Perhaps you’ve been through this scenario. You see an interesting subject doing something truly unique, you hesitate and sometimes miss the shot altogether. When you do gather enough courage, your heart races, your palms get sweaty, and a quiver can be heard in your voice as you nervously ask if you can take a person’s picture. Sounds familiar? It can be discouraging if you miss the opportunity and the shot.
If you’ve been taking photos for a while, you probably experienced a time when you had some hesitation in taking photos of people. You’ve learned that over time and with practice, you were able to become comfortable and are now able to approach subjects with a little more ease. But for the new photographers, this could be crippling if you’re not used to talking to people or just downright shy.
There are many discussions out there about introverts becoming photographers and how to overcome shyness. Yes, it is possible but it takes time and practice to develop the skills and courage to approach people and talk to them when taking their photos. Confidence doesn’t come easy for some people so it does require some practice.
One of the best places I found helpful for me was at an anime convention.
The Pros of Cons
When I started in photography, I had to identify exactly what was causing my hesitation. I initially thought it was my inexperience in posing people. I didn’t know too much about posing and how to make people look their best. I watched a lot of videos online about posing and took notes on different people and body styles.
Around that time, as I was absorbing this knowledge, I was asked to go to an anime convention, or “con” for short. My brother-in-law convinced me that it would be a good place to practice my photography and I would get to try some of the things I learned about posing.
If you’ve never been to a comic or anime convention, it’s a great place to take photos of different cosplay (costume play) characters. The cosplayers can spend hours and even months creating their costumes. Some of them are dedicated to their craft and the results can be stunning. What you get are some amazing photos of people with colorful and creative costumes. You can see characters come to life from comic books, movies, and video games.
The bonus to these cosplayers is that most of them know their character well and know how to strike a pose mimicking their character. You may need to provide a little direction but for the most part, you’re good to go. Additionally, cosplayers want to have their photos taken. It’s a perfect opportunity to ask people without getting rejected. It’s practically expected by anyone in costume.
Surprisingly, some cosplayers are shy and introverted. But that shouldn’t discourage you from asking to take their photos. They usually have a couple of poses ready for you.
As I followed along taking photos of cosplayers already posing for other photographers, I realized that I was hesitant to ask a cosplayer if I could take their photo. I didn’t have the confidence to go up to a stranger and ask if they had a few minutes for a quick shoot. I missed out on more than half the opportunities I had to take some photos that day.
Sometimes I would just shoot over the shoulder of another photographer (yes, it’s an acceptable practice particularly if there is a crowd of photographers taking photos as long as you don’t intrude on the main photographer’s shot). Of course, I didn’t get the perfect shot but I had to settle for what I got. After looking at my photos compared to the ones my brother-in-law took, I instantly regretted not asking more people if I could take their photos. It was clear that I didn’t have the confidence to ask strangers for a photoshoot.
Fortunately, I was able to attend another convention just a few months later. Again, applying what I’ve learned, I kept telling myself that I need to get more shots in. I attended with the main goal of getting as many shots as I can by asking people for a quick shoot. Being more focused on talking to people, I wasn’t too concerned about the background or where they would pose. I was trying to build up my courage and little by little, I was getting there.
I found it easier for me to ask a cosplayer who wasn’t busy shooting with other photographers and who looked like they were just hanging out. It also made it easier if I recognized the character or was intrigued by their costume. As I became more comfortable, my photographer instinct kicked in and I was picking better backgrounds (which could be a challenge at these events) and providing more direction with their poses.
I continued to attend these conventions not only because it was fun, but it was an excellent way to practice approaching people and talking to them, while of course practicing my photography. The big confidence booster was showing my photos to the cosplayer and seeing their reaction to the shot on the back of my camera. I would trade contact information with them and share the edited photos with them.
Eventually, I would get to know some of the people and would set up photoshoots with them at upcoming cons. (Sidenote: most of the photographers and cosplayers have a mutual understanding to trade for prints or TFP for each other’s time.) The more you attend cons, you’ll start to recognize fellow photographers and regular cosplayers and build a camaraderie with them.
An added benefit to these conventions is the opportunity to test out your gear or a particular shooting style or lighting. I don’t normally pack a lot of gear so I usually decide what I want to practice that day. Since most conventions usually span over a couple of days, it gives you plenty of opportunities to try different things out.
My brother-in-law would usually bring out some light stands and continuous lights in the evenings and he would try out different lighting setups and modifiers. By letting me test out some of his lights, I was able to get more dramatic shots in the evening that other photographers were not able to capture. This is actually how I got interested in off-camera flash.
We would ask some cosplayers earlier in the day if they were up to doing a photoshoot later that evening and set up a location and time. We usually explain if we were trying out a new light setup or ask if they had anything specific they wanted to try. It’s important to give them an opportunity to direct their own poses as well. If they have a suggestion during your shoot, give it a try.
Some cosplayers are passionate about their work and like to show off their skills by recreating an action shot of their character. Be ready to try out new things at their request. It’s ok to admit that you’re not sure if the shot will come out but are willing to give it a try. You’ll be more respected as a photographer if you are humble.
If the shot does in fact turn out, you might end up being the hero. As you venture out in trying different styles, you’ll eventually get better at talking to people and asking them if you can take their photos. It’s surprising how comfortable and confident you become after working with just a couple of cosplayers.
If you decide to attend an anime convention, here are a few tips that I found helpful:
Be respectful to everyone; photographers and cosplayers alike. Don’t be that one photographer who thinks they own the photo session and gets upset at other photographers taking photos. Also, be respectful of the cosplayers’ time. Unless you set up a photo shoot in advance with the cosplayer, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to get a few decent poses. If it is a scheduled shoot, make sure you establish how much time you need and what they are available for. Also, keep your hands to yourself. Ask the cosplayer to move hair or adjust their costume instead of doing it for them. If they have a friend with them, ask if they can adjust what is needed. Almost every convention has a strict code of conduct policy. Be sure you are aware of its contents. Cosplay is not consent. I only mention this because some costumes may be revealing or explicit in nature. Again, be respectful.
Ask if you can take their photo. A simple “excuse me, can I take your photo” goes a long way. You may be able to get some decent shots from afar using a zoom lens or by piggybacking off someone else’s shot but it may not be what you want and you might miss eye contact which could make or break the shot. Some cosplayers know how to work a session and look at different photographers between poses giving everyone an opportunity to get a shot in so be ready. Cosplayers spend a lot of time and money making their costumes and they want to show them off, so they do expect people to ask for their photos.
Focus on some details. Some of the costumes can have some intricate details. After taking a few photos of their poses, ask if you can get a close-up on some of the details of their costume. I found that asking about their costume and how they made it or how much time they put into it is a great way to get them to talk to them. They do most of the talking and it breaks the ice for conversation. Another way to break the ice is to ask who they are dressed as. I can name only a small handful of the characters I see at these events so I am always asking to educate myself.
Be prepared to share contact information. Whether you use Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, or a website, be ready to share how they can see your work and get in touch with you. As I mentioned earlier, most cosplayers expect to get a copy of your photos without any compensation. It doesn’t have to be full resolution but usually something acceptable for social media like 1400px. Usually, I post my edits on Instagram and also a library on my website. I would either message them how to access the photos or just send them directly. It’s not a bad idea to have some business cards ready or print out some tabs that have your social media handles or other contact info on them. Some cosplayers do this as well.
You Miss 100 Percent of the Shots You Don’t Take
After attending a few of these conventions, I noticed my confidence growing to a point where I can approach people for a photo shoot. I am now able to apply my newfound confidence in everyday photography. Although I don’t do a lot of street photography, I can easily walk around and fire off a few shots of my surroundings. You’d be surprised how many people actually don’t pay attention to someone with a camera. People may be desensitized now with everyone walking around with a smartphone taking selfies and photos of anything and everything around them.
Don’t get me wrong. I still hesitate at times. I just have to remind myself of what legendary hockey player Wayne Gretsky was quoted as saying, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” This is so true in photography. Whether you’re a street photographer or sports photographer, you should always be ready to take the shot. When the opportunity presents itself, fire away. The more you shoot, the more you’ll feel comfortable and confident.
About the author: Mario Supnet is a photographer and grant writer based in Las Vegas, Nevada. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website and Instagram.