Last month I attended Anime Central (ACen), a large anime convention near Chicago. I didn’t have many shoots scheduled, so I spent most of the convention doing hallway cosplay shooting. Even though some cosplay photographers belittle hallway shooting as boring, I had a great time, and I got a lot of positive comments about my shots.
I don’t agree with the belief that hallway shooting is what novice photographers do before they graduate to “real” shoots. Certainly, hallway shooting does have a lot of disadvantages:
- You can rarely get a clean background, and you pretty much never get a pretty background
- Your lighting options are limited, usually to just an on-camera flash+diffuser.
- Because you have maybe 30 seconds (at most!) of the cosplayer’s time, there’s almost no time to pose the cosplayer or to think about the shot.
However, from those disadvantages come practice in several important techniques:
- Shooting quickly. Cosplay photographers can become a bit lazy in this area, since cosplayers are almost never paid to model by the hour, and are usually very patient. Learning to shoot quickly is important when shooting paid models. It’s also important when shooting children’s birthday parties, wedding receptions, and other events where you, the photographer, need to capture the action without getting in the way.
- Selecting and processing a large set of photos. Nothing like coming home with 1100 hallway shots to make you hone your photo selection skills, and nothing like having to process the 300 photos from that set to make you hone your speed-processing skills. Both skills are helpful for all photographers, but they become especially useful when you shoot other large events.
- Experience shooting a wide variety of costumes. Just at ACen, I shot more different cosplays than I did in all my private shoots in the past 3 years.
- Making new contacts. Shooting a lot of cosplayers helped me meet some new friends, and introduced a large number of people to my photography. Some of those people have already asked for private shoots. If you only shoot private shoots, you can end up in a bubble, isolated from the larger cosplay community.
Because of all the skills you hone when doing hallway shooting, I strongly encourage even experienced cosplay photographers to hallway shoot at least one convention a year.
Here are some tips when doing hallway shooting:
- Scope out the venue as early as you can, and be prepared. Some venues have low, white ceilings that are very conducive to bouncing a flash off, but most of the time you’re not so lucky. An on-camera flash with a diffuser or mini-softbox is usually required for decent-looking photos.
- If you’re indoors shooting with a flash, shoot in M (manual) mode, with a setting that picks up some ambient. To do this, figure out what the camera thinks are the “right” settings, and then set them about two stops lower. For example, if your camera is metering 1/200th of a sec @f/2.8 at ISO 1600, you could shoot with those settings at ISO 400, making the background darker but not completely black. If you don’t like that look, play around with the settings until you find a flash/ambient mix you like.
- Don’t shoot in one spot for a long time. Move around the convention to find a nice variety of cosplays. (Don’t forget to update your camera settings if you move to a location with different lighting!)
- Don’t carry around a lot of stuff. You will quickly get tired of carrying it, and it’s more things that could get misplaced or stolen while you’re shooting.
- Have business cards ready to hand out. A common cosplayer complaint is, “A hundred photographers shot my costume, but I can’t find any of the photos!” By making your photos easy to find, the cosplayer will remember you and your photography, so you will have made a contact. There are many sites where you can order good quality business cards at a very reasonable price.
- Post them as quickly as you can. Interest in hallway photos diminishes quickly after a convention.
- To post photos quickly, you will need to process them quickly. A quick photo selection pass followed by 30 seconds of Lightroom tweaking is usually plenty.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that hallway photos will not look as good as private shoot photos; that’s not the goal here. Instead of spending 60 minutes trying to get near-perfect photos of one cosplayer, you’re going to spend that time trying to get good photos of 30 cosplayers. If you do that well, they still may be some of the best photos those cosplayers will have of their cosplays.