Category Archives: DIY

Costuming and cosplay tutorials and tips, other than sewing.

Vintage/Retro Resale Patterns Now Available!

In addition to our huge selection of current patterns, we’re adding dozens of vintage/retro and contemporary patterns over the next few days! We’ve got everything from authentic iron-on appliqué-based patterns from the 1930’s to funky 1980’s outfits.

Please note, by the way, that our vintage, retro, and out-of-print contemporary patterns are hard to come by and the prices reflect that. They may cost a bit more, but they’re definitely affordable, unique, and fun!

We’re putting them up as fast as we can. Keep watching…

FIRE! Making Small Costume Flames

Safety Note: This tutorial uses open flames to heat plastic. This should be done in a well-ventillated area by adults only! Kids, ask an adult for assistance! Test the material you’re going to be heating first and have water on hand for flare-ups as a precaution. 

People at conventions are understandably cranky about actual live fire/open flames. And while your costume genuinely may call for fire, in enclosed spaces with other people, it’s really frowned upon.

So, what can you do to get a look of flames without setting anything on fire? When I needed flames for the end of Tim the Enchanter‘s staff, I wanted orange cellophane. Cello is crunchy, reflective, and if you bunch it up just right, can look really fiery. Alas, no place we looked had any orange cellophane. Party City had semi-transparent orange treat bags, but they were a softer (less “crunchy”) material and I didn’t think I could make it work.

We ended up with some clear-and-red striped bags from Michael’s that were still not as rigid as I wanted, but I thought I could make work.


First thing, I cut off the bottom, and slit open the side. I used my Sharpie® markers in orange and yellow to get more color out of the red/clear bag since I couldn’t get the orange I wanted initially.


I added some red into the wide clear panels to break up all the orange.

Once I was satisfied with the color (it doesn’t have to be perfect, or solid), I cut some V-shaped notches in the strip, taking care not to get them too narrow for what came next: actual fire.


Light a small candle, something that doesn’t put out a lot of heat. The plastic is going to melt fast enough without having a lot of heat that is hard to control. Holding the “lobes” over the candle, warp the plastic, letting it stretch a little but not burn through — this will take some practice, but even if you mess up, it’s not a catastrophe. While the plastic is still malleable, bunch it in your hand to crinkle it lengthwise. That will give it some stability to stand up and look like shooting flames. Continue this with the other lobes on the bag until you’re done. Now you can roll the whole strip up and insert it into the weapon or around the end of the staff that’s shooting fire.

bag-candle1 bag-candle2

Close-up of the flames at the end of Tim’s staff.
So as not to damage the hiking stick, the flames were simply taped on with clear tape. The stick is lacquered, so it will peel right off.

Here’s a video I did of the candle/heating process. This should make a little more sense:

Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 5)

Welcome back! In this installment, we’re going to talk about the least important thing to consider when photographing cosplay: Equipment. (If you missed any prior installments: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.)

Why is equipment the last thing you talk about?” you might ask. “Isn’t a big fancy camera the most important thing for taking good pictures?”

In response, I offer you this joke, a favorite among photographers:

A photographer was invited to dinner at a couple’s house. He brought along his portfolio and showed the couple some of his work before dinner was served. “Those pictures are amazing,” they said. “You must have a really nice camera.”

The photographer just smiled and thanked them.

After dinner, the photographer turned to his hosts and said, “That dinner was wonderful. You must have some really nice pots and pans.”

BWAHAHAHA I LOVE THAT… Sorry. I got carried away. I do that. The point is, as I hope is obvious. the camera doesn’t make the photographer, any more than the pot makes the cook. A more powerful camera can give the photographer options a less powerful model can’t provide, but, as Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the greatest photographers in history, once said, “The best photographer in the world is not as good as the worst camera.” Hand Henri your iPhone (and show him how to use it) and he could have made pictures with it that you and I couldn’t make with a $10,000 dSLR.

Incidentally, the excellent photographer Chase Jarvis makes the same point in his excellent book, The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You. He uses nothing but an iPhone to make some excellent photographs, and explains how he did it. If you’re mostly going to use your phone or tablet camera – and phone/tablet cameras have gotten scary good – I recommend the book to you.

So, given that equipment isn’t all that important, what should we know about it to improve our cosplay photography? Well, the same thing as we need to know about it to improve all our photography. Namely, we need to know how to use it. First, go back and read all the prior articles in this series. (I’ll wait. Okay, you back? Good.) Note that there is nothing in there that is camera specific, although some of the ways you can control light (f-stop, shutter speed, ISO) can’t be used if your camera doesn’t offer those settings. Learn all that, and you already know 90% of what you need to know to use any camera.

Once you’ve got the basics of photography down, it’s time to learn the basics of your camera. What do all the buttons do? Where are the settings menus? Which settings can be manually controlled, and which ones can’t? You learn this by reading the manual. Camera manufacturers spend millions of dollars developing those manuals. They are, usually, not that hard to read. Get it out, get your camera out, and go through it. As you read, pick up the camera, and play with the settings that are being described. Doing it as you read will help you remember much better. If there’s something in the manual that doesn’t make sense or you can’t seem to make work, visit the manufacturer’s website for more information, or just Google the name of the feature. You’ll find that no matter what it is, somebody else has already had the issue, and somebody else has probably told them how to fix it. Yay, Internet! 🙂

Okay, now that I’ve totally denigrated the importance of equipment, I will discuss a few of the more important items you can get to improve your cosplay photography.

1) A tripod, a monopod, or both. One of the cardinal rules in photography is, “If you can get steadier, get steadier.” Removing camera shake lets you take sharper pictures and/or open the shutter longer without having to worry about camera blur. If you’re in a position to use one, use a tripod. If you’re going somewhere where a tripod would be in everybody’s way (remember, respect) you could consider a monopod. Plus, if somebody annoys you, you can really whack a person good with a monopod at full extension. (DISCLAIMER: Do not whack people with monopods unless you are legally justified in doing so.) You can even get tripod adapters for iPhones, etc. Try one, you’ll like it!

2) A portable reflector. It’s unbelievable how much just a little more light can improve a photograph. Find something shiny (although not colored, because if it’s colored, where it reflects will have a different color cast than the rest of the image.) Use it to reflect a little light onto the subject’s face, or that amazing decoration on their cape, or what-have-you. In a pinch, you can use a large piece of paper, but portable reflectors are awesome. Plus they make you look like a pro – a pro who knows magic. I have a Litedisc Photoflex, like this one:

Folded up, it fits neatly in my camera bag. When I want it, it opens with a snap of the wrist. Plus if I want to warm up the subject a little (Fluorescent lights, need I say more?) I can use the gold side, or I can just shine accent light with the white side.

3) An external flash. You can get what are called “slave” flashes which have little electric eyes on them. When they see a bright light, they go off. These can be very useful even if you don’t have a camera that has a “hot shoe,” which is the bracket you use to mount a flash on a camera, and that’s why I list them before a dSLR. Here’s an example:

These will even work with tablets and cameras, as long as they have a flash. You just put them where you want some extra light. However, if you plan on getting a dSLR, it’s probably better to wait and get one that goes with your dSLR (see below.)

Like reflectors, external flashes allow you to put more light where you want it, but unlike reflectors, they let you ADD light when there’s not enough. Plus, with the flash further away from the lens, the phenomenon usually known as “red-eye” is greatly reduced.  (That red glow in people’s eyes is caused by light from the flash bouncing off their retinas, which are red. If the flash is off-axis with the lens, the amount of light so reflected is reduced or eliminated.) If at at all possible, get a flash with a “bounce” capability – in other words, a flash that pivots. This gives you far more options when using it. I love to point my flash at the wall behind me. This lets me add what is effectively a very large, very diffuse light that hits the whole scene without causing red-eye or “hotspots” where the flash is concentrated.

4) A Digital SLR or dSLR. This is basically the sort of camera that serious photographers have been using for decades, only instead of 35mm film it has a digital sensor in it and saves the image to a memory card. (Speaking of memory cards: buy several. Swap them around. Don’t rely on just one. Generally speaking, it’s better to have two 4GB cards than one 8GB card, because if a card dies you only lose half as much.) As for which one, well, buy the best one you are comfortable spending the money on, and other than that, don’t worry about it. They’re all pretty good, really. I shoot Canon, but I’ve used Nikon, Sony, and Olympus dSLR’s and they all worked fine.

If you have a friend or family member who shoots a particular brand, you might think about using the same brand just so you can ask them for advice (or *ahem* even discreetly ask to borrow things.) Otherwise, shop around. Go to a store and see what fits your hand. Visit review sites (my favorites are Steve’s Digicams and DPReview) and see what people are saying about current offerings. What’s important is to get what seems to suit you best.

NOTE: Do NOT, I repeat DO NOT, get all worked up about megapixel count. I’ve licensed photos I took with 6MP dSLR for book covers and major academic presentations. A good, clear, sharp picture at the resolution of even a starter-level dSLR is fine for almost any commercial use, let alone taking good pictures at a Con for your website. If your budget is comfortable with an intro-level Canon Rebel series, get a Canon Rebel series. It will make great photographs. If you have the budget for a six thousand dollar 1D, and you want to tote around a brick like that, go for it. It’ll make great photographs too.

If you get a dSLR, one purely optional but really nice accessory to have is a “battery grip.” They’re called that because they a) allow you to put two batteries instead of one in the camera, and b) they give you an extended area to hold on to the camera. However, what’s really nice about them is that they have an extra set of exposure controls on the corner. (Warning: Not all battery grips have this feature, especially third-party battery grips. If you’re going to get one, make sure it does.)

Here’s why that’s important: Normally, if you want to take a picture in “portrait” aspect – i.e. the picture is taller than it is wide, which is how you usually photograph people – you turn the camera sideways and twist your arm around to work the controls. With the battery grip, there’s a shutter button and exposure dial on top of the camera when you turn it sideways, and you can hold it normally. Plus if you have larger hands like I do, it makes it much easier to hold on to the camera, while not making it awkward for more petite users in any way. It just makes life much, much more pleasant, trust me.

5) Once you have a dSLR, obviously, you need lenses. Lenses, dear reader, are all about compromise. There is no One True Lens. If you get a lens with a large zoom range, it will be heavier than a lens with a shorter range (or a fixed or “prime” lens) and will not be as sharp at the extremes of its range, nor will it be as “fast.” That is, it won’t have as large a maximum aperture. Plus it’ll cost more. If you get a lens with a shorter range, well, it has a shorter range. So what should you do? I recommend two lenses to start with

a) A reasonable zoom lens with Image Stabilization. Image Stabilization is a technology where the lens has a little gyroscope in it that it uses to try to compensate for any camera shake. It sounds like magic – because it is. It really works. Anyway, most entry-level dSLR come with an Image Stabilized 18-55mm lens these days. That’s perfectly serviceable for learning. If you can spend a bit more money, you can usually upgrade when you purchase and get a faster 17-85mm or so lens instead of the 18-55mm lens. This is definitely worth it. It’s heavier, but not dreadfully, and that extra zoom can really be very useful. This is your “walking around” lens for most Cons and other cosplay situations, and can be used for studio shoots as well.

b) A fast prime lens. A “prime” lens is a lens that doesn’t zoom. It only has one focal length. If you want to zoom out, you move back. If you want to zoom in, you get closer. 🙂 Ugh, sounds primitive, doesn’t it? Well, it is. But there is a reason to get one. In fact, there are three.

i) First,they’re WAY lighter and smaller than zoom lenses. Much less intimidating to potential candid subjects, much easier on your back.

ii) Second, they produce sharper, less color-divergent images than zoom lenses at equivalent focal lengths.

iii) Third, and this is the big one, they are much faster than zoom lenses of equivalent price point. You can buy the Canon “Nifty Fifty” f1.8 50mm prime for a hundred bucks, and there’s a similar lens for Nikon and most other dSLR. F1.8, dear reader, is screaming fast compared to the standard zoom lens, or your phone camera. You can take pictures without flash in fairly dark rooms and they will actually look like something.

I have a 35mm f2 and a 50mm f1.4 (the 1.4 is only a third of a stop faster than the Nifty Fifty, but it costs four times as much because it’s better made. It’s a semi-pro level lens. I love it, but you’ll be fine with the f1.8 to start with.) Depending on what I’m up to, I might walk around a Con with the 35mm on instead of my zoom. It’s faster, it’s less intimidating, and I don’t have to shine a flash in people’s faces. If I’m going out at night, I’ll put on the 50mm f1.4. It can take pictures, with the ISO cranked up, of things I literally can’t even see with my actual eyes.

Speaking of lenses, it is probably worth noting that often manufacturers or retailers sell cameras in “starter packs” with a bag and some lenses, one of which is usually something like a 75-300mm non-stabilized lens. I have one of those, but I never, ever use it for cosplay or convention work. I only use it for landscape and sports photography (which I rarely do.) If your subject is going to be indoors, you absolutely do not need that 75-300, and you’d probably be better off buying a different configuration of stuff. Likewise, the manufacturer bags aren’t awful, but you can usually buy a much better bag for not much more money. Plus, they don’t have big ol’ “Canon” or “Nikon” logos on them, which are often interpreted as “I am full of very expensive camera equipment, please steal me” badges by people of questionable morality.

Note also that I didn’t talk about things like studio backdrops or strobe lighting. They’re awesome, don’t get me wrong. However, once you decide to spend that kind of money, you need to do your own research into the current state of the market as well as your specific needs and desires, and that’s outside the scope of these articles. You’re welcome to inquire by email as to my opinion on any particular piece of equipment you’re considering: you’ve probably figured out by now that I love to talk about photography!

I will put in a quick plug for Alien Bees, though. In my opinion they are the best intro level studio lights for serious beginners. You can see them here:

Note: I don’t get paid by Paul Buff to plug Alien Bees, nor have I been provided any other incentive to do so. I have owned four Alien Bees lights and a Vagabond pack for years and they have served me well, and that is the entirety of my relationship with them. That being said, Paul, if you see this, I’d love some free stuff, or maybe just some money in a box. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this article and that you find it useful in future. Please check out the other parts of this series and the rest of our articles here on Sew Your Cosplay!

You are welcome to ask questions in the comments and/or by emailing me at any time. Thanks for reading!


Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 4)

Welcome back! In this installment, we’re going to talk about the fourth-most important thing to consider when photographing cosplay: Angle and Perspective. (If you missed any prior installments: Part 1Part 2Part 3.)

Angle and perspective is just what it sounds like – what angle is the camera at relative to the subject, and what perspective does it create?

Here’s an image with a really, really flat/square/straight perspective:

The camera is facing subject straight on, and with little or no angle either horizontally or vertically. This results in a classic portrait-style image, with no part of the cosplayer given particular emphasis (or de-emphasis.) Most of your pictures will be shot like this, for obvious reasons. But like everything else, it needs to be deliberate. If you’re shooting from a classical portrait perspective, then get it right.

Square up. Make sure you’re not too high or too low. If you’re a lot taller than the cosplayer (I almost always am) hunker down a bit. Ideally your lens would be even with the center of the subject – for example, if you’re shooting a person who’s standing up, you would want your lens about even with their waist. This is why when I take pictures of people, even just quick snapshots, I almost always kneel. That way the center of the image is even with the center of the lens, and the sensor is perpendicular to them, so there’s no perspective distortion. It’s okay to be a bit off, but the closer you are to them, the more difference it makes.

If you’re not going for a pure straight perspective, again, do it deliberately, and think about what you’re doing. Here’s a picture we’ve seen before:

I chose to shoot this image from below the level of the subject. Although the model is still clearly visible, the angle emphasizes the crate and the message written on it to some extent, which helps counter the fact that the crate is much less visually interesting than the model and the eye would be drawn to her first if the shot had been taken from a purely straight perspective. It also draws out the door behind the model, making the entire image slightly surreal. (Remember, like I said last time: The failure mode of “surreal” is “pretentious and/or stupid.” Use discretion.)

The thing to remember about perspective is this:

  • Things that are bigger look closer.
  • Things that are closer look bigger.
  • The eye gives more attention to things that look bigger or closer.

So if that cosplayer has an amazing helmet on, shoot from as high as you can. Maybe even have them kneel down and you shoot from head height. From that angle, the helmet will seem closer, which will make it seem bigger, which will make it the focus of the shot without completely removing the rest of the costume from the image. Likewise, if they have some super-cool boots that you want to emphasize, have them stand and you get as low as you can. (Maybe even put them on some steps and you get below them!) Shoot up slightly, and the boots will be emphasized because the lower portion of their body is closer to the camera and will therefore look bigger.

This is also a very, very useful technique to help cosplayers (or any subject) look their best. Shooting from relatively high or relatively low will tend to stretch out the body, making the figure seem more slender. Shooting from up high draws attention to the face. Shooting from down low draws attention to the legs. Shooting from straight on draws attention to the body as a whole. What do you want to emphasize? What does the cosplayer consider the most important features of the costume? Get that part closest to your camera, and it will jump out at the viewer without having to crop the field of view so that only that part is visible.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that you find it useful in future. Please check out the other parts of this series and the rest of our articles here on Sew Your Cosplay!

You are welcome to ask questions in the comments and/or by emailing me at any time. Thanks for reading!


Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 3)

Welcome back! In this installment, we’re going to talk about the third-most important thing to consider when photographing cosplay: Environment. (If you missed any prior installments: Part 1Part 2.)

Every photograph tells some kind of story. After making sure that the photograph is respectful, and that it’s lit the way we want, now we are starting to consider the story of the photograph. (That is, the story which is external to the inherent story of the cosplay.)

Environment is the surroundings of your cosplay subject – everything in the picture, basically, that isn’t your cosplayer. When you are taking professional cosplay pictures, you usually either try to find a really appropriate location (like, say, Doctor Evermor’s Forevertron, where I would give my eye teeth to photograph some really rad steampunk cosplay) or photograph against some kind of very plain and uninteresting background Usually this is just seamless paper hung from a rod, or walls painted white. The former is just called “seamless” and the latter is sometimes called a “cyc.” (Pronounced like “psych.”) As an example, here are two models shot on seamless, which is literally just a 9 food wide roll of heavy white paper, and a model shot on a crate I found next to the loading dock of a place where I used to have a studio.


The model with the dreads is the same model in both shots – quite a bit of difference, though! In the first shot, the models and their unusual makeup/clothing/actions are the entire focus – they are the story. In the second, while the model is striking, she’s part of a story. The environment tells the rest – and tells us that there’s probably more to the story that we don’t know.

You may not have ready access to either an amazing set or a nice clean seamless drop, but they are great examples of the two basic approaches to using environment in cosplay. Namely, minimization and utilization. If you’re minimizing environment, you want your cosplayer to be the story. If you’re utilizing the environment, you want your cosplayer to be in the story. Although there are no absolutes in photography, these are some pretty firm opposites. Try to decide which you’re doing, and do it as best you can.

If you’re minimizing, minimize. Remove every distraction you possibly can. Look around. Consider what, within the available environment is the plainest, least-distracting possible backdrop. Is there a white wall around? How about a brick one, or one with large, regular tiles or other interesting but not distracting elements? Never underestimate the power of a good brick wall to provide a background that punches up the photograph but doesn’t distract from the cosplayer:

Where can you stand to have the absolute minimum of furniture, equipment, or other people visible in the shot? Can you use nothing for the background (in other words, shoot against a window or the sky itself?) Example:

This was shot on a rooftop: from any other direction, there would have been buildings much closer as opposed to the ones visible in the far distance. However, I wanted the emphasis on the cosplayers. Had it just been one, especially with a more subtle costume, I might have used the buildings to make the image more visually interesting. Here, it’s not necessary – they’re already a highly interesting group.

If you’re utilizing, be bold. Drop that cosplayer in the environment. Make them part of it. (Although it can be clear, as in my crate picture above, that they don’t belong in it, but rather they are something extraordinary which is nevertheless in that environment. It’s okay to look weird: try not to look fake.) Here’s one of the models from the picture above in a much more utilized environment.

In this picture, the model is much more integrated into the backdrop of the city. She’s sitting on a rooftop, with other buildings nearby. You can imagine her looking for someone on the street below, or moving above the crowds unseen. She looks much more human, more a part of her environment, than she did in the first picture. In the first picture, you knew she (and the other models) were badasses. The picture was about their badassery. This one’s different. You wonder how she got there, what she’s doing, where she’s going. But it’s still appropriate for her badass self. The same model, photographed in, say, a kid’s park, would still be badass, but the story wouldn’t make sense. (Unless you were going for surreal. I love a good surreal image, but remember that the failure mode of “surreal” is “pretentious and/or stupid.” Use discretion.)

There are some good examples of the two approaches to a pre-arranged cosplay shoot. What about if you’re just walking the Con? Then what?

Exactly the same thing, that’s what. Here are some examples taken at an auto show, which is kinda like a Con in that it’s utterly chaotic and not very inclined to arrange itself to help you. :


In the first example, the model is against a weird sort of patterned wall thing that I found. (In the compressed version here, it’s a bit moire’d. It’s not so bad in the full size.) Interesting, but with no other actual objects to distract from the model. In the second, she’s in front of a fancy sportscar, looking fancy herself, and with the large ad slogan-which happens to be completely appropriate for the image-placed to make it part of the story, just like the car and the model herself. That’s the whole of it, right there. In the first one, the model is the story. In the second one, she’s in a story.

So, to sum up, ask yourself that question – is my cosplayer in a story, or are they themselves the story? Do I want the environment to be part of the story I’m telling, a character in its own right? Or do I want it to simply be unobtrusive?

If you want it to be unobtrusive, minimize it. Look around, turn and move, to find the largest, plainest, most uniform environment you can.

If you want it to be part of the story, make the cosplayer look like they are in that environment for a reason, that they are moving through it, reacting to it. Use the environment. Make it do some work!

I hope you enjoyed this article and that you find it useful in future. Please check out the other parts of this series and the rest of our articles here on Sew Your Cosplay!

You are welcome to ask questions in the comments and/or by emailing me at any time. Thanks for reading!


Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 2)

Welcome back! In this installment, we’re going to talk about the second-most important thing to consider when photographing cosplay: Lighting. (If you missed the first installment, just click here.)

Photography, as we word-nerds know, translates as “writing with light.” Light is everything in photography. If it’s too dark, you can’t make a good photograph. If there’s enough light, the only problem is harnessing it. (If there’s too much light, we also have a problem but that’s much easier to deal with.)

So, first ask yourself: Is there enough light here?

If there isn’t, you have some options. The easiest one, by far, is to move to where there’s more light. Back up a few steps and get your cosplayer in the sunbeam coming through the front doors of the convention center, or closer to a lighting fixture.It doesn’t take much: what may not look like a very bright light to you might be more than your camera needs. Your brain automatically adjusts the apparent light level you see – the camera doesn’t. What looks like just a little more could be plenty. And you can be creative about using light fixtures. For instance, I wanted a dramatic shot of this model at a trade show. There were lights in the FLOOR. Problem solved!

8074_surreptitiousGet them out of the shadow they may be standing in. Move toward a large light-colored wall, which will reflect light from the room onto the cosplayer and illuminate them more strongly. Look for light. Go to the light. (However, if you see a small woman saying, “Come to the light, my children,” consider not getting any closer. And possibly fleeing. I’m just saying.)

Your second option is adding some light. Is there a light nearby you can turn on? Does your camera have a flash? Try it and see if it helps. Here are two pictures taken seconds apart. In the first one, there’s no flash – the background, where the stage lights are, is too bright and the dancers are too dim. In the second one, I turned on the flash (although it wasn’t aimed directly at them – see the upcoming “Equipment” post for information on bounce/indirect flash. It’s easier than it looks)

CRW_5835 CRW_5834

Big difference!

Your third option is helping your camera use what light there is better. Here are the potential adjustments you might be able to make to get more “light” out of your camera.

A) Does your camera have an aperture setting? This is usually labeled in f-stops or just “f” and then a number. Don’t worry about what the numbers mean: that’s advanced level. Just remember that the lower the number, the more light will get into the camera. At f4, a lot more light gets into the camera than at f16.  The “middle” of most f-stop ranges is f8, which is a nice compromise between letting in light and losing depth-of-field, which is the tradeoff you get when you use lower f-stops. (Not going to explain depth-of-field as it’s usually not that important in this kind of photography: Google it if you’re interested.) Start at f8 and go up or down from there. Changing the aperture – lowering the f-stop number – is usually the best bet for trying to improve your chances of a good picture in low-light situations. But not the easiest, because you still have to set it manually. Easiest is increasing the ISO setting – see below.

B) Does your camera have a shutter speed setting? If so, decreasing the shutter speed will let more light into the camera. If you go from 1/100th of a second to 1/50th of a second, you’ll get twice as much light! But the longer the shutter is open the more chance things have to move while it’s open. If the camera moves, you get camera shake, and the entire photograph will be blurry. If the subject moves, you get motion blur, and whatever moved will be blurry. Either way, blurry. Unless that’s what you want, blurry is bad. So try not to decrease the shutter speed any more than you have to to get the shot. This is why messing with shutter speed is probably the least good way to get more light.

As a rule of thumb, most human beings in reasonable health can handhold a shot at 1/60 of a second or faster without much difficulty. If you have to go lower than that, get as steady as you can and if at all possible get your subject to hold as still as they can. The best way to get steady is to use a tripod, but that’s obviously not good for spontaneous photography. (It’s WONDERFUL for planned photography. If you’re going do any serious photography, get a good tripod!) So short of that, improvise. Can you put the camera on a table? Can you sit down and brace against the arms of a chair? Can you lean against a wall or a pillar? Whatever you can do to get the camera steady, do it, and you can get away with surprisingly slow shutter speeds (I’ve successfully taken photographs handheld at 1/5 of a second with minimal blur, and acceptable photographs that just looked a little soft at lower speeds than that.)

C) Does your camera have an ISO-equivalence setting? That’s a number, usually starting at 50, 100, or 200, and going to anywhere from 800 to 25,600. What it means is “how sensitive do you want the camera to be to light?” The lower the number, the less sensitive. “Why don’t I just leave this turned up all the way all the time?” I hear you ask. The reason is that the higher the ISO setting, the “noisier” the photograph will be. “Noise” is the digital equivalent of grain in film photography – the picture gets less detailed and starts to look “speckled.” Noise isn’t inherently bad, but most of the time we want the least noise we can get away with, so we want the ISO setting as low as we can get it. Upping the ISO, especially higher than 400 or so, is our last choice. (ISO 400 or lower, in most modern cameras, is pretty darn good and noise shouldn’t be all that big a deal.) However, if a higher ISO makes the difference between getting a good shot and getting a picture that’s motion-blurred, shaky, and dark, up the ISO and be glad you can.

Here are two pictures, taken with everything exactly the same except the first was taken at ISO 100 and the second was taken at ISO 12,800 (which is as high as my camera goes.) No other adjustments, no added flash. Just changed that setting.

_MG_0201_7s _MG_0201

Again, big difference! Now, you can’t really see much in the first picture, but the second one does have some grain or noise – speckly distortion bits, to use a technical term. That’s the tradeoff. However as you can see modern cameras (and the camera that took that isn’t even that modern, as I took it several years ago) are pretty good about minimizing noise. So find that setting and go to town!

Another sort of compromise is to see if your camera has an “exposure compensation” setting. This is usually labeled “EV,” and you can move it up or down in increments. Moving it up will make the camera try to make the photograph lighter. Moving it down will make the photograph darker. Changing the EV is a lot easier than manually changing aperture, shutter speed, or ISO, so if you don’t want to monkey with manual settings, look for EV and give that a go first. Note that many less expensive cameras which may not have manual setting mode will still have EV settings. Even some high-end cell phones have it. Find it. Play with it.

Once you’ve got enough light, look at where the light is coming from. Is it right behind the cosplayer? Is it right behind the camera? Is it to one side or another? Whichever it is, is that the best angle, and if not, can we move the light or the cosplayer? Moving the light is often tricky. If you’re in a convention center and don’t have your own lighting equipment, it ain’t gonna happen. So if you can’t move the light, move the cosplayer.

Here is an example of using the light you’ve got well, followed by an example of… not.

V0010_nefarious _MG_2767

Notice that in the first one, the light (from a large fixture) is coming from the subject’s right and in front of him. It lights up the important part – his face and hands – and provides dramatic shadows. In the second one the light is coming from directly above them. I did get the marvelous Malificent costume reasonably well lit, but that was at the cost of the shadows on their faces.

In my defense, the second picture was a candid. I did ask, and they were very gracious. But I didn’t want to wander them all around the con (this was GeekGirlCon 2014) to get perfect light. I just wanted a memento. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Don’t obsess over everything, and don’t think all your pictures have to be perfect. If you just want a picture of a cool costume to remember it by, ask and snap away. These tips are for when you need more than that, and to encourage you to be mindful of the light. And if I’ve helped make you more aware of how being mindful of light can enhance your photographs, they are a complete success.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that you find it useful in future. Please check out the other parts of this series and the rest of our articles here on Sew Your Cosplay!

You are welcome to ask questions in the comments and/or by emailing me at any time. Thanks for reading!


Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 1)

Hi there! I’m Marc, Wendy’s husband and co-conspirator here at Sew Your Cosplay! She thought it would be helpful if we had information on how to photograph cosplay. I mean, you went to all that work, why not get some nice pictures? Whether you’re photographing your own or someone else’s cosplay, this article will help you get the most out of your pictures.

Here are the elements I’m going to cover:

  1. Respect
  2. Lighting
  3. Environment
  4. Angle and Perspective
  5. Equipment

As you can see equipment is the last thing on the list, because it’s the least important, and I don’t want anybody to think for a second they can’t make cool photographs without an expensive camera. The great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, pioneer of “decisive moment” photography, once said, “The best photographer in the world is not as good as the worst camera.” As usual when it came to photography, he was right. If you know what you’re doing and are mindful, you will get better pictures out of your iPhone than someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing and isn’t mindful will get out of a multi-thousand-dollar DSLR with all the latest whizbangs. So don’t be afraid, grab your camera and let’s make some photographs!

Continue reading Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 1)