Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cosplay modeling tips: where to look

After a recent cosplay photo shoot, I was chatting with friends about cosplay photography and cosplay modeling.  One of my friends suggested that I write up some of these ideas, and so this will be the first of a series of posts about cosplay modeling.

As a photographer, a common question I get from cosplay models is "Where should I look?"

Your first decision will be whether to look into the camera with your eyes or not.

When you look directly at the camera with your eyes, then in terms of the final photo, you are engaging with the viewer of the image (not the camera).

Some questions to consider: Who do you imagine that person is?  What will you communicate to them?

If you are cosplaying a character who is part of a story, you can imagine that you are looking at one of the other characters from the story, within a situation that would make sense in the story. This creates a context and meaning for your expression.

For example, if you become character A, about to confess your love for character B, this will look much more interesting than if you blankly stare into the camera with no meaning to your expression.

[This will be an ongoing theme in these articles.  Instead of asking "What should I do?" a better question is "What is my character doing here and why?"  Actions that have no meaning or purpose will look fake in a photo.  Sometimes there are technical reasons for adjusting positions that do not really have any intrinsic meaning in terms of the story of the scene, such as positioning based on where the lights are.  Even in cases like this, it helps to imagine there's a purpose within the story.]

Of course, you shouldn't look directly at the camera in every shot, because that becomes repetitive and boring.

When looking off-camera with your eyes, continue to imagine what it is your character is doing. Who or what are you looking at, and why?

One common problem when looking off-camera is turning your eyes too far. In everyday life, when you look off to the side, it's natural to turn your head part way towards the target, then turn your eyes the rest of the way until you can easily focus on the target.  You do this because it's the natural, least-effort way to look to the side.

But in a photo, this usually produces an unflattering look.  If you turn your head 45 degrees to the right of the camera, then turn your eyes another 45 degrees to the right, it creates a situation where the camera sees mostly the whites of your eyes.  This can create an odd zombie-like look -- which may work great when cosplaying a zombie or monster, but usually not in other cases.

Instead, it is usually better to turn your head father off-camera than your eyes are turned.

Or to put it another way, if you turn your head 45 degrees right, then turn your eyes back to the left 20 degrees or so.  This presents more of your iris to the camera, which will look nicer.
 It may feel unnatural to do this, but the action makes sense if you imagine that you've finished looking at the thing really far to the side, and have started to look back the other way.

Now let's consider head position.

Cosplayers often wear wigs, and the wigs usually project out from the forehead and temple area more than real hair would. 

If the primary light source is coming from above (which is very common), this can create a visual problem, where the wig casts an unattractive shadow on the face, causing a dark-circles-under-the-eyes look, combined with relatively brighter spots on the nose and cheekbones. 

In this situation, you'd be better off tilting your head slightly upward.  It doesn't have to be a huge exaggerated upward tilt.  Normally a slight tilt up is enough to eliminate the undesirable wig shadow.

If the photographer is controlling the lights, then don't worry about this -- it's the photographer's job to position the lights to avoid unwanted shadows.  But if it's a photo shoot with natural light, or artificial lights that you can't control, this can often come into play.

One thing to avoid in general is pulling your head back towards your shoulders.  This can create an awkward, frightened look (think "turtle retreating into the shell"), and can also create unflattering shadows under your chin.  Usually it is better to push your forehead forward, which looks more confident.  It can work to first push your shoulders very slightly forward, and then push your forehead forward beyond your shoulders.

I hope this information has been helpful.  Stay tuned for the next article, which will tackle the eternal question: "What should I do with my hands?"