7 Awesome Halloween Costume Photo Tips from Professional Cosplay Photographers
For some, Halloween is more than an excuse to get drunk and dress up in sexy versions of traditionally non-sexy people. Some folks spend months planning their costume, days searching for the right accoutrements and hours physically creating the thing, crafting a memorable costume that they’ll wear for just one epic night of showing off to friends and strangers. After that, all that will survive are the photos.
So, if you’re putting the effort into the costume, why not put some effort into the photos?
Just ask the experts. Some people, after all, do this kind of thing year-round – cosplayers take costuming to a whole other level, travelling around countries, connecting with sponsor brands and partnering with professional cosplay photographers to create beautiful recreations of their favorite movies, games and anime.
Halloween, then, is the one time of year when everyone else on the planet takes a cue from the cosplay world. If you’re a professional photographer looking to immortalize some beautiful costumes this time of year, these cosplay photogs have some tips for you.
Based in: Toronto, Canada
Shoots with: Nikon D850, but I’ll shoot with anything I can get my hands on, including Fuji, Hasselblad, film and my cell phone
Has been shooting since: The darkroom days back in the 90s
Don’t Forget to Have Fun
All the normal photography rules with regards to composition and lighting apply, but everyone has read about those a million times and frankly they are a distant second to the more important element: the subject.
Content is king, and in this case, the content is cosplay – literally “costume play”. Your subject has the costume, so you concentrate on the “play” part. Let your subject be the character as an actor would. Give them scenarios to play out and have fun with it. Don’t pose; direct.
Props are a great way to help you and your subject get into character, and give their hands something to do. They’re also a good way to start crafting a story. What are they doing? Shooting a gun, protecting a gem, analyzing an orb or fixing a bike? Especially for people not used to being in front of the camera, crafting a story is a great way to get them in the right mindset.
Let the setting be a character your subject can play off of. Engaging with your surroundings grounds your subject and makes them feel like they are part of a bigger world. Don’t be afraid to really pull back and let your setting take center stage to help tell a larger story.
Too many people nowadays forget the “play” part of cosplay, so when taking pictures this Halloween, don’t forget to have fun with it.
Bonus Tip: When possible, use music to set the mood. If shooting the Guardians of the Galaxy, how can you not have the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack playing?
Based in: London, U.K.
Shoots with: Canon 5D Mark II. I own a few different lenses, but it’s my 50mm f/1.4 Sigma that I use the most.
Has been shooting: For over six years
Experiment with Everything
Experimenting is essential when it comes to photography. Using an off-camera flash to create interesting shadows on the model will certainly help to provide a unique and sinister look. Even the use of colored gels can help make the photo more dynamic and interesting. Alternatively, using ambient light (and any other light source available) can certainly bring about a spooky atmosphere. Using accessories such as a prism can help create ghostly looks; smoke can create a more eerie feeling.
Anything is possible with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop these days. You can change the color grade to produce a mysterious atmosphere, or add effects to make your photo pop. Creating a composite piece opens up doors to place your model in any scary scenario.
Based in: Manila, Philippines
Shoots with: Nikon D7100 with an 18-55mm Nikkor lens and 85mm f/1.8 Nikkor lens
Has been shooting since: January 2009
Make Your Subject Comfortable
Connect and get to know the person you’re going to shoot with. It is imperative to make the subject comfortable during the shoot, as it will affect how to pose and portray the character. Try to talk about the series or the character of their costume – it should be a good starting ground.
To do that with cosplayers (or people dressing up as any specific character for Halloween), I highly recommend getting to know the costume character. If it’s from a series or a movie, go watch it first, as it will help you connect with the character. Plan out the shoot first; look up some references online or take screenshots from the series while you are watching it to recreate during the shoot. This process helps inspire me while I’m shooting.
Eric Ng, Big White Bazooka
Based in: Southern California
Shoots with: Canon EOS-1DX and Sony a7R III
Has been shooting: Cosplay for about 10 years across America and Asia
You Don’t Need to Break the Bank when Staging a Scene
I would highly recommend practicing poses on your own before shooting. Poses generate an emotion, and the best way to get someone to live out characters is to show and tell. If you can act out the character yourself to get your ideas across, they can mimic you. Once you can set up an emotional connection, the audience can really enjoy the costume and character more.
Staging a quick scene is always fun, too. If you go to your local thrift store, you can usually find stuff to stage a scene for under $20. With a little bit of creative lighting, you can use those items to tease a scene. A little light in a dark room goes a long way. Often a color gel can be added to change the mood of your lighting. This can help hint at your environment that will support your character in your shot.
If you want some spooky shots, you can get some flashlights and use that to light your subject outdoors. The harsher lighting will definitely catch all of the textures and scary bits and the falloff will be quick so you can leave a bit of mystery around your characters.
Eddie Cheung, Food and Cosplay
Based in: Southern England
Shoots with: Canon 6D with a 50mm f/1.4 and 70-200mm f/2.8
Has been shooting for: Six years
To Understand the Shot, Start with the Costume
One of the best pieces of advice I can give to other photographers is know the character you are shooting with. Before a shoot, I always do a Google image search of the character so I get a feel of what the character represents, the scenery that works best and the type of poses the character does. Even if you can’t do the research beforehand, you probably have a mobile connected to the Internet, so it’s easy to do a quick search and discuss ideas of how the shoot should go.
Also, have fun with the shoot. We all want great photos, but having silly moments from time to time helps relax everyone, which yields better photos – and everyone loves a funny behind-the-scenes photo.
Based in: United Kingdom
Shoots with: Canon 5D Mark II
Has been shooting for: Five years
Make a Plan and Stick to It
Plan well ahead, gather ideas and find a location that fits well with the costume. Make sure you visit the area first to see if it’s suitable and will be available on the day of your shoot. Plan which part of it you would like to use and stick around there. It is easy to wander off schedule straight away: stick to the plan first, do the shots you both had in mind, then when it’s done, you can start unplanned shots.
Have a Plan B, too. What will you do if the location on that day is no longer available, or if you’re shooting outdoors and it starts raining? It would be a shame, after all the planning and travelling, for it to be ruined because of rain, not to mention the time spent by your subject on their makeup and costumes. Preparation is critical.
Based in: London, U.K.
Shoots with: Sony a7 II
Has been shooting since: Late 2012
Bring Your Subject to Life
For me, cosplay photography, more than anything, is about bringing the characters to life.
When I think about the poses, setting and lighting, I think about the character and the source material, and try to create something that feels like it fits them, like they just jumped out of the page or screen.
So find a background that makes sense and use light accordingly. Help your subject get in the mood and become the character. Be dynamic with the posing and framing. If you’re shooting a group, pictures are much better when characters are interacting with each other – in character.
The bottom line is that cosplay is “costume + play”, so get people to act the part and have fun with it.
Now, you may be thinking, “But – but – my costume is nowhere near that good!” Honestly, that doesn’t matter as much as you’d think. Great costume photos can transcend the costume itself with the right photographer. With interesting angles, unique lighting and commitment to the role, you can still capture incredible photos of your epic Halloween night.