You’ve seen them, you’ve gawked at them, and you might have been one yourself. They are an ever-present element at conventions, and their tradition spans back decades. What is this omnipresent force of rubber-necking fury? Why, cosplayers of course. Even if the convention you’re attending takes place in a dull white room with nothing interesting to look at, you’re still probably going to want to take a picture of at least one cosplayer. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking them for a picture, but if you want to be courteous while you snap away, follow these general rules.
Firstly, this isn’t a section for professional or nearly professional photographers. If you have a camera that is larger than your fist, chances are you know what you’re doing or you need to get advice from someone within the cosplay photography community. This is a guide primarily for the average con attendee and cosplayers themselves.
Most folks who dress up at conventions are well aware of the fact that they look pretty awesome. They’re probably used to having their picture taken, and if they’re not, they’re probably expecting it. As I said, the simplest way to grab a photo is to politely and clearly ask for one. It’s okay to call them by their characters name since you don’t know who they are. Be aware of whether or not they look like they’re in the mood to have their picture taken; usually this means that you should leave people who are running somewhere, eating, or visibly upset alone. Catching a cosplayer outside of a convention can be a tricky situation, but as long as you’re polite and express that you’re aware you might be catching them at a bad time, it’s hard to be in the wrong. There have been plenty of pictures taken in line at McDonald's, but always ask first and if they ever say no, accept it gracefully and move on.
Since anime, manga, and video games are filled with scantily clad ladies, it follows that many cosplayers end up in sexy, if not outright revealing, outfits. This incites jerks to act inappropriately and disrespectfully towards many a cosplayer, so cosplayers will be wary of this type of behavior. It shouldn’t have to be said, but do not touch them without invitation, don’t make any lewd comments, and be respectful. If you err on the socially awkward side and worry that your shyness might be mistaken for barely constrained perversion, just remember to keep the exchange short, simple, and compliment the way the costume looks, not the person. Most cosplayers spend a lot of time sewing, gluing, cutting, and on all manner of other crafty activities, and they’d much rather hear about how amazing their costume looks rather than how attractive their bust size or waistline is. Of course there are always exceptions to this and a little humor is a great way to break the ice, but unless you have a knack for off-color jokes, it’s best to play it safe.
Wherever a cosplayer with a really great costume has started posing, a crowd will form and continuously replenish itself with new photographers getting in on the action. In these instances it’s perfectly fine to pull out the camera and grab a quick shot on the spot. The bigger issue here is avoiding congestion in walkways. If you stand around in an attempt to catch the absolute perfect angle, soon enough the entire isle or sidewalk will become a knot of frustrated pedestrians. Be quick, and be aware of how much space you’re blocking. It follows that if you’ve asked someone for their picture while in a crowded hall, look for an open space and, again, don’t take too much time.
If you are yourself cosplaying, be as polite to your fellow con goers as you’d like them to be to you. Being in cosplay means that you’ve achieved demi-celebrity status: you are somewhat of a public icon for a few hours, and it is generally expected that you’ll let people take pictures of you. This doesn’t mean you have to relinquish your freedom of privacy wholesale, but unless you are seriously not in the mood for pictures or will otherwise be occupied, be aware of people asking to take your picture. No matter what, always be courteous. Even if you’re on your way out of the con and someone stops you in the street, being mean or dismissive isn’t okay. You can still say no, just be polite about it. As mentioned earlier, some members of the otaku community are, unfortunately, not above inappropriate touching or other forms of harassment. Be aware of your surroundings, keep friends around you, and if an incident does occur, report it immediately to convention staff because the transgressor is liable to cause problems for other people throughout the day.
Cosplaying is an area of the otaku community where fan creativity really shines. Whether you’re making costumes, wearing them, taking pictures, or all three, it’s just an awesome thing that’s largely unique to geeky conventions. It can add a ton of enjoyment to your convention experience, but remember to play by the rules. The do’s and don’ts largely fall within the realm of common sense. There are always exceptions to every rule, but take those on a case by case basis. You never know: you can just as easily make friends with a cosplayer when you take a picture of them as you might end up holding a mini-photo shoot. Regardless, the bottom line: communicate, be polite, be friendly, keep it short, and have fun!
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