Jin Attempts To Explain Cosplay Photography

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:new: As requested by many of you, I've submitted this guide as a dA news article. Here is the link. I'm happy this proved to be useful for a lot of you guys! It's the least I can do to give a little something back for your appreciation of our work. Thank you!


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.

:target: DISCLAIMER :target:
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.

The differentiating factors in cosplay portraiture

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.

This is me on my webcam with no Photoshop and crap lighting.

This is me on my webcam with slighly better lighitng.

This is me being a Narutard, giving myself a grade of FAIL.

The Beginning and the End by behindinfinity
Finally, I put a little effort to get some proper lighting and use a better camera.

:postit: NOTE:
THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU NEED AN EXPENSIVE DLSR TO TAKE DECENT PICTURES. I actually would not recommend getting one until you've gotten a lot of experience with a regular digital camera and learn a bit about the technical side of photography. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure, depth of field, etc. - these are some of the most basic terms out of all the others that you ought to learn and understand. A DSLR is huge investment, one that would just go to waste if you don't know what to do with it.


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. :)

:snowflake: 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.

Another webcam photo to demonstrate how not to look for photoshoots. No makeup, looking harassed and cranky with a shiny nose and dark circles under the eyes. :lol:

Here I am dabbing on some concealer while Miguel merkymerx watches.

Then it's his turn. I'm concealing his eyebrows in preparation for our Death Note shoot where he cosplayed L.

And here he is drawing in and blending those dark circles under his eyes before putting on the L wig.

A little eyeliner can make a whole lot of difference. Look at how it changed the shape of my eyes here.

Camera settings

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:

view the photo on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/7231180@…
higher resolution: www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?… (if for some twisted reason, you want a closer look up my nostrils)
EXIF data (Photoshop is nowhere in there): www.flickr.com/photo_exif.gne?…

User-defined settings on Canon EOS 30D
(effects that are applied onto the photo as the picture is being taken, as opposed to post-processing)
1. Maximized saturation
2. Increased contrast
3. Increased sharpness

Bleach: Rolling Days by behindinfinity
That same photo, unedited except for resizing and adding the borders.

El rosiael was shooting in RAW format, so we have a copy of the same shot minus the user-defined settings. Here is the RAW file converted to JPG for posting.

on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/7231180@…
higher resolution: www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?…
EXIF data: www.flickr.com/photo_exif.gne?…

This version is more realistic, but has less of that Bleach/anime feel that the above photo has.

Another example is this shot of me and El rosiael as Ichigo and Orihime.

Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/7231180@…
higher resolution: www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?…
EXIF data: www.flickr.com/photo_exif.gne?…

And here is the RAW file converted to JPG.

Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/7231180@…
higher resolution: www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?…
EXIF data: www.flickr.com/photo_exif.gne?…

Lastly, the version which I turned into a deviantID. Unlike the Ichigo pic above, I actually did some cropping and color editing here. (Again, I apologize for cropping out Orihime, but it was for an ID, after all. ^^;)
ID - Kurosaki by behindinfinity

And here are more examples to show how saturation can affect a photo:

Normal settings

High saturation

Low saturation

Then it's up to you to decide which setting is appropriate for the photo you have in mind. :D

Dealing with unrealistic colors

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.

Yu Yu Hakusho: Hiei and Kurama by behindinfinity

Yomi and Kurama: Absolution by behindinfinity


An Unlikely Encounter by behindinfinity

Awful shade of red, isn't it? It really just looks like an artificial red thing sitting on my head.

Kimi wa dare wo Mamotte Iru by behindinfinity
Here's the new wig I got for Kenshin, which definitely looks more believable.

Angles and expressions

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.)

:snowflake: 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).

I mean we have this event photo by Ice 13idiotbox where Miguel merkymerx and I don't exactly look our best as L and Light. :lol:
(We do love this shot though, hahaha)

And there's also this. I mean, REALLY. Come on.

But on that same day, we also took these photos:
Death Note: Shinigami by behindinfinity
Death Note: Twilight by behindinfinity

And here are my Kaworu portraits to show how the angle and lighting dramatically affect the way a character is represented.
Fifth Child: Kaworu Nagisa by behindinfinity NGE: Angel by kunebitt
(Sick of my face now, aren't you? Hohoho~)


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:

Bleach colored manga spread from Chapter 162

Bleach: Asterisk by behindinfinity
We imitated the poses as closely as we possibly could, with a bit of compromise because we had a slightly different set of characters and of course, different furniture. (And perhaps we could have used a fisheye lens or something. That perspective is insane.)

These next examples aren't as obvious as the first one, but take note of the tones, colors and general feel of the illustrations compared to the way the photos were edited.

I don't know why, but a lot of people are really defensive when it comes to editing. I don't see why they should be. It's pretty handy, the way it allows us to polish up pictures - like when people occasionally get blemishes or unfortunate shadows on their faces. Or even taking out unwanted people in the background.

It's not like it decreases the merit of the photographer if some post-processing is done. If a picture is well-edited, the quality of the photography should still be able to shine through, since it is the foundation of the final image. mmmaoh had a rather clever way of putting it: comments.deviantart.com/5/1640… She said that it's like coloring a picture - the rendering can be awesome and polished, but if the initial sketch is bad, it's going to remain a bad piece of art. Editing is great, but it can only do so much.

In the case of our cosplay shoots, everyone usually gets copies of the photos from the photographers, and we're free to edit them as we like. As a result, we get several sets of photos with different styles and treatments, depending on the person who did the post-processing. And it's exciting and interesting to see what everyone comes up with, as you may see with the submissions from our Neon Genesis Evangelion photoshoot. Everyone was able to put their own personal touches on our photographers' brilliant captures.


The extensive range of possible effects we can achieve through editing, coupled with the power of a photograph to portray reality, helps us bring a bit of fiction into the real world. That's part of what we do when we cosplay, isn't it? :D


That's about it for now. It's past 3AM and I should be sleeping. This entry looks okay to me right now but I don't trust my sleep-deprived brain too much. There are probably a lot of typos and grammatical errors. I'll get back to this after I've gotten some sleep.

Oh, before I forget - Please check out my Shoutboard for a new batch of Featured Artists!

Pleasant something, everyone.

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pockyandpikachu's avatar
i love ypu so much for posting this