Since the start of the pandemic, lots of cosplayers have turned to self-shooting at home to make their cosplay content. When we would normally be filling our social media feeds with photos from on-location shoots and conventions, we’ve now been coping by taking our own photos at home.
It doesn’t need to be fancy.
I’m no stranger to self-shooting. I’ve actually taken a lot of non-cosplay self portraits over the years, typically when a strong emotion is rushing through me and I need a creative outlet. Or sometimes I decided I wanted a new headshot for my portfolio. Regardless of the reason, each time I’ve done it with a very simple setup: whatever phone I had at the time, its self-timer function, and a window with natural light. Here are some that I’ve taken over the years.
And then we got fancy.
When the pandemic forced us to limit our time outside our homes, I took to self-shooting pretty quickly. I also slowly upgraded my equipment. Instead of just using my phone, I finally started using the mirrorless Sony camera my husband had gotten me for Christmas a few years prior. A few months after that, I bought myself a tripod for it. That was back in 2017.
It wasn’t until 2020 that I wised up and bought a remote for my camera so I wouldn’t have to rely on self-timer. (That link goes to the exact one I bought. I bought it because I knew it would work with my camera. If you’re thinking of getting one for yours, I recommend going to the manufacturer site and looking for one based on your camera’s specs.) The most used button on my remote is the “2 second” button, which does exactly as it says: it takes a photo 2 seconds after you press it. Super handy compared to the “Shutter” button which just takes the photo instantly. If the remote didn’t have to be pointed directly at the camera to work, Shutter wouldn’t be too bad. But because it does—and I’d really prefer to not have all my pictures be me pointing a remote at the camera—the 2 second button is a god send.
I would also eventually invest in a pair of LED lights with color filters. I went ahead and bought battery packs for them as well so I could take them on the go for location shoots if I wanted to. Lastly, I made a simple backdrop by stitching two pieces of muslin fabric together. I pin across the little alcove near our apartment’s front door. It helps to simplify the background by covering all our stuff and also makes it so I don’t have to try to find an in-universe reason for shooting in an apartment backdrop.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
This past January, I set the goal of doing one self-shoot per month so that I could get new content and practice my photography. I think this has really helped me get the hang of it. I’m still no master when it comes to getting the settings right on the camera (I tend to just keep it on Auto), but thankfully my day job graphic design skills come in handy for fixing photos in post.
With all that said, here are the different self-shoots I’ve done since March 2020, along with what equipment I used to take them, ranging from simple phone shoots with natural light to studio-style shoots with full lighting and backdrop.
Punk Grimm Reaper. Pixel 4 XL. Natural outdoor lighting. (March 2020)
Toru Hagakure. Sony Alpha 6000. (March 2020)
I did get a little bit of help with this one. I composed the shot and got everything ready, and then all my husband had to do was press the shutter button. I then of course had to do a lot of post-work in Photoshop.
Inko Midoriya. Sony Alpha 6000. Natural window lighting. (July 2020)
A rare shoot where I thought using the apartment setting worked fine. This was my first shoot using my camera remote! You can tell I haven’t gotten the hang of hiding it because it’s clearly in my lap in the both photos. Whoops.
Grimm Reaper @ Home. Sony Alpha 2000. Natural lighting. (August 2020)
I had intended to make the “@ Home” a series of different characters and their lives at home, but alas it never happened.
Kaori Miyazono. Sony Alpha 6000. 1 white and 1 blue LED light, with some natural window lighting. (January 2021)
This was the first shoot to utilize the new lights. Also in what is slowly becoming my signature Lay-On-the-Ground-With-Lots-of-Papers style.
Detective Pikachu. Sony Alpha 6000. 2 white LED lights, backdrop. (February 2021)
This was the first to use the muslin backdrop. It was also taken in tandem with the following Mast Cell photo because the cosplays share so many garments!
Mast Cell. Sony Alpha 6000. 2 white LED lights, backdrop. (February 2021)
Seraphine. Pixel 4 XL. Natural window lighting. (March 2021)
Seraphine. Sony Alpha 6000. 1 blue and 1 pink LED light, backdrop. (April 2021)
Final thoughts and tips
As long as I manage to stick to my monthly goal, there should be eight more shoots to look forward to for 2021! I’ve had a lot of fun doing these: they really do make me feel self-sufficient. My last shoot with Seraphine especially felt good considering the cosplay and shoot were all made and done during the pandemic.
If I had to give tips for cosplayers just started out with self-shoots, I would say: use what you have! Do you have a phone with a camera? Do you have a window with natural light? That’s really all you need. Most if not all phones have self-timer, turn that sucker on and get some practice in! Figure out your angles and what time of day works best for your lighting. Then, slowly upgrade your equipment if you feel so inclined.
I’m not going to tell you what your first upgrade should be because that really depends on your priorities and preferences. You may want to get a camera so you can start working with all those little features and settings that come with it (as well as the image quality, although lots of phones have great image quality!). You may want a backdrop to help clean up your background. Lighting, a remote for your camera, color gels for the lighting, props for a set? There’s really no limit to how much you can add to beef up your self portraits and cosplay shoots.
The biggest thing you can do to improve your self shoots is to just keep practicing. Setting that monthly goal for myself has helped me so much in feeling more confident in my photography. Yes, I end up procrastinating all month and always rush to get it done the last weekend of each month, but at least it gets done!
And most of all, have fun with it! Some music to set the mood is always good.