As a lot of photogs here have learned (or already knew), shooting at a convention is one of the toughest things to do. The lighting is bad, the location is crowded, and usually the space is pretty ugly. Here’s a list of things I’ve found that make it easier to get better photos at a con. Please add in your own tips and tricks as well!
1: Get to know the hotel/con centre and scout out locations beforehand.
I love arriving at cons on Thursday when possible, but even early Friday can be a huge help figuring out the layout of the con and where most of the traffic is likely to be. This is the time I find any neat nooks and crannies, staircases, green spaces and everywhere that isn’t a hallway to take photos in. The earlier I can have a mental list of places to go, the sooner I can start shooting in them. (And as the con gets more crowded, I want to take photos of the cosplayers, not look around at the architecture.)
2: Anywhere people aren’t is a potential location.
I usually don’t want random con-goers in my photos if I’m doing a specific shoot, which means moving out of the main halls. If I’m using portrait lenses I usually need space to step back from my model too, so positioning them up against a wall and shooting close isn’t always an option (or a good photo).
I love shooting in parking garages
(if the door doesn’t say ‘alarm will sound’ you’re good to go),
staff access corridors
giant piles of dirt at the outdoor construction site outside the con
silly tiny green areas
These shots come from cons that range in attendance from 1000 to 25000 people, so it doesn’t matter how crowded the con is – you can find dead space.
3: When all else fails, go for a blank wall.
Sometimes (often) at a con, I’ll be shooting a costume that really just doesn’t fit the location. A blank backdrop can showcase the costume, without being too incongruous. ‘Blank’ backdrops don’t have to be a plain white walls either – hotel paintings
, metallic walls
, strange sculptures
and when the con has ‘installation’ things they’re useful too
I also adore concrete
and textured walls. A lot
. One of my convention staples are simple concrete-backed portraits.
4: Look up, look down.
Some of my best photos have come from looking at the floor I was walking on
, or the ceiling above us
. The trick is to make sure I watch the angle the cosplayers are at, to prevent things looking awkward.
5: Learn your flash, Learn your camera.
When you have an additional (swivel-head) flash, practice bouncing it of walls and ceilings to get more flattering light on your cosplayers (and using a diffuser helps). If you’re using on-camera flash, learn how to adjust your flash, or compensate for lack of light. Know how to adjust your ISO, your Aperture and your Focus if possible, so you can use your camera best in any situation/location.
6: Carry a flashlight or a bright cellphone.
Often places not quite a part of the con are too dark for my camera to focus in. I often put a cellphone next to my model’s face (or use a flashlight) and then lock the focus to that while they hide the phone. It works wonders (and lets me get shots
in areas otherwise way too dark to be usable.
7: Blotting sheets save Photoshop hours.
Seriously. A small pack of these
are always in my camera case, and anytime I start to notice shine I ask if the cosplayer has powder to touch up their makeup. If not, I’ll hand them a few of these sheets. They remove a lot of shine without messing up makeup and help save me the time in PS fixing the problem.
8: BE NICE
I can’t stress enough how important it is to be super, obnoxiously
polite (but firm) at a convention. I’ve been allowed to continue shooting in more spaces, been shown how to get to places that are off limits, and have even had security block off a hallway
so I could finish a shoot simply because I’ve presented myself as willing to compromise and being unwilling to cause any harm. When shooting in a space that people need to walk through I always keep an eye out for traffic (or have spotters to warn me when people want to walk through). Now that I use a ‘professional looking’ camera, I find people are more likely to wait for me to finish before passing though. This can be a problem if I plan to use a walkway for the next 20 minutes. I take the shot if it’s set up – but then thank the people waiting and assure them they can go on through. When they apologize, I assure them I’m
in their way, not the other way around, and when they’re clear I go back to shooting. (This means any con staff who are considering kicking me out because I’m causing problems can overhear that I’m not, and often leave me be.)
If security starts hanging around, I snag a few photos but then go talk to them – I ask if it’s all right that I snag some photos here, and promise not to cause any trouble/mess/issue. I make sure I’m not shy about it, just firm and friendly. Often I get security who’re extras hired for the con who aren’t sure of the rules and like to default to ‘no’. If they hesitate, I stress I’m just taking a few photos and won’t be any trouble at all. Pair that with a smile and nod and 9 times out of 10 I find I’ve been allowed to continue what I’m doing without being kicked out of spaces I should not have been in. That said, if security comes yelling or screaming, or are already in a foul mood for us sneaking where we shouldn’t be – I just take it in stride and leave. I always have backup places to shoot in (re #2).
(There was the time at ACEN security thought they had a suicide jumper because we were doing shots on a ledge.
.. or the time a hotel security guard told us how to get around the pool lock so we could shoot at the pool area
we didn't have access to otherwise. You'll always get both sorts.)
Hope this helps give you some ideas for shooting at cons – and I hope the other photogs will add their input too.