If you are planning to start doing serious Cosplay Photography but don’t know what equipment you should have this list should help you. I will explain each item in the list in detail in this article and why you need or should have it.
- DSLR Camera
- Speedlight Flash
- Rotating Flash Bracket and Flash sync cable
- 35mm F 1.8 Lens
- 18-50mm Kit Lens
- Flash Diffuser
- ND Filter
- UV Haze Filter
- 16GB Memory Cards
A DSLR Camera is just going to be superior to a point and shoot or phone camera. This is the type of camera you see most serious Cosplay Photographers (or Photographers in general) using. You don’t have to get a super expensive DSLR Camera and it doesn’t have to have a high megapixel count if you are not planning on doing poster sized prints. You can get a Nikon D40 body only, for $150 and will take amazing shots at 6MP or you can get a Nikon D3200 (only 2 years old as of the writing of this article), body only for $320 at 24MP and with the ability to shoot full HD video.
You can also get more expensive cameras but I prefer to invest that money in lenses instead. If you don’t believe you can get great shots on a camera body that cost less than $500-$1000 just take a look at the shot I got below of Yaya Han and other Alice in Wonderland Cosplayers. This was shot on a Nikon D3200 with a 35mm Lens. Only by a more expensive camera (in my opinion) if it has a higher flash sync speed and better low light noise reduction. Your lens and flash will do the rest.
Speed Light Flashes are external flashes that mount on the hotshoe of a camera or on a flash bracket. These flashes are the kind you see at weddings and nightclubs. They are used to add more light to subject and can really help you get quality shots when shooting in doors or in lowlight situations. They also can be used to create more depth when shooting with adequate light.
The also let you shoot “faster images” and with less noise. Noise/grain is a result of not having enough light and by compensating for that with a higher ISO value on your camera. When you can use a Flash you can shoot at low ISO settings giving you less noise and you shoot as higher shutter speeds giving you crisp sharp images. So even if you have good light you may want a flash just so you can get a higher shutter speed.
I used a Nikon SB 600 which cost about $300 at the moment, but I also use a Youngnuo 560 II Speedlight sometimes which only cost $80 and produces the exact same results. The main difference is that I can remotely use the SB600 off camera with a Flash stand if I wanted to whereas with the 560 I cannot, those there is a 560 III EX version that does this for $175.
A Rotating Flash Bracket will let you keep the Flash above the camera when rotating the camera vertically (tall shots). This is important because it will allow you to continue controlling the direction of the lighting, bounce it off the ceiling or a reflector, and you won’t be forced to awkwardly light your subject from the side. Thankfully a Flash Bracket and sync cable only cost between $30-$50 combined. You will also Want to get a Flash Diffuser, which will help spread the area of the light being produced and keep images from being blown out or creating a “raccoon” effect under the eyes. Diffusers cost from $8-$50. Gary Fong Flash Diffuser are the best kind according to most photographers.
Lenses will make or break you as a photographer. For Cosplay Photography you have to consider that it is mostly a combination of portrait and fashion photography, so the standard rules of that apply. Usually this means a strong focus on a single subject. For this creating the shallow depth of field effect is necessary and you need a lens that can have an aperture of F 1.8 to F4. Usually this means you will need a prime lens, a lens that does not zoom.
While this means that you will have to get closer to your subject it also means that you will have more flexibility and control over the quality of image you produce. You will be able to shoot at lower ISO which means less noise/grain. You will also be able to shoot the maximum shutter speed which means a crisp photo. And the wide Aperture means you will get shallow depth of field which means only your main subject will be in focus.
Below is a photo I got of Yaya Han in her Snow White Cosplay using the Nikon D3200 with my SB 600 Speedlight Flash and a Nikkor 35mm prime lens. This is especially useful since at anime conventions people will be walking in and out of the background of your shot on a regular basis. 18mm-55mm Lenses come standard with most DSLR Cameras and are a good second lens for Cosplay Photography since they allow you to take group shots while zoomed out and closeups when zoomed in.
An ND Filter is a Neutral Density Filter, its purpose is to reduce the amount of light entering the lens. What this means is as a photographer you can control the settings of your camera in a way that will let you get the shot you want without the image being overexposed. For example, Katsucon is an indoor convention and most of the photography takes place within the hotel, which is extremely well lit during the day due to the skylights.
This can be a problem for photographers wanting to shoot on 35mm and 50mm lenses opened up to F 1.8 or F 2.8 due to how much light that lets in, even with low ISO and fast shutter speeds its possible that there is just too much light. An ND Filter takes care of that issue by reducing the overall amount of light let into the lens. This is also useful when shooting outdoors where it may be bright. Simply not using flash may not help in these instances either since it is also possible you may be using “fill flash” to eliminate shadows on the face of the model.
A UV Haze Filter is often used mainly for lens protection in the same way as clear filters. A strong UV filter, such as a Haze-2A or UV17, cuts off some visible light in the violet part of the spectrum, and has a pale yellow color. I keep a UV Haze Filter on all of my lenses.
16GB Memory Cards are ideal for Cosplay Photography at conventions because even when shooting 24MP Camera Raw it will be very difficult to fill one up each day. I personally recommend using a different memory card for each day of the convention to keep things organized and minimize the risk of all your photos somehow being lost or damaged. You should also dump them to a hard drive as quickly as possible.
This is by no means the only equipment Cosplay Photographers use, but it is the majority of it and most of what you would need to get started properly and take quality images. Each piece of equipment gives you options for producing images that are sharp, well lit, focused, lack noise and distracting details.
Roberto Blake is a Photographer and Digital Artist. When writing for Anime Arsenal Roberto specializes in Cosplay Photography, Custom Design and the Anime Convention experience.