We all love looking at great photos of cosplayers, but what we see is just the end result of a long and rigorous process. Resident cosplayer Meredith / Ana Aesthetic takes us behind the scenes of a typical day in front of the camera, and offers up some tips to those looking to delve into the art of capturing their costumes.
Many of my colleagues are fascinated by my cosplay hobby. It is not just about running around trade shows in ostentatious get-ups. A lot of my time is spent in front of the camera doing photo shoots to document my work and have something cool to show the world. Both cosplay and non-cosplaying friends have asked me what goes into the photo shoot process. In this 3-part series, I’ll take you through what a typical day as a cosplay model is like.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to never have a sunrise photo shoot, so my day usually starts at around 8:00 or 8:30am. A well-rested model is a happy and not tired-looking model. I also try to avoid drinking any alcohol the night before a shoot (though that never seems to work out… I’m just such an active socializer). Really though: I want to look and feel the best I can, because modeling is not an easy job.
Today I will be working with the illustrious Thomas Dodd. He is a true artist whose work focuses on human nature and often times, off-color satire. We will be shooting the Queen of Albion herself, Esther Blanchett from the anime Trinity Blood. This costume consumed two months of my life, and I want to get it in front of a lens!
Food is key. I try to eat a hearty breakfast that will not leave me feeling gross or bloated. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to eat next, so I want to make sure I have enough nutrients to get me through my shoot. For this I go with oatmeal loaded with blueberries and banana, and a nice, large cup of coffee. It’s my addiction. I can’t be stopped. And it does great job of rousing me from sleep, after being jolted out of bed when my obese cat decided to run across my head.
I like to give myself some time to relax and start my day before rushing into hair and makeup. Time management is imperative when preparing for a shoot. Queen Esther is one of my most complex costumes, and requires a good hour and a half of prep and makeup time and another 45 minutes to get into the costume. I will be dressing on set, but I need to allot time for driving to the location, and picking up my friend and fellow fashion designer, Anthony Canney, who will be on hand to dress me and help throughout the shoot.
Normally, before a big shoot, I would get my eyebrows waxed and nails done. Unfortunately, this shoot falls in an awkward time between conventions. I’m holding off on my brows and just tweezing a few stray hairs (I also know Thomas is a genius with Photoshop, and if he notices any awkward or stray hair, he’ll take care of it. However, you can’t always place such responsibility on the photographer.) Also, in a fit of anxiety I tore all my nails off on Sunday. I used to be a huge nail biter, and sometimes I still do; especially if I’m feeling stressed about something. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to handle this. I may swing by a drug store and get some of those pre-painted faux nails. They should last for the duration of the shoot and not look too ridiculous. Plus, it will look better than me trying to hide my hands in every picture.
I want to touch back on something I just mentioned: the responsibility of the model and the responsibility of the photographer. In most cosplay photo shoot situations, it is a TFP (trade for print). No one is exchanging money. Hopefully, what you get is an amazing set of photos that showcases your craftsmanship and love of your character. The photographer gets a unique piece to add to their portfolio. It does not give you the right to show up and act like a diva, or put unnecessary demands on the photographer. I’ve heard horror stories of cosplayers who expect the photographer to edit out every blemish and self-perceived flaw; some cosplayers even contact photographers in the middle of the night! Others have a strange self entitlement that the photographer is at their demand, and that they are the true star of the photo. They even will tell the photographer when and how he can display his art. This is ridiculous.
However, as the model, you have rights as well. Never do something you are uncomfortable with, and you don’t have to work with every photographer who asks to take your picture. Even though this is just for a hobby, both parties should act professional and courteous throughout the entire photo shoot process.
What you can expect is to sign a model release that will ensure that the photographer and you (if it’s a well written release) both know how you can display the photos, for what purpose, if any money will be made off of them, and so forth. If there is something you do not like about the release, you can add what is called a rider: an amendment to a legal document which states your own clause or caution.
Come prepared. If you need help and can’t get an assistant, talk to your photographer beforehand to see if they are okay with helping out. Unless otherwise stated, I come hair- and makeup-ready, plan to change into costume on location, and always show up on time. It seems to work out best for everyone involved, and also keeps your costume clean and as wrinkle-free as possible! If I know it’s a complex costume, I let the photographer know so we can plan accordingly and be ready to shoot as close to the call time as stated.
If you are working with a photographer for the first time, I suggest bringing a friend along. I’ve heard some pretty sketchy stories from people who meet photographers online, but I rarely use sites like Model Mayhem to schedule shoots. It’s good if you don’t know a lot of photographers in your area, or are traveling. Just be aware and email other models that have worked with the photographer, and get references. Aside from the added protection, it’s nice to have a second set of eyes making sure every piece of your costume is draped well or you don’t have hair sticking up in odd places. Also, it just gives you someone to be comfortable around. Just avoid bringing anyone who will criticize, “help” or tell the photographer what to do. Photographers hate that. As a model, I hate that. I would not be working with that photographer if I didn’t think they were solid, professional and would get me the best shots possible. Suggesting poses is a good way to offer advice and feel you are contributing to the shoot!
The day of a big shoot isn’t the best time to practice a new makeup look for your character. I suggest spending some time before any convention or photo shoot figuring out a makeup style that works best with your wig and eye color. Plus, it will go a lot quicker if you already have tried it out a few times.
Also, I suggest ANYone doing a photo shoot wear some makeup. Even if you are dressing up as a fresh faced young girl, or a guy, foundation and powder is key to keeping your face from getting shiny. A little eyeliner and mascara never hurt anyone, either. How about some blush while you’re at it, to bring out those rosy cheeks? Makeup has its purpose. I always wash and put lotion on my face before any makeup product goes on. I also like to use what is called a makeup primer. It helps lock in your foundation, powder, blush and eye shadow for the duration of the photo shoot. There are many options available to you for makeup primers. You can spend $30 – $50 on a very good primer at a store like Sephora, but I’ve found a cheaper alternative that works just as good as my Smashbox Photo Finish. It’s a product called Monistat Chafing Relief Powder Gel. Yes, it’s touted as a “feminine product,” but this can double as a cost effective alternative to high priced makeup primers. For outdoor shoots in moderate heat or cool temperatures to conventions, this is my go-to primer. I will use my Smashbox primer if I know I’ll be in a studio under hot lights or sweating a lot outdoors.
Once my makeup is done, I’m almost ready to walk out the door! Depending on the wig, I sometimes will put it on and style it before I leave. That isn’t an option in every situation. If nothing else, I do put my hair up and get it under a matching wig cap, and prepare myself for any quizzical looks if I have to make an emergency pit stop on the way to my shoot.
Now I’m ready to grab my costumes and go! See you guys next time, when I talk about the photo shoot itself.
Tips to Remember Before Your Photo Shoot:
- Iron, arrange and pack all your costumes the night before your shoot.
- Get a good night’s sleep!
- Start off your day with a solid breakfast and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
- Shower, shave, and moisturize, especially before putting on makeup.
- Bring a makeup crash kit – include powder, lipstick, eye shadow and eye liner, at the very least.
- Double check to make sure you have all your costume pieces and props, if you are changing on location.
- Double check the address of your shooting location. Mapquest, Google Maps, make sure it exists where it says it exists!
- Text your photographer, either the night before, or before the shoot to let him/her know how excited you are to work with them (and give them the added assurance you aren’t going to flake out.)