5 Tips for Photographing at Conventions

This weekend in Baltimore, tens of thousands of people will line up to celebrate greater and lesser known franchises in Japanese culture. Running for over twenty years, Otakon is well known for elaborate costumes. As a photographer, this event is incredible; there is no better place to practice your skills at portraits and get some of the most colorful photos in your portfolio. I have been going to Otakon since 2011, and here are five lessons I learned since I started.

Waiting in line

Standing in line to get in doesn’t have to be boring. Use it as a opportunity to warm up your conversational skills, fiddle with your camera settings, but most of all ask people to take their picture. Everyone else is just as bored waiting to get inside. Feel free to strike up a conversation with your neighbors and ask to take a few portraits.

Know what’s current

Bone up on the names of characters you think might be popular. There are tons of characters you may not know, but just about every genre and medium will be represented so there is probably something you do know. Everything from video games to cartoons to network TV shows is fair game. You can probably guess what’s going to be popular in any given year. Avid movie goer? Maybe check out the latest Marvel movie and study up on the characters. This year will probably have a lot of Ant-Man costumes. Play a lot of video games? There will probably be some representation from the The Witcher or Arkam Knight. Recognizing someone’s costume is a great way to start a conversation.


Don’t know what that costume is? Just ask 

Even if you don’t know what a costume is, don’t let that stop you. The people who dress up at Otakon and other conventions are the most friendly people I’ve met. If you don’t recognize a costume, just ask. Think about what you really liked about the costume and complement them on it. Over time you’ll start to recognize different characters.

Look for the group photos

Organizers will often gather cosplayers of the same franchise together for a group photo op. More than just an opportunity to see twenty Pikachus at once, you can often see different characters playing off each other and creating scenes that make great photos.

Have Contact Info

The people that put the most effort into their costumes are eager to see photos of their work. Have a business card to hand out and often people will contact you later for the photos. I have found this to be a great way to promote my work. I find that cosplayers are the most considerate at crediting photos, tagging pages, and respecting watermarks. You may even get some business cards yourself from the more established convention goers.



I’ll end with a bonus tip, if you see someone in a costume and your thought is “That would be cool to photograph” don’t hesitate to ask. There are so many people moving around at a convention that if you hesitate to ask someone for photo, you’ll miss it. I have seen so many people in amazing costumes that I wish I had asked, only to hesitate by a fraction of a second and they were gone.

[Photos from my coverage last year]

All images by Rob Cannon. They are used here with permission.

A life-long resident of the DC area, I recently started viewing the city from a different angle: behind a camera. I enjoy capturing concerts, dance, and festivals. My photos are often of concerts seen on popular local blogs, such as DCist.