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Safety and Awareness on Cosplay Photo Shoots

There is currently an explosion in the popularity of cosplay photography with more and more people organising and taking part in dedicated cosplay photo shoots away from the con environment. This is brilliant, but as more and more people get involved in what is a fantastic hobby, so, very occasionally, people find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. There, unfortunately, a few creeps out there who use photography as an opportunity to take photos of scantily clad girls and it is very worthwhile being aware of some of the issues and concerns to keep an eye out for to ensure your safety and continued enjoyment of a fun hobby.

Firstly some background info on me. As far as cosplay photograph goes, I am known by many as ‘Geekzania’ and regularly attend UK cons but also conduct numerous dedicated/stand alone cosplay shoots in both studios and on location. Outside of cosplay photography I have been a full time freelance photographer for 10 years, working in everything from commercial through fashion and editorial and event photography. I am Internationally published, have exhibited in London and have a photographers profile on the Vogue Italia ‘photo Vogue’ website. I also set up and ran the ‘Diamonds and Feathers’ International model agency. Currently I run a high street photo studio in Bedford.

I am a member of several ‘model safety’ groups which work to spread awareness of some of the common problems that models can find themselves in if they aren’t careful and which try to tighten regulation/procedures to make such problems less likely to occur in the first place.

Thankfully the vast majority of photographers are perfectly decent people but there are a few who aren’t. With more and more people shooting, if you aren’t careful, then you might, and it is only might, come across one of the few bad ones about. There are though some simple steps you can take to make sure that the chances of this are lower, and that even if you do happen to come across someone with less than perfect intentions, you’ll still be safe.

Although this advice is general in that it can apply to any sort of photo shoot, it is aimed very much at cosplayers as many are unlikely to have any experience of a dedicated or stand alone photo shoot, though most will have taken part in photo shoots at or around a con or other event, a specifically arranged photo shoot can be very different. Also, although the advice is very much applicable to all genders, it tends to be girls, and younger, ‘inexperienced’ girls in particular who are targeted by ‘bad photographers’.

So what are we talking about when we talk about bad behaviour, or an uncomfortable situation? What are the dangers that you might face if you aren’t careful?

Almost exclusively, the issues, dangers and problems revolve around a ‘pervy’ photographer trying to get photos of or see a model naked, or showing more than they intend or are comfortable with, very occasionally, they involve a photographer getting far ‘closer’ to a model than they are comfortable with and inappropriate touching. Photographers who engage in such behaviour are often very persuasive and make all this seem something that is perfectly normal and ‘to be expected’ on a photo shoot.

For instance, we’ve probably all heard of, or seen bad behaviour from photographers at a comic con, photographers ‘sniping’ or taking photos from an angle that the cosplayer isn’t expecting, often attempting to get an ‘upskirt’ shot or a shot from an angle that shows more flesh than the cosplayer is expecting to. On a dedicated or standalone photo shoot, the photographer is far more likely to ‘direct’ the model in terms of what poses or positions to adopt. This may involve the photographer positioning the model such that they can then get a shot ‘upskirt’ or if the shoot is already a lingerie/underwear shoot or an ‘implied’ nude shoot, then positioning the model such that by accident, they reveal more than they were intending. Then we have what is known as ‘level pushing’ – this is where, for instance, the shoot starts out as a fully clothed shoot, but the photographer ‘persuades’ the model to undress. As a shoot progresses it is natural for confidence to build, you might also notice a good ‘rapport’ with the photographer, such that when the photographer suggests that, for instance, that the character being portrayed is ‘sexy’ and that you should do some more ‘in character’ shots, it may feel natural to go along with it, you might pose in a suggestive manner as a result, or you may remove one or more pieces of clothing. The photographer might ‘promise’ that nothing will be shown, and that it is just to create a ‘sexy’ or ‘alluring’ mood. Often a model follows the photographers instructions, not really thinking anything of it, and only starts to have concerns or worries after the shoot is over, when they may then start to think it was a bit strange or may start to worry that they showed more than they were intending. Often at this point it is too late, if that is all that has happened, then it is unlikely the photographer has broken any laws, of course a decent photographer would never use any photos that a model was unhappy with, but someone who has deliberately engineered a situation to get a model to show more than they are comfortable with is unlikely to listen to pleas to delete the photos.

Very, very occasionally a photographer will start physically positioning a model, touching a model, it may start off as just moving an arm, or moving some stray hairs, but if not rebuked the photographer may become more ‘bold’ and start to brush against the model, sometimes a photographer will just say inappropriate things such as ‘my god you’re sexy’ which many people would take as a compliment, but that then may escalate to much worse, whilst ‘you are very sexy’ may be something many would be happy to hear, ‘I’d like to f**k you’ probably isn’t.

So, what can and should you be doing to minimise the chances of anything untoward ever happening to you?

Firstly, finding a photographer. For a dedicate or standalone cosplay photo shoot away from a con, it is likely that you already know the photographer you will be working with, either because you have shot with them at a con, or perhaps they have been recommended by a friend. Even if this is the case, you can check certain things as though you may know someone in passing, how well do you really know them? – Do they have a website for their photography? Though these days it may just be a facebook page or instagram account. If so, take a look through their photos, this will simply give you an idea of the sort of content they shoot. For instance it is worthwhile being aware of whether a photographer ever shoots ‘glamour’ or nudes. Of course this in itself isn’t any problem at all, I myself have regularly shot nude sets for publication or exhibition or for the models own portfolio. In fact if the models who have shot nude with a particular photographer are identified, you might wish to contact them to see how their shoot went, what they think of the photographer etc. This then might actually give you increased confidence in the professionalism of the photographer.

However, if a photographer is styling themselves as a ‘cosplay’ photographer to shoot with you, but their website, facebook page, portfolio site, does not have any cosplay photography featured and in fact only features what you consider tacky or tasteless ‘glamour’ or ‘sex’ shots, that might raise a warning flag, at the very least you might ask the photographer why that is the case.

Ask the photographer if they have any references from models they have shot with, many photographers who just do this for fun may not have written references anywhere, but you might ask who else they have shot with, then drop them a message, again just to ask how they got on, how they enjoyed their shoot etc.

Google the photographers name, both their actual name and their ‘photography’ name, just to see what comes up, again for someone who just attends cons or is just starting out as a photographer themselves nothing might come up, but at least that also shows there is no-one publically claiming they have had a problem with the photographer. In short, do some research on the photographer, the styles the photographer regularly shoots, the work they have done in the past, whether they do this for fun or professionally, their level of experience etc.

Next, make sure you communicate clearly with the photographer on the ideas and plans for the shoot and that they communicate clearly with you, make sure you understand what you will be shooting, what costumes the photographer expects you to wear, the expected style of the shoot, the location etc. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid to ask for example images of the sort of the thing the photographer wants to shoot, or you can provide examples yourself to the photographer so that they can get a good idea of what you want to shoot. In most instances the shoot will be on a collaborative basis, that is sometimes known as ‘TF’ or ‘Time for’ where all parties provide their ‘time’ in exchange for being then able to use the images for their ‘portfolio’ or website/social media page etc. It may be that there is a location fee or studio hire charge, in which case make sure you have agreed how those costs are going to be split. If a cosplayer is paying the photographer, make sure you have agreed the exact price and what you get for that in terms of number of images, what you can or can’t do with the images (the usage licence) whether they will be edited properly, how long it will take to get the images etc. Even on collaborative shoots it can help to agree how many images you’ll get and how long it will take to get them (though sometimes life gets in the way and there can be a delay)

You don’t need a formal agreement for a shoot, though some photographers might want one, unless any ‘contract’ has been drawn up by legal experts and is signed in the presence of independent witnesses then any such ‘agreement’ or ‘contract’ carries no more weight legally and would be treated no differently in a court of law, than an e-mail or message trail.

Now, the shoot itself, please, please, please, unless you consider the photographer a good friend whom you know well, take a friend with you to the shoot. There is no valid reason I can think of for a photographer to have any issue with that. Some photographers do try and claim they don’t allow ‘chaperones’ or other people to attend a shoot. Whilst for a commissioned commercial shoot, additional people or ‘hangers on’ are to be discouraged as they can disrupt the flow of a shoot, for a collaborative cosplay shoot, or even where the photographer or cosplayer are paying for the shoot, I can’t think of any reason not to allow a friend to attend. In fact in most cases it helps having someone else there, they can help the cosplayer with their costume/getting ready, then assist on the shoot itself etc. Having an extra pair of eyes at a shoot, with a different viewpoint, can help enormously. They can for instance, point out, when you might be showing more than they think you’d be happy showing, even if the photographer hasn’t intended that, they may not have noticed, or may not think it’s an issue. A photographer is also far far less likely to try anything if someone else is present. This is probably the biggest thing you can do to ensure your safety and that you have a good shoot, have someone else there, that you trust, with you.

If you do either choose to attend a shoot on your own, or simply can’t take anyone, then make sure someone knows exactly where you are going, the address of the studio or location, the times you will be shooting, who you are shooting with and someone who’s number you have.

Never ever attend a shoot at a remote location on your own, such as woodland in the middle of nowhere, unless you absolutely trust and know the photographer, and then, as above, make sure a friend knows where you are going and when, who you are shooting with etc.

When at the shoot, just give any changing area a quick check for anything suspicious or that looks out of place and make sure that you do have some privacy if you wish, to get changed in.

Don’t be afraid to ‘be in control’ during the shoot. Even if you are an inexperienced ‘model’ shooting with an experienced photographer, if the photographer asks you to do something you aren’t comfortable with, then say no, if the photographer in any way makes you uncomfortable in other ways, if they are too ‘familiar’ or say inappropriate things, speak up, or even stop the shoot. You are in control, even if the photographer has paid you, you can always stop the shoot and give the money back. Put your safety above the feelings of the photographer.

In terms of general safety, particularly on locations, just be aware of things that might pose a danger, for instance, don’t ‘pose’ on the edge of a cliff, just because it would make a great shot, without being completely sure that it is safe to do so. If the photographer wants you to climb on something, again to get that great shot, make sure you can do so safely, or else speak up and say that’s not a good idea.

If it’s a collaborative shoot, do speak up if you have ideas for a shot, again, even if you think the photographer is more experienced than you, it may be something that they hadn’t considered and it may create a great shot. Lastly, have fun, it is, thankfully, very rare to come across any problems.

One final thing, something that has become fairly common within the fashion/commercial modelling world that I suspect will become more common with cosplay ‘modelling’, especially as more people start making use of sites such as patreon and only fans to ‘make some money’ from their cosplay modelling, is that there are perverts who will target people they take as fairly inexperienced or naïve, via social media. They will come across your profile, or your social media page, then send a message. They will portray themselves as a ‘scout’ for a model agency or for a ‘commercial campaign’ – they will say that you are perfect for ‘such and such’ a campaign coming up, they will include the name and website details of a well known brand, company or photographer or publication. They will say the job is paid, and the amount will be a large amount, hundreds or even thousands of pounds. If you respond asking for more details or saying that you are interested, they will then ‘progress’ the casting process. That process will need a ‘producer’ or ‘photographer’ or ‘agent’ to ‘interview’ you on webcam as they need to judge your body shape and personality. During that interview you will be asked to undress to show your body shape. Of course there is no job, they are lying, they will give a vaguely plausible reason as to why you can’t see them on cam, and for needing to see you undress. Even pretty experienced models have fallen for this as people’s judgement tends to get a little clouded with the thought of a big payday. Of course the footage ends up on porn sites, or may even be used to then blackmail you for even more explicit footage.

Model agencies, commercial agents, producers etc. do NOT typically scout for models via social media, especially not for unknown/inexperienced models. If you are contacted via social media or messaging and something sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. If you want to believe it is genuine, then do some research, contact the company named (via details you find through google, not via the details you are given) and ask them if they are conducting a campaign, scouting for models via social media. Or drop me a message and I can check it out for you.

If you want to look up Stuart’s work, you can via these links. Geekzania | Pinupzania | StuartRunhamPhotography

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Michael Wlach

A good write up. In addition to this I would say that when it comes to checking out a photographer’s social media account or website to be wary as there is a possibility that the pictures may not be genuine as anyone can download cosplay pictures from the web and after a bit if editing to remove/replace the watermark with their own. If you do recognise a person in a picture you could try messaging them to find out what their experience was like and if there were any issues.

When visiting studios it is worth noting that the majority of them are located in converted mills, old buildings in parts of the city that may seem intimidating so it pays to being someone with you regardless. Most photographers I know will insist on someone else being present when working with a female client to ensure that there is no possibility of any misunderstanding. If you’re worried about the models chaperone interfering in the shoot you can always press them into service as an assistant to hold lights, props etc., and make them part of the process. It should give them an appreciation of the work a photographer does to get the results the client wants.

With regards to getting the model to stand on objects, or in locations such as cliffs or abandoned areas the photographer has a duty of care to the model to ensure their safety and not place them at risk. Even if a photographer has valid liability insurance in the event of an accident/injury sustained by the model they may not be covered by the insurance policy as the photographer was tresspassing on private property or failed to obtain permission from the site owner. It could also leave the photographer facing a compensation claim in the event of an injury. Abandoned buildings, mills etc., are usually patrolled by private security firms and if the photographer was caught could be subject to arrest and prosecution which would not do their reputation any good.

Tony Hitchinson

Excellent Article and I am in full agreement with all of it. Just one bit i would like to point out is while a “contract” or “model release” has no more legal standing in a court of law than an Email an Email does have legal standing in a court of law while it not as strong as evidence as Legal Contract signed in front of witnesses it does show intent and email are often used as evidence in court these days and so its better to have this than nothing at all.

does explain this quite well. and legally even a verbal contract can have some validity

But as the second articles says Save the hassle write it down

I would also say on both sides the Level of the shoot should be agreed before hand and neither side should move the level up. this is specificly in boudior shoots I have had models initally want to shoot Lingiere but get caught up in the moment and want to up the level. As a photographer i would say no thats not the agreed level unless they are a very close friend and we have already discussed it simply because people want to do things in the heat of the moment and then have regrets afterward. I would say if you want to shoot that level go away think about it and then if you still want to do it we can arrange another shoot.

Protection of the Model cosplay or otherwise is very important but protecting your self is also important.

I often have Models that haven’t even asked me if they could bring a chaperone to a shoot I generally advise them they should at least ask and as far as i am concerned a chaperone is always welcome and i try to make them feel welcome and even involved in the shoot.

So my most important advice is even as a cosplayer be aware of what the common modelling levels are stick to what you are at ease with always ask to see the pictures after they have been shot too if the photographer doesn’t offer they really should offer to show you the images at least on the back of the camera while shooting

Personally as well as showing the model during the shoot i also load the pictures on to the pc so they can look though them and choose the ones they want but for a professional photographer or a location shot this is not always possible. I know i am rambling now but this is a subject that is important so I will end it with be transpartent as you can include the model / cosplayer in the process don’t treat them like a object but like a person

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