of photographers (at Conventions, usually) that will ask to have you shoot in a private locations (Bathrooms, Their hotel room “their on location Studio”, Etc.) I can tell you right now; there are plenty of public places at cons where you can get a perfect shot without having to utilize a “Private studio”. None of my photos have ever been taken in one, and I do not plan on starting. If a photographer offers this, I would suggest looking elsewhere; there are plenty of public places at a convention/meetup to shoot, and the risk outweighs the rewards. This is not to be confused with a pro that has a permanent location that is a studio. In this case, we are talking about someone who takes their lighting setup to their hotel room / private place at a convention or meetup, or just rents a hotel room to use as a studio.
-If you have specific deadlines for social media / a convention coming up / website / contest, please communicate that with your photographer. Good photographers are always busy, and they need to know deadlines as far out as possible to deliver you what you need. Some shoots (especially with composites involved) can take time to develop. Agree upon a deadline, and get it documented.
-Ask them about your character before you show them your Cosplay. See what they know about it, or if they are willing to research it before shooting. Knowing your character helps set up poses and makes for the best pictures. If they don’t know who your character is, then I would suggest creating some sort of posing workbook that shows character poses that you would like to shoot. For examples, see this blog post.
No matter what type of photographer you end up working with, make sure you get the results you want.