You’ve waited for months. You’ve queued for hours. You’re finally in the the convention hall, and there they are. The cosplayers. Like a strange alien species in elaborate armour, light-up props and monster heels. Now what?
I know some people feel shy about approaching cosplayers, so here’s my guide on the etiquette of interacting with cosplayers at conventions.
We’ve worked hard on these costumes. Please do ask us for photos! We like it, promise. Most cosplayers are flattered to be asked and will be more than happy to pose for you. There are some exceptions of course. Don’t forget, cosplayers are people too. If the cosplayer you want to photograph is eating, sitting and taking a break or otherwise resting…please leave them be. Wait and catch them later. One other thing I find really odd is when people take photos of you without asking, when they’re walking past you or stood a little way away. If I’m walking somewhere or talking to someone and your sneak photo comes out with me making a weird face or an important costume detail covered, on your head be it. Just ask. Cosplayers don’t bite. You’ll get a much nicer picture if we know you’re taking it!
Oh, and I hope I don’t need to tell you guys, but sneaky pictures of bums and cleavage is not okay.
Comments and Conversation
Again, I promise we don’t bite. Come and talk to us. Personally, I am always more than happy to chat about the costume or the character, and I have made so many friends just chatting to people at conventions. Never feel like you can’t go and start a conversation with someone. On a similar note to above though, keep respect in mind. Whatever the character, there’s still a person in there, so keep it appropriate, yeah? At the risk of sounding like your mum, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
And the rest…
It should go without saying, but if you’re posing with cosplayers, check before slinging an arm round them or touching them at all. You might mean it in a matey way, but not everybody is happy being touched or hugged by strangers. Definitely no grabbing. They might look incredible, but groping is never, ever acceptable.
One of the best compliments as a cosplayer is someone asking to take your photo. If you’re not a natural in front of a camera though (I’m certainly not!) it can be a bit awkward knowing what to do with yourself. Whether it’s hall shots or a full photoshoot, here’s some tips to help you relax and enjoy it.
Get on Google images and get searching. Does your character have an iconic pose, or an element of their character you can portray with a pose? For example, for hall shots, for Lara Croft I pose holding up the guns like she does in the games when you have the auto-focus on, like this:
Photographer: Sandy Smith Photography
For Poison Ivy, I blow kisses. If you need lots of poses, for example for a shoot, really crank up the research. Look at stills, fan-art, the original comic art (whatever’s relevant). Save images of poses you like. Take them with you to the shoot, and share them with the photographer. I find looking at other cosplay photos really helpful for getting ideas of things I could do. For Silk Spectre, I ended up looking at loads of classic pin-up art, as that vibe fitted the character. Google is your friend!
You’ve done your research and now someone is pointing a camera at you. Gulp. Now what? Basic tips: over exaggerate whatever it is you’re doing. Facial expressions and poses look ‘smaller’ in a photo, so go big. It’ll feel weird, but look much better. Be aware of your hands and feet. People tend to clench their hands when they’re not comfortable, and it looks so odd in pictures. Try and hold them as naturally as possible. Practise at home in the mirror. You’ll feel like a berk, I’m sure, but you’ll know what the poses look like. You can work out what angles show off your costume best and are most flattering for your figure. Better to learn at home that a certain angle makes you look weird than when you get your pictures back. Practice faces and get used to what your muscles feel like when you do it, so you can recreate the face at a convention without the mirror. There are a lot of great guides out there for cosplay posing. This one from Tux Team is great. Elite Cosplay‘s series of videos on posing for photoshoots are also fantastic.
Remember, you can say no if someone asks you for a picture. If you’re not convinced about someone’s motives, say no and move on. If someone asks you to move to a quieter area, think sensibly. Take a friend along with you. If you’re working with a photographer for a shoot, have a look at their previous work to get an idea of whether you like their style. Choose someone you like and trust. It makes so much difference to the pictures you get out of it. Shoots with photographers I know vaguely are never as good as when I work with friends. My favourite pictures of me are by either Sandy Smith Photography or Gonzography. What do they have in common? They’re both friends of mine.
Silk Spectre: Sandy Smith Photography. Poison Ivy: Gonzography
Whether it’s moving away from the convention hall, or a separately organised shoot, shooting on location has some unique challenges. Think about where you’re going and what sort of attention you’ll attract and if you’re comfortable with that. For example, David and I used a graffiti wall in a children’s play area for shots of Rogue and Gambit. I was fine in Rogue, but wouldn’t have taken Poison Ivy or Silk Spectre to a location like this. I have to think carefully about where to take Lara Croft, due to both the outfit and the props. I have shot Lara outside of a hotel we were staying in and wouldn’t do so again. We attracted a lot of attention from the road and gathered a bit of an audience of men, and caused some upset working with the guns.
Can you travel in costume? Where can you change if you need to? Think about how much of your costume you can get on in advance. Trust me, it’s a lot easier than trying to change in the car! Take something to change into afterwards, or at least have something to slip over the top. If you’re outside in cold weather, take something warm to put on between shots. What’s the terrain like where you’re shooting? I’ve shot Poison Ivy in an abandoned brewery. There was a lot of rubble underfoot, and a fair bit of climbing involved to get in. I couldn’t have done it in the shoes I use for Ivy, so packed flats for navigating and changed my shoes for photos.
Poison Ivy – Gonzography. Silk Spectre and Lara Croft – Sandy Smith Photography. Rogue and Gambit – Robert John Parker Photographer
Take someone with you. Not only is it safer if you’re working with a photographer you don’t know, it’s actually really useful to have someone there. Whatever I’m shooting, you can guarantee David is there. Whether or not we’re working together, he comes along. He usually has all the pose inspiration saved on his phone so he can show me and the photographer. He holds lights, keeps an eye on my stuff, is ready to answer questions if we attract an audience and generally makes the experience more fun and laid back. In my Silk Spectre shots, if I’m looking off camera, I’m usually making eye contact with David. My facial expressions are a hell of a lot more natural if I’m genuinely smiling at him, rather than faking it.
You’ve got your beautiful photos back from your shoot, and you can’t wait to share them. If you’re sharing them anywhere, make sure you credit your photographer. Even though it’s you in the photo, because they took it, they own it. Include their name and if you’re on Facebook, tag their page. It’s a requirement, and good manners, to credit and give them some traffic. They should do the same for you. Check if your photographer has specific rules about what is allowed with their pictures. Most will watermark their pictures and some specify that you cannot crop images (apart from for profile pictures) in such a way that the mark is lost. Others prefer you not to submit images for print. If you’re ever not sure, ask. I am yet to meet a photographer who’s been awkward or unreasonable about using their pictures.
Wigs. A cosplayer’s best friend and worst enemy. Personally, I’ll find all kinds of workarounds to avoid using one, as I find them awkward to work with and hot to wear. Sometimes there’s no avoiding it though. I’ve always used one for Poison Ivy, and have plenty of plans that will require a wig too.
I’m no expert on wig styling, but here’s some basic tips on wigs for cosplay to get you started.
Buying a wig
Good quality is essential. A cheap wig can instantly spoil a good costume, and a mediocre costume can be elevated by a good wig. Shop around and buy the best you can afford. Better quality means a better look, easier styling and a longer life. Descriptions of fibers as as “silky“, “monofilament” or “Japanese/Asian fiber” generally indicate good quality, but always read the description and any reviews carefully. If in doubt, ask. Most of my wigs have been bought on eBay, and I go by seller reviews, spend a little more and listen to reviews from friends.
Wearing a wig
Buy a wig cap. It looks better and is a hell of a lot easier to get the wig on. You can use a neutral flesh tone (which is what I have, so I can use one cap across all my wigs) or one in a colour to match the wig. You can buy wig caps very cheaply on Amazon, or you can even make your own from an old pair of tights.
Get your hair out of the way. Obviously the longer your hair, the trickier this is. For my long hair, I scrape the lot back into a tight ponytail, and pin the ends of the ponytail flat against the top of my head. Get it as flat as possible to minimise weird bumps in the wig. Wetting or gelling your hair can help keep things under control. I also find hair that hasn’t been washed that day is also a lot easier to cram into a cap. Pincurls and braids are also a great way to keep your hair flat and out of the way. Put the wig cap on from the back of your head. Pull it right down over your forehead then slide it back to your hairline. This catches any loose hairs sticking out. I like to tuck a couple of pins in to keep the cap still. You can tidy up stray hairs with gel or hairspray.
Getting the wig itself on depends on how styled it is or how heavy it is. Rest the front band of the wig in the middle of the forehead and pull the wig back over the rest of the head. I have never put a wig on right first try and always spend a bit of time wriggling it about to get it to look right.
For extra stability, you can pin the wig in place. Practice really is the key here!
Photo by Gonzography
Styling a wig
I try and buy wigs as ready styled as possible, and then just pin the fringe out of my eyes or whatever needs doing. If you want to style it yourself, go carefully. Treat the wig gently. There are loads of tutorials on Cosplay Tutorials, covering everything from cutting a fringe in to building a wig around a wire frame.
Detangling and washing a wig
Treat your wig with care and it’ll last longer. Try not to drag it about too much when you wear it. Ideally, when not being worn, wigs should be kept on a wig form to help them keep their shape. I don’t do this, as I don’t have room for a lot of heads about the place. Instead, I just carefully put the wig back into the original packaging and store them that way. I do get a few tangles, but it seems to be a pretty reasonable solution. Combing it through gently after wear before you store it is also a good idea.
If you have got your wig into a tangle though, don’t fret! You can save it. Get yourself a wig brush, or any brush with plastic or metal teeth, that are quite stiff. You’ll need some wig detangler, or spray in conditioner. I’ve had good success by mixing ordinary fabric conditioner with water in a spray bottle. Work in small sections, spraying the wig with detangler and gently combing it through. Try not to pull too much on the wig’s fibres.
If you’ve really killed it, a good soak in the fabric conditioner and water mix can help a lot (I’ve done this, with one cap of fabric conditioner in a sink full of luke warm water). Soak it well, and gently work through the worst knots with your fingers. Then go for the usual detangling method. Put your wig back on the wig form (or in my case…a bed post) to dry back into shape.