So this is a thing that has been on my mind a lot lately, the feeling of being an imposter in this incredible community called Cosplay. I never really used to get it when I cosplayed regularly but since taking up photography I get severe imposter syndrome as both a photographer and a cosplayer.
I know I’m not the only one who feels like this so I thought I’d write about my experience, what it is and a few coping methods that I literally just googled. So buckle up and sit down for a nice long article.
My Imposter experiences
As I mentioned above, I used to cosplay a lot, my average costume output was maybe eight or nine costumes a year but then a few years ago it dropped to three and then this year I made a grand total of one costume. Granted it was a very clean costume and I’ve very proud of it but I get very uncomfortable when people compliment my craftsmanship because I sort of don’t feel like I belong as a cosplayer anymore.
The reason for this is because I drifted back into photography. I chose to move to Canada which meant leaving behind most of my costume related equipment. What I was able to take instead was my camera so to stay active in the community I took up cosplay photography. Photography has always been in my life, my dad is an amateur photographer, my brother won the Broncolor NextGen awards and my youngest brother had a photo featured on the front of a world wide photography magazine at the age of 16 so I already started the hobby with a massive amount of pressure (mostly from myself). While my family have been incredibly supportive, they really didnt give any notice to it until my sister shared some of my photos to the family in an email with the caption “Holy shit Anna, I didn’t realise you were this good already”.
I’m a female photographer which automatically means cosplayers trust me more. I’m a cosplayer which means I know the difficulties of being in cosplay. For a short time I worked in continuity in the film industry which means I pay attention to costume and wigs. I have a published comic and have been writing stories since I was eight years old which means I have a heavy focus on using photography as a storytelling medium. So why do I still feel like I don’t belong?
Because I’m a cosplayer and a girl. When I picked up photography for the first time after many years a very popular photographer at the time looked at me in disgust and said “what would a cosplayer know about photography?” and that has haunted the back of my mind ever since. I don’t belong in the cosplay photography world no matter how good I think I am, or how good my friends think I am. It doesn’t matter that my photos have been shared by the creators of the characters I photograph.
On top of this, I’m a girl in a boy’s club known as photography. I really truly enjoy sitting there and being told how I should be taking photos or being told the specs of that camera or the size of your penis, I mean camera lens….not. I’m constantly being demeaned by male photographers in real life while being praised by the same photographers online. I can count on one hand the male photographers who have helped and supported me; Food and Cosplay, So Say We All Photography, Billy Bookcase and Brett Bauer photography.
On the flip side of this going more and more into the photography side of things means I’m being left out on the cosplay side. I’m no longer included in cosplay groups except as “the photographer” and I have a deep hatred for the idea of cosplaying from one of my favourite franchises because of a few incidents which has made me feel very excluded by my friends.
So now I feel like I don’t belong in either Cosplay or Photography, so what am I doing about it? Why am I still doing these hobbies if I feel like I don’t belong? Am I sitting here complaining about it day in and day out? Am I letting that imposter syndrome hold me back?
How to combat Imposter Syndrome
So this isn’t going to work for everyone. What works for me may not work for you but here are some things that I do to make myself feel better and things that I literally just googled (then applied to myself).
For me I found that really talking to my friends helps. My closest friends know that I know I’m good and what I do. I’m very proud of my work and I work hard at trying to create the photo shoots that I want to create. The first step for me was to acknowledge that it was Imposter Syndrome. Tell your friends how you feel and bask in the glory of the kind words they heap upon you.
I’ve also mentioned it once or twice on social media and I’ve looked at tweets from those I admire who also suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Everyone gets it at some point.
The next stage is to look at where I started and how far I’ve come. I do this for both my cosplay and my photography. I look at my first costumes and compare to my later ones. I look at the first cosplay photo I took and compare it to my latest one. Recently I did a year in review for 2018 where I picked at least one photo from every shoot I’ve done this year and I saw a huge improvement in how I use Lightroom to modify the lighting in my photos and how I do beauty edits. It was a massive boost to my self-confidence.
This year I also found that approaching people I hugely admire to work with them helped. This is obviously harder if you want to cosplay with them but there are cosplayers I’ve wanted to work with for a while and I found they were also excited to work with me as a photographer. This is including Gladzy Kei, Jessica Nigri, Soni Aralynn, Aigue-Marine Cosplay and Woodsmoke & Words. I also got the opportunity to work alongside Martin Wong photography outside of a convention and he was very complimentary about my work.
I’ve had to remind myself that photos I’ve taken have been shared and commented on by the people who created the characters, from Ashley Johnson to Matt Mercer (ok…so it was all just Critical Role cosplay but still).
My favourite thing to do is to just stare are my photos and remind myself why I like them and that it was ME that took them. I do that with my cosplays, a lot of my friends have worn my cosplays so I could take photos of them and I have to remind myself that it was me that made that clothing.
Lastly I plan. I continue to try and plan shoots to try and push myself or to step into new territory. This year I worked a lot with horses and it was my first time in a studio. Next year I’m planning eagles, hawks and even some underwater photography. I’m planning to work with more of the cosplayers I really want to work with in both photography and in cosplay. If you allow yourself to stagnate in your skills then you’ll eventually drop behind. And when you succeed reward yourself! Allow yourself to be proud of your work!
Find ways to measure your success how it will impact you. In cosplay it’s easy to compare ourselves to others, comparing the number of likes and shares to those who we consider more successful but recently I’ve switched that opinion to WHO likes and shares my work.
I might get 50 likes but then get a comment from cosplayers I admire saying they like what I did, and that to me is worth more than 100 likes for senpai noticed me. 5000 likes wont beat the fact that one of my models once told me “you made me like my smile” or “because of you I like my legs” or “My self confidence is getting better because of your photos”.
For me, readjusting what I considered successful has helped take the edge off of my imposter syndrome however I still have a mini crisis every time someone like Maker & Muse says they want to work with me.
So that’s it. I guess this is just stuff I really wanted to get off of my chest because of some recently feelings and reflections upon myself. Moving back to the UK community as a photographer not a cosplayer has been incredibly jarring for me but opening up to my friends has really helped, and letting cosplayers I want to work with know that I’m nervous about working with them has been amazing.
Remember everyone has different styles, everyone has different methods and everyone has different tastes. If you are ever feeling down on your work reach out and someone will be there.