What would you do for the perfect cosplay photo? Travel overseas? Learn 3D modelling? Dangle from a waterfall? This is cosplay we're talking about, so all this already has been done before, and more.
Lead image by Darshelle Stevens
With the rise of social media, Facebook fanpages and even new cosplay sites like Cosplay-It, the photos you get of a cosplay have almost become more important than the events like PAX and Supanova where they get worn. Cosplay photographers are becoming as numerous and as talented as the cosplayers they're photographing, whether they come from professional cosplay backgrounds or whether they're just picking it up as they go along.
I've always been obsessed with getting amazing photos of my costumes. Hanging out at a convention is great, but the photoshoot is where all my hard work on a costume comes out. I've done some ridiculous acrobatics and tricky photo editing to make my Cammy photos exactly match her in-game moves. I once made my photographer drive for two hours to the Blue Mountains to take photos at a beautiful lookout — and arrived to find that fog had obscured every trace of the view.
And it's not always the photographers who are suffering. I've done my fair share of that on cosplay photoshoots — like the time when I shot in little more than a bikini at 6am in the middle of winter. Still worth it.
Here a few stories of moments when cosplayers and photographers alike, pushed themselves to the limit in order to get the perfect shot.
Early this year, cosplayer and Crystal Dynamics community manager Meagan Marie took a small team to Iceland of all places, with the aim of getting some of the most beautiful and unique cosplay photos ever. The finished products didn't disappoint — a full write-up, along with some of the results can be found over on Kotaku US's Cosplay blog.
Meagan seems to be one of the more well-travelled cosplayers around, having also been involved in a shoot with photographer Martin Wong and fellow cosplayer Lisa Lou Who in Yosemite National Park last year. These three intrepid travellers hiked for two hours through the glacier-carved mountains with camera gear and costumes in tow, all to get the perfect shot. Did I mention there are bears in Yosemite? Photographer Martin Wong details the feat of getting everyone safe and in costume to these gorgeous locations:
We booked a cabin for the weekend, and drove three-four hours to get there. Each night we reviewed the cosplays that we were shooting the next day, and also the trails that we wanted to take. We woke up very early, before the sun got too hot, because hiking can generate a lot of heat. We were hiking for a few hours to get to the perfect spot, carrying most of our costumes and equipment with us. We only put on the costumes and make up when we arrived at the spot where we were shooting.
If you've booked a well-earned holiday to beautiful New Zealand, you could definitely just sit back and relax — see some mountains, go to Hobbiton and drink some wine. Or, if you're a cosplayer, you could make a screen-accurate Xena costume, find a riding stable willing to lend you a gorgeous palomino horse (make no mistake, it had to be a palomino) and take some amazing photos while you're there. At least, that's what Aussie cosplay legend queencattabby did — because hey, why not?
Fix It In Post
While it's not always as obvious as the photos that have been shot in incredible locations, sometimes a lot of effort goes into the editing of cosplay photos as well. You may have seen some iteration of the before-and-after if you follow any cosplayers on Facebook, but you'd be surprised how much effort goes into even simple-looking photos. The photo above was posted by cosplayer Dhareza Cosplayza, who had decided to 'cosplay' some chairs to help their friends get the perfect freeze-frame action shot. The edit on this one (also done by the chair cosplayer) ended up being almost seamless — bad news for the 'chairs' whose hard work will soon be forgotten, but good news for the stunning photo they ended up with.
Photographer Martin Wong recently released this quick video that goes through the layers required for his edit of Jessica Nigri's Deathwing costume. "Every time I shoot armor I repaint them in Photoshop to make them look more real," he confided to me, revealing just how much of his effort often goes unseen.
Darshelle Stevens is another American cosplay photographer (and sometime cosplayer herself) who should be credited as much as a digital artist as a photographer. Her photos are whimsical and often over the top, but they don't bother to aim for realism at all. The end result seems like something you would see on a movie poster.
Going The Extra Mile
Unsurprisingly, Princess Mononoke is a popular option for shooting in wild locations. Adelaide cosplayer CatRoulette's Mononoke photo was a favourite when I profiled her for an earlier article. What you may not have realised is the second star of that shoot was actually a giant fluffy white dog called Kuma. While the saying goes "don't work with children or animals", it wasn't actually Kuma who made this shoot challengingSteamkittens:
We shot CatRoulette's Mononoke at a gorge between Flinders Medical Center and University in Adelaide. The whole valley is lined with amazing pine trees but the ground is stepped with slopes covered in old pine needles and can be very treacherous. I was moving lights around and ended up so battered and bruised at the end of the day. We had the most awesome fluffy white dog on set and were playing with smoke special effects which were so much fun, looking at the final shots it was all worth it.
The Witcher is another series that has spawned some beautiful costumes, with CD Prokect RED even hiring a handful of official Witcher cosplayers to market the most recent game. It seems like European cosplayers are best suited to bring that into reality. The first photo of a shoot between (famous Natalie Dormer lookalike) Santatory, Timeforlemontea and a photographer who goes by Foto37 popped up just the other day, and the photographer's comment suggests how much effort went into what will soon be a series of ridiculously well-planned cosplay photos.
We contacted Santatory for her stunning cosplay of Margaery Tyrell and then we started talking about the Witcher 3. We fantasized, we shared stories and pictures. The more we were talking the more ideas we were throwing on the table, when we met in person that became literal, we were drawing sketches and storyboards on napkins and paper towels at the restaurant. We found an incredible location, we even managed to contact a blacksmith to custom make a sword and when we had fog for the two days of the shooting we knew that the gods were smiling at us.
When I mentioned abseiling down waterfalls in the intro I wasn't exaggerating. I'm pretty sure that cosplayer Jenn Croft is actually the real Lara Croft. In her spare time, Jenn actually jumps out of planes and abseils down waterfalls. Sometimes she does it in cosplay. That's dedication.
So why do we do it? For all the stories of difficult and uncomfortable photoshoots, bruises, injuries and scars, photographers and cosplayers falling in lakes, rivers and oceans, a single common thread and a single common quote "it was worth it."