Cosplay Photography For The Masses

June 11, 2014

Regardless of what people say, you don’t really need a DSLR to get into cosplay photography. In fact, if you have a decently new phone, you already have a capable camera to start photographing cosplay. That’s right: smartphone photography is in, and with a few tips and tricks, you’ll be well on your way to becoming the next amazing cosplay photographer.

The Best Camera

Quoting Chase Jarvis, “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” For most people, it is financially impractical to invest in a camera system (e.g. DSLR, Micro 4/3) right off the bat and using what they have at hand makes the most practical sense, whether it be point & shoot, disposable cameras, or in this case, their phones. Tablets and smartphones nowadays have very capable cameras, and whilst they are far from the feature-rich DSLRs, they have more than enough bells and whistles for most people to test the waters and see if photography is right for them. There are many upsides to smartphone photography: the limited functionality helps beginners focus on the basics, there are many apps available to allow advanced editing, and best of all? Everyone has a phone. If after a while you decided that photography isn’t really for you, no problem! You still have a kickass phone at hand to do whatever else you want without the hassle of selling off your camera equipment.

Before we dive into the realm of cosplay phonetography, we need to understand and embrace the limitations of phone cameras. With just the default setup, their image quality will not be as good as dSLRs; they won’t have mechanical zoom; lens bokeh is practically nonexistent; and you are stuck with one lens. There are add-ons and apps that can help address some of these problems, but the bottom line is: phone cameras are simply that, they are phones first and cameras second. Have reasonable expectations of your gear and it will serve you well.

The Experiment

To give you a better idea of what smartphone cosplay photography can achieve as well as how the shots compare to DSLR images, I set out to do a few shoots with both my phone and the 5D Mark III + 50mm f/1.4 combo. Let’s first take a look of what phone we are working with.


It’s not always necessary to know the specifications of the camera, but having a good sense of its capability certainly helps. For this experiment, I used a newly acquired Google Nexus 5. Since a lot of the “basic” photography controls are lacking (e.g. ISO, shutter speed, aperture) in the default app, the only thing that’s really worth noting is its (35mm equivalent) 30.4mm focal length. Like DSLRs, on-camera / on-phone flash is very basic, so instead we are going to focus on using available light. For the most part, knowing what kind of perspective you’d get from your phone or camera lens is sufficient at this stage.

You can look into add-ons for your phones if you want. It’s a very prominent market, and you are almost guaranteed to find something spiffy to add to your phone camera. For our experiment though, we want to keep it simple and focus on the basic, no-cost solution.

The Apps

Modern phones are essentially portable computers, and with apps their usefulness can easily increase ten folds. Nexus’ default camera app is already pretty good with the latest update, so for additional editing I primarily use VSCO Cam, with Pixlr Express & Instagram as support. QuickPic is my go-to picture viewer. If you don’t mind spending a little bit more, you can easily buy a suite of even more capable apps, allowing you to get so much more from your phone’s camera.

In our Five New Ways to Photograph Your Next Cosplay Photo Shoot¬†article, we touched on how you can do panoramas with modern phones. The default Nexus camera app allows you to do just that, plus a few nifty tricks like Photo Sphere, Lens Blur, HDR+, and of course, video (behind-the-scenes videos, anyone?). I like to use the default camera app because it’s fast, but it’s just one of many ways to take photos on a Nexus 5.

VSCO Cam is by far my favorite and most used editing app. It comes with a suite of basic but beautiful presets, with additional offering from their VSCO Cam store for free or a small charge. Additionally, you also have access to some of the most essential editing options such as exposure, contrast, saturation, highlight recovery, cropping, and so on.

Pixlr Express is like Photoshop lite for phone (Yes, there is an official Photoshop Touch for phones). We won’t go into much detail, but suffice to say, there are¬†quite a few cool things you can try out and explore. Instagram and QuickPic are rather basic. If you’re not on Instagram already, you really should be! (More on that in the future!) QuickPic is just a faster version of Android’s built in gallery for viewing/sorting the photos on your device.

The Shots

Having looked at the hardware and software used in our experiment, it’s time to put them to the test and see what we can get. Without further ado, here are the shots from Nexus 5 and 5D3 side by side for your examination.

It should be easy to tell which shots are taken by which camera. Perspective and editing aside, there are clear differences in image quality, depth of field, color, dynamic range, and more. However, none of these should come as a surprise. In fact, I think the Nexus 5 did pretty good as a camera in its class, all things considering.

Start Your Adventure, Now

Perhaps you are a cosplayer, and you have pondered the idea of getting into photography to take better photos of your friends; or maybe you are a regular convention goer who simply wants to try out photography. Whatever the case, it should be clear that you don’t need a fancy camera to start trying photography. As a matter of fact, if you have a phone, you can start it right here, right now. Get a friend, grab your phone, go out and shoot. The simplicity of phone cameras, in this case, is a tremendous advantage because it forces you to focus on composition, lighting, and your subject. These are some of the most important aspects of photography, and for experienced cosplay photographers, perhaps photographing with a smartphone and forcing yourself to focus on these few elements may be just what you need to take your photography to the next level.

Have you had experience photographing with a phone? Have you done any cosplay photo shoots with one? Share your experience! And if you are on Instagram, be sure to tag #costog and share your cosplay phonetography shots with the community so we can all learn from each other.

If you found this article interesting, be sure to join our Facebook group, Cosplay Photography Discussion Group. It is a place for cosplay photographers of all levels to learn from each other. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook as well!

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I am a Seattle, WA based lifestyle fashion photographer who has Cosplay to thank for his adventure into the photography world. In addition to fashion, I also maintain Costographer as my cosplay work outlet:


  1. Avatar

    This article is a joke. You just compared the Nexus shot with the 5D3 shot after adding a bunch of brushes/fake flares. Not even a fair comparison.

    • Avatar

      The Nexus 5 shots were also edited using some app presets and tools.

    • Avatar

      You know what, the tools don’t necessarily matter when it comes down to creating a great photo. Yeah you can be pro, but in a pinch sometimes the best camera is the one that’s on your phone. So? If you have the eye for it, and an opportunity presents itself, take the goddam picture. This article just proves what’s more important is being able to utilize whatever you have to make the best of it; even if it’s using filters/brushes off of an app. Also you can have a pro camera, but shitty composition skills. So what does that say?

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