The Dummies' Guide To Cosplay Photography in 2014


I’m all for courtesy - and don’t feature someone as the subject of a shot without asking, sometimes afterward if it’s a candid, but I always delete if the answer is ‘no’.

But where is it that people have got the idea that you need someone’s position to use their likeness, even in an incidental or accidental capture? That belief, in my view, is at the root of the insane idea that our society now has that street photography is illegal. (The cops in places like New York and London all surely “know” that it is - whatever the pesky law books might say. And the judges sometimes even agree, because who knows what nefarious end you might be pursuing!)

Is it just that every “mad bomber” movie has the cliché of the bomber photographing his target before the attack? Or is it that they have a garbled idea of the civil liability issues for using a photo promotionally (the reason that advertising photographers get model releases)? Or have we just suffered a sea change into something that is less rich but undoubtedly strange - simply that the idea that “photography is dangerous” must not be questioned?

I ask partly because many of my hobby photographs are landscapes. Some of the best of them are improved by the incidental capture of the human form - the presence of (unidentified) people gives scale to the picture. Without the little specks of climbers, nothing shows that the waterfall is taller than Niagara. Without the hikers approaching them on the trail, they eye cannot perceive that the trees are four-hundred-year-old behemoths of the forest. But nowadays, I cannot set up my tripod without the uneasy sensation that there’s a policeman breathing down my neck. It’s turned from a proud pursuit to a furtive and guilty one.


I dunno, that pic of Batman sucking down a Slurpee is pretty great regardless if he wishes it was taken or not! Harley Quinn looks perfectly amused, if slouchy. want moar.

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Great article, Andy! I think these tips work well for nearly any public or “semi-public” situation where there are lots of interesting people to take pictures of.

I think the heightened sensitivity to public photography over the years is due largely to the increased prevalence, and the rapidity with which images can move around. 30 years ago if your photo was taken on the street you’d probably be happy because it was the local newspaper photographer and it meant you got to be in the paper. If the picture was embarrassing, well, it would only be seen a few times in one location, and then forgotten forever. Now if a picture is embarrassing you may end up as a meme for a long time, or people might dig up photos from a long time past to use against you in custody cases, employment, or anything else.

To prevalence, there are just a LOT of photographers now, which on some level is great - photography is one of my favorite forms of art and there is a lot of great photography right now. But as you allude to, some people (namely attractive women) can sometimes turn into a kind of swirling nexus for creepy dudes with cameras.

This is a real problem at Burning Man, to the extent that there have been some really interesting photo sets released of “photos taken without permission of people taking photos without permission” and the culprits fit a disturbingly consistent stereotype of older-white-male-giantcamera, aiming the camera at a young attractive woman. While I know a lot of older-white-males with giant-cameras that are honest photographers (like yourself) there is a higher expectation of courtesy that is somewhat driven by the bad behavior of some older-white-males. I like your approach, and hopefully it is one that more photographers adopt.


“Rights”? No, no, Double No. What a photographer is exercising when he or she is taking photos are nothing less than their first amendment enshrined right to free expression, just as much as the cosplayers are by wearing those costumes. They are not some trivial, imagined thing, they are core to our society and belittled at our peril.

Do I prefer not to make people feel uncomfortable? Of course! Do they have some right not to feel uncomfortable? No, they do not. They can take steps to remove themselves from a situation they find uncomfortable, and, a continuation of that after they do so may well constitute harassment but, this sense that because of past misdeeds of others entitles some special class of person to additional rights, or, to trump the rights of others is absurd.

This is how we end up with situations like a drone operator getting beaten by a woman on a beach. Imagined, conjured “rights” trumping actual, enshrined, lawful rights.

Irrational fear about photography no more stops the perves you cite than Irrational fear about photography stops terrorist attacks. And we need to stop tolerating the perpetuation of the fearmongering.

As to “Don’t take a picture you wouldn’t publish”, that’s patently absurd. Even in the studio, I’ll get frames where the client looks less than flattering. I don’t go fumbling around with the delete button, I simply keep shooting. Those frames never make it out of Lightroom. I’d shoot a con the same way. Any event really. I’m not looking at every frame, chimping in the corner to see if Bob had food on his jacket, or, Jane’s dress was shifted in a weird way. Those are matters to be reviewed post-event. If I got a photo that’s unflattering, I move to the next one, not feel bad that I somehow violated someone’s “right not to be embarrassed”.

This goes back to what parents tell their kids, what our parents may have told us. “You’re not going out in that outfit”. It wasn’t that it was at all times indecent or embarrassing, it’s that it was generally perilously close to being so, and as kids we didn’t have the judgement to think those matters and their possible consequences through. Someone attending a con dressed in a “Lea Slave Costume” needs to be aware that they are dressing as a literal sex object, the whole point of that costume is the character was in a forced sexualized display. Further, it was infamously revealing to pretty much everyone on the set except those directly in front of Carrie Fisher. It simply wasn’t a practical piece of clothing, and, anyone choosing to go out in public in such a garb bears at least some responsibility to know what the hell their getting themselves into (I’m not talking about actions of others, “asking for” something, etc. This is purely about the direct, nearly unavoidable consequence of wearing such a thing, ie, your bod is pretty much entirely on display).

At some point, this becomes like someone streaking, but then whining that they don’t want to be photographed, put on display, etc. And it applies to both sexes, though, it seems that the discussion focuses only on the privacy concerns of one gender.

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Aah, I have an idea.

Why not this: all participants who want that rule to take effect on them (i.e. only photos of “me” allowed if with “my” permission), collect a pin badge – which should be visually striking, visible from perhaps 10 metres away – from the event counters – perhaps a large bright red circle or similar to denote the “status”. Photos of them will look unsightly with that badge unless they take it off (which supposedly should happen whilst preparing for a posed shot).

Or we could, you know, just make it a universal cosplay/public event sign-thing.

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I mostly get what you are saying, but you lost me at “privacy concerns of one gender.” The reason the concerns are stronger for women is that women have more to be concerned about. No one is trying to take pervy pictures of you, so of course you aren’t concerned about it.

And while our rights to expression are valuable and protected, remember that events like this aren’t “the town square” - they are private functions that can set rules of decorum that trump your constitutional rights. You say if they don’t like it they can stay home - well the same is true of you.


I don’t know how well this would work in the face of strict permission-only rules, but a thing I often do is to show the subject the photo on the display on the back of the camera after I’ve taken it. It’s to give them a look to make sure they’re okay with it generally, but would also work to show that you’re not perving. I think this should also work for candid photos, like the agreement to crop out the bloke at the head of the queue: if they object, you erase the photo, or agree to crop out the objectionable bit. If they don’t object to your pic, then you have retro-active permission to take it.


I find this post very troubling because while I agree that the feelings of the subjects of photographs must be taken into account, I think the self censoring which is described in this article is really dangerous.

There is a rapidly growing feeling in the world that photography is not a welcome hobby in most people’s lives. They have the feeling that street photography is somehow by its very nature pervy and wrong. I think we should be treating it the way we treat other speech. We should loudly protect even speech which we find distasteful, or we will quickly erode what is allowed to be said.

I was also troubled that you ascribed such a difference between the weird “Indian” guy you didn’t like, and the Wonder Woman cosplayer. Because you had empathy with one you felt you had the imperative to consider her possible feelings above your own. But the derision you felt for the other “costumed player” allowed you to ignore his feelings.

When we take photos we should be respectful of other’s feelings, and help keep an atmosphere which roots out disrespectful behavior. But the idea of this bullying of photographers to the point where they start self censoring really rubs me the wrong way.


I came here to point out that fetish-oriented conventions do something like that: everyone wears a wristband color-coded to their photography preferences. Red and green are obvious; yellow means no readily identifiable shots.


I totally agree.

“This frozen beverage will not replace the hole left by MY PARENTS MURDER!”

Ironically it’s a shot that violates the rules he later lays out in the article.

As someone who has done a fair bit of cosplay I have to say that I expect people to take pictures of me constantly when I’m walking around the convention. It’s part of the reason I’m there after all. I really don’t need every single person coming up and asking if it’s alright to take a photo, especially if I’m already posing for someone else.

Also, that Harley costume is just perfect in every way. The fit is perfect, the construction is flawless, even the makeup looks like it was applied by a laser guided robot. Just amazing.


I mentioned the privacy concerns of “one gender” mostly because the focus seems to be on pictures of a sexual nature of women. However, photos that do a disservice to their subject, either minor or in the extreme, exist for either gender, and this is not just an “old white guy on sexy young woman” issue.

As far as the public square, while you’re correct that generally the con proper is some form of private property or similar, it’s not as clear cut as that. Further, much of what the main article discusses wasn’t in the context of the actual Con floor at all, and specific examples involved places that are very much the public square.

This is adorable. People go to a public venue in wildly inventive costumes, and the “golden rule” is that you must never, ever take a photo that they aren’t a) aware of, b) actively posing for, and c) looking precisely how they choose to look. I’m sure all cosplayers would like that, sure. But life – and good photography – don’t always work the way you’d prefer. This is ridiculous.


Photos of faults (within reasons) are a minor disservice to the individuals but a major service to many others. Seeing things going wrong means learning that things can go wrong (and lead to awareness of possible problems and take steps for prevention) and that even the best aren’t flawless. The latter is essential for accepting own imperfections, and often daring to go with them instead of being too worried in comparison with all the unattainable-perfection shots. (Parallel: unreasonable standards due to photoshopped “beauty”.)

In the field of engineering, the “What Went Wrong: Case studies of process plant disasters” and “Space Systems Failures: Disasters and rescues of satellites, rockets and space probes”, together with all the air crash documentaries and similar literature and videos, helped me to embrace (okay, “suck up” fits better here) my limitations and go forward with project deployments instead of worrying myself to death. I can imagine the situation being the same for many of those who play in the field of visual design.

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hey, uh, now you have to pick through your pile of fake candid shots from this convention and post them (even the ones that suck). then we can judge if your artistic whatsis was truly wreckerated by this cosplay photo policy.

I think what you should do next is to turn one of your panels into a ‘sign up to be fake candidly photographed by me mr. panel guy’, and see if you can mitigate the whatsis by getting loads and loads of faundids instead.

good luck man

I agree totally, was trying to find a way to categorize the various types of “Negative” photos outlined in the piece, from too-much-buttcheek Lea, to broken down firetruck dude.

And the more I think about it, the more I think of photos that wouldn’t exist by this guy’s standard that are critically important photos, either because the people in them likely would NOT want the photo published, or, just the hesitation in even considering self censoring would remove the opportunity.

I’m thinking “Falling Man”, or “Saigon Execution” or “Napalm Girl” or the OKC Bombing Fireman. Controversial photos to be sure, but, vitally important ones. Sure, Con photos arn’t likely to ever have the meaning or impact of those famous ones. But, most other images don’t either. Most photographers aren’t shooting stuff like that every day, even the ones that occasionally do. What a limiting, paralyzing habit to get into, that would be impossible to shut off when those moments came.

This is just not a realistic mindset for anyone who’s serious about their art to get into. Later, when deciding what to do with the photos, in the darkroom or at the file sorting stage, the artist decides what is best to share or not. Fairness or justness in he/she making the decision rather than the subject just doesn’t enter into it, they’re the only ones in a position to do so. Once the art is out, the genie is out of the lamp.


I totally agree Dawn. I haven’t suited up as Darth Vader for a number of years now, but I own a screen accurate outfit. I get mobbed whenever I wear it, which was usually Star Wars Premiers at the historic Senator Theater and doing children’s hospital visits.

Here’s the bottom line: When I’m him, I’m him. I’m not me, and I don’t act like me - meaning the 5 pound helmet stays on my head til I’m out of public view. You wear the suit, you be the suit. If not, and ya want some slushie goodness to cool off? De-suit, or at least get somewhere private where you can’t be photographed. That’s the Cosplayer’s responsibility. Not the public’s.


Except even the ones they pose for are apparently bad if Ihnatko thinks the composition focuses on the chest area too much.

Seriously…from “Happy Mutants” to “Here’s a 4600 word self-censorship guide.” Nice.


this is what they call overthinking a plate of beans over on the big blue. dang… 4k words worth, too! probably enough to just say “it’s rude to deliberately try to embarrass cosplayers” and leave it at that.


Why do we need a giant essay to explain that you shouldn’t photograph people without their permission (at the very least, delete the photos if they object)? Presumably, would-be photographers can tell the difference between photos from a convention and photos from an exposé? Judging by the comments - apparently not.

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