Captain’s Blog: The Relationship Between Cosplayer and Photographer

Dearest Collectors,

My editorial this week comes as a concerned member of the cosplay community. A few days ago, it came to light that a well known and respected cosplay photographer in Southern California had been using spy cams in changing rooms during photoshoots. This horrified me because the photographer had come highly recommended by almost every SoCal cosplayer I know who has worked with him. As the story grows and more and more cosplayers I know and respect come forward, I can’t help but wonder at the massive amount of trust that both photographer and cosplayer place in each other, and oftentimes very little discussion is had as to just how this relationship should function.

Enter me, and I’ve got a lot to say.

what cosplayers should know

I’m mostly writing this in case a new cosplayer should stumble into the community and not really know what the f**k they’re doing (aka me 3 years ago). I learned how to interact with other cosplayers and photographers mostly through trial and error, and, well, here’s some wisdom that I’m going to pass on to you.

cosplay is not consent and that applies to everyone.

Back when the Mutineer and I started really getting into cosplay, we were always flattered but halfway annoyed when other cosplayers or photographers would touch our costumes or person without asking. It was the complimenting cosplayer who wanted to touch the fabric of a dress, saying, “I love this so much!” or the photographer who would position you into the pose they wanted without trying to give verbal directions first.

This is not okay. NO ONE has the right to touch you without your consent, even if they’re taking your photo or complimenting you. While they mean well, we spend a lot of time and money on our costumes, and that friendly hug could seriously do some damage. Be gentle with your cosplay friends; they probably finished gluing that sh*t together a few hours before they saw you and are praying that it will last all day.

offer to pay

Yes, we’re all dressing up to have a good time and be nerds, but the truth is, a lot of photographers pour thousands of dollars into their equipment. Cosplay, for both the cosplayer and the photographer, can be a black hole into which our money disappears. For this reason, many photographers could charge for a shoot, so if you’re setting something up, always ask if you can pay. Even if they don’t charge for the shoot, they may have a Ko-Fi or something that you can donate to and promote.

Additionally, during long convention weekends, it’s quite likely that your photographer friend is in need of water or a snack. If you can, offer to bring them something.

Ask for feedback

Let’s be real, about 95% of us are amateurs and have no clue what the f**k we are doing when it comes to photoshoots or posing. It is 100% okay to ask the photographer for feedback or suggestions. If you’re uncomfortable with that, bring a friend who can yell suggestions and poses at you from the other side of the room. I bring the Mutineer, and she often will jump in frame to fix my wig or help me pose.

tag, tag, tag.

Alright, I feel like this is something that people don’t talk about enough and that is: respect the copyright and give credit where credit is due.  Photographers hold the copyright to any photo that they take of you, so there’s a few common practices that you should follow when sharing this awesome collaboration you did with them:

  • Don’t remove the watermark. This is like the author’s name on the title page or the artist’s signature on a painting. It’s a visual representation that this is their work. If you’re sharing to Instagram and the crop keeps cutting off the watermark, use an app like SquareBlur to keep the original image and make it Instagram-friendly.
  • Tag the creators. If you’re posting to social media, tag/credit the people who made the image possible. Most importantly, the photographer, but also tag creators of costumes, props, wigs, etc. This gives their account a nice boost, and it’s likely that they’ll promote your account in return.
  • Use Photoshop responsibly. Ask permission before editing photos. I’m not talking about slapping on a quick Insta filter, I’m talking heavy-duty edits or anything that changes the integrity of the original photograph. The copyright belongs to the person who took the picture, so please be considerate and ask them before making any changes to their work.
  • Include photographer info/permissions when submitting to feature pages. Make sure that your photog’s information/watermark appears if it is shared on a feature site. And also, as a side note, please remember that feature pages are often run by other cosplayers or nerds, and they do it for fun. If your photo isn’t shared as quickly as you’d like, please ask nicely about it, and if/when it is shared, promote them. We’re building a community, after all.

don’t go alone.

If you’ve worked with a photographer several times at a convention, and want to set up a studio or location photoshoot…do not go alone. I cannot repeat this enough. 1) it’s likely that you’re gonna need a handler anyway and 2) safety. For both you and the photographer. You’re in a delicate costume, the photographer has a bunch of expensive equipment…even if the photographer is the most trustworthy person you’ve ever met, it’s probably a good idea to bring along someone to keep an eye on things. And also to throw a granola bar at you when you get hungry.

And, I can’t believe I have to write this, but given what I’ve learned in the past week has happened during shoots… thoroughly check out your shoot location before settling in. You need to be 100% comfortable with what’s going on around you before you commit to having your picture taken.

If you do not like what you see, you can and should ask questions, and if you don’t get the answers you want, GTFO. Leave.

Saftey first, kids. Safety first.

what photographers should know

I am writing this from the perspective of a cosplayer who has worked with several photographers and become friends with a number of them. The Mutineer also dabbles in cosplay photography time and again, so I’ve learned a lot by watching her and other photographers—and, of course, I also posed the question on my Instagram story, asking the community what they thought everyone should know about the relationship between cosplayers and photographers. Here are the thoughts that came from these interactions.

try to direct the model/cosplayer without physical contact

This idea comes up frequently, both from cosplayers and photographers. A no-contact rule seems to be the surest and safest way to make sure that nothing goes wrong during a photoshoot. Almost every photographer I’ve ever worked with has asked before touching me or my costume, and if they didn’t, well, I probably didn’t work with them again after.

ask permission before taking a photo

This one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many people will see a cosplayer posing for a photographer at a convention, and put their camera over the photog’s shoulder to snag a shot. This is not only rude to the cosplayer, who did not grant permission to anyone other than the photographer they’re working with, but also rude to the photographer, who probably took some time to set up the shot, only to have some rando walk up and steal the exact same shot. If you see a cosplayer and photographer working together, wait until they’re done. I guarantee you’ll get a better picture for it.

at conventions, try to follow the 2-pose policy

Tbh, I hadn’t heard of this until a photographer acquaintance of mine explained it to me yesterday on Instagram. The basic idea is that instead of a long shoot with several poses, you ask for two poses from a cosplayer and snap a full body and headshot of each. At conventions, there’s a lot going on, and usually everyone in the cosplay community is dehydrated and hungry by mid-afternoon. Doing a quick and simple shoot at a convention is probably best for all involved.

Remember, you can always set up a longer photoshoot outside of convention time.

communication, please

This one is kind of tricky to write about, because often convention weekends are so busy and crazy, that not a lot of long conversations can take place between cosplayers and photographers, so the cosplayer is left wondering whether they’ll ever see photos from the session. Now, I know quite a few photographers just upload everything to Facebook or Flickr, and leave it to cosplayers to find and tag themselves, and that’s a perfectly acceptable method. Sometimes, though, I have to dig through Instagram, Facebook, or the internet at large for hours just to locate a Flickr page. As a cosplayer, I really appreciate when a photographer hands me a business card or tells me where to look for my picture later.

Now, for photoshoots done outside of conventions, communication really is key. 1) Cosplayers and photographers should be on the same page and have similar vision/expectations for the collaboration. 2) If a studio needs to be booked, or if the photographer charges a fee outside of conventions, this financial responsibility should be communicated to the cosplayer. 3) If the photos didn’t turn out or if the turn-around process is taking longer than expected, please communicate this to the models you’ve worked with. I cannot tell you how disappointing it is to spend hours on a costume, hours on makeup and hair, and then hours posing in said costume, only to never see anything from the collaboration. We’re all doing this for fun, and we’ve all got stuff IRL to worry about too. If it takes you longer than usual to edit, just throw a DM to your cosplayer. I guarantee they will understand.

And, I can’t believe I have to write this, but as someone who paid for photos and never saw them…if the cosplayer paid for the shoot, you have to send them something, even if it’s just an explanation. If you, as a photographer, weren’t happy with the way the photos turned out—maybe it was windy or rainy, or something outside your control just made the photos not match what you envisioned—communicate this to the cosplayer and arrange for a redo.

Don’t leave us hanging, my dudes.

consider using model release forms

In all my years of cosplaying, only one photographer has ever had me sign a model release form, and it just happened to be at my very first studio photoshoot ever. I hadn’t met the photographer before, but she was highly recommended, and the Mutineer and I decided to take a chance. She was one of the most professional photographers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, and she taught me a lot about courtesy and trust between the cosplayer and photographer. The form she had me sign stated 1) where she would be using the photos 2) what I was allowed to do with the photos and 3) what she, the copyright-holder would charge if I ever decided to sell the photographs as prints.

At a convention, it’s probably unrealistic to have every person you photograph sign a model release form, but I can’t help but wonder if more photographers who do independent photoshoots with cosplayers should make it a practice. It would put, in writing, the expectations for the collaboration and provide a level of legal protection to both the cosplayer and photographer.

Speaking for myself, I try to have a written agreement (at the very least via text or DM) about any photoshoot I do with a photographer. Maybe as a writer, I just have a preference for seeing things written down, but so far I have managed to have a good working relationship with every photographer I’ve collaborated with. And, again, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but building a clause into a model/photographer agreement protecting both from things like the spy cam scandal can’t hurt, right?

make sure you are comfortable

There’s a lot of talk about cosplayers feeling comfortable around photographers, but the opposite is true as well. I know of a few scenarios in which a cosplayer asked for a pose or private photoshoot that the photographer was not comfortable doing. It is 100% okay to refuse a photoshoot or to photograph anything you are uncomfortable with, and it is also 100% okay for you to stop at any time during a shoot.

The key to a successful cosplayer/photographer collaboration is trust, and if you don’t have that, it’s not going to work.

And really, cosplay is all about having fun, right? If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.

Go out there, make some art, have some fun, and stay safe, kids.


Special thank yous to the Mutineer, Nesswankenobi, Darth Claire Cosplay, Snapshot 360, Dinosaur Man Photography, and more for throwing in their input! 

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