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6 Tips for Photographing Halloween Costumes

Halloween is almost upon us. October brings the opportunity to photograph a huge array of exciting costumes. As a photographer who specializes in cosplay photography, I’m accustomed to shooting elaborate costumes all year-round, but for most photographers, Halloween presents a fun time to step outside of their normal photography box.

1. Fix Colored Contact Lenses

Contact lenses that change the color or size of the iris have become extremely popular, especially with cosplayers (though they have started to become a fashion trend as well so are quickly becoming something all portrait photographers need to learn how to handle).

Colored contacts work great in real life as the eye is constantly in motion so you never really will notice that they lack the detail and depth of a natural iris. However, when frozen in a photo those contact lenses have a tendency to look extremely fake and should be addressed in post.

There are two ways to tackle the contact lenses problem that work pretty well:

Remove the lenses while shooting and replicate their effect. This is pretty simple and just involves asking the model to come to the shoot without any custom lenses in their eye. You can then use a masked adjustment layer to change the color of the iris and liquify to enlarge the iris to match the desired effect that the model wants.

Use another, real, eye photo to add texture to the contact lens. This method can be a bit more of a challenge but is a great option if you don’t have the opportunity to have the model remove her contacts before shooting. To do this simply find another iris that is about the same shape as the lens from another photo. Mask it so only the iris is visible then convert it to black and white. You can then place it above the model’s contact lenses with a blend mode of overlay or soft light in the same way that you would use any other texture.

2. Be Mindful Of the Silhouette

Many costumes represent a character that, by design, has an iconic silhouette. Research the character before the shoot and be aware of that silhouette which you can then leverage while shooting.

While coaching your model to pose always be asking yourself: If I was to shoot this as a perfectly blacked out silhouette would a viewer be able to still figure out what sort of character I am photographing?

3. Add Lighting Effects To Augment The Costume

Often, costumes feature magic gems or high tech panels that are meant to glow. Many advanced cosplayers will spend the time to wire LEDs to make their costume light up, but for most casual Halloween costumes the glowy bits likely won’t.

That doesn’t mean you can’t make them glow using Photoshop though! Personally I use a combination of Knoll Light Factory and dodge/burn to create glow effects on my images. One important thing to remember, however, is that colored light sources will cast their light on nearby surfaces which you can simulate by painting the color onto a soft light layer at low opacity.

4.Take Care When Posing

Costumes can range from being extremely comfortable with complete freedom of movement to so confining that the wearer can barely even walk. Regardless, you must still be prepared to make the pose look amazing!

Before the shoot ask your model to talk about what sort of movement restrictions their costume places on them and focus on creatively posing them in a way that won’t be painful or damage the costume.

5. Be Equipped To Repair Damage

Costumes are notorious for falling apart right in the middle of shoots. By having a small kit of tools to help the fix any minor issues can be a huge help if the wardrobe decides to malfunction. This is what I always have available: glue gun, gaffer tape, black thread, scissors, and safety pins. I’d also suggest having a can of hairspray handy in case a crazy wig needs to be tamed.

6. Keep Your Model As Comfortable As Possible

The coolest costumes are often the most uncomfortable to wear. This is inevitable, however, by being mindful about this, as the photographer, can help you minimize the discomfort that the model must endure during the shoot.

Make sure the model isn’t overheating. Large, elaborate, costumes often turn into saunas for the model, especially when a photographer is bombarding them with high powered strobes. Have a fan ready to help cool the model down and make sure there is a generous supply of water to keep them hydrated.

Some poses can be exhausting. Heavy costumes, especially ones with props, can be very heavy to hold in dynamic poses. A shoot featuring an elaborate costume is often a hefty workout for the model. Make a point of not having them hold difficult poses for long periods and be sure to take breaks often to let their muscles recover.

Don’t rush anything. Shooting costumes is all about being slow and steady. Putting on the costume can sometimes take a very long time, as can moving around and making adjustments. Be prepared to spend more time shooting than you would when photographing a model normally. Patience is your friend.


Photographing costumes can be a blast when Halloween comes around, but they certainly add a formidable degree of complexity to the shoot. By being prepared you will be able to create some amazing images! I'd love to see some of your best costume photos in the comments below so get out and start shooting!

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Willie Brown's picture

Def going to be reading this tonight when I get home. Being a cosplay photographer myself and always looking at improving my work, I'd love to learn more about this! Thanks for this! :)

Eric Mazzone's picture

I shot the Grand Rapids Comic Con last year and had a blast. Was supposed to have a booth this year next weekend, unfortunately my army unit canceled that with mandatory training. :(

Sean Molin's picture

These are pretty awesome. It looks like you composite a lot of your backgrounds. Do you shoot against a particular background, and where do you source your backrounds?

Ryan Cooper's picture

:) I shoot against white or a dark grey depending on if the subject is going to be composited into a bright or dark scene.

The backgrounds either come from my own archives or are purchased from Shutterstock. :)

Miles Bergstrom's picture

I'm going to let my nerd flag fly here, but I love the image you have of the Hayley Cosplay from Warmachine.

Ryan Cooper's picture

:) AlleyCat Cosplay cosplaying as Allison Jakes :)

Miles Bergstrom's picture

Welp, there goes any nerd cred I had....

Alessandro Bagalini's picture

Nice tips for the cosplayer shoot. I love this type of picture, and I would share with you my last work. I'd love to hear from you about cosplay shooting to improve. Thanks!

Ryan Cooper's picture

These are a great start! My two biggest suggestions to you would be:

1. Practice color grading your composite subjects so that they better match the coloring of the scene they are in.

2. Practice matching lighting and shadows of composited subjects to lightsources in their scene. (for example, in the bottom image the shadows suggest a point light source above the dogs where as the scene has a diffused lightsource behind them.

Alessandro Bagalini's picture

Thank you very much!! Very appreciate! I try to follow your suggestion for the next one.

Andrew Von Haden's picture

Damn colored contact - I hate when they don't line up correctly with the eye in a shot. I will need to start trying your technique of using a real eye for some shots.

Trevor Toma's picture

Some of my work.