Tutorial: Cosplay Photo Edits

Alright, so I had a few people on Facebook and Instagram message me asking about my cosplay photo editing. I am not an expert. And actually I don’t have much experience with editing photos at all. What I do have, is experience with Photoshop, mostly for illustration and digital painting. So I am going to break down my process and show you guys step by step what I do. This does require basic to intermediate knowledge of photoshop, but these are not “basic edits”, they are edits designed to tell a story, set a mood, and make a boring con floor photo fun and exciting! Keep in mind this may not be the right way, or the best way, it’s just my way. Also, this is my third time editing a picture like this! Below are the first two results:





Alright, so first things first, pick a picture and load it into photoshop! I would recommend something that has good lighting and a good pose. Large photos are always better. Don’t pick anything too blurry or pixelated because there’s no real fix for that! The photo I picked was actually just a test shot my boyfriend took while changing camera settings. But I think it has the potential to tell a good story. (Dont ask me why I look so sad, I had a great time!) Here’s my base photo:



Unlock the photo layer by double clicking on it in the side panel. Then, create a new layer and fill the background with a solid color, something that you can see behind your model. I usually use a very neutral grey. Then, make a layer mask on the layer with your photo. Make sure the mask is selected and start painting away the background until it’s only the model left.



Next find a suitable background. My character is from Overwatch so I picked a screenshot from the game. Place it on a new layer behind the cosplayer and size it to fit.



I edited my makeup a little bit. I like to put a shadow under my chin to make the separation between face and chin a little clearer. I also added a very light shadow to my nose because it was getting lost in the brightness of the original. Once you are happy with the result, go to filters> Blur> Gaussian Blur and blur the background.



Now with the easy stuff done, it’s time to get experimental! Where is the picture going now? Who knows! I sure don’t! (BTW I am posting these as I edit each layer. It’s an interesting, but kinda slow, process.) Anyways, you can apply the layer mask now. Duplicate the cosplayer layer. Again, go up to filters>blur>gaussian blur and blur the top cosplayer layer. This step is very subtle. Using a soft brush, erase away the blur to bring the crisp shapes back. I erase almost all of it except for the wing in the background and some of the lower wings at my hip. Basically I use this to push some details further into the background and help blend the piece as a whole.



Things are going to start getting crazy! I really liked the blue light in the background on the left side. I selected a nice, medium, and saturdated blue. In a new layer, I filled in a gradient from blue to transparent coming up from the bottom left corner. I then control+clicked the cosplayer layer and selected inverse. I changed the graident layer to vivid light.



I also liked the warmer yellow light coming from the right side and I felt the blue was a tad over bearing so using a soft brush I erased a little of the gradient on that side. I created a layer under the cosplayer layer and added another gradient, this one from blue to yellow. This one is for the background layer. I used the same blending more, vivid light, but the opacity is lower. Around 50%.



I merged the two gradients down with their respective layers, making sure the cosplayer remains on their own layer and the background is separated. Then I duplicated the cosplayer layer and locked the transparency. On the top cosplayer layer, choose a soft brush and picked a nice saturated color. Changed the brush mode to ‘color dodge’ and painted in some blue rim lighting.



Duplicated the cosplayer layer again. Select the bottom cosplayer layer and go to filter>blue>gaussian blur. I made the blur pretty intense. I wanted it to feel like a soft glow hitting the cosplayer. Then, like before, erased away the part that should stay crisp. Then I changed the blending mode to ‘vivid light’ and merged all the cosplayer layers together.


STEP 10:

I created a black to transparent gradiant and pulled it up from the bottom edge of the picture. Then dropped the layer opacity to about 35%


STEP 11:

At this point I realized that the model looked pretty bright so i duplicated the cosplayer layer, went to image>adjustments> brightness/contrast and lowered the brightness.I erased the darkened layer around my face because I want to keep that bright and readable.


STEP 12:

My face feel too bright though so i need to find a way to tone it down a bit without losing what should be the focal point of the picture. This step is a little wierd. I google searched for a picture of light rays and found a bright one with red tones. I added this on top of everything and set the blending mode to soft light. I then used Gaussian blur to blur away all the details and make it a soft gradient of colors.



STEP 13:

At this point I select all my working layers and hit contro+alt+e to merge them all but keep the working files. I don’t like how close in value my hair and face are to my wings so I use a hard black brush with low opacity to knock back the brightness of the wings. I also sampled some of the blue colors from the lights and using a soft brush painted in a little color on the right side of my body. Then I changed that layer style to saturation and lowered the opacity to 25%


STEP 14:

At this point I am about two hours into the process. Still haven’t figured out what I want to do about my face so more experimentation is needed. I ended up selecting the area around my head, copying that and pasting it onto a new layer. I then opened up image>adjustments>Levels and used that to darken the selection. Afterwards I lowered the opacity and changed the layer style to luminosity. I then used a soft brush to erase away what wasnt needed. I also cleaned up a little of the blur on the lower hip wings and added a slight blur to my left arm using the smudge tool with a low strength and soft brush.


STEP 15:

Using a soft red brush on color dodge mode, I added a few red glows on the wings and halo.


STEP 16:

I used a color dodge brush with a pale yellow color to add some sublte light to my left arm and shoulder. I also darkened the hair around my face and noticed that the top of my hair was getting really washed out, so I darkened that too.


STEP 17:

Added in a highlight on the hair, again using a color dodge brush. I also added some smoke coming off the wings using a rust colored smoke brush on a divide layer at 53% opacity. The brush was actually a cloud brush bought from Aaron Blaise (You can google him and find his website with a ton of cool brushes). I also used a dust brush (again bought from Aaron Blaise) to add a few dust fleck in the background. Those are a yellow color set to color dodge with 25% opacity.


STEP 18:

Added some blood because what i really liked about this photo was the sad face while holding a gun, makes me think Mercy shot someone! So I added in some blood.


STEP 19:

Getting close to the end now! Using another smoke brush, I added in some smoke effects in grey, set the layer style to Linear Dodge and lowered the opacity to 30%


STEP 20:

I merged all the layers together, keeping the working files underneath using Control+shift+alt+E. Next I added a vibrance layer to bring out some color in the shadows. Using a layer mask I erased away the right side of the picture.


 STEP 21:

The last thing I do is image>auto tone and image>auto contrast. Then I toss on a color balance layer, tweak it a bit and… done!


Side by side:


That’s it, I hope you guys enjoyed it! I know it probably wasnt the most useful of write-ups but I actually learned alot from doing this, I think next time it would be better to show my whole photoshop set up and not the the image. But, anyways, thanks for reading! I’ll list out a few take aways for your own photoshop adventures!



  1. Try to work in a non-destructive manner. What does that mean? Well, instead of erasing important information away, try using a layer mask instead! The mask will allow you to effectively get rid of what you want, but you can still bring it back if you need to.
  2. I like to make copies of my important layers, such as the cosplayer and background. That way, if I ever need to have it, I have a backup.
  3. Control+clicking the layer preview on the right side int he layers tab is your friend! It will select everything inside the layer. For example, if I have a cutout of the cosplayer and I control+click the layer, it will create a selection of just the cosplayer for easy editing.
  4. When working with multiple layer styles it can be hard to merge them all and keep things looking like you want. Control+Shift+Alt+E will merge all selected layers into a new one on top, while keeping your working files intact below.
  5. Don’t be afraid to player with layer styles! A lot of my process is just doing something then changing the layer styles to see what it looks like.
  6. Running an auto tone and auto contrast can be a good way to easily adjust the details of your image. If you don’t like the way it changes the colors, but you like the change in tones, create a merged layer on top of the originals and change the style to luminosity.
  7. Adding a vignette is an easy way to draw attention back to your model.
  8. If your image starts feeling a little grey of muted, add a vibrance layer!

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