At Midwest Media Expo this year, I hosted a panel about posing for cosplay. Since there are so many resources in the slideshow, I wanted to post it online and make it more accessible for anyone who wants to see it!
Welcome to Posing for Cosplay!
My name is Beth from Kawaii Besu Cosplay.
I learned how to pose while working as a fashion model since 2008. When I began modeling, I would awkwardly move and stop and was terrified of not being able to think of the next pose to do.
Posing can be very intimidating and difficult to master, so some cosplayers choose just a few poses and stick with them. That’s fine, of course, but the more comfortable you are with posing and trying new shapes with your body, the happier I think you’ll be with the range of photos you’ll have!
So here’s the outline of this panel. I’ll be presenting some information along with photos about the following topics.
So to start this off, let’s talk about posing on the convention floor. My number one rule for posing on the convention floor is to drop your belongings and keep them out of the shot. It’s best to put them down on the floor near you and then place your foot in front so they’re barely noticeable. It’s a lot of work squatting for every photo, but by the end up the convention you’ll have THIGHS OF STEEL, aww yeah. The convention attendees and photographers definitely appreciate it and will wait for you to set your things aside for a better photo.
Some lucky cosplayers have friends or assistants to help them carry their badge, cell phone, wallet, and emergency cosplay fix supplies, but if you don’t have someone like that, try a wallet phone case. Mine is a super cheap one from Target and holds credit cards, cash, my ID, and of course, my phone. You could also sew a secret pocket in your costume if it allows to carry the important things.
Next, is to come up with a few go-to poses that you’ll be able to use on the floor. You’ll want to switch things up a bit and not do the same exact pose every time.
The more a pose engages the photographer, the better. What this means is that your poses should close the gap between photographer and subject. A great example would be to reach out toward the camera with your hand or a prop. Another example is when people want a photo with you, to use a pose that your character may use in reaction to this person standing next to you.
My favorite thing to do with Morrigan is to open my wings enough so that the person can stand “inside” my wings and then make an expression that looks like I’m about to take their soul. Super fun to do and everyone loves it!
Photo shoot posing is a completely different subject than posing on the convention floor, which is why I’ve split it into two subsections – Posing Tips and Posing for Your Character.
To explain the differences, posing for photo shoots involves a one-on-one shoot with the photographer usually at a location other than the convention floor – an outdoor location or studio location. I typically do shoots outside of the convention area, but I’ve also scheduled photo shoots with photographers not during conventions so we have more time and freedom with lighting and location.
Tip #1: Find your light.
This might be the sun, the flash on the camera, or a reflector. With the main source of light slightly above and in front of you, you’ll avoid unflattering shadows on your face.
More dramatic lighting can be used, but it’s usually done with portraits such as these, and not when trying to showcase a costume. If you were to use a lighting setup like this for cosplay, half of the costume would be in a shadow.
What if the light is too bright?!
Especially in outdoor photos without cloud cover, the sun can make it very difficult to keep your eyes open and to stop watering.
If the light is too bright and you keep blinking or have sensitive eyes, tell the photographer to count “1, 2, 3, open!” and open your eyes on “open.” This will keep your eyes comfortable and also gives your eyes an open, wide look. When you open your eyes from closed, your lids adjust to the brightness - so at the moment of opening, they will be very wide and then close to allow the appropriate amount of light in.
If you know that you’ll be shooting in bright light for a period of time, try not wearing sunglasses before the shoot. It will be uncomfortable, but your eyes will adjust and it won’t be as jarring as if you were to remove the sunglasses right before shoot.
If you've never looked through a fashion magazine or seen JoJo's Bizarre Adventures, I suggest checking them out. The most interesting active poses are dynamic and create angles with your arms, legs, hips, and posture.
Think of it as voguing. These are “big” poses - bold and strong.
Don't always look directly at the camera - also try looking away from the camera, and beyond the camera.
I've found that the best angle here is about 30-45 degrees away so that you're not just showing the whites of your eyes.
Another pose that cosplayers tend to forget is to look over your shoulder for poses. You worked hard on all sides of your costume, so feel free to show off the back! Looking over your shoulder can be mysterious or playful. Just don't forget to elongate your neck!
This is a tip for something you want to avoid. Foreshortening happens when your limbs or neck are posed in a way in which the camera interprets as not as long as they actually are.
For arms, reaching towards the camera or pointing your elbows towards the camera can cause foreshortening. Instead, correct the angle to open your pose.
Also, don't hide your neck behind your shoulder or costume. Models mess this up all the time. Fortunately, I finally got it right in the top-right photo where I held the collar up and showed my neck instead of holding it on the other side which would have hidden it.
When posing, I like to think about how a professional ballerina or majestic gazelle would move. Long and lean.
Now I'm going to talk about that horrible moment that every model and cosplayer fears - not being able to think of a pose to do next. I have a trick that takes just a little practice, but can be mastered by anyone and makes you look like a pro.
First, strike a pose. I'm going to use an example of literally the most boring pose to demonstrate this - facing forward with one hand on your hip. Boring. Every baby model does this, trust me.
So you've got a pose, and now you're going to turn it into 6 different poses just by shifting your body a little. After that, make a bigger pose change, for example, something like (this).
But back to the first pose: If you memorize these small changes, you won't run out of ideas - it's awesome!
Using this first pose, try to shift it in about 3-5 different ways before moving to the next bigger pose change.
That was a single pose, but I shifted it 5 ways for 6 poses total. That entire time, my hand stayed on my hip. This is literally the most boring pose you can do, but by making these subtle changes, I made it much more interesting. You can apply these 5 subtle changes to any pose to add more dimension.
And sometimes, you’ll find a great pose, but it isn’t photographing the way you’d like it to. Making these shifts can help you find the best angle. After you’ve shifted the pose a few times, move on and make a bigger pose change.
Working with levels in your poses can impress photographers you work with. Just say "I have an idea for a ____ pose, what do you think?" They will likely have to adjust lighting and camera angle, so ask before you start jumping around. (;
Jumping poses are super fun because when caught at the right moment, they can be photoshopped to look like levitation, flying, or a huge kick! Tell the photographer your ideas and they'll let you know when they're ready. It usually goes something like "okay, 1, 2, 3, JUMP!"
Squatting and kneeling are good ways to show off parts of your costume that can sometimes be cropped out. I'm talking about the hours you spent on building footwear.
Finally, lying down poses can make for some sexy shots. Always keep your legs and arms at asymmetrical angles.
Print out a sheet of reference photos of poses you’d like to recreate. Use fan art, other cosplayers’ photos – anything! A cheat sheet will help you remember everything that you want to make sure you get a shot of.
Before a shoot, practice. Find a full length mirror, put on a song that fits your character or makes you feel confident, and practice poses.
The best models I've ever worked alongside rarely stop between poses. It's up to the photographer to capture the movement, and they can always ask "please do that last one again."
The way to look most natural in photos and less “posed” is to keep moving. Don’t always stop between each pose until you hear the camera click. This works exceptionally well when you’re afraid of running out of posing ideas.
You can even try dancing! You'll want to move slower than if you were at the club, but keep the flow going.
Watch this short video of how fashion supermodel Coco Rocha poses.
Now we're going to talk about hands. They're the most awkward to draw, pose, and when you're on a first date, it's hard to know what to even do with them.
My trick is to think ballet. In ballet, the proper way to keep your hands is to let your ring finger fall below the rest of your fingers. Keep your fingers separated and lead with the ring finger, with your pointer finger the highest.
Don’t hide fingers, keep them as long as possible. And never press into yourself with your hands - relax them gently.
When the photographer is taking close-ups or waist-up shots, the first thing I do is move my hands to my face. This moves the eye upward to your beautiful visage and is especially good for passive or feminine poses.
On the other hand, using your hands around your face can lead to very bold and powerful poses as well. They go along very well with active poses which I'll talk more about later.
Just remember never to hide your fingers - even if it feels a little awkward, it will look more awkward in photos later if your hands are bunched together.
In photos, your eyes play a huge part in your expression. To avoid the deer-in-headlights look, soften them.
Seduce. Learn from Tyra Banks and "smize." If you haven't heard the term "smize" or "smizing," it means smiling with your eyes. It's the difference between (this) and (this).
After you've been shooting for a while, or even before a shoot, it helps to loosen up to feel more comfortable.
If you’re feeling tense or tight, do a little dance or shake it out and make a bunch of weird goofy faces to get loose again. (like this)
Props give you something to do with your hands. Whether it's a weapon or a bouquet of flowers, having a prop gives you more options for poses.
Not every pose is going to be perfect. Accept that your poses will be both good and bad and that the photographer will choose the best!
I'm very practiced, but I make mistakes alllllll the time. If you're not sure how you're doing, ask the photographer to show you a few photos from the back of the camera. By seeing how you're being captured, you can prepare better for future poses.
Now I'd like to show a few examples of feminine / masculine and active / passive poses. These, of course, will not apply to every character or character type, but as a fan of crossplay, I find it useful to have a guide to refer to when posing outside of what I'm used to.
1. Feminine - Active poses
Feminine active poses tend to be strong and often show some kind of action being performed. These poses can depict fighting, power, boldness, you name it.
Morrigan (Darkstalkers) is a succubus demon who feeds on the souls of men in particular. She's most often depicted as sexy but scary. The poses I use for her character are things like (this) where I make grand gestures and movements with my hands, sometimes making a "come hither" motion.
For my Asuka (Evangelion) cosplay, I try to depict her character by using poses that come of as stubborn or headstrong. I'll cross my arms, pout, or act as if I'm putting on or checking my plugsuit.
2. Feminine - Passive poses
Feminine passive poses are often viewed as delicate and soft. These poses are perfect for Disney princesses or characters who are younger or unsure of themselves.
A few examples of these types of poses would be gentle unimposing motions. Looking up at the camera with big doe eyes or having a slight half-smile works well here. You can also use your costume to tug at the fabric slightly - at a collar or hem of a skirt.
3. Masculine - Active poses
Active masculine poses are often exaggerated and portray toughness or aloofness. The angles you'd make with your body would be as if you were trying to take up as much space as possible.
For sitting poses, cross your legs at the ankle and knee or spread your legs and lean forward at the waist.
For fighting poses, face the camera with your legs spread and then twist your body away so that your feet are spaced out and knees are bent. Then crouch. No one fights with straight legs that I know of.
Think superheroes and characters like Zoro from One Piece.
3. Masculine - Passive poses
Passive masculine poses are more reserved and less likely to jump into action. These characters may be more laid back and would feel more comfortable leaning against a wall smoking a cigarette than being the center of attention.
Some poses to play with here could be to rest your head against your hand or have a hand in your pocket. For ideas, I would look into men's fashion magazines.
Expressions can be difficult to master because there's a high likelihood that they'll look fake. Again, practice.
Don’t always keep your mouth closed. The most expressive faces you can make use your mouth!
For example, think of your vowels! A, E, I, O, U When you make the “A” sound, think angry. “E” - think sad. “I” - intrigued, “O” - surprised, “U” - pouty.
From my experience, photographers have had to learn how to direct models out of necessity. When working with more experienced models, they typically won’t direct fully, but will offer suggestions. When you’re starting out posing, it’s totally normal to feel awkward and like you have no idea what you’re doing, and that’s okay. The photo is a collaboration of model and photographer and neither of you will end up with shots you love if you don’t work together well. The key is to communicate as much as you can to the photographer about your comfort level and experience. Let them know which poses you definitely want to capture and they will express their ideas for poses as well.
Communicate which poses or shots are most important. You will likely want a full-length shot showing the full costume as well as closer detail shots to showcase your craftsmanship.
Ask if your photographer if they could use an assistant. Sometimes, an assistant can be vital to the shoot - to hold a reflector or position lighting, help carry equipment, or help fix your wig or outfit if you don’t notice that something’s off. Bringing a friend along can help make you more comfortable too! Also consider bringing some favorite music to listen to while shooting to set the mood.
Anecdote: I once did a fashion shoot in silence until the photographer asked what I felt like listening to. We ended up much happier with the photos during the music because Led Zeppelin makes me feel powerful and confident. Try it!
This shouldn’t need to be said, but give credit where credit is due. Give credit to everyone who produced the image – if someone helped with makeup or hair, credit them. If someone other than the photographer did the post editing, credit them. And for the love of all that is good and holy, credit your photographer everywhere the photo is used.
5. Model Releases
NOTE: convention hall posing is essentially waiving your photo release rights. If you don’t sign a release, you’re allowing the photographer to do anything they want to the photo. Typically, this is in good faith and isn’t something to worry about, just to keep in mind. I’ve done a few unfortunate fashion shoots in which I never received photos. So, that’s a bummer. Model releases will often set expectations like photo turnaround and how many edited shots you’ll receive. Post-processing takes a lot of time and can back up a photographer’s availability to work on other projects so ask about turn around time!