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A Guide to Self-Photography for Cosplay

Updated: Aug 20, 2022

Hi Everyone!

So a little over a year ago I started to dip my toes into self-photography, and it's the best thing that's happened to my cosplay career thus far. I went from doing cosplays only for the one to two conventions I attended a year to getting into cosplays multiple times a month. For reference, in 2018 I made/bought 5 cosplays. On the contrary, in 2019 once I started my self-photography journey I made/bought over 30 costumes!

Self-photography also gives you a ton of freedom as you can pick your favourite images, edit them to your heart's content, as well as having full creative freedom over the angles, lighting, colours, and more.

So in this guide, I'm going to show you my personal setup & my process for taking photos as well as a "things you can find around your house" setup. Please remember this is just my method and is in no way the "right way" to do self-photography. I am also not a photography expert, this is just what I have learned through my own experience.

My Personal Setup

This is my setup! You can see that I try to fit it into an already crowded room, but luckily when I'm finished taking photos pieces of the setup can be taken down or moved.

It also looks like a lot, but it's much less daunting than it seems. I break it down into three categories:

  • Lighting

  • Camera & Accessories

  • Backdrop

I acquired most of my setup as presents, hand-me-downs from family, or I bought them under $30. My setup includes a backdrop stand with a backdrop, two umbrella lights, my DSLR camera, a remote trigger, and a tripod.

I got my backdrop stand, backdrop, and umbrella lights from a kit off of Amazon. Since I get a lot of questions about it, here's the link to exactly what I bought.

Now, let's get into specifics:

What's an umbrella light?

An umbrella light is a light that uses an umbrella to either bounce the light onto the subject or diffuse the light. My lighting kit came with reflective umbrellas and white umbrellas. The white umbrellas create a softer light with fewer shadows, where using the reflective umbrella is brighter and can create some dramatic shots. I get all of my "dramatic lighting" photos by only having one of my reflective umbrellas on.

This Connor photo is a fantastic example of the "dramatic lighting" setup.

I also have a backdrop stand with two backdrops in black and white. This isn't necessary for self-photography and a plain wall or a pinned up sheet, blanket, or some curtains can work just as well.

For my camera, I use a Nikon D40 that is a hand me down from my Mom. It's about ten years old but works perfectly for my photos. If you don't have a DSLR camera, look on sites like Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji for used cameras in your area. I will also go over how to do self-photography off of your phone later on, but if you plan on doing a lot of photography I'd recommend making the investment.

An essential part of self-photography is a tripod. You can't hold the camera and pose at the same time, so a tripod acts as your second pair of arms. You can adjust the height and angle of the tripod which lets you get a lot of cool angles. I also have a remote trigger which lets me take photos without touching the camera. This also isn't necessary as you can also use your camera's built-in timer, but I enjoy the freedom the remote lets me have.

This is what my personal remote trigger looks like, but make sure you research and get the right one for your camera model.

I also have recently invested in a Speedlight for some fun coloured lighting effects such as my photos for Seymour, but I won't be touching on that here, since I could write an entire other blog post on just that.

How I Take Photos

Now that we've gone over my setup, it's time to take some photos! For this example, I'm going to be using my Heather Chandler cosplay. Depending on the character, I first pick either the white or black backdrop. I mostly use my black backdrop just because it's my personal preference.

Next up is setting up the lights. I put my lights about three to five feet in front of where I plan to stand. I usually like to imagine a V formation when positioning my lights. I'm the bottom of the V and each light sits diagonally away from me. Since I am using the reflective umbrellas, I point the inside of the umbrella towards me so that the light bounces off of the umbrella and onto me.

For setting up my tripod, I typically place it in between the two umbrella lights. The angle and height depend on the feel I want my photos to have, but I usually find a nice balance by having the camera at around face height and angled ever so slightly downwards.

I use my camera's manual mode, and my settings vary with every photo setup. However, for the less experienced I would recommend using your camera's "auto" mode and making sure the flash is off. You don't need the flash, as the umbrella lights already do the same job as the flash would. Make sure before taking photos that you've put an SD card in your camera. Nothing is worse than taking a ton of photos and losing them once you turn your camera off!

If you have a remote trigger, change your camera settings so that your camera goes off when you press your remote. If not, set your camera on a ten-second timer. I prefer ten seconds over three as it will give you enough time to get into place and perfect your posing. If you don't know how to set this up, Google your camera's model number and something like "ten-second timer."

Now, go on and take photos! I usually take anywhere from 100-300 just so I have as many options as possible. Nothing is worse than having the perfect photo and realizing your eyes are closed in it.

Here are a few posing tips I've learned that hopefully will help you:

  • Standing at a 3/4 angle will always look more flattering or interesting than just directly facing the camera. I usually step one leg back so my body and face are ever so slightly angled

  • Don't be afraid to look dumb. You're the only one there and if the photo turns out horrible, nobody else has to see it! But you never know, it might turn out amazing.

  • On that note, push your poses. Reach your arm out more, exaggerate those facial expressions, and put your whole body into it.

Here's an example of a photo I was able to take with this setup.

(Touch-ups and background effects were added in Photoshop.)

I could write a whole entire blog post about editing photos, but for now, I'll leave you with some Youtube tutorials and time-lapses that I love:

"Things You Can Find Around Your House" Setup

I know my setup can be daunting and an investment for cosplayers on a budget. For you cosplayers who may only have your phone to take photos with, I've got you covered.

The first step is finding a space. A plain wall, some curtains, a blanket, or a sheet hung up will serve you well. You can also just have whatever room you're in as a backdrop, but be careful of background clutter which can take focus away from you, the subject.

The next step is lighting. You can either stand facing a window to get natural light, or if you don't have a window close, you can also use a lamp pointed towards you as your light source.

For taking photos, use things you have around the house to prop up your phone. You can use chairs, books, or anything else you may be able to make work. I usually have my phone at about face height, as anything lower could create an unflattering angle.

Now, for the highest quality photos, you can use your phone's back camera. The front camera often doesn't take as crisp of photos. However, the downside to using your back camera is that you can't see your screen and figure out whether you're in frame or not. So, it's up to you whether you want to use the front or back camera. For actually taking photos you can use your phone's ten-second timer. I prefer the ten-second over the three-second as it lets me perfect my posing.

Here's an example of an unedited photo that I was able to take with just my phone, I used my iPhone's "portrait mode" in this one, but the blurred background can also be achieved through editing.

Thanks so much for sticking around through that huge dump of information. Hopefully, you found some of it helpful! If you have any questions, comments, or just wanna say hi, you can find me on Instagram, Twitter, or Email me!

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