Photography itself has a very special superpower… it can bring to life an idea, a story, and even a character. Character is a deeply rooted concept in a very unique interest known as cosplay. What is cosplay, exactly? Well, as a combination of the words “costume” and “play”, the art of cosplay is creating real-life counterparts of characters from literature, comics, film, games, and more.
Originating in Japan, cosplay swept the world as a way to truly embody one’s favorite character and explore the different sides to their own personalities and interests. Today, massive conventions and online communities exist for those engaged in cosplay, bringing a huge spotlight to the hundreds of hours spent on making the costumes and perfecting the portrayal. And naturally, cosplay — which involves other arts like costume design and makeup — thrived in front of the lens, turning exciting anime, manga, graphic novels, video games, and more into live-action displays.
In my pursuit of creating a series of cosplay sessions that truly capture the essence of character, I stocked my camera bag with my trusty I series lenses and Art primes, ready to bring these fascinating characters to fruition.
Cosplay Photos on the Go with SIGMA I series Lenses
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the SIGMA I series flying in to save the day!
Yeah, that doesn’t have the same ring to it as the original quote — but, nevertheless, SIGMA I series lenses make for fantastic companions to any photographer (hobbyist, professional, and everyone in between) out there. With mirrorless systems quickly taking over the industry, smaller lenses are also making their sprint to accommodate the new desire to go smaller, smaller, smaller.
The I series accomplishes that feat with perfect grace, combining SIGMA’s formula for sharp, crisp, and reliable lenses with that of a smaller frame. Which means that I already knew I could rely on these little guys to perform spectacularly for myself and my clients, keeping editing to a minimum.
As an added bonus, the nifty magnetic lens cap made things even easier as I could quickly pop the cap off when it was time to nab a spontaneous moment and flick it back on to protect the glass inside. Add in the all-metal construction, and I wasn’t even too fussed about a minor ding in my bag as I was crawling around abandoned houses for the perfect location and rubbing on rough asphalt to get those low vantage points.
My favored lenses of choice from the I Series for this cosplay shooting extravaganza were the 35mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary and the 65mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary, both able to capture the exact focal length I needed for all of the sessions (seven in total!). Both did great work of the locations and my subject’s proportions, as well as capturing color and clarity with brilliance. Genuinely, my editing was minimal and I prefer it that way!
How Portable Lenses Led to Amazing Cosplay Photos
A big part of photography really is the experience of it. It’s so much more than the final result, it’s every beautiful step in between! This rings true for both sides of the camera, from the character to the image taker.
In this case, the portable size of the I series lenses made a big difference. As these cosplays required a bit of exploration to find the perfect locations (particularly since I’m a new resident to this glorious city of Las Vegas), the compact size and lighter weight made throwing a lens or two into my bag easy and convenient. Equally so, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d find at our destination points, so the fact that I could throw more than one lens into my bag and still not feel weighed down cannot be emphasized enough.
Admittedly, the small optic stature was not expected by my lovely subjects, but they were just as interested and curious about the nifty little lenses. What made the I series lenses (and the other two that tagged along for a couple of sessions, but we’ll get to that a bit later) even more spectacular for this particular genre is that they really were powerful enough to capture images without much need for extra gear. I wanted a more organic feel to the shots, so I left my external lights at home and dove right in with just my camera.
Once it became clear that we could run around, play with our locations, and not be bogged down by heavy equipment or gear that required setup, the spontaneous nature of these sessions really began. This is where another thought came to mind immediately — the ease of use. These lenses are perfectly designed to be easy, so there isn’t a daunting learning curve for the enthusiast or newer user.
Choosing Locations and Gear for Engaging Cosplay Images
I admit, I’ve shot all sorts of fantasy and fashion sessions, but cosplay as we know it hasn’t quite come across my lens as frequently as you may expect. Like every session, we start with the beginning — capturing a twinkle of an idea and converting it into a tangible opportunity. Cosplay actually made things a bit easier in this regard, as these characters already had proper stories for themselves. It was really just a matter of finding locations that match. The locations influenced the lenses used, so it was all a bit of a domino effect from there.
When setting up these shoots, I allowed my lovely subjects to decide what character they wanted to portray rather than the other way around. Once a character was set in stone, the location was brainstormed. I feel that cosplay photography, paired with my lens arsenal of choice, really thrived on a bit of spontaneity so the locations were really just meeting points and the rest was exploration and discovery!
My sessions ranged from seasoned professionals in the cosplay world to those who do it on a very passionate hobby-level, but one thing was clear… the love everyone felt for this incredible craft was immense. But, this range of personality and viewpoint on cosplay itself made for some really fun photo shoots, each one unique in their own way.
The first shoot got a bit witchy. Unlike the creepy witches hiding in the burrows of the woods, this witch traversed local towns, bringing some Halloween vibes with her wherever she went! Shot with the SIGMA 65mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary, this original character witch had such gorgeous makeup and details that we didn’t want anything to go unnoticed (especially with some of the witchy garb and accessories being handmade!).
The tighter crop of the 65mm focal length also helped keep the location less of a factor in these images, as the location itself really didn’t need to lend that much to this witch’s story. The sharpness from the 65mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary was also instantly evident, making editing time dwindle to barely anything.
The next adventure took us out of the urban environment and back into nature. The stunning Vegas park lay the perfect woodsy location for an elf to reside, practice her bow and arrow to defend her territory or ride into battle with her fellow brothers and sisters. Unlike the first session above, the location did serve a sincere purpose in grounding this character and really bringing her to life so the SIGMA 35mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary was the lens of choice. We had a rainy day (as that evening featured a really wild thunderstorm, believe it or not), so the F2 aperture was a big lifesaver in letting in a great amount of light.
Residing in the same spot was also a pirate, looking off into the distance having been newly ashore. The storm was really looming here, making for a very moody and dark image. The depth of field aided tremendously, offering great subject separation from the scenery itself.
But the green trees didn’t last long as we found ourselves back in the urban and industrial, where Joker and Harley were lurking about. Going to the darker side of the downtown area of Las Vegas, the environment really developed its own character in the story of these two. The 65mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary was my beloved focal length, helping ensure that the makeup stood out significantly.
Eventually, the background needed to make as much of an impression as Joker and Harley themselves, so the 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art came out to play! The close focusing distance and wider focal length allowed me to play well with angles, vantage points, and squeeze into some of the tighter spots (such as the alleyways). These two villains did really well with the creative touches, and once the cloudy sky went from day to night, the 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art shone even brighter.
Around the corner, Spider Gwen was basking in the setting sun and Saber Alter was dramatically twirling her dress every which way. The 35mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary helped incorporate the background into Spider Gwen’s images, while the 65mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary came out to keep other locations from interfering with the character on display. With both lenses keeping to the same aperture, none of my settings had to be changed when switching between focal lengths.
Saber Alter enjoyed the luxury of space in her location, which helped the 65mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary capture great full body portraits with beautiful subject compression. Honestly, lens choice was being determined by the location, so it became easy to keep jumping between focal lengths based on what the space commanded.
Next came Power from Chainsaw Man, performing her duties as a Public Safety Demon Hunter over in the city. The 65mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary came out exclusively for this session, being the perfect focal length to focus on the various details of Power’s attire and weapon of choice. The F2 aperture also helped work with that morning’s somewhat difficult lighting, making hotspots merge into the bokeh and simply lend themselves to being a texture behind the subject.
After a bit of interstate travel, Harley Quinn (in her Suicide Squad look) and Poison Ivy graced the glass in my former hometown of Los Angeles. Since I was more familiar with the location and could pack a bit more gear, I brought along one of my favorite fast-aperture prime lenses, the SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art!
Exploring the streets took us to locations that fit these characters perfectly, helping Harley and Ivy fit into the environment seamlessly. Because I wanted a shallower depth of field and I had a lot of room to play with, the 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art was a grand choice. Honestly, it’s one of my absolute favorite focal lengths and a small piece of my heart would have broken if I didn’t bring it along for at least one shoot!
The ultimate portrait lens, the compression on subject proportion is exquisite. Additionally, the F1.4 aperture let me really alter the existing background and blur it away into a most creamy bokeh. This really helped in locations in which the lighting was fantastic, but the actual location was… not-as-fantastic. Harley and Ivy were free to roam around on their escapades, with the lens ensuring the focus is exclusively on these two characters and their dynamic individuality.
A Variety of Gear for any Cosplay Photo Shoot
I think my main takeaway after this experience is that the I series is really for everyone — the cosplayers themselves can easily pack it away to any convention, the photographers can leisurely bring it along to any outing, and the professional can pick it up as a way to add variety to their existing kit.
And for those looking for more low-light capability or even greater background separation, the 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art and 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art lenses being fully redesigned for mirrorless systems also make splendid comrades, helping bring any character vision to life without too much bulk.
A full kit of these brilliant pieces of glass is an even more immeasurable image-taking superpower, forever immortalizing beloved characters, and bringing smiles to their faces… even the bad guys!