The Cosplay Photoshop Debate

The Cosplay Photoshop debate is probably familiar to many of you: put simply it’s the issue of whether digital editing, specifically in the form of Photoshop, should be used on Cosplay photos. It’s contentious enough to bring forth real passion on both sides; some say Photoshop is a useful tool while others claim that it is artificial and vain.

The reality is of course complicated, just like any discussion of Cosplay there are a huge number of variables to consider; from the character being portrayed, the setting the shoot is taking place in, the skill of the photographer and so on.

Sometimes a more natural look suits a natural environment

In the context of Cosplay Photoshop can provide a valuable tool for correcting issues out of the photographer’s control. Bad lighting, boring backgrounds, spots and other issues can ruin an otherwise great Cosplay, however removing these problems with Photoshop is trivial.

No one wants to see obvious flaws in a Cosplay they’ve worked hard on.

From a photographic perspective, the program also allows for a complete reinvention of the feel of the photo. When used correctly Photoshop can transform a bland convention centre into a million different canvasses, each suited to the Cosplayer being photographed.

Re-touching images also allows them to become more beguilingly unreal. While this might seem damaging, when you consider that the purpose of Cosplay is to replicate what is imaginary and fantastic it makes much more sense. Using Photoshop does not automatically mean the Cosplayer wants to hide all their flaws and pretend to be perfect, sometimes it can simply offer a fresh angle on a photo.

The reality is that some of the most striking Cosplay photos rely on a layer of Photoshop to maxamise the costume and Cosplayer, working with them- not hiding them. Cosplay holds within itself a desire to look more perfect then real life allows, Photoshop is a tool which can bridge that gap.

Lighting up the convention center with a dash of Photoshop

The drawbacks to Photoshop are pretty obvious. While at it’s best Photoshop can transform and inspire, at it’s worst it can ruin a photo and reinforce negative stereotypes about beauty. When Photoshop is overused the images stop being edgy and start to look artificial. While creating a slightly unreal photo through re-touching is good, making a photo look gimmicky and plastic isn’t.

The negative impact of the perfection Cosplayers strive for can also raise it’s head. The idea that; “All those characters look so perfect. I’ve got to look as perfect as them,” is depressing. Cosplay thrives on cosplayers looking different, not identical. Since to Cosplay is to bring a fan’s interpretation of the unreal into the real, every single costume is going to be unique and different. While we all strive to copy the characters we Cosplay, the part of ourselves we put into the outfit is just as important.

If you find 3 cosplayers at a convention all dressed as the same character each one will be unique. In the same way, Cosplay photos work best when each one beings something new and unique to the table. If Photoshop damages this variety in Cosplaying it can certainly be seen as negative.

Photoshop can bring out the dark side as well as the light

I’ve learnt the hard way that Photoshop is something each Cosplayer must use as they see fit. There is no quick-fix answer to the Cosplay debate. I know many Cosplayers who use Photoshop wonderfully and many who hardly use it at all. When I first discovered that I could “perfect” myself in my photos I found it exciting. As an exercise I gleefully tried to correct every little thing which was ‘wrong’ with me in certain photos.

While I thought I was making myself look like Eric Zoolander I ended up looking like a CGI blur with weird lips. I look back on my overly Photoshopped photos in dismay, but it was an important learning curve for me. I now realise that; a) My Photographer almost always subtly Photoshops the pictures already, not to improve the way I look but to correct and enhance the mood of the photos. b) Neither I or my Photographer’s style suits excessive Photoshop, I look like a grumpy fish and I usually ruin the feel and pace of the photos.

My take is that Photoshop shouldn’t be treated as something people either use or don’t use on principle. To do so only seems to cut yourself off from a tool which could be useful.

My friend Ami compares Photoshop to Make-up; if it’s used tastefully it can look completely natural but if it’s overused everyone can instantly tell. Just as all Cosplayers relate to make-up in a different way so every Cosplayer relates to Photoshop uniquely. Ultimately the most important thing is to experiment and work out what you as a Cosplayer like. There is no shame in experimenting with different effects, cameras, costumes and digital editing. All of these things can teach you something about your Cosplay, even if the way you use it is, at first, imperfect.

* This article is submitted by an external blogger who is not affiliated to Otaku House. The author’s views and opinons are entirely his/her own. To contribute articles or cover events for Otaku House, email us at iwanttoblog[@]