I went to Secret Con with just this one lens and light combo

Photographing cosplay events with one lens and a single light
(Image credit: Alistair Campbell)

Cosplay (short for costume play) is when people dress up as their favorite comic book, video game or TV and movie characters. This pastime can be traced back to the Japanese genres of Anime and Manga. In 1984, Nobuyuki Takahashi (the founder of Studio Hard) coined the phrase when attending the 42nd Worldcon in Los Angeles. Cosplay is hugely popular among all ages and genders making it an inclusive and passionate community.

Today, I’m at Secret Con, which was established in the summer of 2021 with the first event taking place in October of that year. An event run by members of the cosplay community, for the cosplay community, held within unique locations such as the former HMP Gloucester. I’m going to be shooting with my Fujifilm X-T3 and a single Godox AD200 off-camera flash to demonstrate how you can make the most of your trip to any cosplay event.

Photography cheat sheet: off-camera flash

I’m joined by Adam (@trenchcoat_and_arrogance_) and his partner Rebecca, playing Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher from the popular Uncharted video game series. You’ll often find that you have a limited time to get your shots at cosplay events, as many other attendees will be waiting for their turn in the same space. So, we’ll look at setting up and shooting images quickly to make the best use of your time. www.secretcon.co.uk

(Image credit: Alistair Campbell)

5 steps for setting up to shoot cosplay on location

(Image credit: Alistair Campbell)

1. Get your softbox and lights set up

To get the maximum results in a short space of time, you need to be prepared. Get your lighting gear set up and assess the scene before you start shooting. This should allow you to roughly position yourself and your lighting in the right place from the start. You should be able to understand the ambient lighting before you look down your viewfinder and then tackle the scene from there.

Portrait photography: How to use different flash lighting modifiers

(Image credit: Alistair Campbell)

2. Set your flash power

Another setting you can get ready beforehand is your flash. Switch to manual mode and then set the power to around 1/8 or 1/16 power. This will be about right for your flash when you are positioned four to six feet away from your subjects

(Image credit: Alistair Campbell)

3. Dial in these settings

Turn your shutter speed to the optimal flash sync speed, usually marked with an X. This is often around 1/200 sec or, in this case, 1/250 sec. Reduce your ISO to 200 and then choose an aperture between f/5.6-f/8 and take a test shot.

(Image credit: Alistair Campbell)

4. You’re now ready to shoot 

If that has all gone to plan, you are now ready to shoot. If your images are too bright or dark, leave all settings as they are and adjust the aperture only. Depending on the ambient light that day, you might have to go up or down two or three f-stops, but you shouldn’t be far off.

(Image credit: Alistair Campbell)

5. Have a vision past the first image you take

Cosplayers will often spring into action and start posing for you, so try to visualise plenty of compositions in your mind beyond just the first setup. Change your height and use your articulating screen to your advantage.

And which lens did we choose to shoot this event with?...

Allow yourself to be versatile with your focal length choice. When I’m not 100 per cent sure what environment I’ll be shooting in, I always take a mid-range zoom – something like a 24-70mm on a full-frame camera. That's why today, I’m using a Fujifilm XF16-55mm f2.8 R LM WR, which allows me plenty of scope to shoot wide and also zoom in for some more intimate portraits. Don’t find yourself stuck with a 90mm prime lens at events like these!

Check out our Godox AD300 Pro / Flashpoint Xplor 300 Pro TTL R2 review, be sure to find out why 5 years on, I think the Fujifilm X-T3 is still an impressive camera, and the best photography lighting kits

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Alistair Campbell

Alistair is the Features Editor of Digital Camera magazine, and has worked as a professional photographer and video producer.