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.