Every October, thousands make their pilgrimage to Manhattan’s west side and the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to attend New York Comic-Con. For those unfamiliar, NYCC is an annual celebration of their diverse fandoms, ranging from comic books, video games, movies, tv shows, pop culture, and everything in between. Last year’s NYCC had a record-breaking attendance of a quarter of a million people, and that number will likely increase this year. What was once considered geeky or nerdy is now woven into the fabric of pop culture. In recent years, more and more people are openly embracing and expressing their love of the numerous fandoms of which they’re a part. For many convention-goers, cosplaying – the act of dressing up as and embodying their favorite characters – has become a rite of passage. The rise of cosplaying’s popularity has also led to an influx of photographers attending conventions like New York Comic-Con in hopes of capturing the many cosplayers roaming around the convention hall. If you happen to be one of these photographers, this article was written with you in mind.
Decide on Your Approach
For photographers interested in photographing cosplayers, New York Comic-Con is one of the most target-rich environments to be at. With attendance increasing year after year, however, open spaces are also tough to come by. NYCC is one of the few conventions held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center that takes up the entirety of the convention floor. If you’re attending NYCC for the first time, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Javits Center’s floor plan. Downloading the official NYCC app onto your phone will also help you navigate your way around the convention floor. As far as cosplay photography goes, most photographers attending New York Comic-Con tend to go with one of two approaches.
Many cosplayers and photographers tend to congregate around the “tunnel” area where a lot of the food trucks are parked. this area is located beneath the 11th Ave entrances to the Javits Center between W 35th St and W 36th St. If you keep walking straight after going through the security checkpoints but staying outside the convention center itself, you’ll end up there eventually. Finding open real estate in this area is just as hard, if not harder, than finding an affordable apartment in NYC. If you plan on setting up shop in this area to wait for cosplayers to pass by, you’ll want to get here bright and early. Note that the food trucks are technically the only people officially granted permission by NYCC’s organizers to “set up shop” in this area.
Don’t be a jerk: be prepared to relocate if asked to do so by officials. Exercise common sense and don’t be an idiot. As you see cosplayers making their way through this area, kindly introduce yourself to anyone that you’d like to photograph and ask for their permission to create portraits of them. While many cosplayers frequent this area because they’d like to have their photos taken, remember that some of them may be on their way to a panel or other activities happening inside the convention center. Their time is as valuable as yours, so don’t be a jerk if they decline your request to photograph them. Instead, try to arrange a shoot with them later in the day if that works for all parties involved.
If you’d prefer to walk around the convention floor so you can take everything in instead, I don’t blame you. NYCC is getting bigger year after year, and there are so many things happening throughout the weekend that it’s hard for you to take everything in at once. As you’re making your way through the Javits Center, you’re bound to encounter plenty of cosplayers. If you encounter a particular cosplayer whose cosplay you find interesting, introduce yourself and ask them if it’d be okay for you to make a few portraits of them. Don’t be the jerk holding up traffic in the middle of an already packed aisle just because you’re trying to photograph someone. Kindly ask the cosplayer if they wouldn’t mind moving to a less crowded area nearby so that you can create some portraits of them without being a nuisance to other convention-goers. Again, remember that they may be on their way somewhere, so don’t be pushy. No means no. Having done both in the past, each approach comes with unique challenges, which leads us to the next point.
Figure Out What Equipment You’ll Need
For anyone who has never photographed cosplayers at a convention before, the first time at NYCC is going to be a trial by fire. A good mastery of lighting, focal lengths, and posing will help you create some stunning portraits of cosplayers consistently while you’re at the convention. With so many people packed inside the Javits Center at once, there’s not going to be much room between you and your subject. Stick to lenses with shorter focal lengths and leave your long glass at home. From my experience, you’ll have the best success using 35mm or 50mm primes. They’ll allow you to capture 3/4 as well as full-body portraits. If you’ve got room in your camera bag and don’t mind the extra weight, keep an 85mm on you for the rare instance where you’ll be able to put some distance between you and your subject. While zoom lenses are convenient, lighting inside the convention center is far from ideal, and you’ll encounter a lot of mixed lighting and low light situations. The extra stops of light you get with fast prime lenses will be a lifesaver, as well as help you blur out distractions in the fore and background. Do yourself a favor and bring a flash with you as well. Unless you’re setting up shop at the “tunnel,” leave the light stand and studio strobes at home and stick to speed lights. You can keep the speed light mounted onto your hot shoe if you’re into the direct flash look. Better yet, you can bring a remote trigger and use the flash off-camera to give your subjects and their costumes some dimensional quality (don’t forget some spare batteries!). Putting your speed light inside a small, handheld softbox will also give your portraits a more flattering light. Pack light and pack smart, and don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and you’re going to be on your feet pretty much the entire day.
Bonus tip: The cell coverage is often spotty inside the Javits Center, and wifi is basically non-existant (unless you have access to the American Express lounge). This means it’s not always possible to exchange social media info on your phones. Bring plenty of business cards with you and hand them out to everyone you photograph. This way, the cosplayers you photograph can reach out to you after the convention, and you can send them portraits you made of them.
Strike a Pose
Although New York Comic-Con started out as a convention dedicated to all things comics-related, it’s grown into much more than that in recent years. Today, NYCC is a celebration of all flavors of pop culture in general. As you make your way through the halls of the Javits Center, you’ll find many different fandoms represented ranging from comics, movies, television, animation, gaming, etc. It’s more than likely that you’ll end up running into cosplayers dressed as characters from a property that you may not be familiar with. If you find their cosplay to be visually interesting and you’d like to create a portrait of them, be upfront about your unfamiliarity of their character and ask the cosplayer to tell you a bit about them. Cosplayers are an enthusiastic bunch: chances are they’ll be more than happy to share details about their character with you. There are no rules with cosplay, and cosplayers will cosplay just about anything or anyone that they happen to be a fan of. (I once witnessed someone cosplay as the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center itself, talk about meta!) Most of them will probably have practiced a few of the character’s well-known poses as well. Once you’ve got a sense of what the cosplayer’s character is like, you’re ready to create some portraits of the cosplayers. Start with the character’s popular poses, or get creative and ask the cosplayers to pose in stances that suit their character’s personality. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
Scheduling a Shoot Off-Site
With so many people in attendance at NYCC, there’s bound to be distractions in the background unless you’re photographing your subject in front of a wall. Even then, concrete walls aren’t particularly interesting and may not always be suitable for the cosplays you’re photographing. One alternative to photographing cosplayers within the confines of the Javits Center itself is to shoot off-site. There are many different locations that can serve as interesting backdrops for cosplay portraits. Get to know the area surrounding the Javits Center before going to New York Comic-Con and make plans with cosplayers to meet up and shoot outside the convention. The lines to get through security checkpoints getting into the Javits Center can often be as bad as the lines at JFK. Your best bet is to dedicate a day to photographing off-site, so you don’t end up spending half the day going through security. Obviously, this may not always be possible if you or the cosplayer you’d like to photograph aren’t local to New York, but you can always meet up before or after the convention itself.
Cosplay photography can be very fun and fulfilling creatively. I’d love to see what you create at this year’s New York Comic-Con, so be sure to tag me on Instagram when sharing your images from NYCC. You can find me at @thepicreative. Think outside the box and create some stunning portraits!