Cosplay was once a sideshow. But these days, it is quickly becoming the main draw for Japanese gaming and manga events, sometimes garnering more coverage than the actual games and comics. As its popularity increases, not only does the number of cosplayers multiply, so does the number of people taking pictures.
Events like the Tokyo Game Show are not ideal for taking pictures. If it's not dealing with the crowds, there are the variables to contend with - namely people walking into frame or crap in the background. Cosplay from TGS looks like sweaty people wearing funny outfits, standing outside a convention center.
One of the major points of cosplay is to recreate two dimensional characters in a three dimensional world. For those who photograph cosplayers, there is the added element of recreating that world on film - or these days, on a .JPG file.
There is a niche to be filled for those who are not content with simply taking photos of cosplayers at events. No, these amateur photographers want to shoot photos of them in an environment in which they can control the background, set the lighting, and even pick the costumes. They want to make everything just so.
These are a direct offshoot of the "satsueikai" or the "photography events" held at idol DVD and picture book release events. Well-known cosplayers like Ushijima Ii Niku and Omi Gibson participate in photography events, allowing fans to snap pictures of their own.
Studios in Tokyo like PhotoPlus near Sugamo Station and Cutie Factory off the Keio Line cater to those amateur cameraman (and women!) hoping to hone their cosplay picture taking skills in a far more elaborate way. These are studios run out of apartments and houses, and that even have a list of models available.
The way it works is that customers make reservations in advance, picking the model of their choice. Some studios require fees up front, which depends on the model. Then the day of the shot, the rest of the model's fee is paid. Other studios include the model's fee in the studio rental price, while even other studios have various plans that range from regular costumes to skimpy outfits. In some cases, there are also equipment rental fees for those who need lights. Cutie Factory, for example, provides some basic lighting set-ups, but things like strobes cos a few hundred yen per hour. If you want to use air conditioning, that's extra, too.
Costumes are also available for rental. PhotoPlus offshoot studio, Hideout, has outfits like Liu Fang's Dead or Alive duds as well as Iroha's Samurai Shodown clothes, noting that a "full thong" is even available for Iroha's outfit. Not all models will wear all types of clothes, nor will all of them allow certain types of shots. What's more, some models will wear costumes brought by the customers, while others will not, instead only wearing outfits provided by the studio.
A small percentage of the models working at these studios are honest-to-goodness porn actresses, and the poses can get quite provocative. Make no mistake, the most famous of these studios do not appear to be covers for the sex industry. Japan has a vast array of sexual services available, and these types of business are typically not included.
That isn't to say it doesn't happen, but most of these studios are very clear on what to expect and what not to expect. This is an opportunity for wanna-be photographers to take pics in a controlled environment. You know, minus the excess elbows, sweat and unfaltering convention center background.