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5 Tips for photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits

The post 5 Tips for photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Charlie Moss.

There has been an explosion of interest in photographing portraits for children in the last few years. From film cosplays to historically inspired portraits – there is no end to the kind of costumes that can find their way into your portrait portfolio.

If you include someone who plays a role, this can give a whole new dimension to your images. It can add depth and liveliness to your portfolio. People often lose their inhibitions when they stand in front of the camera when they present themselves as someone else!

With that in mind, here are my top five tips for creating portfolio-worthy costume portraits.

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1. Be inspired by history

Fabulous costume portraits have been created throughout history, both in photography and in other types of art. Julia Margaret Cameron, for example, was a British photographer born in 1815 who photographed people dressed as characters from Shakespeare. Her contemporary, David Wilkie Wynfield, would photograph his friends wearing a costume in the style of the great 16th-century Venetian artist, Titian.

And don't just stop taking inspiration from the photographer Рthere are thousands of years of portraits to get inspiration from. In the portrait above, I was inspired by a painting called La belle ferronni̬re by Leonardo da Vinci. Other times I have been inspired by various historical artists РRembrandt lighting is a popular technique with photographers and a great place to start!

Never be afraid to try self-portraits when experimenting with different exposures and looks inspired by historical portraits. It can take a little practice to get it right, and you will almost certainly be your most patient model! The photo above is the result of an hour locked up in my studio, experimenting with light and self-portraits. I cannot recommend the Fujifilm camera system and the app enough for self-portraits. You can focus and photograph with the touch of your phone screen!

Costume portraits are a good excuse to distance yourself from the kind of lighting that you would normally use and try something else. If you always use studio lights, what about trying out some available light? That's how artists have usually worked in the past, and if it worked for them, then it's worth a try! Likewise, if you usually work with available light, is this perhaps an excellent opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and try something tight and controlled with studio lights?

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2. Check the fidelity of the suit

I do not suggest for a moment that you should become a victim of historical or film precision in your costume portraits. But it pays to just think through all the elements that your topic carries or surrounds.

In a costume portrait, even more than an ordinary portrait, every aspect of the costume and all props contributes to the story told by the final image. Ideally, nothing would appear in the final image that was not intentionally placed there to be part of the story.

So if you are photographing a portrait inspired by a historical history, or perhaps inspired by a film or comic book, take a moment to examine your inspiration before planning a recording. Make sure your costume, accessories, and props aren't shocking about the story you're trying to tell.

This is where it might be worth working with costume designers if you're a newcomer to style costume portraits. Their expertise and advice on putting together and styling different types of costumes can save you a lot of time and sorrow in the long run! Of course there are always possibilities to rent costumes from theaters – it can be a surprisingly cost-effective option.

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3. Set the scene

Consider the scene in which you want your character to inhabit. Are they sitting on a beautiful throne as royalty or are they a post-apocalyptic warrior following danger through the forest? Picking out a location and sourcing props can be half the fun when it comes to organizing a costume portrait!

You can find great locations in the most surprising places. I shot in front of huge roller shutter doors on industrial sites, in a scrubby piece of forest that looked like a dreamy estate in the final images, and against an old stone wall in my back yard. With the right exposure, lens selection, frame choices and post-processing, the most unexpected locations can look great in portraits.

But of course there is always the possibility to go into the studio! By taking a subject in the studio and placing it against a solid background, you can really emphasize the story you tell in their costume and appearance. It places the emphasis square on the subject. This style of studio recording can be a double-edged sword. There is less room for error in this type of checked studio portrait, but the payout can be more than worth it when it comes to portfolio-worthy images.

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4. Give your topic a character

When people usually sit in front of portraits, they play themselves. So if you let someone sit in front of a costume portrait, it is useful if you can make sure that they play a role. It can help them change their character faster and easier.

Before you do the shoot – while putting together your styling and location – think about the character you want to capture and write down some thoughts as part of a shoot plan.

Are they a young, young Victorian poet who has lost their love? Perhaps they are an underground rebel trying to unravel a government conspiracy four decades into the future? This is the driving force behind the entire shoot, so be prepared to bring this character to life.

Once you've dressed up your subject and done makeup, provided props and at the location you chose, all of these elements should come together to help them portray the character. It is their image of the character that shines through, tells the story and really makes your recordings worthy.

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5. Don't forget the post-processing

You have styled a fantastic photo shoot at a fantastic atmospheric location with a great team and you told a fascinating story together. So what's the next step? Post-processing – that's what.

The choices you make on the computer or in the dark room after recording really help you focus the stories. A good post-processing can elevate a portrait to something special.

You can make stylistic choices in post-processing that you would not otherwise make if you were to make normal headshots or family portraits. For example, when I take photos with an apocalyptic theme, I often add many layers to give it a grungy look. When I photograph something inspired by a sci-fi film, I often choose to push the colors quite hard to resemble the film quality used by cinematographers. In addition, when I photograph something medieval or vikings, I usually dip all colors down and make the finished photos "dusty" and worn out.

With practice, you will find your style for post processing costume portraits. Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and do something different than your usual approach. Everything about these images is completely different from how most people approach a normal portrait. It is an opportunity to experiment!

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Now that you are armed with my best tips for making costume portraits, it's time to try it yourself! Don't forget to create a character, set the scene, and think about every element you place in the image. That way you tell a compelling and consistent story that shines through in the final image.

I would like to see your attempts to shoot costumes of portraits. Place an image in the comments so that everyone can see it!

The post 5 Tips for photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Charlie Moss.

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