Convention tips: How to photograph fans in costume


A convention is a great place for taking photos: there’s plenty of cool things worth turning into con memories — celebrity sightings, cool displays, and plenty of people in costumes. At a Star Wars convention, expect most of the costumers to be your fellow fans, so here’s some important etiquette for taking pictures of or with folks in costume:

The basic rule: A person in a costume is still a person. Acknowledge them and treat them with respect. Here’s how:

Ask permission before taking a picture. While they are there to be seen in their costume, they also might be wanting to do something else, like go to a panel, meet up with a friend, or check their phone. Asking permission opens up that communication so that if they are free and willing for a photo, they’ll put on their photogenic presence (ie hide their bag or badge, put on a smile, and strike a pose), and if they are busy, you’ll know to move along. And when you’re done taking a photo, thank them. Caitlin: “And “asking” actually means ASKING — as in using your words. I can’t tell you how many people just sort of raise their camera at me and tilt their head rather than just saying, “Hey, would you mind if I took a picture?”

Be respectful when posing with them. If you want to jump into a photo – first make sure that it is your turn. If there’s a crowd, there may an informal queue (based on who has been waiting longer, or moved their way up to the front and center). Ask permission for doing anything with the costumer, such as holding their blaster or saber, or putting an arm around their shoulder. While some might have personal space that needs to be respected, others have worked really hard on their costumes and props and don’t necessarily want random people putting their sweaty mitts on it, or might lose their costume’s precarious balance if someone comes in for a pat on the back. This goes for adults and kids.

Recognize that being inside a costume may limit their abilities. Helen: “Remember that most helmeted costumes have a restricted field of vision and often the person in the costume can’t hear you very well. The costumer isn’t being rude if they don’t respond right away. If you want a picture, be polite, but you may need to be assertive. Also, please be careful if you have small children with you. Stormtroopers can’t see anything below chin/chest level very well, and that includes children. Stormtrooper armor also restricts movement and affects a person’s balance. I can’t tell you how many times Russ has been nearly knocked over by little kids grabbing his legs. It’s terribly cute, but potentially unsafe for the kids and him.”

“Also, costumes can be extremely hot, even the ones that you might not expect. A friend told me his Boba Fett is the hardest to wear, as the twill jumpsuit does NOT breathe. Some costumes, such as Vader, are heavy as well. If the costumer says that they are about to go on a break or they appear headed for an exit, let them go. They may need to suit down for a bit, because costuming can be a feat of endurance. They’ll be back.”

I’ve wrangled a few 501st and Rebel Legion events, and have seen a few photographers have trouble getting attention of a helmeted costumer – because they were off to the side, or too far away to hear easily. Remember that some of the helmeted costumers may not “talk back” so if you’re communicating with them, make sure they (or their wrangler) acknowledge you, either with words or gestures.

Show that you know who they are costuming as. Costumers appreciate it when people recognize their costume. Once at Comic Con, I encountered a fan dressed as Deliah Blue from the Legacy comics and her face lit up when I complimented her on her Blue costume, because no one had identified it all day. Of course, I also once made the mistake of misidentifying a Kyle Katarn costume as Dash Rendar. Or was it the other way around? If you don’t know who the costume is – especially likely with some of the one-of-a-kind EU characters, don’t be afraid to ask. Who knows – maybe a costume might inspire you to check out a story.

Recognize when they are not in picture-taking mode. If it looks like they are trying to get somewhere quickly, taking a snack break, or are talking to friends (ie people who aren’t trying to take their picture), or are otherwise looking like they are doing something other than deal with the masses of people taking their picture, then put yourself in their position and ask if you’d want to be interrupted by yet another person with a camera.

And that respect? Show some for your fellow con attendees!

Eliz: “If you do want a picture and the cosplayer is available to pause, MOVE TO THE SIDE OF THE HALLWAY. Don’t block traffic in the middle of the hallway or aisle! You’ll never get the shot because other people will not see what you’re doing and walk into it or will not care because they have to be at a session in a short time. So picture taking people, move to the sides to not impede traffic.”

If volunteers or security recognize that a bottleneck is forming because of extensive photo taking of a costumer or group of costumers, they may ask the costumers or photo hounds to move to the side, or move along just to keep traffic going. If they say that it is time to move along — move along! No “Just one more pic” stuff.

→ And when you are handing off your camera or camera-phone to a random stranger – have it ready in picture taking mode and tell them which button takes the picture: they don’t know your device as well as you do. Saves time for everyone, and saves you the embarrassment of having to jump out of a pose to switch the camera to the proper mode. Especially with smartphones that can switch between a camera on the back of the phone with a camera on the front of the phone – I love taking pictures of myself instead of the camera’s owner and the costumer!

Final tips:

→ And when talking to costumers, chances are that made it themselves, or worked with friends making it – so focus on the labor and time, and not necessarily on the cost. Caitlin: “I actually don’t mind people asking how much something cost or how much time it took. I’m always happy to talk shop and/or encourage a future costumer.”

Helen: “If you’re looking for 501st Legion costumes, there will be a 501st room (Room W206) again this year at CVI. Also, the 501st is staying at the Rosen Centre and their events will be in that hotel.”

→ Caitlin: “Rebel Legion will have a large booth with plenty of costumes on the floor.”

→ Eliz: “There are a lot of regular Stormtroopers.” (Meaning that the first stormtrooper you come across for a photo – if he or she is not available, there just might be more… And in bigger numbers!)

→ Remember: also take photos of you and your friends, costumed or in regular con wear. Part of the con is the spectacle, and part of it is the good times you have with amazing people!

13 Replies to “Convention tips: How to photograph fans in costume”

  1. Damn, I am the worst at this. I’m so glad you wrote this one, James.

    On the other hand, true story: I had a guy ask me to marry him at C4 because I recognized his green Jedi costume as Corran Horn. That was weird. Well, funny. Yes, they will be grateful. (I was on duty, not taking pictures. I would actually talk to people when I was on duty.)

  2. Sometimes when there’s a group of photographers cycling through, and the costumer(s) already has a pose going, it is probably permissible to skip the initial ask. but if you want to jump in: wait your turn, ask. and remember to thank afterward.

    Bonus tips:
    with lighting- don’t try to make the costumer move to fit the surrounding lighting better – you should move to the angle you want after asking permission, if they are willing to rotate around.

    sometimes they might not want (or can’t) to rotate around if they prefer to have their back to a backdrop or wall (to keep from being bumped into from behind, or trip over something behind them). respect that and get the shot with worse lighting or the imperfect background.

  3. Corollary to “use your words”: If it is a noisy room packed with people, please be aware the costumer might not hear you. Helmets and headgear aside, some of us are hard of hearing in noisy environments. Liz and I got asked for pictures quite a few times at my booth at the Pirate Festival last week, and a few times they had to ask twice–we were in a windy, noisy outdoor area and I for one have a hard time hearing in ideal conditions, never mind those. We’re not rude, just deaf.

  4. Thank you for this. I can’t remember the number of times that I’ve had to tell people that the helmeted people can’t hear them well or even see them. I myself do a Visas Marr costume and can’t see jack half the time and people always assume I can. And actually being polite and ASKING to take a picture rather than just assuming it’s ok to jump right in is a very good tip, this is the number one problem I’ve seen when it’s time to take pictures.

  5. I’d like to add something. Also, remember that some costumers are on a timetable – they may have a booth appointment to get to, and so on. Be understanding that they may have prior commitments. Sometimes they can’t take “just one more.”

  6. Great article and I am so glad you mentioned the ‘wrangler/handler’ role throughout. An unsung hero to their fellow costumers, I can’t say enough how much work they do to help us have a safe and fun time. When I costumed Moon Knight at Megacon I had a field of vision limited to 10 degrees in front of me (there is an entire nuther topic!) and it was obscured at best. Also with the hood up everything was muffled audio-wise. Even when people right in front of me asked to take pix it was hard to tell what they were saying. Having a wrangler/handler made the experience amazing acting as a go-between and keeping me from bumping into people and things as well as getting me in the right place for pix. Oh, and it was a blast to hear people recognize the character!

  7. This should be printed up and handed out at every convention. Awesome list of do’s and don’ts…. thank you for making and sharing!

  8. Good insight, Ted – While i briefly mentioned wranglers, it is an important point for the would-be photographer: if a costume has limited visibility/hearing/mobility, there’s a good chance that the costumer also has a wrangler (can be costume or not in costume) to assist them. let them do their job to keep the costumer safe and you’ll get better photos!

  9. ONE MORE!
    If you plan on posting your pictures en masse, rather than walking away and minding your own business, tell people where they can see it! hand then a card and say “you can see those shots HERE”. They really appreciate it. most of them comment to me that they never get to see their own shots.

  10. THANK YOU for mentioning to people to allow those in costumes to leave if they have to! I have wrangled for my roommate (Who does Chewbacca) and on more than one occasion people have been pushy with the “Just one more pic” when she was about to pass out! I got down-right rude to people at that point who didn’t listen to the “No, no more, we have to go” (or she is going to passout and fall while on stilts…) not good.

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