Getting Re-Inspired: Cosplay Photoshoots With an iPhone

There’s an old saying about having to take a step back to take two steps forward. In photography, there are times where you really do need to take a step back to advance forward. We keep pushing and pushing in an uphill direction, with more cameras, better cameras, more lenses, better lenses, more Photoshop, and so forth. We learn new techniques, practice it, and apply it into our understanding of photography and keep pushing forward. But inevitably, we reach a point where we flatline. The images we produce become predictable, consistent, and ultimately boring. Don’t get me wrong, predictable and consistency is important in photography, especially when you’re being paid to produce a certain style, your style. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to be better. most of the time you don’t even realize when you’ve plateaued; It kind of just creeps up on you. You master how to work your camera, you have a strong understanding of lighting, your images are consistently solid. You get to a point where you show up to a photo shoot and you already know where you’re going to setup the lights, what aperture to use, and how you’re going to craft the shot. Most people would call this being prepared, which is good; you should always have a plan. But before you know it, all of your shots are all composed the same way, the lighting setup is the same (ask yourself, how often do you reach for a shoot-through umbrella when you’re using lighting), even the post-processing is the same regardless of who you are photographing. Basically you’re playing it “safe”. If this doesn’t sound like you, awesome, you don’t need to read any further and just go back to shooting. But if you’re like me and this is all sounding a bit too familiar, then the next step is to figure out how to get off the plateau.

I have been shooting cosplay for almost five years now. In the last year or two, my images have become predictable and stale. It was so bad, I didn’t realize it until my good friends called me out on it and opened my eyes. Again, let me stress that there is nothing wrong with producing solid, consistent work, especially when you’re being paid for it, but when your fun projects are starting to look the same too, that can be an issue. So what helped me start getting back on the right track? Well:

1. I accepted I had a problem. That’s the first step in any type of recovery right? You have to first admit you have a problem. Once I identified and accepted it, now I could start figuring out how to fix it. I looked through many of my older cosplay photos and I noticed that my shots from before were definitely more exciting and interesting. They weren’t always as technically sound as my images now, but there was definitely something more then.

2. I spent some time in self-reflection. I started spending some time thinking to myself, “Okay, so what changed?” It took me a bit to realize that I had stopped experimenting. When I first started shooting cosplay, I would try different things, shoot different angles, use different types of lighting. Often times the shots wouldn’t work out, failure after failure, but when a shot did workout, it really worked out.

3. I got back out there and had fun. It might seem somewhat minor, but you have to have fun at what you do or why do it? Often times we get way too focused on gear and settings and forget the simplest reason of why we pick up the camera. Sometimes, you just need to really see what you are shooting.

So what does this all have to do with an iPhone? Well, what kind of started off as a joke response to a question asked by an attendee became something serious. He had posted asking what other photographers were planning to bring to the Gathering and my response was an iPhone. I was originally going to just bring my normal dSLR and lights, but figured, why not, let’s do something different. So when the day arrived, armed with only an iPhone 5, reflectors, and amazing help from my friends Ho Doug and Steve Young, I set off to accomplish the challenge of doing all my cosplay shoots with just an iPhone. The results were actually better than I expected and was refreshing while frustrating at times. The iPhone 5 is a very capable camera, but it lacks many features that we photographers can take for granted such as manual control, exposure compensation, or even being able to set aperture. For the shots, I didn’t feel the default iPhone Camera app was sufficient as it only allowed me to select autofocus. After a bit of research, I settled on 645 Pro Mk II because it allowed for separate autofocus and exposure as well as a number of pretty cool in-app filters. So below are the shots I got from the Gathering. I used Lightroom for additional processing. All-in-all, it was a great experience and I had more fun than I have had in a long time.








What about you guys? Have you experienced this problem and how did you overcome it? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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The Bui is principal photographer at Bui Photos specializing in wedding and engagement photography. He's also a co-founder of


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