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Tips and Tricks for Taking Great Cosplay Photos at SDCC

Tips and Tricks for Taking Great Cosplay Photos at SDCC

The arrival of one of the biggest cons in all of geekdom means that there is a new wave of amazing cosplay that attendees will get to enjoy. With such a giant convention and such an enormous mass of humanity packed into one convention hall, it can be quite the daunting task to try to capture pictures of all the fantastic cosplay you see at the con. To help some of you aspiring convention cosplay photographers, I’ve got a few tips to help you ensure that your SDCC cosplay pics are fantastic.

Don’t be afraid to use a camera fancier than your phone–just have it ready to go.

If you’re just starting to enter the world of photography with a DSLR camera, don’t be afraid to use it this con. Be sure that before you ask a cosplayer for their photograph, your camera is set and ready to go. After a cosplayer agrees to let you take their picture isn’t the time to play with the ISO and the flash. When I use my DSLR at cons, I play with the lighting when I enter a new area, get my camera ready to go, sling it around my neck, and THEN I start taking pictures.

Don’t be afraid to use your phone camera in a pinch.

Of course, there are some times where you can’t get to your fancy cam, even if you’re a seasoned photographer. Phones take pretty great pictures, so don’t discount your trusty phone (iPhone, Android, whatever) if you need to get a quick pic and don’t have time to get your camera out. In my experience, cosplayers are just as happy to pose for a pic taken on a phone or an actual camera.

Image credit: CosplayCousins/

Don’t rush the photograph–take a breath to calm your nerves and allow the cosplayer to set up for the picture.

The first con that I took my camera, I got really freaked out whenever I’d ask a cosplayer for a picture. I’d rush it, I didn’t have my camera ready before hand, and so I’d either be stuck with a crappy photograph or I’d have to sheepishly ask the cosplayer to stick around a bit longer for me to get myself back in order. Chances are the cosplayer is going to want to set down their drink, hide their badge, pick up a weapon, or strike a pose, so you’ve got time to take a deep breath and get your thoughts in order.

Follow any photography rules of the cosplayer and the convention itself.

This one is a no-brainer. If the place you’re standing in doesn’t allow photographs, don’t take them. If you can take photographs where you are, but the cosplayer has a rule about photos, follow those rules. There are lots of great time to break the rules and engage in a little bit of naughty behavior in life–but this is not that time. Be cool, follow photography rules, and all will be well.

Be upfront with cosplayers about the photo you’re taking.

If you’re just taking pictures of cosplayers and the convention for your own memories, don’t be afraid to let the cosplayer know you don’t plan to post the picture online. If you do plan to post them on your blog, Tumblr, Instagram, or whatever, make sure to let the cosplayer know. Remember that there’s still a person under that rad cosplay, so they may not be okay with their face being plastered on your blog.

If you’re posting the pictures online, give them a card that tells them where they’ll be able to find the picture.

Having a business card that tells people where they can find all of the cosplay pics you’re taking is a huge help. Even better, it can help you build contacts and make new friends. If you’re a blogger or photographer who plans to post the con pictures on the website, be sure to let the cosplayer know your plans, and then offer them a card with the info to your website.

Image credit: ManticoreEX/

Always ask the cosplayer’s permission before snapping a photo.

Again,  there’s a person in that cosplay, so don’t be creepy. Always ask to take a picture before snapping one. The cosplayer might want to strike a pose in a picture, they may want to set down a drink, pick up a prop, or their costume may be falling apart and they don’t want anyone to snap their picture. It’s always better to ask first. The cosplayer will feel more comfortable, and you’ll get a better picture than if you just snapped a creepshot.

If you’re taking pictures of a child in cosplay, be sure to ask the child and the parent for permission.

Just like you want to ask the cosplayer for their permission, be sure you loop the parent in, too–especially if you’re planning to post pictures online. You never know what a parent will or will not be comfortable with when it comes to pictures of their children, and so though you want to make sure the kid is up for a picture, make sure their parent understands what you want and where you plan to post the picture.

Image Credit: MikeRollerson/

Avoid candid shots of cosplayers if you don’t have prior consent.

Like I said before, always ask first. It can be super tempting to snap a photo of a group of cosplayers eating a meal or walking down the street–and it happens a lot. More and more cosplayers are speaking out about how they really prefer to get asked for any pictures of them. Just remember, they spent a lot of time on their costume, and they may not be super happy with you snapping a candid picture of them that doesn’t properly display the outfit they worked so hard to build. Besides, it can feel really disconcerting to be walking down the street and notice some rando taking your picture, which is why I encourage avoiding those candid shots.

Be gracious and respectful of the cosplayer–whether they agree to a picture or not.

Most cosplayers will heartily agree to a picture, but sometimes they won’t. It doesn’t matter what the cosplayer’s response is, remember to be a good person when you respond to them. It doesn’t matter if they agree to a picture or not, don’t touch someone without their consent (that’s just a general human rule), don’t call them names, and don’t shout horrible things at them. Be nice, friendly, and respectful. You’ll have a great time and potentially make some new friends.

image credit: SKOpseudonym/

Try to organize a photo shoot with several cosplayers outside of the convention.

If you know a group of cosplayers or meet a group at the con, see if they’re game to take pictures outside of the convention hall. As beautiful as a white wall backdrop can be, sometimes you want to try to get a cosplay picture in a cooler environment. Come with a few location ideas, and see if the cosplayers are up for a bit of a field trip. Of course, if you don’t know them ahead of time, be prepared that they may not feel comfortable following you to some far-off location. For people that you just met, it may be better to set up a photo shoot not far from the convention itself.

Compliment the cosplayer on their amazing costume, and don’t be afraid to ask them about it.

Often in my attempt to not take too much of a cosplayer’s time, I tend to snap the picture and scurry away quickly like an awkward rabbit. Don’t be like me! You certainly don’t want to monopolize the cosplayer’s time, but don’t be afraid to compliment them on the costume (being respectful, of course), and ask a question about how they put the costume together. Cosplayers slave away at their outfits, so let them know you can see all of the hard work they put into it.

Like with any other form of photography, the best way to improve is to try new things and take lots of pictures. Don’t worry if your pictures aren’t always as good as you imagined. The more pictures you take, the better your photography will be, and as long as you’re friendly and respectful, you’ll always be able to find cosplayers willing to be in your pictures.

What are your cosplay photography tips? How do you get great pictures at a convention? Let me know in the comments! 

 Image source: Pat Lolka/

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