Earlier this year, five people went to Iceland with a mission: take some of the best, most unique cosplay photos on the planet. What they came home with does not disappoint.
That headline is not kidding around. We’re talking some of cosplay’s finest here, going out of their way (and spending thousands of dollars) to push the envelope of what they’re capable of as artists, and of what cosplay (and cosplay photography) itself is capable of showing off to the world.
Those five people were:
- Rachel “Reilena” Day, a cosplayer who is also an FX artist for Blizzard, currently working on Overwatch.
- Meagan Marie, cosplay superstar by night, Crystal Dynamics community manager by day.
- Anna Fischer, one of the world’s top cosplay photographers
- Antony Gomes, another terrific photographer
- Philip Kalmes, assistant and cosplay transport specialist.
Their trip took the group over 30,000 miles. They snapped over 2000 photos. Meagan and Rachel spent a combined 450 hours working on their costumes, which were built from scratch just for Iceland. Their kit took up 14 suitcases. They shot 24 photoshoots in a week. And over the course of the trip busted themselves up real good, on everything from sharp ice to cold metal photography equipment.
But it was all worth it, because look at these photos. It’s one thing to make a great outfit, and another to be able to take great photos of one. That’s what it normally takes to create quality cosplay (at least as far as the internet is concerned), and for the past few years that’s exactly what the internet has got.
But this trip goes past that. Taking terrific outfits and talented artists out into a wild, spectacular location like the middle of the Icelandic countryside—able to bring out the best in these Norse and snow-themed costumes—is taking cosplay to a whole new level.
You always see readers (and even other cosplayers) complaining that too many cosplay photos need ridiculous levels of photoshop—up to replacing the entire background of an image with something artificial—to somehow look “epic”. None of that was needed here. In these shots, the countryside itself is epic.
Below is an interview with the team, and a collection of the best photos from the expedition.
Meagan: “I worked abroad in Ireland for six months last year, and during that time met a good amount of industry folk who were previously at CCP in Reykjavik. The stories they told and photos they shared snared me immediately, and Iceland quickly moved to the top of my travel list. It turned out that Anna & Philip had visited Iceland previously and didn’t get their fill of the stunning landscapes. The trip evolved into a hybrid of playing tourists and shooting costumes, combining our passions for cosplay, photography, and travel. Rachel and Antony joined on shortly after, both excited to take their craft to the next level.”
Reilena: “The main reason why we traveled to Iceland was the countless breathtaking landscapes. While we were driving around we all agreed it was like driving through a video game in that the landscape changed every 30 minutes or less and was absolutely awe inspiring in so many different ways. I think the second appeal of Iceland is that it isn’t a landscape often seen by our community. We wanted to surround ourselves with the unfamiliar.”
Anna: “I think my internal compass is magnetized to the distant horizon. I’d never shot an arctic climate before, so that was a plus. It looks crazy there, like some shockingly beautiful alien planet. If you go far enough north or south the sun circles instead of setting, so we had 18-20 hours of a daylight. Also I like working for the shot, pushing myself to get make images other people can’t or haven’t. Iceland certainly makes you work for it. I don’t feel like Iceland was that strange a choice, it’s got vast striking landscapes and cosplayers were willing to go there. But if you look at the larger context of my work I’d shoot anywhere sublime and secluded.”
HOW’D YOU GET THERE?
Meagan: “None of it was sponsored. I had some money saved up. I decided I could pay off my student loans a few months earlier than planned, or live in the now and go on an incredible adventure with friends. Iceland won.”
Anna: “I had a little bit of money from a gig Meagan hooked me up with. She was like, what if we took this money and went somewhere crazy with it. Of Course I was totally in. I think being a broke artist has given me some pretty strange attitudes towards money. I sort of expect to be over extended and strapped all the time. Since it’s a kind of constant stress it sort of becomes background noise. I just sort of scrape together whatever little jobs I can and something cool with the cash. I might be eating pasta for a month, but lots of people who eat well their whole lives never get to hold a blue glass chunk of glacial ice in their hands.”
WHAT’D YOU WEAR?
Meagan: “All three costumes were new and constructed entirely for this trip. I started by researching Iceland - watching documentaries and visiting travel blogs to get a feel for both the country’s history and the diversity of landscapes available to us. I knew I wanted to do something inspired by Norse mythology.
Wonder Woman being one of my favorite leading ladies, I teamed up with the talented Tess Fowler to co-design an original Valkyrie Wonder Woman costume (above). We’d designed a Steampunk Lara Croft and Warrior Wonder Woman together in the past, so I knew it would be a great collaboration. Lara was also a fantastic fit, as I knew the rugged terrain would lend itself perfectly to the visual and thematic tentpoles of the franchise.
The last costume - an Art Nouveau dragonfly design - was much more personal than the others. After my little brother passed away in an accident years back, dragonflies took on a deeper meaning to my family as a symbol of transformation. I’ve got a dragonfly tattoo, we collect dragonfly trinkets, and so on. I’d wanted to incorporate a dragonfly into my costuming for a while, but never found the right opportunity until I saw the stunning landscapes in Iceland. My mom and I worked on the jewelry for the costume together over the holidays, making it even more of a personal and therapeutic project.”
Reilena: “When I decided to join the trip the first thing that came to mind was Norse Mythology and Vikings. A little while before that, Marvel revealed the new female Thor and it seemed like the perfect fit. I spent the most time on that costume and through that I ended up feeling a real kinship with the character. It was so awesome to wield that hammer in such a Viking-spirited location.
The second costume I choose was Sylvanas. I’ve always loved her story in WarCraft lore and thought it might be really cool to put her in the environment of her enemy, Arthas and his Frozen Throne. There are so many locations in Azeroth that reminded me of the pictures I had seen of Iceland so it excited me to bring Sylvanas there.
The last costume I built specifically for this trip was my Valkyrie. I love the stories of the winged warriors and wanted to pay homage to them with a more fashion-forward design. I pictured the winged headdress and long flowing white dress, standing up on top of the basalt pillars so many times in my mind before the trip. It was such a dream come true to make that shoot real.”
WHAT ABOUT GEAR?
Meagan: “We did our best to plan ahead and be practical with luggage - a checklist ensured we weren’t doubling up on things like shampoo that we could share. Still, with a handful of large costumes, Rachel and I couldn’t possibly get by with less than two large suitcases each. On my end, 3/4ths of my luggage was costumes. I reserved only a tiny bit of space for daily clothing, resigning to the fact that I’d have to wear most items several times and hopefully find laundry facilities. Additionally, I had a huge six foot box that housed my Wonder Woman spear, Lara Croft bow, quiver and so on. Icelandair is fantastic and doesn’t charge for the first two bags on international flights. It cost me $140 to get the bow and spear box to Iceland, and would have cost the same on return, if the Icelandair representative hadn’t accidently dropped my credit card into an abyss (crack in the floor) at the ticket counter. Since we couldn’t retrieve it they waived the return fee. Ha.”
Antony: “Since I knew how many luggage Meagan and Rachel would bring I had to think precisely about my gears. We(Philip, Anna and I) wanted to let more space as we could in the car for them. Hopefully, our guest house had a laundry so I didn’t took a lot of clothes to let enough space to put a light with the battery in my pretty small luggage. My camera bag was overfull, camera, lenses,laptop ...I think I put twice of the equipment fits capacity even if I chose carefully my lenses. It cost me 30$ extra to bring my camera tripod because of the current antiterrorism security plan in France I couldn’t bring it with me into the plane, it was considered as a potential weapon (as a “metal baseball bat”).”
Anna: “I packed enough under pants to get me through the whole trip and both my lenses and little as possible otherwise. I knew space in the car was going to be at a premium from previous cosplay shooting trips. We barely were able to tetris all our stuff in, and rode with a lot of it piled in our laps.”
Meagan: “From a tourist perspective, the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon was a highlight of my trip. I’d never seen anything like the black sand beaches and the clear blue ice. The mountains around Vik - where we shot my Valkyrie Wonder Woman - and the basalt columns at the nearby Reynisfjara Beach were likely my favorite two photo locations. The landscapes were so harsh, but also beautiful. I love that contrast.”
Reilena: “There were so many amazing locations it’s hard to choose a best spot, but I think the most successful location for us was the glacial lagoons. The stars seemed to align when we arrived there. Large beautiful pieces of ice were washed ashore and made the perfect setting for both Lara Croft and Sylvanas. It a was magical and highly successful location.”
Antony: “Iceland blew my mind, every single location were so amazing. I think it’s hard to choose , but two main locations are in my mind now. The viking village was pretty cool thanks to the mood of the location and we were protected from the wind by the village walls and alone, it was like a pretty “chill shooting” for us. I will also talk about the glacial lagoon who was really beautiful and funny to shoot there. I really enjoyed my time by playing with the ice on the background & foreground . I never expected how the ice could diffuse the sunlight!”
Anna: “I think I’m going to be the outlier but as a photographer my favorite location to shoot was the black sand wastes. I’d never before photographed a volcanic desert. And while Iceland has a lot of stunning locations, this one is scaled in a way that’s both expansive and intimate. It goes on forever, but you can run your hand across the wind ripples in the sand.”
Reilena: “The first day we attempted to shoot Sylvanas was an absolute disaster! We had forgotten to check the tides on the Glacial Lagoon and by the time we got there the tide was completely in and we couldn’t access the ice. So, wanting to stay on schedule, we decided to try again a little further down the road. We stopped at a mountain pass about a half hour before sunset and the wind off the glacier was whipping through the valley rather fiercely. But the location looked great so we decided to fight the horrible glacial wind anyways. Big mistake! It was so cold the photographers couldn’t go out and set up the shot, so we all piled into the car while I did my best to put on the massive Sylvanas armor and ready ourselves for the shot. It was so cold and terrible I couldn’t even feel my feet to realize I had out my boots on backwards. We managed to shoot for about 15 minutes in those conditions and got a few shots, but it was freezing and nearly impossible to get a good photo. Lessons were learned! Glacial valleys at nightfall are no place for a costume with quite a bit of exposed skin and large cloaks.”
Anna: “Honestly, there were a lot of challenges shooting arctic conditions. But some of the hardest shoots are also the most vivid experiences for me. We shot Thor at Seljalandsfoss. While Reilena was getting ready I went to go scout it out. I was confronted with a set of slick stairs set in to a steep mountain side, leveling off into a rock strewn path. The wind blew the water in the direction of the access so it was impossible to climb without getting soaked. It was also cold enough that a lot of the spray was freezing, so the stairs, rocks and eventual path behind the waterfall were rimed with ice. I made my way back down and pulled out my raincoat for Reilena to wrap herself in. I gave her the bad news, there was no way were were getting up there without getting soaked. She was a real trouper and we went up anyway. I’m afraid of heights and there’s no guard rails (one of the best and things about shooting iceland is that if you want to get yourself killed thats your business). I ended up going bare handed so I could drive my fingers in through the sheet of ice, and sink them into the moss on the side of the hill to cling onto. Antony was a real sport and didn’t even laugh at me when I decided to take some of the rockier parts of the climb on all fours for fear of sliding off the trail over the cliff face. The photos at the end of the shoot are quite hazy because of the ice water spray frosting the lenses.”
I’ve been covering cosplay on here on Kotaku for years now. And in that time, I’ve seen the artform explode, both in terms of its popularity and its level of expertise. The more people there are out there putting their heads together and thinking of ways to improve their craft, the better cosplay is getting, whether that be the costumes being constructed or the photos (and videos) being taken of them.
Yet even two or three years ago, an expedition like this would have sounded ridiculous. What, cosplayers? Out in the middle of Iceland, doing nothing but taking photos?
These pics, and the work that went into creating them, are the answer. The harder cosplayers are pushing at the limits of their craft, the further they’re taking it. Ten years ago, the world’s best cosplayers would have been happy with a decent photoshoot at a convention. Five years ago, it would have been a slick little video, or an outfit that got the attention of a video game publisher or movie studio.
Today? It’s stuff like this. Now imagine where tomorrow is going to take it...
Below are some additional photos from the trip.