Cosplay Photography Etiquette and The Legal Stuff

Welcome to a guide on cosplay photography etiquette, and some of the legal stuff. First off, congratulations on showing interest in wanting to know more about etiquette and laws… These are the stuff that “normal people” will normally not give a sh*t about. Just having some interest goes to show that you care.

Well, I am personally not a lawyer, I don’t have a shiny halo over my head, nor have I attained level 99 nirvana. But as civilized human beings, there are common grounds that we all need to agree on, and we need to show each other respect. So here is the stuff that I reckon need some consideration. Read on!



Section A

Section B
Legal Stuff

What Next?




As much as some of these are “common sense”, it is sad to see certain cosplay photographers not even have basic courtesy nor respect. Convention or private shoots, here are some stuff to take note of.



Yes, cosplayers go to a convention (or shoot) willing to be photographed. But that does not mean that we can “ambush” them when they are resting or taking a toilet break. It does not hurt to ask for permission first.

Also, some cosplayers may have printed out their Twitter handle/Facebook page on a placard. It is also kind of a courtesy call to ask them if they are willing to be tagged online – Even if it is an obvious answer. I usually use this as an opportunity to exchange contacts as well.



If a cosplayer rejects a shoot request, then just let it be. They could be going out for lunch, need to answer a call, need some rest, need to attend to an emergency – It could be anything. Respect that, nothing to lose anyway.



Some cosplayers may… dress up a little lesser, but that does not mean they are asking to be touched or harassed. If you want cosplayers to take a certain pose, show them pictures or demonstrate it yourself. I avoid physical contact and only disturb those whom I know very well… Otherwise, keep your hands to yourself.




Shaming is so common in the cosplay circle – “this character is supposed to be white”, “you are too skinny for this character”, “you don’t have the looks of a goddess”, “the props suck”, “the costume is so inaccurate that it is an insult”. Need I go on?

Personally, I respect all cosplayers who take the effort to dress up for a convention. Bad props? Everyone needs to start somewhere. Inaccurate? There are genderbend and alternate characters. Cosplay is fun only because people get creative with it. No need to throw insults and bad remarks.



Some people have a tendency to bug cosplayers just to exchange contact numbers. Well nope, that is not the way to do it. The proper and smarter way to do it is a softer political approach – Give some compliments on their cosplay, express interest in their future works, maybe have a collab together, then exchange name cards.

Yes, some cosplayers do print their own name cards (otherwise known as coscards) and we can ask for one. But of course, the “formal” way is an exchange of our own photographer name card with a coscard. But no worries if they don’t have a coscard. Humbly ask for their social media page, and exchange it with your own.





If an artist draws a painting, the painting belongs to the artist. If an author writes a novel, the novel belongs to the author. It is a simple formula, so if a photographer takes a photo, the photograph naturally belongs to the photographer – It does not matter if it is a cosplay photo, a landscape photo, or of any subject. It is sometimes sad to see the younger cosplayers try to claim “ownership” over photos that the photographer has taken.

As a cosplay photographer myself, I find it kind of insulting at times too… One does not simply discredit the photographer and claim full ownership over it, it does not work that way. Even if it is a paid shoot, the photos are still works of the photographer and nothing can change that fact. Period.



As a photographer, you have the right to use your own photos for non-monetary, non-commercial purposes within reasonable limits – That is covered under fair-use. Just what are the “reasonable limits” then? This kind of differs from country-to-country and places with different cultures, but generally:

  • You are free to share your own photos on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc…
  • You can use the photos on your own blog, of course.
  • Use your own photos in a personal photo album or portfolio.

But there are exceptions and some unwritten rules –

  • If it is a paid work, the photographer will most likely not have the rights to share the photos freely – The photos are still the works of the photographer, but the publishing rights belong to the company or whoever is paying.
  • If the cosplayer is uncomfortable with the photos being shared, it is better to take it down. Even though you can leave it as-it-is legally, there are still ways around such as filing a lawsuit for harassment or defamation.

So yeah, the law and ethics are still work in a 2-ways manner, and not everything can be written down in black-and-white.




As with the fair-use law in most countries, the photographer has the rights to share and use the photo for general purposes. But to be fair to the cosplayer/talent/model, the photographer also does not have the rights to publish it for commercial and monetary intentions:

  • Publishing the cosplay photo in a magazine (newspaper or any publications) without the consent of the cosplayer.
  • Making and selling prints without permission.
  • Making a photobook and sell it.

Yes, the photo belongs to the photographer, but it is a different story once money is involved. The law is balanced, and it protects the cosplayer as well. If you want to sell the photo for money, make sure that you pay the cosplayer (or get consent). To formalize things, make sure that the cosplayer signs a model release form, and fully understand that you are using the photo for commercial purposes.



The fair-use law does not just cover your own works, it also covers the way you use the works of other people. It is just some common sense and ethics:

  • You can share the works of other photographers, provided that you share it as-it-is.
  • Do not remove the watermark or edit the photo of other photographers in any way, unless you have permission.
  • You do not claim the works of other photographers to be your own, not just among photographers, but also cosplayers – As with my previous point with cosplayers claiming ownership over photos. Always credit the original photographer and cosplayer if possible.
  • Do not publish and sell the works of other photographers without consent. Captain Obvious stuff.
  • Do not use the images and works of other photographers/artists in your own without permission.



While we are still on the topic of using the works of other people, I shall keep this final point for the difference between copyright, copyleft, and public domain. These are commonly used terms, but also commonly misunderstood. Let’s get on:

  • Copyright: The photographer holds on to all the rights of the photo, I.E. all rights reserved. Other people can share the photo as covered under fair-use, but cannot claim it to be their own, publish it, sell it, or use it for any commercial purposes.
  • Copyleft: The relaxed version of copyright, also called “creative commons”. Depending on the photographer, the photo can either be released for personal use and/or commercial use. There might also be some strings attached, such as you must credit the original photographer. So be careful with creative commons – You don’t always have the rights to publish a copyleft photo.
  • Public domain: The photographer has given up on the rights of the photo. You are free to use it however you wish – Sell it, burn it, eat it, you don’t even have to credit the original photographer. However, there is only one condition – You don’t claim it to be your own work.

That is the gist of it, but there is still a caveat. What if there is a public domain photo of an identifiable person in it? Even though the photographer may have prior permission to release it, that does not mean that the person agreed to be published in all kinds of random stuff. So yep, this is still a grey area. Whatever photos that you use or release, do it with careful consideration.




We have come to the end of this guide, and of course, this is not the most accurate “law binding” document. But I still hope that it has helped you to better understand the “boring law stuff” in cosplay photography, help you stay out of trouble with the law monsters.

If there are parts that I got wrong, or if there is stuff that you wish to add on, please feel free to comment below. Good luck and happy shooting!

3 thoughts on “Cosplay Photography Etiquette and The Legal Stuff”

  1. As an SF photographer since 1973, I’ve had many experiences with some of situations you mention. In one case, I was the official photographer for the masquerade at an SF convention. People posed for pictures, knowing they were being photographed. I had the photos on display, and one lady who had posed for several photos said, “You aren’t selling those, are you! I don’t want my photos sold!” So, I took them down. She then had the gaul to ask me, “How much are they?” to which I responded, “They’re not for sale. Have a nice day!”

    In another case, there was a large gathering of photographers taking photos of contestants at a convention masquerade. One contestant was wearing a chain mail bikini, with no support and nothing underneath it, and on top of that, she was ‘gravitationally challenged.’ She turned away from us for the photographers on the far side, we got a view of her chain mail bikini chain disappearing down her butt crack. The guy next to me looked on in disbelief, and the three behind me were stifling nervous laughter. They didn’t want her to hear them. I did NOT take a photo of her “bad side,” and to this day, NO ONE will ever see that photo! My job as a photographer is to make the costumer look as good as possible. That was NOT a possibility for this individual. I heard later, she’d thrown a physical, screaming tantrum when she did not win the masquerade! So glad I missed that!

    At one recent convention, I had one of the convention runners walk up to me and state, “Send me all your photos!” I declined, and was SOOOO tempted to ask her how she’d feel if I asked her to send me ALL HER COSTUMES! Everyone should be respected, and so should their work!

    I have had more than one occasion where my work was taken and used illegally, out of context, and published by someone else. The most recent was someone who was the wearer of a costume I’d made, and she was promoting herself as a costume designer using my work, and my copyrighted photos! I got her on copyright violation. She took the photos down. Most people don’t look at the web host’s rules of posting. Most say that you must be the photographer or have the photographer’s written permission to post. If not, and the photographer gets no response with a cease and desist letter, they can sue the person who is illegally posting it, and/or the web host can yank the site entirely. ALWAYS GET PERMISSION!

  2. Question on cosplay photography:
    Is it okay for a photographer to accept a photog session with another cosplayer with the same exact character at the same exact venue that one cosplayer originaly paid and had with the same photographer?
    Does that make sense? If not, or need clarification please email me at REMOVED TO PREVENT SPAM.

    1. Well, that’s not illegal. But this is a political problem, not an ethical one. The paid client will probably not like it, post some sh*t online. The photographer then gets a negative reputation and maybe less business. I will advise shooting at a different location, or at least do things “a little differently”.

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