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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Incredible Cosplay Photography: 3 Techniques to Try

The point of cosplay photography is to make the setting as out-of-this-world as possible. Here are three tips for doing so using a projected backdrop. (Reported by: Suna. Model: Yu, Kanata)

Long exposure with fairies


1. With a projected backdrop, your setting can be anything

As we mentioned in our previous article, one great way to produce a backdrop for your shoot is to use a projected image. By projecting the backdrop image onto a screen/wall behind the model, you can shoot to achieve the illusion that the model is actually in the setting depicted in the backdrop. For example, in the image below, the two characters look like they have just arrived at the site of their next quest and are all ready to tackle the challenges ahead!

Basic setup for projector photography

EOS-1Ds Mark II/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM/ f/9/ 1/4 sec/ ISO 400/ RAW/ Post-processing: Camera Raw
Lighting gear: Monolight (in a strip softbox with a grid), 3 clip-on flash units (with blue colour filters)


Setup example

For such shoots (and actually, whenever you use a projector), you absolutely must ensure that your lighting does not affect the image projected onto the screen. Use lighting gear that casts a narrower beam of light—there are a few different types of such equipment, so choose the one that best suits your purposes.

When we shot the image below, the projector was hanging from the studio ceiling, 6 metres away from the screen. This meant that if the models were too close to the screen, they would get in the way of the projector light and cast shadows that would obscure the projected image. As the photographer, you should let your models know where to stand for best results.

Setup for basic projector photography

Direct your models on where to stand so that they will not get in the way of the projector light. One way to do so is to put a mark to indicate where you want the model to be.


Layout and positioning

We put the main light source into a strip softbox with a grid, and positioned it near the female model (C in the diagram below). The grid helps to limit the size of the light beam and prevent it from shining onto the projected image.

The female model was asked to stand facing the main light source so that the light would fall on the front of her body. Meanwhile, the male model was asked to pose with his back towards the main light source. The resultant backlighting creates a silhouette-like effect.

Basic setup - Behind the scenes

The backdrop may look small when viewed from the same position as the camera, but it actually gives quite a bit of impact when you actually shoot.


Equipment layout for basic setup

A: Clip-on flash unit (to highlight the male model)
B: Clip-on flash units (with blue filters)
C: Strip softbox (with grid)
D: Smoke machine

If we used just the main light source, the male model would blend into the background, so we added a secondary light source near him. We also used clip-on flash units with blue colour filters pasted over them, to match the lighting with the blue in the background.


2. Add supernatural elements with long exposure

Previously, we learned how to use long exposure to add fairies and supernatural elements to the image. You can do the same, this time with a suitable projected backdrop. This was how we created the shot below, which has the main character being helped by fairies in the dark forest.

When using a long exposure together with a projected background, the light from the projector could affect how long you are able to expose the image. The trick to get around that is to set your f-number to the highest value possible. By using the narrowest aperture, you can leave the shutter open for a longer period, which in turn gives you more time to release the flash units with the fairies.

Need to recap your exposure basics? Check out:
Camera Basics #3: Exposure

For this shot, to avoid affecting the projected image, it was also important to ensure that the light from the main light source fell on only the model and nothing else. We achieved this by attaching a grid to the main light source.

Backdrop with fairies

EOS-1Ds Mark II/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM/ f/22/ 3.2 sec / ISO 400/ RAW/ Post-processing: Camera Raw
Lighting gear: Monolight (in a strip softbox with a grid), 4 clip-on flash units (3 used to create the fairies)


Equipment layout (backdrop with fairies)

A: Strip softbox (with grid)
B: Clip-on flash unit (for the smoke)
C: Flash units with fairy cutouts
D: Smoke machine

After releasing the shutter with a remote control, the flash units with the fairy cutouts were fired. Of course, it would be best if you had an assistant to help you fire the flashes, but if you have to do it on your own, it is good to experiment beforehand to figure out the timing.

For more flash photography tips, check out:
In Focus: The Basics of External Flash Photography


3. Use a clear acrylic box to make your subjects float in the air

You might also want to make your characters look like they are hovering or floating in the air, as we did for this shot of a witch character. One common way to create that effect for a small prop or a part of a character’s clothes is to hang it on a string, but as you can’t do that to an entire human being. That is where a clear acrylic box comes into play. For this shot, we got the model to sit on the box. As acrylic is highly transparent, it should not show up in the photo if you shoot from an angle. The result: Our witch, floating in the air on her broomstick.

Floating cosplay character (acrylic box)

EOS-1Ds Mark II/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM/ f/10/ 1/10 sec/ ISO 400/ RAW/ Post-processing: Camera Raw
Lighting gear: Monolight (in a strip softbox with a grid), 4 clip-on flash units


Behind the scenes (photoshoot with acrylic box)

We lit the model’s face using the light in the strip softbox. Lights were also placed to the left and right of the model to show the details of the image. To create the spooky atmosphere, we released a thick layer of smoke from the machine.


Equipment layout (acrylic box)

A: Strip softbox (with grid)
B: Clip-on flash unit
C: Clip-on flash unit (to illuminate the model’s thigh)
D: Monolight
E: Clip-on flash unit (to illuminate the smoke)
F: Smoke machine

It will be very hard for the model to move around on his/her own when sitting on the acrylic box—the people nearby should be ready to assist him/her where necessary!


For more articles on cosplay and photography, check out the following articles:
Cosplay Photography Techniques (1): Lighting Gear
Cosplay Photography Techniques (2): Fundamentals of Lighting
Cosplay Photography Techniques (3): Examples of Different Lighting Setups
Cosplay Photography Techniques (4): How to Shoot with Coloured Light
Cosplay Photography Techniques (5): Add “Fairies” to Your Images Using Long Exposure
Creating Backdrops: Introduction to Cosplay Photography with a Projector


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Suna (@sandmu963)

Suna (@sandmu963)

Working as a photographer mostly on weekdays, Suna always incorporates new photography techniques and provides very well-organised and easy-to-understand explanations on social media such as Twitter.

Yu (@yu_know_what)

Yu (@yu_know_what)

Cosplayer who is currently involved in cosplay projects such as Fate, Danganronpa and Hatsune Miku. She has won a very good reputation for her scenario-specific photos.

Genkosha Co.

Genkosha Co.

A publisher that specializes in books and magazines about video, photography and illustrations.