Convention Photography Book

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Convention Photography

Copyright 2011



Thanks to my mother Kathleen Waldron and uncle Donald Buck for their help in editing this book. Also, thanks to all of the great cosplayers and photographers out there that make the convention photography scene fun and exciting.


Thank you for considering my guidebook to convention photography! I will be going over various aspects of convention photography from the basics of creating great images in any situation to post-processing, camera equipment, and successful networking with fellow convention attendees. I’ll also include example images for many of the sections to help you better understand any concepts that are described. As a bonus, I will include information for cosplayers from the perspective of a photographer, which should help you get the quality attention and photographs you deserve from the hundreds of photographers that attend most large conventions.

Crowds can be large at some conventions.

Who is this book for?

This book is for people who have an interest in photography, people who dress up in costume at conventions, or even people who just find the subject of what happens at conventions interesting. As I said earlier, photographers will be my main topic of discussion, yet I think everyone will find something of interest to be had, just for the fact that conventions are often a foreign concept to most of the general population. While experienced photographers will certainly find some interesting tips and tricks throughout this book, I will primarily focus on getting new photographers started in the scene by giving them general overviews on all aspects of convention imagery.

What is convention photography?

First off, let’s talk about conventions in general. They are large gatherings of like-minded individuals who share an interest in something. They often meet at hotels, or for larger events a convention center and the surrounding area. Most of my experience consists of Anime (Japanese animated videos, but often every aspect of Japanese pop culture) and Science-Fiction conventions as well. Given my level of experience with those two types, I will be talking about them for the most part when I give specific examples.

Conventions are a sub-culture of various forms of hobby from the aforementioned Anime, to art, video games, and even the creation of fish replicas. Convention photography centers around a relationship that forms at certain types of conventions. In Anime conventions for example, there are attendees who wear costumes of their favorite characters from videos, manga (comic books), or video games depending on what interests the individual most. It is a given that having hundreds or thousands of people in costume looking to be noticed will draw in photographers looking to take their photo.

Besides the dedicated photographers, photography at conventions is further broken down into subsets. First and foremost, there are a multitude of casual photographers who take snapshots of their favorite characters, their friends, and pretty much anything else they find of interest. As mentioned before, you have the serious photographers who roam the halls with extreme equipment and desire to take as many cosplayer photos as possible (cosplay meaning people who dress up in costume). You can also find booths where professional photographers offer their services for a price. It is actually quite a nice working relationship that develops between cosplayers and photographers. There is much fun to be had for both parties!

Various convention locations.

My experience and experiences.

I started getting seriously interested in photography shortly before attending my first Anime convention in January of 2003. I had bought a Canon 2 mega-pixel digicam (digital camera) and was primarily taking photos of nature around my home city. I was attending a community college at the time, and was part of a newly created school Anime club where we spent most of our time watching videos and talking about our mutual interest.

Conventions were a foreign concept to me back then, but other members in the club knew about them, so they organized our first trip to “Ohayocon” (Ohayou in Japanese is a greeting), which is a yearly convention based in Ohio. Prior to attending, I had been researching conventions on the Internet on sites such as, learning about the whole culture of cosplayers and the people who photograph them. Needless to say it was the start of a long term hobby that would seriously strengthen my interest in photography, and also create an interest in cosplay as I tried it out for myself.

As time went on and our group attended more conventions, I slowly improved my techniques and eventually moved on to more advanced equipment. Once I was finished with my time at that college, I continued to attend conventions, most often by myself because I treated it as my primary purpose for attending. I held a strong drive inside to continue my photography at conventions, which continues to this day.

For the photographers.

This book is primarily for you. I will try to touch upon every aspect from selecting camera gear to framing your subjects and finishing off your works of art with a bit of post-processing on the computer. When it comes down to it, practice and knowledge of technique are the primary factors in being a great photographer. I’m always practicing and trying to learn more about photography through the Internet and published texts. You should always feel there is a higher level to achieve and that you can get there with enough effort.

Why be a part of this?

This is a question you will ultimately have to answer for yourself, but I will give you a few ideas to start things off. There is a lot to experience in the world of conventions, and more specifically how it relates to photography. It is a whole world that is partly hidden from the general public, and something which will give you a multitude of subjects to point your lens at.

In general every day life, photography has had a negative stigma forced upon it. Ask someone if you can take their photo in public, and you will probably garner a negative response. The average person sees photography in public as something foreign and also something to shy away from, or even try to prosecute in extreme situations! While we as photographers know there are certain rights available to us such as being able to photograph pretty much anything from and on public lands (in the USA mind you), we still can end up in bad situations thanks to ignorant people. In contrast, at Anime and Sci-fi conventions, the people dressing up in costume actually want to have their photo taken. Photography is a given in this culture and something to be happy for from the perspective of pretty much everyone who attends. You can be in your element and enjoy your hobby or profession to its fullest here. We want to take photos and they want their photo taken.

Practice, practice, practice!

Where else can you have thousands of people as subjects who are ready and willing to have their photo taken? Frequently, you will see someone with an utterly massive camera setup, but people around are not phased at the sight of it. Much different than if they were out on the streets in a public setting. Conventions are a great opportunity to try new gear to your heart’s content. Have a new flash, light diffuser, and bracket you have yet to try out? Take it to a convention. What about that new DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera that can shoot high definition video? It’s all good! Join the convention’s on-line community, so you can arrange private shoots with attendees for even more detailed practice. The possibilities are almost endless. Most conventions last for three days over a weekend with any of the days being optional, so it can easily fit into your schedule as well. If practice really does make perfect, using conventions to practice will increase your skill to a professional level in no time flat.


While I’m far from successful in matters of business, I do know the simple fact that networking is key to success in business or otherwise for that matter. Conventions are attended by thousands of people you would have never met otherwise in your everyday life. By using photography as a bridge, you have a method of networking with a good subset of those people who attend and cosplay or photograph others. Your goal could be to make friends, or business associates that could result in mutually beneficial collaboration.

Once you have made a contact, you can stay in touch through the Internet with websites like Facebook or by way of e-mail. Oftentimes, there are convention regulars you will be able to meet every year to further strengthen relationships. Anime and Sci-Fi conventions usually have dealers rooms and professional panel discussions, which are yet another outlet to talk with people who might be in an industry you have an interest in being a part of.


What could be more fun that spending a weekend enjoying your hobby and getting a good deal of practice in the process? As mentioned before, there are many informational panels on every aspect of the hobby or interests your convention is about. Sometimes at larger conventions I have been to, there were well established convention photographers who talked about their experiences and how things generally work as I’m doing with you now in this text.

Attending conventions for photography is especially fun if you have a strong interest in the convention’s purpose as well. As I am an avid fan of Anime, I can take a break from photographing to attend a panel, watch a video at one of the screening rooms, or attend one of the large signature events like the cosplay contest (usually called a “masquerade”). That way I do not get overloaded on one thing and can go at my own pace throughout the event.

The point is really to just have fun there. Try new things, meet new people, and spend a weekend doing something unique and exciting. Fun is what you make it, from meeting new people, experiencing the subculture that is an Anime or Sci-fi convention, or just enjoying a mutual hobby with thousands of other people by attending events.

Ideas on how to make it work.

As with any form of art, photography is subjective and open to debate for what most people consider good or bad. An idea is a way to create concepts that will hopefully turn into thoughts of detailed design, and eventually a final work of art in physical or digital form. Take my ideas below as a starting point to work out your own personal style of photography.

Everyone is unique, this works for me.

It is time for the general disclaimer! What has worked for me in the past might not work that great for you. I have spend a lot of time practicing and doing research on all aspects of photography over the years, so I think what I will write here should be valid to most people on some level. In the very least, it will provide a 3rd party viewpoint into photographic techniques, which you might be able to apply in part to your own techniques to become even stronger at this trade. Everyone is different, and I feel you need to look inward to develop your own style that can produce art which shows your personal best.

Photography terms primer.

Here are a few terms and general definitions that should help you understand the more difficult technical concepts in this book. I’ll just go over a few of the most important ones that are necessary in understanding the basic techniques and properties of taking quality photographs. When in doubt, do some research on-line to learn more before continuing on in the book if something does not make sense.

The mirror box of a DSLR camera.

DSLR: Digital Single Lens Reflex (camera). This setup consists of a camera body with a mirror mechanism inside that allows you to view your subject through an optical viewfinder, and of course a lens attached to that body section by way of a screw or bayonet style connection. When the shutter button is fully pressed, the mechanism’s mirror flips up, allowing the imaging sensor to gather light used in forming an image. There is also usually a mechanical shutter mechanism that controls the shutter’s speed, or rather the time at which the imaging sensor is allowed to gather light (say from 30 seconds to 1/8000 of a second).

Bokeh: A Japanese word that stands for the quality of background blur. This is not easily quantifiable. It is generally okay to use the word bokeh as a catch-all when referring to background blur.

F1.4 is a physically larger opening.

Depth of field: The distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a photo that seem acceptably sharp. This depth is controlled by aperture size and your distance to the focal point. Other properties like the lenses focal length can appear to change depth of field and it actually can slightly, but that is mostly a misnomer as longer focal lengths primarily flatten the frame, increase the perceived size of background blur, and change the percentage of front/back depth of field compared to a wider angle lens.

Aperture blades define the opening size.

Aperture: The adjustable opening inside the lens. It determines the amount of light that is let into the box where the imaging sensor and mirror assembly are located. An aperture is usually comprised of a number of blades that form an opening much like your eye’s iris opens and closes depending on how bright or dark the ambient lighting is. A larger number of blades and ones that are curved usually allow for more pleasing background blur compared to ones that do not have those features. If you have ever seen a photo with hexagonal bright spots in the background, that means the lens had 6 straight aperture blades. F-stops (f-number) is a measurement of the lenses focal length divided by the effective aperture size, giving you a number like f1.4, f2, f2.8, f4, and f5.6. A smaller f-number means that the opening is larger, allowing more light in and producing a smaller depth of field.

Fisheye lens distortion.

Barrel and pincushion distortion: Lenses might produce a visible curved distortion to the field at which they pass through to the imaging sensor. Barrel means it curves outward and pincushion curves inward. You will generally want lenses that produce as little distortion as possible. There is one type of lens called a “Fisheye” lens that is specifically designed to produce a large amount of barrel distortion.

50-200mm zoom lens and 40mm prime lens.

Zoom and Prime lenses: Zoom lenses have a range of focal lengths such as 18-55mm and 70-200mm, whereas prime lenses have a single focal length. Both lens types have benefits and negatives, which are best left up to the individual photographer’s preferences. In short, zooms are versatile and can match the quality of primes if you spend enough money. Primes can generally have higher overall sharpness and larger apertures for a lower cost. This is very dependent on the individual lens, so when considering a lens it is best to search out some technical reviews on-line to give you a general idea of the quality you can expect.

Chromatic aberrations from the lamp brightness.

Chromatic aberration: It is the failure of a lens to focus all colors to the same convergence point. If you look at a photo of a tree with a bright blue sky in the background, you might notice purple fringing around the edges of the tree’s branches. That is one common aberration that lenses can produce, but there are quite a few more. Sometimes fringing can also be caused by the imaging sensor as newer ones have micro lenses installed to maximize light gathering ability.

Common sensor sizes to scale.

APS-C, Full-Frame, and 4/3rds sensors: DSLR cameras currently exist in a few flavors of imaging sensor sizes. Most common for the moment are APS-C sized sensors that are around a 1.5x multiplier compared to Full-Frame (the same size as 35mm film) meaning they are physically smaller. So if you have a lens that is 50mm in focal length, you would multiply 50mm x 1.5 to get a crop factor equivalent to 75mm. Basically, your field of view decreases because your imaging sensor is physically smaller and not able to record the same amount of physical area as a 35mm film frame would. What makes this confusing is that camera manufacturers have been releasing lenses that only work for APS-C sized sensors as they are generally cheaper to produce and physically smaller, yet they still use the same focal length measurement as 35mm film would, resulting in a lens that has a focal length measured for 35mm, but unable to work with a sensor that size.

High ISO usually means more grain.

ISO: Or more accurately called film speed, is how sensitive your camera’s light recording sensor is. With a high ISO value, your sensor is able to make a properly exposed image with less light, but it also will most likely have coarser grain and less dynamic range (contrast). The term ISO stands for “International Standard Organization” so it is just a general term that somehow caught on from related standards.

Exposure differences (+2, neutral, -2).

Dynamic Range: Or rather luminance range, is the limit at which our camera’s light recording sensor can measure light intensity. Current sensor technology is not able to match the human eye, so we as photographers need to keep the range in mind at which our camera records extremely dark and extremely light aspects of a scene. If you blow past your camera’s dynamic range ability, some of your image will be completely black or white, having lost all detail in those areas. That being said, keep over and under exposure in mind when taking photos. Sometimes you can recover detail in post-processing, sometimes you cannot.


You cannot be a photographer without having something that records light. If you are just getting started, finding something cheap that will work is not a bad idea. Getting out there and taking photos should be the first thing on your mind, whereas equipment should be second. Often there is a natural progression that goes on with equipment. A person buys a small fixed lens digital camera, as time goes on they move up to larger and larger equipment, eventually hitting the top of the mountain by buying a DSLR. Sometimes they start moving down the mountain as they figure out DSLRs are not a good fit for their style of photography. While I personally went through that progression moving from digicam to pro-sumer camera to DSLR, I think with a little forethought you can save some money by first figuring out what type of photography you are most interested in. While I primarily use DSLRs, I feel that smaller cameras can produce results with proper technique and often have a digicam available.

It is important or not depending on your ideals.

Discussing camera equipment often brings up the same level of debate as religious discussion, so the superiority of a brand is best left up to people who spend most of their time talking about photography instead of doing it. I’ll say now that you are more important than what equipment you are sporting, so you don’t really need to worry too much if you don’t have the latest camera body or largest aperture lens. It is possible to take any image recording device and make a pleasing picture.

A prosumer digicam.

That being said, I also think equipment can make a difference, especially in regard to lenses. Some specialty lenses such as Fisheye or lenses with extremely large apertures can produce images that can only be rivaled with custom software processing. There is also something to be said for high quality glass in relation to absolute image sharpness, quality of background blur, and solid dependable construction.

If money is an issue, start off with a decent “digicam” that will be a great learning tool until you are able to buy a camera capable of switching out lenses. Find one that has as much manual control as possible. Research on-line and find as many reviews as possible. Try to become familiar with all of the technical terms and aspects, so you can select a camera that will fit your immediate goals. With fixed lens digicams, look for something with a large aperture (a smaller f-stop number, say f2.8 instead of f3.5), a larger than average imaging sensor (greater than 1/2.5″ square), and as much manual camera control as possible.

Try to make it a third eye in time spent being used, so that it feels very fluid and natural when you use it to take photos. Upon switching to a SLR style camera, you might be surprised that the overall quality of your photos will take a turn for the worse, at least for a while until you understand how to properly use the more advanced camera.

A basic setup.

If you are interested in tools that are more advanced and flexible compared to a fixed-lens digicam, your next option will probably be DSLR cameras. Cheaper DSLR cameras usually come with what is called a “kit lens.” This lens is often a zoom lens with a focal length range of around 18mm – 55mm. The major negative of a kit lens is that it generally is not able to take in as much light because it has a smaller maximum aperture throughout the zoom range of say f4 in the wide end to f5.6 in the telephoto end, whereas a better lens might be able to have a wider aperture of f2.8 throughout the whole zoom range. There also might be a few other negatives like lower absolute sharpness, more distortion, or more chromatic aberrations than compared to higher-end lenses.

An entry level DSLR with 18-55mm kit lens.

The jump from a kit lens to higher-end lens is considerable when comparing cost. While a kit lens might cost $100 – $200, a equivalent pro level lens could be from $500 – $1500. While those prices might sound insane now, once you catch the lens buying bug, it’s a hard habit to stop and easy to justify such high costs.

There is nothing wrong starting out with a basic kit lens. You could even opt to never buy another lens for your camera and still be able to produce nice, yet most likely average images. If you have the cash, I would suggest a zoom lens in the standard zoom range that has a constant f2.8 aperture to get started. This will allow you some benefits such as the ability to produce a higher degree of background blur behind your subject, and a moderate improvement is overall quality throughout the zoom and aperture range.

A lens like that will also most likely have a larger range of higher sharpness thanks to higher quality glass and a larger initial maximum aperture, which allows the sweet-spot to increase. Buying a lens that starts at f2.8 will have a higher probability of being sharp at f3.5 than a lens which starts at f3.5. Just keep in mind that there are exceptions to any loose rules, so do your research on the specific lens you are interested in.

Most of the entry and mid-level cameras bodies these days are similar enough that it does not matter which brand you purchase from a quality standpoint. Look at the lenses offered for each brand to get a better feel of which might best suit your needs.

For example, Canon is best known for their high-end “L” zoom lenses and lower cost primes, whereas Pentax is best known for their all-metal “Limited” prime fixed-focal-length lenses and lower cost weather resistant lenses. A lot can be said for ergonomics, so if you can hold and try out a camera from each brand, that would better help you find a body that best fits your style of camera control.

To go along with the camera body, you should consider a “battery grip” that allows you to taking pictures longer before needing to switch batteries. The secondary, and more important reason, is that most battery grip designs allow you to hold the camera vertically with the inclusion of a secondary shutter release button. In a convention situation it is often in your best interest to shoot images vertically so that you can fit the whole person in your frame.

Besides camera body and lens, you should also consider a quality add-on external strobe flash. It attaches to the “hot-shoe” of your camera body to provide a more powerful and customizable flash of light compared to the built-in pop-up flash. Nikon is said to have an exceptional flash system, which should be considered when buying into a camera system as talked about before with lenses. Flash photography is a whole subset of technique and tools. I’ll be going over aspects of that later in the book.

Various DSLR camera equipment.

Decide how you want to make it work.

Making it work could be as simple as a camera, and the desire to take as many photos as possible. Depending on how far you want to take your ideas, you could end up with a camera, battery grip, flash bracket, add-on flash with diffuser, a second camera, external wireless strobes, or a multitude of other things in your quest to take the best images you can.

Personally, I like to stay as light weight as possible and often take one or two camera bodies with lenses attached and that is it. With proper technique, almost any setup will be enough to result in quality output. On the other hand, framing, posing instructions, angles, post-processing, and overall feel of final images are attributes that uniquely develop in forming your own style of convention photography. I’ll try to give some insight on both aspects to further your development along or just start it off on a good foot.

When thinking about camera gear in relation to a convention setting, it is best to consider what type of photography you want to spend most of your time on. At least for me, the type of photography I do does have a big effect on what camera equipment I use.

When doing hall cosplay you will be walking around a lot, so a small camera and lens combination will probably suit you best. A small fully featured DSLR and fast large aperture zoom or prime lens would be a good choice. You might want to look at the lesser known brands as they tend to offer camera bodies that are smaller than standard sizes.

If you plan on having more private shoots compared to hall photography, having a larger more powerful camera setup might be a good idea, so you can maximize the quality of your final results. Taking things further, you could look into full-frame camera bodies, or even medium format if you have the funds available for such a purchase. When you don’t need to lug around camera gear for hours on end, it is possible and a lot more manageable to use specialty gear like that.

Framing and composition.

A big part of making a pleasing image is in how you frame your subject. In the realm of convention photography, I personally think anything goes in regards to framing. There are well known framing techniques, which I will go into later, but don’t be afraid to try new things and don’t worry what others might think or say if you don’t follow common practices. See your subject(s) and imagine the possibilities of their pose considering angle of view. If their pose does not work, try suggesting an alternative or fix something that does not jive with the image you are trying to create by changing perspective. When “out in the field,” or rather on the convention floor, you will be rushed and cramped at times, so work with what you have.

Various styles of auto-focus points.

If you use your camera in generic auto (focus) mode, there is no telling what area of the image the camera will decide to focus on. So to get around that, I often use the camera in focal-point selection mode. For example, my camera has 11 auto-focus points that I can select from as the focal point.

When using this mode, I line up their face on the desired focal point in my camera, so I can make certain to get their face in the best sharpness possible. If your camera does not have the ability to select which focal point to use out of the auto-focus point array, you can just use the center point focus mode and re-compose after gaining focus on their face. Aim the center point at their face and then tilt the camera’s angle to locate that focal point in different part of the frame to improve overall interest in the image. The only negative is there might be slight focus errors as you recompose to take the shot, so your results might vary a bit with extremely large aperture lenses.

Beside where to place your subject in the frame, take into consideration how much of the frame you want to fill with them. That means deciding on how far or how close you want to be from your subject to further emphasize or not emphasize the background and foreground features. If your subject’s costume fits in with the background, it would be in your best interest to have a few shots with a background that is not completely blurred out. On the other hand, if your background is just a busy mess, try to modify your camera settings to make the background fade away in a strong blur.

Full body shots.

Taking an interesting shot of a cosplayer showing their full body is actually one of the most difficult images to achieve. Snapshots are a dime a dozen, and often a snapshot is a full body shot with large depth of field, showing crowds of people in the background making the subject not stand out much. In my experience, interesting full body shots are best taken with a nice large wide angle lens in the 10-20mm range. The subject should be in the foreground and the background should be vast open space with limited objects that would detract from your cosplayer. This is partly due to the difficulty in producing nice bokeh with a short focal length and most likely small aperture due to how most wide angle lenses are designed.

Taken with a 14mm rectilinear lens.

Another approach is to fill the frame with your subject from end-to-end and not much else. This is best done by rotating your camera so that the subject’s head and feet fit in their respective corners of the frame. Try having the subject slant the upper half of their body downward towards you so it gives the feeling that they are coming toward the camera (take note that wide angle lenses have less discernible depth of field in front than in back generally). Other options would be to have them sitting down or in a pose that makes them less stretched out to give you some feeling of depth while still having them completely in the frame.

Leaning forward wide angle group shot.

You can try incorporating the background into your image making use of large depth of field and creating a full package of interest in the frame. If you are on a private shoot, find a location that fits well with the person’s costume. For example, if they are in a dress that looks like it is part of the Victorian era (called Lolita fashion at Anime conventions), find a piece of furniture that has a historic look to it. You could even find a wrought iron park bench that will allow you to maximize bokeh if there is nothing behind the bench. If you have multiple people from the same group available, take them outside or to an open space, positioning them at different distances from the camera thereby making the background part of the interest as the other person will be relevant to overall concept. It would almost be like creating a short story in a single frame. The person in the foreground looks off into the distance as the one in the background, partly blurred, is walking toward the foreground. Applying action to photos can greatly increase their interest level.

Portrait style.

What exactly is a Portrait? Most often it means a photo of a person from the shoulders up where the shoulders fill most of the frame, and the frame itself is longer than it is wide (eg. your camera is positioned vertically). So you are trying to capture a person’s upper body in such a way to provide detail and interest in the frame, without including too much detail about them. A cosplayer spends a lot of time on the upper body of the costume whether they realize it or not. That means it is a good area to focus on.

Two levels of interest (cosplayers from the same series).

With a nice portrait, you are capturing their face as well as the nicest area of their costume. One of the greatest benefits of portraiture from a photographer’s point of view is that there are a multitude of quality lenses out there specifically designed to take these types of images. Those being 50 – 85mm lenses with exceptionally large apertures that are great at producing nice blurry backgrounds. With a good angle, arrangement of the subject, and quality lens; portraits are the “money shot” of convention photography and easy to accomplish in almost any setting regardless of crowds, space constraints, or available light.

A standard portrait style image.

Let’s talk about your subject now. How should you position them, or rather in a time constrained setting, where should you stand to maximize the quality of your photo? You want to see as much of their costume as possible, yet don’t want to image to appear flat. That means their shoulders should be angled toward you, but not extremely so. Most portraits have the subject looking directly at the camera, but don’t shy away from experimenting with the direction of their face and eyes. Make the type of shot you want to make within the constrains of what can be considered a portrait pose.

Face in detail.

I usually supplement my standard shots of a person with a few extreme closeups of their face. Getting in tight and snapping a few frames of their smiling face usually produces a keeper or two. This is especially true if the subject has face paint or some other embellishments that are part of their costume such as glasses, jewelry, or homemade constructions.

Take shots of faces when there is interesting detail.

For example, I recall the time I was photographing a Na’vi from the movie Avatar. Imagine a completely blue face with silver speckles, false teeth, and long black hair in tight braids. Just her face had so much intricate detail it was worth capturing alone, so at times like that you might want to supplement your standard shots by getting in close. If you have time, examine their face a bit to look for the most flattering angle.

It is true that people usually have a viewing angle where they look their best, unless their face is perfectly symmetrical and none of their features are out of proportion. Once you have a good angle, take your shot, keeping in mind that larger apertures are generally better suited for images of the face because most lenses are slightly less sharp at maximum aperture. Sometimes you don’t want to show too much detail, that is unless it’s someone like the Na’vi cosplayer.

Skewed angles.

Having your camera perfectly horizontal or vertical is not necessarily something you should always do. Improvise by angling the subject in fun and interesting ways. Try to limit unwanted backgrounds by positioning yourself and angling the camera to minimize background clutter. Try crouching down while having the subject look down toward you. The benefit here is to provide a unique viewpoint, but it also allows you to maximize the possibility of a clean background devoid of random people in the frame.

Skewed angle shot (similar to a dutch angle).

If you are in a large convention center, it works out even better thanks to the ceiling being used as a distant flat background. Does the cosplayer have a large prop or is just generally a big person? Angle their prop or head toward one of the corners of the frame, while framing them overall in a vertical aspect ratio. That way you can still include most of their prop in the frame and you might be surprised how in-your-face interesting the resulting image can be. It’s a good method of maximizing every square inch of the image. When more time is available, take them to a place where you can get above, and sometimes behind them. Have them look back toward your for a unique “I noticed you!” image.

Plane of focus.

I have struggled with this aspect lately, but I just need to train myself to compensate when I don’t have enough depth of field in my custom camera settings. When trying to maximize background blur in tight situations, often a problem arises when you are photographing a group of people. With a large aperture and being close to the subject due to limited room, your depth of field suffers greatly.

If the group of peoples’ faces are not on the same plane of focus, often you will have one individual’s face in focus, but everyone either in front or behind them by even a few inches will be blurry. So in situations like that you need to either make your aperture smaller, or try and get more room between you and them to increase focal point distance. Sometimes simple is best when you prefer staying in aperture priority mode on your camera, so just ask them to line up straight or decrease your aperture size for that shot. Have the outlying people angle their shoulders, but keep their faces at the same level as everyone else.

Wide angle with low perspective.

Another option would be to use an extreme wide angle lens from a close distance to your subjects. This way you still get everyone in the frame and benefit from what a wide angle lens offers such as making a large group portrait style image (shoulders and up). In the reverse, you can use that wide angle lens from a distance to get everyone completely in the frame. Try crouching, getting as close as you can without clipping their legs too much, and then move a bit off-center from the group. Have them pose and look toward you. It makes for a fun shot if you can pull it off and their posing is good. Often, wide near the ground shots like this feel epic as the subjects are elongated with a sense of large scale.


Rule of thirds and golden ratio.

The rule of thirds is a rule of thumb in visual arts that says an image should be divided into 9 equal parts with two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines. Imagining the setup, you should see 9 squares or rectangles in a grid on the image. The intersection of the lines are the points where you should place your aspects of interest. Let’s say for example that you are taking a photo of a full body cosplayer shot. You would position the center of their face at one of those line intersections, say the top-right intersection. This would mean their body, if standing straight, would take up the right side of the image, leaving the left side of the image available for background. While I’m just skimming the surface of this rule, comparing an image where the subject is off center to provide depth and scale would generally be more appealing than just putting the subject in the center of the frame without much else.

Rule of thirds grid.

The golden ratio is another rule of thumb in visual arts, but is a lot more detailed in how it is calculated. I’ll skip the mathematical equations and just say that the ratio is often simplified into a frame that splits up into two horizontal sections, where the ratio is 1:1.618. Drawing an imaginary vertical line between the two sections would be the general area where you want to place your subject of interest. This can be flipped so that the larger section is on the opposite side of the frame.

Approximation of the golden ratio.

Available light photography.

Light can be a challenging medium to capture effectively. When I say available light, I mean all forms of light that do not come from camera flash or any additional lighting devices. That could mean either sunlight or artificial lighting depending on where an image is being taken. A large percentage of photography I do is using available light because I prefer this method for the sake of simplicity.

The main tool of the job here is good light. Find areas outside or inside where it is bright, yet not so bright that your subject has difficulty giving you a nice facial expression due to being utterly blinded. Overcast days with some cloud cover can be one of the best times to take photos when only considering exposure uniformity.

Dark foreground and blown-out background.

As said before, watch out for strong contrast from light beams because that will blow out highlights in part of your subject’s body, this would mean to stay away from large structures outside unless they completely cover the scene. If the structure only covers some of the scene, chances are the rest of the photo will be almost completely white as the camera will be unable to have enough dynamic range to properly expose both the person in the shade and the ground or background out in the sun. The sun at noon will be more challenging than at 4 P.M., but anytime should be manageable and produce results when care is given.

Good natural light.

When photographing indoors, things become more difficult. Hotel lighting isn’t always the best. Look for areas of the hotel that let in light from the sun when it is daytime, otherwise, try to spend most of your time in the most well lit rooms and hallways the place offers. Also, look for the largest rooms as the lighting will most likely be a bit more omni-directional. Avoid having wall and lamp lighting in the background of your frame as that will probably be blown when the camera tries to properly expose your subject. Don’t shoot in the direction of windows or doors because those too will turn into bright white objects, not to mention your subject will be back-lit (back-lighting done intentionally can be nice).

It’s surprising how indoor structures with no windows are still flooded with natural light from connecting rooms. It makes a noticeable difference in the ease of taking an indoor shot when it is still daytime. Once it is dark outside, indoor lighting is not supplemented and all bets are off when taking available light photos. Having powerful equipment can help. For example, my current APS-C camera body’s imaging sensor is one of the strongest currently available in dynamic range, meaning it can record detail in extremely dark or light situations. It is also strong in high ISO capture with a range of 80-51200, with 3200 and 6400 being completely usable after some noise reduction in post-processing.

Dark yet high contrast lighting (powerful stage lights).

With such a strong camera body I can take images in dark situations and still be able to avoid blurring as I can bump up the ISO enough to compensate. Lenses are also important in low-light photography. Using a lens with a maximum aperture of f1.4 will provide you a lot more flexibility in this situation than a kit lens that starts at f4. The negative, or positive depending on how you look at it with aperture, is that the wider you go, the less depth of field you will have. Just keep that in mind if you want to use available light in dark situations and are photographing a group of people.

Strobe photography.

Strobe photography is the use of a lighting device attached or installed in your camera that provides a burst of light allowing you the ability to properly expose an image in any amount of available light. There are considerable benefits to having additional light at your control, especially in the ever changing setting of convention photography. Most camera bodies have a built-in pop-up flash installed that is generally pretty serviceable, but they lack in power and tend to produce harsh highlights on subjects. Optionally, you can buy a cheap universal clip-on diffuser that will help soften that light to make it more usable.

Custom bracket, flash, and camera body setup.

What most people do is buy a hot-shoe add-on flash (hot-shoe is the connection on the top of the camera body). These flash devices come in a multitude of different flavors and price points between $75 and $600. The “head” of more expensive add-on flash devices can pivot vertically and/or horizontally allowing you to bounce light off of objects such as the ceiling. Flash diffusers are also available in universal and custom options. Everything from custom white plastic clip-on to large bulb and small soft boxes are available as add-ons.

To start off, find a mid-range flash that can pivot the flash head in both directions. It’s probably best to go with the same brand as your camera body, but if you want to save some money, Sigma units are generally pretty decent in both power and features. Look at the Flash’s “guide number” to determine how powerful it is in general compared to others in the same price range if having the most power is important to you. More power will mean that the flash can fully light scenes that use more wide angle and telephoto lenses compared to ones with a lower guide number. Just keep in mind that if you plan on using a diffuser, your range will be decreased, but your ability to use wider angle lenses will be increased (depending on the type of diffuser used).

The usual goal with strobe lighting is to use that additional light to uniformly expose the scene. That means the strobe flash will only partly be responsible for lighting your subject. I’ll be discussing the removal of harsh light in the next section. Often a strobe flash is vital for doing that. As such, I will be describing how the camera works with add-on flash.

Removing harsh light.

Harsh light can make a nicely framed image one that just does not feel like a quality image. Let’s say you are standing outside in a partly shady area or out in the open. Your subject can have harsh shadows being cast from their costume or body parts, causing issues to the overall exposure. You will have extremes in light where the sun’s rays cast on surfaces. It might be on your subject or other objects around them, but that can be fixed sometimes in post-processing. Although, it is best if you can avoid recording harsh light in the first place.

Harsh light through the trees.

Let’s say you have a cosplayer standing under a tree in the summer months. The tree provides nice shade and helps you form a smoothly exposed image, but there are probably a few gaps through the leaves. If one of those gaps just happens to be casting light on your subject’s body (especially skin), that will most likely blow that section of the image resulting in bright white botches. Not to mention the light around the tree is a lot stronger than the light on your subject, resulting in a blown background.

Fill-light and high ISO were used to equalize exposure.

To get around that, your simplest option would be to find a spot where that won’t be the case. Otherwise, you can use a strobe flash device to provide additional light to the scene, called “fill light,” that will increase the exposure of your subject and even out any extreme sun-ray light that might be cast on or around the subject. You have quite a few technical options when providing strobe based fill light. If you have a flash with or without a diffuser, using standard settings will most likely be sufficient in dealing with the issue since the camera and flash will make strobe the primary source of light in the scene. Flash light is generally pretty harsh looking, so I would suggest always using some type of add-on to smooth out the light by making it more omni-directional.

Second curtain sync: One situation would be at night time where you want the background to be well-lit and in the same level of exposure compared to your subject in the foreground. This mode allows you to shoot your burst of light at the end of the imaging cycle allowing you to use a long exposure time. The long exposure time means your camera will have time to expose the background before using the flash’s light to expose the foreground (subject). Most add-on flash units have this these days. A camera’s shutter consists of a first curtain and second curtain, which slide horizontally across the sensor to form an exposure. The first curtain starts exposing the sensor to light and the second follows it. The shorter the exposure, the faster these curtains will move across the sensor. In extremely fast exposures like 1/8000th of a second, the two curtains are moving across the sensor at the same time, only allowing a sliver of the sensor to record light at a time. When using an add-on flash, you will be limited to how fast your shutter speed can work, usually that is approximately 1/250th of a second or slower in DSLR cameras. The limitation comes because to use a burst of light, the shutter needs to be completely open, allowing the whole frame to receive that additional light. In turn, that means we can vary the exposure time to let in more or less available light before firing off the strobe flash. In addition to changing the shutter speed, you can change the flash’s power level manually to increase or decrease foreground brightness relative to the background.

High Speed Sync (HSS): Allows you to get past the physical and technical limitations of the system you are using. Most systems have a hard limit of 1/160th to 1/250th shutter speed where the flash can normally be used. This is due to how the shutter mechanism works (basically the imaging sensor needs to be fully exposed when the flash burst happens). HSS allows the flash to get around the hard limit by sending out quick pulses of light, so the camera can use faster shutter speeds. A situation where you might find this useful is in extremes of lighting. Say you are near a building, but it is noon and the sun is shining in the background. You want to have a nice blurred background (needing large aperture) in the photo. HSS will allow you to increase your shutter speed and in turn increase the size of your lens aperture opening. That way you will get your foreground and background in the same exposure, but still have nice blurred backgrounds thanks to that large aperture. HSS is usually only on powerful and expensive flash units.

Flash brackets.

Strobe flash does not always produce ideal results. It can produce harsh and unflattering images, especially when not using a method to make the light more omni-directional. Sometimes that problem arises when an add-on flash is connected directly to the camera’s hot-shoe. This setup works fine for standard horizontal pictures, but an issue arises when the camera is held vertically. The flash’s light will be on the same level as the camera’s lens, producing a strange upward shadow on your subject. As we expect light sources to come from above thanks to the sun’s rays, having such odd shadows produces a strange look to the image. To get around that problem, you can buy something called a flash bracket. The most standard configuration of a flash bracket goes like this: It is a metal single hinged bracket in the form of an un-curved “C” where the interior bottom of the bracket screws into the camera’s tripod screw. The hinge allows the top of the “C” to move, allowing whatever is connected there to be above the camera when everything is held vertically. Using that mechanism, you can now have the flash above the camera at all times. The flash would be connected to the camera with a small sync cord, which gives enough length for both configurations to work. The other benefit of a flash bracket is that it can often act as a second grip, so you can hold the bracket with your left hand and the camera’s grip with your right. Brackets are relatively cheap and a staple of event photography, so I would suggest getting one if you can get over the embarrassment of using such a serious camera setup and of course the negative of having to carry around extra bulk.

Bokeh and blur maximization.

As mentioned in the short terms list earlier in this book, bokeh is a word to describe the aesthetic quality of the blur that is outside the depth of field (where objects are in sharp focus). There are many factors that can contribute to good or bad bokeh. First and foremost is the lens aperture, but more specifically the shape and number of blades. Having a large number of blades, say 9 or more, and having blades that are curved will allow the lens aperture to stay perfectly round throughout the entire aperture range. If you sit down and examine an image that has small depth of field, you might start to notice shapes forming in the blur, especially when there are point-light sources in the background. The shapes and their respective borders will match the look of the aperture’s opening, so a perfectly rounded aperture will generate the same type of bokeh highlights and contribute to blur texture.

Smooth background blur.

Another aspect of bokeh is the overall smoothness of out of focus objects. For example, if a tree with empty branches is in the background of your frame, you might see just a smooth outline or one with more well defined edges and colored halos around them. That being said, the ideal bokeh is usually smooth and featureless so lenses that produce odd sharpness in blur will be undesirable. Having color halos and sharp lines in bokeh is due to the quality and design of the glass inside your lens, so when looking for a new lens, try to examine sample images to see how the blur renders.

The main benefit of small depth of field photography (aka. blur maximization) is that you can isolate your subject in a pocket of blur. That way, you will be able to bring out a subject’s features to their utmost in showing what you wanted to portray as the primary focus. It is simply the act of isolating to define purpose, and especially helpful in tight crowded convention situations. With a specialized lens and the right technique, you can almost literally get the subject to pop-out of the frame compared to everything else around it.

Your lens and surroundings are key to maximizing the effect. In wide open spaces or in large empty convention centers, you will be able to have blurred backgrounds just by allowing for a large emptiness behind your subject that would be situated in the foreground near you. The two simplest rules related to maximizing blur are to keep your subject close to you and keep your aperture open as wide as you can. Another trick would be to use a long telephoto lens to compress features of the image and basically enlarge the background blur so that it appears to be smoother. Take note that you are not really changing the depth of field much with the telephoto lens, but you are changing how you look at your subject.

Histogram reading and image review.

Before digital cameras came around, some aspects of image creation in the field were left up to chance. Now with the advent of digital cameras, you can instantly review your work to get an idea of how the image just turned out after pressing the shutter. I personally prefer to have my camera setup to not display a review image unless I tell it to by pressing the review button. So why might you ask would I want to have that useful feature disabled? When photographing people in a model to photographer sense, it’s best to review after taking a short session of images. That way you don’t interrupt the flow and connection you have made with the model. Take a few shots and then review, repeating as needed to get what you want. Reviewing after every shot will quickly make the situation awkward thereby breaking any good flow.

A standard tonal (lightness) distribution histogram.

When reviewing an image, you have a few well known options that are in most cameras. The first would be an alert that you can enable which shows overly bright and dark areas of an image. In my camera’s image view settings it is simply called “Bright/Dark Area” as a check-box I can select. When selected, the camera draws red boxes over blown highlights and yellow boxes over blacked out lowlights. The second option would be to enable the histogram. It is a graph that shows the tonal (lightness) distribution of an image by plotting the number of pixels of each tonal value. Seeing part of the graph stretch out past the bounds will mean that either the image’s highlights were blown (right side of the graph) or the shadows were blacked out (left side of the graph). You can also quickly judge if the image is overall under-exposed or over-exposed by the distribution of graph data toward one of the sides. Some cameras such as mine include a second type of histogram called the color histogram, which represents the color distribution of the image in graph form. So I see four graphs consisting of red, green, blue, and white for lightness. That will allow me to make sure the image does not have a single color that is over exposed and that overall white balance is correct.

A histogram that shows color distribution.

In addition to what I mentioned about using histograms and alerts to notify you that the dynamic range limits of your camera were passed, checking how your framing turned out is a good idea. In some DSLR cameras, the viewfinder does not completely display everything that will be in the image. These viewfinders are usually in cheaper DSLRs, so you just need to be mindful of your framing when using one of those. It is good to check regardless of viewfinder coverage. After taking a set of shots, examine the edges of the frames to make sure a finger, camera strap, or shadow did not accidentally show up. Even throughout the image, it is sometimes easy to miss an eyesore like a trash can or someone staring or making a funny face at you in the background (called a “photo bomb”).


Post processing is the act of taking your images from the camera and modifying them to further enhance their look and feel. In the days of film, this would be done while the film was being developed, or most often when a print was being made. Among other techniques, they would dodge to darken, burn to lighten, and filter to improve contrast. Many of those concepts were translated into computer software, so when you use a program like Adobe Photoshop, you are applying similar effects to your images without all of the chemicals and film.

Post-processing to clean up the background.

Various schools of thought.

Some people feel they are cheating by doing post-processing on the image with a computer. While it is admirable to try and get the best image possible out of the camera, they should also consider that shooting in JPEG mode and modifying color and contrast sliders in the camera means that they are leaving most of the work to the camera’s computer programming. In my opinion, taking images in RAW mode and then processing them using my eyes and a well calibrated screen are best, not images left up to the camera’s algorithms and the quality of in-camera JPEG compression algorithms. To take things even further, some photographers do a lot more processing to their images that just changing color and exposure. While the resulting image is certainly not the same work it was originally, it still should be considered art on its own.

Available software on your OS of choice.

Operating Systems from Microsoft and Apple both have Adobe products available. More specifically Lightroom and Photoshop. Both programs are more that sufficient at post-processing, if not the professional standard. Photoshop is geared toward the heavy editing aspect of pictures, and Lightroom is geared toward organizing and lightly processing images. For Mac, you can use their own software called Aperture, which is probably most like Adobe Lightroom with the level of editing features available. I have never used either of those two programs. Because I have always been happy with Photoshop, I can’t really give you any solid suggestions as to which program is best for most photographer work. Besides the big names in image editing, there are many others such as Paint Shop Pro, Gimp, Google Picasa, and of course the programs that camera companies offer or include with their camera bodies.

I use Ubuntu Linux, so it is a bit more challenging for me to find decent photography specific editing software. What I do currently is use an old license of Photoshop I own through a Windows emulation program called WINE. I also use programs such as F-Spot Photo Manager and RAW Studio.

Ideas on how to improve your processing.

My first idea would be to shoot images in RAW format, more specifically a general format like Adobe DNG if that is available in your camera. The reason is that you will be recording more image data in a loss-less format compared to JPEGs because RAW is recorded in 12 – 16 bits instead of 8 bits with lossy compression and set white balance. With more information, you will be able to recover highlights and hard areas with more success than otherwise. In most popular post-processing software that can edit raw files, there is a quick editing mode specifically used for RAW files that is displayed before the image will be opened in your editor. You are able to tweak various settings such as exposure, white balance, brightness, contrast, shadows, and saturation.

Extreme example of improving contrast.

All of those settings can be useful, but just be careful to monitor your image’s overall look in relation to the histogram if that is available. Optionally you can add special effects such as darkened corners (vignetting) to an image to give it a sharp imperfect subject-focused look or add lens distortion which corrects or adds more to the field. Once your image has been tweaked and loaded into your editor, you are able to further modify the look and feel. Background blur can be added by isolating the subject manually, selecting the inverse of that, and applying a blur filter.

If you shoot a lot of images using available light and not strobe flash, you can use settings like “shadow/highlight” which will allow you to level out the exposure so that shadows can be brighter and highlights can be darker than they were initially captured. If your camera has good dynamic range, you will be able to level out most images to make them appear optimal in overall exposure and actually gain detail that was hidden. Once you have a level exposure, it might be a good idea to add back some contrast or saturation to make the image pop. Besides aspects like contrast, levels, white balance, and exposure, it is sometimes a good idea to go over the image and remove any dust spots with a tool that can clone out or heal a section of the image.

I just recently purchased a copy of Photoshop CS5 Standard as I had tried the demo and was seriously impressed with the RAW editor improvements. Over my old copy of Photoshop CS2 it includes new modifiers such as “Recovery” that pulls back bright blown highlights, “Fill Light” that brightens overly darkened areas, “Clarity” that improves sharpness with extra definition around object edges, and “Vibrance” which increases overall color usage. Besides the RAW improvements the editor itself has a photography layout customized toward a standard work-flow.

Often I use Photoshop actions to help in processing large batches of photos. I create an action that increases contrast as that is often all that is needed. This action also saves the file to disk as a high-resolution JPEG. After I have the action working, I link that up with the File >> Automate >> Batch… process that performs a Photoshop action on a directory of files. As I shoot DNG RAW files, I check the box to suppress the RAW editor from popping up. Before running the action I often go through the files in the RAW editor individually to fix any flaws. These changes will be included in the batch process. Overall I suggest you consider paying for a powerful piece of software like Photoshop. There really has never been a more useful tool in the 8 years I’ve been doing this.

Promotion and reach.

Part of what makes photography, and convention photography in particular, fun is being able to sharing images with the people you photograph. A challenge with any type of networking is finding out good ways to help people find your work and giving them ways to contact you or provide feedback.

Business cards.

Business cards are a great way to let the cosplayers you have taken photos of know how they can see the results of your work. Avid convention photographers go to great lengths to attend conventions, often ones that are out of their home state. Besides promoting your photography, it also gives you the opportunity to include your name, the name of your photography company if applicable, and links to other type of work you want the general public to know about. The big negatives of business cards is that they cost money to make and there is no guarantee the person will visit your site or contact you. Options for cards would be custom or pre-made designs, front and/or back printing, card stock thickness, and glossy or matte finish. I have used a popular on-line service for a few years called Vistaprint, but recently a friend of mine suggested a local service with good prices I might check out.

Glossy custom graphic business cards.

Social networking.

With the advent of social networking websites, the Internet is one of the best ways to network with people. Using or others like are an easy and free way to try and garner a following of people who have an interest in your work. With the talk of business cards, it might be a good idea to create a page on Facebook for your work and include that link on your cards. You might be surprised how often people will put forth the effort to make contact with you through a well known site like Facebook as it is familiar to them and they most likely have a profile on there.


While having a Facebook page is a great idea and I think there is no reason to not set one up, having a dedicated website for your photography is ideal. You have the option of making your own site by using open-source gallery software and installing it on web hosting, using a gallery site like Flickr/Google Picasa Web, or using a service dedicated to serious photographer galleries. Even if you know how to do computer programming, I would strongly suggest using one of the services geared toward dedicated photographers out there because they offer a few special features you can’t easily get elsewhere. With popular services like Zenfolio and Smugmug, they allow you to have a fast dedicated image gallery with smooth well thought out user interfaces that top completely free solutions.

A web-based image gallery using Zenfolio.

If you opt to pay a reasonable yearly fee, you will have the ability to sell prints and downloads of your work, which I think is a great feature and reason enough to use one of these rather than rolling your own solution. You will also most likely be able to upload an unlimited amount of photos, offer password protected galleries, and supplement the gallery with information pages allowing the gallery to be a one stop shop.

My Zenfolio based site has been a pleasure to work with, while not perfect (I use Linux and options for uploading large numbers of photos successfully in Linux is limited as of this writing…), it has been a great purchase overall. I have even had a few orders from cosplayers since I transitioned from a community gallery site called Flickr to my own dedicated site on Zenfolio. While sites like Zenfolio and Smugmug usually offer a free account, their paid accounts allow you to link up a domain name of your choice to the service. You can register a domain on any of the multitude of registration sites out there and easily link that up with your gallery hosting account (just make sure the service you choose allows for it). Having a professional level gallery with a dedicated domain instead of or shows people you are serious about your work.

The process from start to finish.

As mentioned earlier in this book, there are a few different types of photographers who attend conventions. I fit myself into the serious photographer category who roam the halls looking to take as many cosplayer photographs as possible. I’ll be talking about how a day in the life of that convention photographer goes over so you can have a better idea of what to expect.

Various styles of camera bags.

Before the convention, I spend a good deal of time debating on what camera equipment to take along. If the convention is smaller, or I’m just not in the mood to lug around a large setup, I decide on a single camera body and 1 to 3 lenses. Often I opt to leave my strobe flash and related accessories at home as I feel I can still be effective just using natural light. Other times I will bring two camera bodies, multiple lenses, and lighting equipment with accessories like a flash bracket for the big conventions.

When carrying around camera gear, it is important to have a functional bag or two ready for any style of photography. Lately I have been using a Kata 3N1 bag that allows for me to use it as a backpack or sling bag depending on how it is configured. It allows me to carry around a larger amount of equipment without the transport problems of other bag styles (you can’t beat a backpack for carrying heavy gear). On the flip side, I often carry around a simple shoulder messenger-style bag that will allow me to carry around a single camera body and two extra lenses. My suggestion would be to try to stay as minimal as possible because you will be walking around for hours on end. If you can’t decide, bring a set of gear in two differently sized bags, so once there you can decide which bag will best fit your needs.

At the convention, scout around the whole area and look for places where lighting and background will be optimal if you have any private shoots planned. If not, just start walking around the convention and enjoy the fun to be had. For example, in the morning at a large convention in Rosemont Illinois, I try to get to the dealer’s room before it opens. Often that means a large number of people will be standing around there doing nothing, making it a prime opportunity to easily ask cosplayers for their photograph. The other added benefit is that the large hall outside the dealers room where everyone waits has spectacular natural lighting. The hall is big with tall ceilings, the floors are a shinny granite like material, and most importantly the lights appear to be connected to the roof to let diffuse sunlight in. Add all of those factors together and it results in great photos.

To get things started, it is as simple as walking up to someone and asking for their photo. I can’t ever recall a time where I was denied, but infrequently someone might feel they are too busy and kind of brush you off. Take those rare occurrences in stride and move on. In the case of a single person, start out with a full body shot or two directly in front of them. Up until now I have said to look for unique angles, but there is nothing wrong with getting a few basic shots, especially if their pose is exceptional. From there, start off toward your side of choice or ask them to change their pose a bit if it feels bland. Look for the best angle of their face and also keep whatever is the background in mind. You don’t want to end up with a great photo that is ruined by someone who is standing too close to your subject, or there just happens to be a trash can making the background lose any relevance. Along with full body shots, move in closer to take a portrait or two while trying to maximize bokeh if that is your goal.

A general rule of thumb when taking photos is to take a few images per pose. The main reason is that a person’s eyes might blink or their facial expression might slightly change in those five seconds you are photographing one angle. You would be surprised how different a few seconds might make and one out of three captures might be the money shot where everything came together for a split second. If the situation is low pressure and they don’t seem busy, ask them about their cosplay and try to lighten up the atmosphere a bit as it can help improve the overall effort they put into their poses. With that extra time available, you can try to further improve your resulting images by asking to have them hide their convention badge, so that one fewer unsightly obstruction is in the picture. Once you have taken a handful of images (remember more is better!), thank the person and offer a business card or contact information if you want.

A standard group photo.

When you come upon a group of cosplayers, ask one of them who is just standing there. It is a good way to interrupt conversations without causing harm. Frequently, the person you approach will rally the group together, or the others will notice and stop what they are doing to get in on a group shot. As mentioned before, group shots are a bit more challenging than ones of a single cosplayer. When assembling the group for a simple photo, have them move in closer together to give an intimate feel to the resulting image. Sometimes, the group is interested in fun poses that relate back to the show or video game they are cosplaying from. When in doubt ask them if they have any fun poses they want to try out. In these cases, consider the whole 360 degrees around them to get a variety of angles and try to be quick about moving around while they stand there frozen trying to hold sometimes outlandishly funny poses for you. Once the mini-photo-shoot is finished, thank them and offer up your contact information to one of the group as that will be sufficient in most cases.

A unique perspective on a group photo.

Over the course of the day, you repeat that process a few hundred times if you can muster the level of effort it takes to approach, ask, and photograph that many people. Regardless of how many cosplayers you can photograph, try to enjoy every single situation and make it fun for both parties. People really respond well to fun and pleasant small talk as you are taking their photo. Just try to stay on topic and be mindful not to say something that can be taken the wrong way about their costume or physical looks. Try not to be overly complementary about how good they look, but it’s generally okay to say just how much they fit into character and how good the construction of their costume is.

My equipment.

Although I’m sure you can tell from the example images I’ve shown previously, I thought I might as well include a section on my equipment to provide some background information. My gear is actually pretty unique compared to what most photographers are sporting, but that has been the case in most things I do. I primarily use Pentax DSLR cameras and prime (fixed focal length) lenses. Often, I don’t even bother using an external flash as I can “get away with” not using it in many situations. The reason I chose Pentax SLRs around 2005 was because they tend to be smaller than competing offerings yet offer the same or more features as those larger models. They also tend to be very ergonomic in how they function, making it easy for me to properly control the camera in all situations. My two current camera bodies are the Pentax K-5 (16 MP Sony sensor) and Pentax K-7 (14 MP Samsung sensor), which are the fully weather sealed pro-level bodies, have a very quiet mirror/shutter, have internal shake reduction, and are primarily covered in magnesium alloy around a steel frame. Their viewfinders have a 100% view at 0.92 magnification, meaning everything I see in the viewfinder will be exactly what is in the resulting image. These two bodies are physically the same and use the same batteries, so I’m able to switch around accessories and have a stock of batteries that work with both.

I primarily use prime lenses, which I like to call a “lifestyle choice” as they can be geared more toward the specialty end of image capture. I can’t say I really have one set reason I prefer primes, but it comes down to aspects like physical size, large aperture, high sharpness, and a certain way prime lenses allow me to focus my abilities as a photographer. I’m less interested in standing in one spot when using a prime, so it forces me to look for different angles and points of perspective that will maximize the quality and interest of my resulting images. Now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy zoom lenses and certainly see them as an option in many situations such as when photographing masquerade events on stage were I need to stay in one position.

Dual wielding two camera bodies.

Sometimes when shooting primes, I use two camera bodies at once, which I like to call “dual wielding” in homage to FPS video games where the term became popular. It usually goes down like this… My primary camera body has a wide angle prime lens with a standard neck strap. The second camera body has a hand strap and a wide aperture lens in the 50-70mm range attached. I have a single camera holster style shoulder bag where I store my second camera. While walking around the convention I hold the “portrait camera,” as I like to call it, in my hands so it is instantly ready once I find someone to photograph.

Once I take a few shots with that camera, I quickly put it back in my bag and start shooting with the primary wide angle camera. While I will admit it is a little challenging getting people to realize I am going to take photos of them with two separate cameras, it results in a large variety of images without having to worry about changing camera lenses in the field (one negative of specialty prime lenses). When I’m not up to using two cameras, I use a single wide aperture prime lens in the 30 – 35mm range for use on APS-C sized cameras (eg. for full-frame, use something around 50mm). That focal length is wide enough and long enough for pretty much any close range style of photography as long as I have room to maneuver for full body shots.

Ask the person first.

It is important to ask before taking a photo. First, because it is polite, especially when you are using a flash. Second, because you will be able to take much better photos if the person is giving you their attention and facing your direction. I’ll admit, sometimes I’m okay with taking a snapshot where a large group of photographers has wrapped around a cosplayer or group of cosplayers. It is mainly due to not being able to get their attention when there are 5 or more other people around taking photos in an almost unending stream, so I’d just take a quick photo.

Many photographers off frame.

Sometimes when I ask for a photo and start taking pictures of the cosplayer or group, other photographers end up trying to get in on the action and start taking shots (say 20% of the time this happens…). While it is not always an issue, sometimes I end up physically running into them because I do not know they are behind me, or they are in my way as I move around to try and get the best images I can. Other times the cosplayer changes who they are looking at, which ruins my shot. In situations like this, please wait there until the person is finished and then ask the cosplayer for a photo. It is polite to both of them to just wait, and it will allow you to take the best images you can without being restricted by having a person in the way or in the frame itself. Use your discretion in these matters.


Convention photography is not all fun and games. Sometimes difficult situations can arise to make things not so great. When situations like that happen, it is often best to just walk away. Getting the image is not always worth the hassle. A good mindset is to focus on the best times and fun of convention photography and to slough off anything else that just is not worth your time.

Interrupting people.

Interrupting people is one of the major difficulties of walking around conventions and asking for photos. Many cosplayers are looking to have their photo taken, but sometimes that is not the case. If someone is on a cellphone, resting in a corner out of the action, talking seriously to a friend, in the process of buying something in the dealers room, eating something, or not giving you any sort of eye contact or body language as you approach, it might be best to just walk out of the situation rather than putting forth the effort to ask. A lot of the reason why I do this is to make images for cosplayers that they can admire and enjoy. Dealing with people who don’t want to be approached or snubbing my request is not really worth dealing with. That being said, bad situations are very rare and most often people will completely drop what they are doing to pose for me. Just be prepared and look for individuals who are in a situation where interrupting what they are doing will actually make them happy rather than the opposite case.

Look for individual cosplayers walking around aimlessly, browsing in the dealers room, or just hanging out in high-traffic areas. Chances are they are ready and willing for a mini photo session. The thrill of being recognized for their work is a big part of why they do cosplay, so the more people like that you can photograph the better. By asking for a photo, you are helping them enjoy the convention and will possibly make a good connection for future conventions if you give out your contact information afterward. If you know the name of their character, saying it will sometimes get them to look your way, which makes things even easier. For groups, approach the person who is least active in any group conversation as they are the best ones to ask considering they are just standing around without much to do as their friends talk. Besides those two situations, there is often a guy/girl pair which are the more difficult people to approach. I can’t really give you any suggestions on how to approach that situation, but just to ask. Recently I had walked past a pair and wanted to ask for a photo of the girl in cosplay but did not. I had inadvertently given the girl eye contact, which I guess she picked up on. As I was taking a breather down the hall, they came back and stopped right near me. I took the opportunity to ask for a photo and in turn got the shots I was looking for. With good intentions almost any situation will work out for the best.

Constrained areas.

Getting high quality interestingly framed images in constrained areas is a big aspect of convention photography. If you happen to run into a great cosplayer and ask for a photo, you just need to work with whatever the area is like. If it is a small or busy room with crowds of people, you can use your photography abilities to try and isolate the person or group to make them stand out as the subject of your image.

Angled away from the dealer room tables.

Let’s say you are in the dealers room. You see a wonderful cosplayer browsing DVDs at one of the tables and don’t want to miss the chance of getting their photo. So you ask for a photo, but now you need to deal with the crowds and limited space. Shooting their photo with the dealer’s table in the background does not give you much room for nice background blur. Try having them move out about a foot from the table. Get yourself parallel to the cosplayer and the table. Now you can use the hallway or span of the room to your advantage since there tends to be at least a few feet of empty space in the pathway between sections of dealer tables. You can crouch down and take a photo of the cosplayer so that you get a lot of the empty ceiling in the frame as a background. You can also angle the camera halfway between landscape and portrait such that you fill most of the frame with the cosplayer to avoid background busyness.

There are many ways to get an interesting shot with limited space besides those simple ideas like using a wide angle lens, taking a portrait instead of a full body shot, and asking the cosplayer if they would like to take a photo in a better area. Be a king or queen of improvisational photography!

Physical activity.

In the style of convention photography I do, I walk around a lot. Moving around the convention center for hours on end can start to get tiring. It is important to take breaks every once in a while, ideally by trying to enjoy something happening at the convention. So if I’m tired of walking around, I might check out an informational panel about an Anime I am interested in, watch some videos being played in screening rooms for a while, have something to eat, return to my hotel room for a while, or simply find a spot in the convention areas to take a break. While this might seem funny, spend a few weeks doing physical activity before the convention, so the large amount of exercise happening over the convention weekend won’t get to you as much. Rocky Balboa did not win his matches by sitting idle. Train hard in photography as well as you physical state.

Informational and fun panels are at conventions.


Attending conventions can get pricey. Most often there is a registration fee for a weekend badge of around $30 – $60, which allows you access to all areas of the convention. Besides that, the main costs consist of transportation to and from the convention as well as the cost of a room for two nights. To mitigate those costs, you can invite some friends to join you, allowing for the costs to be split amongst the group. Another option would be to be staff at the convention, which usually means getting a badge, a place to sleep, and sometimes food in exchange for working. The big negative there is that you will spend most of your time working and won’t have that much time to do photography. If you are staffing in the photography department, you will probably have the added negative of being unable to monetize the images you take by uploading them on your site and offering prints or downloads, not to mention you will have to turn over a copy to the convention for royalty free use.

With all costs considered, I can spend anywhere from $100 to $500 on a convention depending on how many days I attend and where it is located. If you really branch out to conventions in states other than where you live, expect to spend even more to get there. Besides convention costs, you might want to look into taking out a basic insurance policy on your camera equipment. With all of the action and excitement, there is sometimes the chance of losing a piece of equipment, or having something get damaged. I personally have a policy through my State Farm agent, which is a yearly fee based on how much in a dollar amount I wanted to insure. Usually the insurance company will want a complete listing of your equipment including serial numbers and receipts if you have them.

For the cosplayers.

On the opposite side of the convention coin there are people in costume known as cosplayers. I too have done quite a few cosplays over the years. Generally, I assemble my costumes from parts rather than constructing the costume from fabric and other various materials, so I’m not a hardcore cosplayer. Yet I still understand most aspects of it as it happens on the convention floor. I feel that trying to participate in both aspects of convention photography gives me a well rounded understanding, thereby helping me improve what is most important to me personally, that being photography. Cosplaying is just fun too.

Getting your picture taken.

Most cosplayers do it partly to be noticed, and the rest in homage to their favorite Anime or game characters. It is fun getting the attention of someone yelling out a characters name or asking for a picture. When they yell out that name, they are referring to you! I remember the time I came upon a “Durarara” Celty Sturluson cosplayer in a large dealers room. If you know nothing about this character or show, imagine a women in black leather from neck to toe. She always wears a yellow biker helmet with a reflective visor so you can’t see her face (technically the actual character has no face…). The character in the show communicates through a cellphone, so this cosplayer had a prop to match. While taking a photo she was posing by holding the phone facing me like the character does after writing a message. The phone was not on, so I mentioned something to the cosplayer about it. In perfect representation of the character, she gets a little huffy (all with body language mind you…), turns on her phone and starts typing out a message for me. I stand there for a few moments as she is doing that in sheer awe at feeling like I was experiencing the show firsthand. Her message ended up being ” 😛 “, which is the emoticon for sticking your tongue out at someone!

Celty Sturluson cosplayer acting in character.

Getting random complements, having your photo taken, and meeting new people through gatherings comes with the territory. Sometimes it can be challenging to get your photo taken, so I’ll offer up a few ideas to help from the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the fence.

Observe and ask.

Do you see someone walking around and taking photos of cosplayers, or recognize someone who is a well known convention photographer? If you want your photo taken, you can either try to hint, or do the simple thing and ask. I can’t think of any photographer ever turning down a request for a photo-opportunity, so don’t let embarrassment get the best of you. Even on the off chance they said no, just brush off the situation and move on to the next!

A group of photographers.

There are literally hundreds of people at most conventions wanting to take your photo, so all you need to do is find a good one who will share their skills for a few minutes. It’s really simple, just observe to see if they are into taking photos of cosplayers in general (avoid the ones only taking photos of scantily clad women), if they seem to be pretty general about who they ask, it won’t hurt to ask for a few photos and should result in some nice results after the convention as long as you get their contact information.

Over the top should work.

Wow factor in your cosplay is the best way to get noticed and have your picture taken. Wearing a spectacular and elaborate costume will have casual and serious photographers alike flocking around you. This is especially important with guys because many casual and serious photographers might skip on asking for a photo unless the character you are cosplaying is special to them in some way. A 7ft tall robot cosplayer or one with a large prop will naturally get a lot more attention than someone who is “closet cosplaying” a character in common street clothing.

Who wouldn’t notice that prop?

Accessories are also really useful in getting people to approach you for a photo. Just recently I had a man in military game related cosplay tell me that his hand held battery powered Gatling gun prop brought him the most attention he had ever received. It makes sense that outlandish or extremely well done cosplay will gain more attention. As a photographer I will admit I sometimes skip people I think might be in cosplay, but I can’t tell for sure because I do not recognize the costume. I have had a few times where someone told me they were not in costume after I asked for a photo.

The rotating gun really adds to his overall look.

Hint and make it easy for them.

Asking for photos is not the easiest thing to do from a social point of view. I always try to be as polite as possible, so I end up missing some great cosplayers as they always appear to be busy or situated in such a way that I can’t easily get near enough to ask without raising my voice. To make things as easy as possible, try to drop a hint by giving eye contact or breaking off a bit from your group so the photographer will be walking right past you.

Stand around.

Some people really like to be always moving. Either alone or with a group of friends, they are jumping around and walking around fast. They might be in a great well constructed costume, but as they are moving around constantly, it makes having their photo taken really difficult because no one can stop them to ask. The important thing here is to find a high traffic area and to not be on a cell phone. Take a break sometimes in those areas and see what happens. If the serious photographers don’t stop and ask, I would be surprised. You don’t even need to just sit or stand around, but just walk slower. It’s embarrassing to try to catch up with someone to ask for their photo, so I usually skip out on those opportunities. If they had been walking at a slower pace I could have easily caught up without the embarrassment. Slow down and try to enjoy the convention at a casual pace sometimes. You might be surprised that people ask for a photo more often than before.

People hanging around the main convention hotel.

Contact information is key.

Sure, having your photo taken is fun. Being able to act like a model for a few minutes can be a great time, but being able to see the resulting image is even better. Don’t expect that you will be able to find the photographer’s images on-line. When you think about it, there are hundreds if not thousands of people taking photos, but when checking on-line after the convention, only a few hundred at best post up links to their pictures through the convention’s site or forums. Google or Yahoo! search might be able to help find a few more, but it is still a long time-consuming process trying to find a photo of yourself.

Trade business cards to make connections.

If you are curious how someone’s pictures will turn out, you need to ask for contact information. Once the photographer is done taking pictures, be sure get their attention with haste, otherwise they might run off quickly to their next photo opportunity! They asked you for a photo, you can ask them for contact information in return. To make things even better, make sure you have a pen and paper or cellphone available, so you can record what they give you if they don’t happen to have business cards. To be on the safe side, limit your request to being specifically about seeing pictures after the convention, so they don’t get the wrong idea. Making the interaction business-like will really help you get a nice set of photos after the convention.

Construction quality among other things.

As I was saying earlier, standing out is a great way to get noticed, but having a well constructed costume is as well. Intricate well-constructed costumes will naturally stand out in a crowd over ones that are mass-produced and made in China, or ones where someone did not spend much time on them. You can still stand out without having a flashy costume by choosing one that has elaborate fabric work and naturally shows people you spent a lot of time and effort on the cosplay.

R. Dorothy Wayneright with white makeup.

Besides a well constructed outfit, having makeup on that further puts you in character will help a great deal. A nice R. Dorothy Wayneright Big-O cosplayer without pale white body makeup won’t be noticed as easily as one that does. Even if your character does not have unique features like that, using makeup to make yourself appear more Anime or video game-like will help. Besides having a well constructed costume, it is important that it fits properly. Wearing something that is too small or too big ruins the overall look and might cancel out some of the the excitement others might normally show for your work.

Quality costume construction.

It is my belief that anyone can cosplay successfully regardless of your physical attributes as long as the costume you wear fits you properly. If a perfect fit is too difficult, choosing clothes that are too loose rather than the opposite is a good rule to follow. With great effort should come great rewards in positive feedback related to your work.

Learn how to pose.

There is more to having a successful mini photo-shoot than just getting asked for a photo. Knowing how to pose can really help result in great photos. Don’t expect the photographer to give direction, but take it if they do. To make the pictures successful through your own skills, learn how to pose in fun and exciting ways. First, let’s start off with what not to do. Do not stand completely limp with your body facing forward unless it somehow fits in character. It’s technically not bad, but generally results in a boring photo.

Head-on martial arts stances don’t usually work.

Do not act like you are ready to have a martial arts match with the photographer. Standing with one shoulder directly facing the camera will result in you having a small uninteresting profile. Showing the smallest profile possible to the person facing you is exactly why martial arts stances are like that, so that they are less of a target! Being less of a target won’t help make a nice image. It’s okay to use a martial arts stance, but not one that is directly forward to the lens. The simple answer to a technically decent photograph is to angle your shoulders and body about half way between the two no-no stances (3/4ths views are good). That way you will show some depth while still showing costume detail.

The difference between poses.

To enhance a pose, try to incorporate one from the character you are cosplaying. If they don’t have any specific poses, do something fun and try to include your whole body. If your arms are just hanging there or your face has no expression, chances are the picture won’t turn out as well as it could have been. When posing with your group of friends, don’t be afraid to touch each other or use fun situational poses that are from scenes of the video or game. When using props, try to keep them close to your body, but don’t cover anything vital like your face. The best thing to do is to practice and learn about how people pose. Search the Internet for posing tutorials and try to integrate any ideas they have into your own style.

Paying for the shot.

Free is great, and everyone likes to get free stuff! That being said, don’t expect all photographers to give you free high-resolution photos. It’s easy for people to buy books, videos, figurines, wall scrolls, comic books, and whatever else interests them at conventions, but often they are not interested in buying a photographic print or high resolution picture file. At most conventions, some well known organizations have photo booths set up in the dealers room, which is a pretty decent option and a way to instantly get a print made.

Optionally, you can find photographers like myself who roam the convention and also offer ways to get prints or large file downloads into cosplayer’s hands after the convention. What I personally do is offer up my time at the convention for free, but ask for compensation when it comes to prints and high-resolution photographs through my gallery website if a small watermarked image is not enough.

Is it necessary?

Spending money for quality convention photos is certainly not necessary. There are hundreds of photographers roaming the halls, so getting your photo taken enough times will probably result in many nice images to choose from after the convention. Some amateur photographers and even serious ones will give you a high-resolution image if you ask nicely, but don’t expect to get those without specifically requesting it. Setting up private photo-shoots are a good way to start a relationship with photographers, where they will more likely be willing to give you some freebies. Just come up with some mutually beneficial terms before doing those types of shoots with someone.

If you request a private shoot with a photographer, make sure the terms are well defined and that both parties can benefit from the shoot in some way. When at a convention, try your very best not to “flake” (not show up) to a photoshoot. After the convention it is polite to stay in contact if at all possible. Without that, future chances of more individual time is low if they are under the impression you didn’t like the results or didn’t appreciate them spending time with you.


Convention photography is a large topic with a lot to cover. To get started, I hinted at why convention photography is fun and what you can gain from it as a photographer or as a cosplayer.

Much of the book was dedicated to technical information for photographers. The beginner and intermediate photographers were shown everything from how DSLR cameras work to details about the most important camera settings like aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.

Lighting was described by giving ideas on how to manage both natural light and light from a strobe flash device. The importance of using devices that soften and angle light were stressed.

Composition and photographic techniques were a big part of the book that had more of an artistic flair to them compared to the equipment and camera setting topics. I went over some of the common ideas such as the rule of thirds and golden ratio. I also tried to point out some of the more popular framing styles like the portrait, full-body shot, and the dutch angle.

Even post-processing tools and my convention photography process from start to finish has been described. When having a photo session, it’s important to take multiple pictures for each pose to avoid a cosplayer’s accidental blinking reflex. Every aspect of the process can be key to success and even just having a good time.

Doing photography at conventions isn’t all about taking photos. From approaching people to letting others know about how to find your photos, there were a lot of extras talked about. Depending on your goals for convention photography, promoting your work and networking with people can be challenging at times. I discussed my experiences with getting photos out there on the Internet and how I directly interface with people using more common methods like business cards.

Convention photography isn’t all fun and games. I hinted on the costs involved as well as the difficulties of taking photos in harsh and cramped environments. A long day of walking around the convention center can be taxing on your body. It’s smart to take your time and rest by enjoying what the convention has to offer.

Advanced convention photographers were not left out with respect to helpful bits of information. While you probably understood the technical aspects or other detail oriented topics I covered, chances are you came away with a few tips and techniques you could try out for fun to see how they work for you. Sometimes more advanced photographers avoid using prime lenses as they can be inconvenient compared to zoom lenses. I pointed out how equipment like that can be manageable and rewarding to use.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence with cosplay photography. While I focus on photography most of the time, I have cosplayed quite a few times before. I included helpful tips for fellow cosplayers to help them get better photos, as I know how the photographer thinks when out in the field looking for hallway photos. Practicing your posing is important because you can’t expect the photographer to control everything in a photo.

Being asked for photos is great recognition for the work cosplayers put into their costumes. As a cosplayer I mentioned the importance of putting yourself in situations where it makes having your photo taken very likely. Cosplayers, especially men who have a harder time getting their photo taken, that have extreme props and elaborate or quality aspects to their costumes stand a better chance of getting attention and photo requests as they roam the convention halls.

I also mentioned a surefire way of getting the photos you want. Hiring a photographer or visiting one of the many photo-stands, usually located in the dealer’s room of large conventions, is a good idea. While paying for photos is the easiest way to go about the problem of getting your photo taken, it certainly isn’t necessary with some effort on your part.

When it’s all said and done, the main thing is to enjoy the convention in the way that means something to you. I’ve found that I express and develop my photography to its fullest extent in the context of a convention setting. I can also have fun at conventions by enjoying their events, cosplaying, and meeting great people who have a mutual interest in whatever the convention is about.

I hope you enjoyed this book as much as I did writing it. If you would like to contact me, you can visit one of my websites located at or

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