This is what went on at a secret superhero cosplay photoshoot – in a prison!

Secret Con UK photography event hosted at gloucester prison
Joker (@nuke_rage) shot by @iainkpoole on Instagram (Image credit: Iain Poole )

Cosplay photography is emerging as one of the most popular genres of portraiture, and creative composite images are sweeping the entertainment industry. If you're a fan of superheroes, villains, comics, anime, gaming or anything in-between, cosplay photography can bring your favorite characters to life.

In collaboration with the phenomenal talent of cosplayers – those who dress up as their own representation of popular characters – photographers have the opportunity to create works of visual art, celebrating the skill of cosplay. 

• Want to do a super shoot? These are the best lenses for portraits

A unique event company, Secret Con, is a collaboration founded by a small team of both photographers and members of the UK cosplay community. With a focus solely on cosplay, photography and videography, attendees are encouraged to shoot at unique locations in a TFP (trade for print) style team effort between subject and photographer to create content that all involved parties can benefit from, for use on social media platforms and portfolios.

Taking place at Gloucester Prison in the UK on 12 March, this invite-only event was organized to perfection. The ideal ratio of cosplayers to photographers attending meant that there were plenty of subjects to go around, and group shots were arranged throughout the day to showcase various collectives of characters. 

This included a Marvel vs DC epic battle, and even a choreographed dance routine inspired by the DC series Peacemaker – which was noticed and shared online by its director James Gunn!

Attendees were encouraged to make use of facilities at the prison including a helicopter, chapel, dentist chair, prison cells, various chambers, outdoor spaces, a pile of rubble, a green-screen setup, canteen and changing room plus toilet access. Not to mention, they even had a food van serving everything from breakfast to burgers, keeping everyone fuelled and energised throughout the busy day. 

Bucky Barnes (@hunnibunigom) shot by Ben Jones / @benjones_photography (Image credit: Ben Jones )

2B (@norima.y) shot by Ben Jones / @benjones_photography (Image credit: Ben Jones)

An extremely valuable networking experience for photographers, plus the chance to work with exceptionally talented artists and cosplayers, made the day feel significantly rewarding. 

On top of that, following other creatives from the event on social platforms like Instagram has brightened my feed up drastically with endless inspiration, providing the drive and determination to improve my own cosplay photos. 

The UK community of cosplayers take their artistry very seriously, as demonstrated through these images, and an unbelievable amount of time and effort goes into crafting the cosplay as well as preparations for getting into character. 

Regardless of whether a cosplay is created by hand or purchased piece by piece, the level of professionalism and dedication to mannerisms of the character's portrayal I experienced when working with these creatives was unparalleled. 

Doctor Strange (@mfcosplays) shot by Rob Summers (Image credit: Rob Summers)

The Riddler (@mrtepduck) shot by Rob Summers (Image credit: Rob Summers)

Some cosplayers went the extra mile to bring not one, but three (in some instances, four) different characters to the event, changing throughout the day into different wigs and makeup to allow photographers to shoot with a variety of characters. 

Some of the best images I have seen from other photographers shared on social media include multiple characters interacting with each other in creatively staged shots, representing multiverse crossovers and collaboration in everything from the likes of Game of Thrones to The Avengers and horror franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill.

Harley Quinn (@miss_maisy_moo) shot by iphotouk (Image credit: Darren Fitzjohn)

Props brought to this event by cosplayers were also extremely useful when paired with the foundations of the prison. No real weapons were allowed into the event, but many looked strikingly realistic. A great image I saw was of spider-man  unable to use the bathroom as Mjollnir (Thor's hammer) had been left on top of the toilet seat. These collaborations are the most exciting part of cosplay photography for me as it really brings out the limitless potential to narrate the character's story. 

Many photographers were already aware and in practice of several common courtesies at the event, with an initial briefing by one of the organisers for use of speed lights and general etiquette held at the start of the day. 

Green Arrow (@captain_tempest_cosplay) shot by iphotouk (Image credit: Darren Fitzjohn)

The practice of showing the subject the images every step of the way to verify their satisfaction and accommodate for any adjustments needed is crucial to developing a level of trust and consent, as well as having the patience to wait in turn without sniping images while cosplayers are busy shooting with another photographer. 

Applications to attend Secret Con had to be initially submitted and reviewed by the event team in order to receive an invite, though no discrimination or bias was applied to an individual's level of experience, welcoming attendees from both amateur and professional backgrounds. 

Red Sonja (@amyjay04) shot by TicoShots (Image credit: TicoShots)

The facebook group set up in advance of the event by organisers was immensely beneficial, everyone attending the event was encouraged to join the group and share 'cosplans' of what they intended to bring on the day and photographers to introduce themselves prior to the event.

While it was a little daunting for many at first to find the courage to approach, or be approached by others wanting to collaborate, once finding my feet and settling in to the hustle and bustle of the prison antics, everyone was a dream to work with and very welcoming.

A big thank you to the team behind Secret Con and the additional photographers I got to meet at this event who were wonderfully gracious, (special shoutout to the guys who lifted metal gates for me to enhance the scenery when I was shooting with Magneto!), and kindly supplied their images from the day to share with us at DCW. 

Maggie from The Walking Dead (@x.psychotic_wildcard.x ) featuring zombie (@kronankreative) shot by Robert Stevenson (Image credit: Robert Stevenson)

Overall, this sold-out event was exceptional and truly bizarre, in the best way. Huge credit is deserved to the event organisers of Secret Con: Darren, Sian, Ed and Andy for keeping everyone safe and satisfied, as well as the additional volunteers and attendees who assisted with the smooth-running of the day.

The team is working on another event expected to be held on 04 September 2022 in a secret yet-to-be-revealed location. Though they have hinted via a composed mood board that we can expect a very different vibe for the next event, planned to take place near the Midlands, UK. 

Arya Stark (@cosplayrebecca) shot by Kev Bates (Image credit: Kev Bates)

For more information about Secret Con be sure to follow its social channels on Instagram and Facebook for the latest updates and check the website to see an image gallery from the previous as well as latest event, images to be updated soon. 

• Read more:

Best camera for portraits
Best Canon portrait lenses
Best lens for portraits
Best Nikon portrait lenses
Best cameras for Instagram 

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Beth Nicholls
Staff Writer

A staff writer for Digital Camera World, Beth has an extensive background in various elements of technology with five years of experience working as a tester and sales assistant for CeX. After completing a degree in Music Journalism, followed by obtaining a Master's degree in Photography awarded by the University of Brighton, she spends her time outside of DCW as a freelance photographer specialising in live music events and band press shots under the alias 'bethshootsbands'.