Better Cosplay Photos: Where Can I Shoot Cosplay? Part 1

There are four shooting types of cosplay photography, each with its own style, and each with its pros and cons. In this post I’m going to discuss the first two, and in my next posts I’ll go over the other two.

The types are:

  • Convention Hallway Shooting
  • Convention Scheduled Shoots
  • Cosplay Gathering Shoots
  • Non-Convention Shoots

Convention Hallway Shooting

Hallway shot from Fanime 2011. Cosplayer: artisticpsyco. Photo by OscarC Photography.

This is the simplest form of cosplay photography, and what most cosplay photographers do first. It’s easy — show up at a convention, walk around, and when you see a nice costume, ask the cosplayer for a quick photo or two. It requires no preplanning or scheduling; you don’t need to know any cosplayers in advance. It’s a great way to meet people, to get practice shooting a wide variety of costumes, and to learn to shoot quickly.

It also has a number of downsides. Most obviously, the background for hallway shots is out of your control; you might have people walking through, or random signs, or some other distracting element. You also have very little time to think about the shot, because the person you stopped is on their way somewhere; if you get 30 seconds of their time, that’s pretty good. You’re also at the mercy of the lighting and environment where you stopped them; occasionally you can get them to step off to one side, where the lighting/background might be a little better, or you can spend more time in the areas of the convention with better lighting & backgrounds. Fundamentally, though, you’re stuck in the high-traffic areas of the convention, for better or for worse.

Hallway shot from DragonCon 2011. Cosplayer: Kasea Vp. Photo by OscarC Photography.

Some photographers will carry portable softboxes or other bulky gear for hallway photography, but for most photographers this isn’t practical. It cuts down on your mobility, and it gets very tiring by the end of the day if you’re not used to it.

For this type of photography, if you have an SLR, I recommend a relatively wide-angle lens; a prime or a relatively fast (large maximum aperture) zoom lens is ideal. Lenses like the 24-70 f/2.8, 18-55 f/2.8, 50/1.8, or 30/1.8 work well. (The 50/1.8 is an especially economical choice for many SLR brands.) An external flash bounced off the ceiling (if possible) or with a diffuser is also a good idea, and looks much better than a built-in pop-up flash.

Convention Scheduled Shoots

Convention shoot with Heulangel at Anime Expo 2009. Photo by OscarC Photography.

With this type of photography, you set up a time to meet up with a cosplayer at a convention and shoot for about 30 minutes at locations around the convention center. Because you now have a dedicated block of time with the cosplayer, you have more time to think about and compose each shot. You can also go with the cosplayer to areas with less foot traffic and better backgrounds.

Safety Warning: Do not go someplace alone with a cosplayer you don’t know! Bring a friend along! Yes, even if you’re a big strong guy! (Then you can put your friend to work as a lighting assistant too!) Cosplayers, this also applies to you too! Almost everyone you meet a convention would never do anything bad, but it only takes one bad person…

Because the cosplayer you’re shooting will be at the convention anyway, finding and scheduling shoots with cosplayers usually isn’t too hard. Shooting at a convention also makes it easy to schedule several shoots on one day. (Perhaps too easy! Don’t overschedule yourself! Allow time for meals, water, and breaks.)

Convention shoot at Fanime 2009 with Riby-san and Yukari Kaiba. Photo by OscarC Photography.

The biggest downside of at-con shoots is that you’re still limited to the convention center and the immediately-surrounding area for backgrounds. Some convention centers aren’t too bad, and have a wide variety of reasonably lit and not-too-crowded locations. Others are crowded, with only ugly or busy backgrounds, or with terrible lighting. Also, since you’re shooting at con, you’re limited by the cosplayer’s schedule and the general hectic nature of a convention. Your shoot may end up being scheduled when the cosplayer has 30 minutes to spare between panel A and gathering B, so you may not have the cosplayer’s full attention during the shoot. And good luck if panel A runs late, and you have another shoot scheduled immediately after this one…

Gear-wise, you have a lot more flexibility than with hallway photography. Regardless of what you bring, keep in mind you’re going to be carrying it around the convention center to each location you shoot at, so unless you’re going to do all the shoots in one location near your hotel room, it’s wise to keep the gear to relative minimum.

In my next post, I discuss Cosplay Gathering Shoots.

About OscarC Photography

Oscar has been a convention and cosplay photographer since 2001. You can follow him on Facebook as OscarC Photography and on deviantArt as ocwajbaum.
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