Not all of us can afford to shell out for professional photoshoots for every costume. But that doesn't mean you can't get some beautiful, in-character photos, instead of just having hallway shots and selfies. Here are a few suggestions for how to beef up your cosplay portfolio with some nice photography.
Hire a photographer
Okay, I know I just said that we can't all afford to hire a photographer, which is true. But before you write it off, I recommend you actually approach some local photographers and ask what their rates are. You might be surprised by some of their rates. Don't know any local photographers? Try looking at photos from other local cosplayers and see who they're shooting with. Or, find a Facebook group for your local cosplay community and make a post!
I know it can be hard to justify spending a lot of money on a photoshoot, but consider this: You spend money on your cosplay, ensuring it looks just right, getting the best wig or fabric or prop for the job... so how is it any different to spend money to showcase your hard work with professional photography? If you consider the cost of a photoshoot as part of the cost of your costume, you might decide it's worth it.
Strike a deal with a photographer
Truly can't afford a photographer's rates? Hope might not be lost. Some beginner photographers, or photographers trying to break into the cosplay scene, may be willing to do photoshoots for free if they think your cosplay work and modeling is good enough to be an asset to their portfolio.
But wait: Like most creatives, photographers are inundated with people requesting their work for free in exchange for "exposure." Trying to request a free shoot from a photographer who hasn't offered one is a quick way to get onto their shitlist. Instead, find photographers like this by making open calls for TFP shoots, and waiting for photographers to offer their work. (Also, sometimes, photographers will put out open calls for models — keep an eye on your local cosplay community forums or groups for these kind of calls.)
Photographers spend tons of time and money learning to be excellent at their craft, and their work has value. You don't deserve a photographer's work for free, under any circumstances. This is something the photographer has to offer.
organize a group shoot
This is a good way not just to get cool photos, but to strengthen your local cosplay community and make new friends! If you take on the burden of organizing a group shoot, you can see if any photographers are interested in getting in on the action. (Often in these situations, people who attend the group shoot will all chip in a little money towards the photographer or photographers, although each case is different.)
Whether you're just following a loose theme ("fantasy shoot") or putting together a set of costumes that go together ("seven deadly sins", "Game of Thrones"), these kind of gatherings can be attractive to photographers because they're out of the box and can sometimes lead to good publicity and impressive portfolio work.
Get convention photos
While a hotel hallway doesn't suit that many characters, that doesn't mean you can't get some great photos at a convention. Look for decorative areas (sitting areas, indoor planters, etc.) or look around the outside of the center for nice landscaping. You'd be shocked at what kind of exotic landscapes you can fake with the right framing and a shallow depth of field.
Oh, and there's the matter of actually getting photos taken of you at a convention! This blog by WJS Cosplay Photography explains that far better than I ever could.
There have also been booths with greenscreens popping up at some conventions, where you can have a photo shot by a professional and they'll slap it into a character-relevant background in Photoshop. So cool!
Get a friend's help
If you can't work with a professional, the next best thing is to grab a friend with good aesthetic sense and just experiment. If you can't get ahold of a nice, DSLR camera (let's be honest, everyone has them nowadays — even my parents, for some reason), don't despair! The iPhone 5 has an 8 megapixel camera and can shoot video in 1080p. Modern smartphones are more than capable of taking high quality photos as long as you give them adequate light.
Shoot them yourself
This has become my method of choice, since I'm a major control freak and have limited access to photographers where I currently live. You can do self portraits with a camera timer (which even an iPhone is capable of now), or if you have a fancier camera and want to invest in making your life easier, you can pick up a remote trigger (although you'll have to conceal it in the photos, of course).
Of course, if you're going to be shooting photos yourself (or having an equally amateur friend shoot them), you need to face that you're not going to be producing the same quality work that professional photographers do — or at least, not at first. Shooting sleek, well-crafted cosplay photos of yourself or your friends is going to be a journey, not an instant reward.
Read basic photography and lighting and editing tutorials, watch YouTube videos, stare at lots of cosplay photography that you like and try to figure out how they did it. Cosplay self-photography isn't a quick fix solution, but if you can grow into a skilled self portrait artist, you widen your horizons as a cosplayer significantly (just look at Starbit Cosplay, MattEleven, or Its Raining Neon).