As I have stated before, I love going to conventions. However, my reason for going has changed over the years. As I graduated from attendee to staff, my role and my experiences grew. I came for the anime, stayed for the cosplay, and I now return for the photography.
I never thought I’d get to a point where I’d be attending three conventions in a year, but I’m a glutton for punishment, and I love the excitement of the sleepless three-day weekends. Besides, they’re usually spaced out enough to allow recovery time in between. Kumoricon is my home con, and I’ll pop up to Sakura-con every once in a while. Lately, I’ve been drawn in by Newcon, a fledgeling convention catering to all fandoms. It’s still small and intimate, so there’s a different personality than the larger cons.
But they all share the same atmosphere: the colors; the excitement; the J-pop in the hallways; the unfortunate, pungent B.O.; the sense of gathering with fellow geeks with whom you share a unique camaraderie of pocky, impossible wigs, glomps, and magical girls.
And as I’ve made the transition from attendee to con photographer over a dozen conventions, I’ve learned there are several clear differences to the experience:
Attendee: content; Photographer: action
Don’t get me wrong; photographers care about content as well, but the priority falls more with what will make good pictures. I love AMV (Anime Music Video) contests, but there’s nothing there to shoot. If it coincides with an anime improv panel or the Lip Sync Battle, you’ll probably find me at the latter. Fortunately, action typically also comes with entertaining content, and I enjoy shooting as much as I enjoy watching, so it’s a win-win.
Attendee: elaborate cosplay; Photographer: comfortable cosplay (if at all)
I love cosplaying. I love it even more when everyone recognizes and loves my character, asking for pictures. However, as a photographer for the convention, I have to be very careful here.
First, I’m moving – a lot. I can’t shoot with an overly restrictive costume or while wearing anything that would obstruct my vision. I’m frequently on the floor or dashing from one side of the stage to the other. Mobility is essential.
Secondly, I can’t wear anything too popular, or I’d never get any work done. If I’m stopped every five feet for a picture, I won’t make it to my panel on time. Besides, I usually have a bunch of gear on me that belongs behind the lens, not in front of it. Also, as a photographer, my job is to be as unobtrusive as possible; costumes can disrupt that, especially when I frequently enter panels a few minutes late or leave early.
Attendee: lines; Photographer: panels
This is one of the best perks to being a convention photographer. I never wait in lines. Truth be told: I don’t have time to wait in lines. I pop in and out of panels, and I need a good vantage for pictures. I seldom take up a seat anyway, so I’m not inconveniencing anyone. I might be on the floor, but I have the best seat in the house, and I don’t need to wait for it.
Attendee: guests; Photographer: guests (but for a different reason)
When I started attending conventions, I didn’t really know who the guests were. I didn’t really care about someone others had elevated to celebrity status purely for their occupation, so I avoided the guest panels.
As a photographer, however, one of my jobs is to document the entire con – including things (most) attendees care about, namely guests. I was glad for this, though, as it forced me to attend panels I would have otherwise avoided, exposing me to content I actually found to be quite entertaining.
At Newcon, Troy Baker’s Q&A (which turned into an inspirational pep talk) and concert were some of the highlights of my con. And The Slants are great with their panels; they have so many unique experiences from traveling all over the world.
Because of this, I have met some amazing people who have truly made an impact on my life – not because they’re famous, but because they are truly remarkable individuals.
Attendee: food; Photographer: lenses
I used to pack snacks – pocky, pork buns, noodle cups, granola bars – anything to keep me alive for another few hours. Now, I try to cram as many lenses into my lens exchange bag (keeping it as lightweight as possible) as I can. If I happen to have a spot for a Tanka bar, I call it a good day. However, I now have a home base to which I can return for nourishment, so it all works out.
Attendee: viewing rooms; Photographer: editing
I do miss the downtime sometimes. As an attendee, if there wasn’t anything of interest going on, I would slip into a viewing room or sit around and people-watch. Now, between panels, I pop onto my computer to edit a few pictures for posting during the weekend. If I’m not doing that, I’ll also people-watch, but usually with the ulterior motive of capturing a few candids. And when I capture gold, it’s worth the missed relaxation.
Attendee: sleep; Photographer: editing
Sleep? What sleep? I’ll sleep after con! Attendees already get very little sleep over the course of the weekend, especially for me, who loves the late-night panels. But especially at a convention like Kumoricon, where pictures are used during the weekend, those precious hours are more valuable editing photos. Too many nights, I was falling asleep at my computer. When I can’t tell if the picture is out of focus or if my eyes are just too blurred from fatigue, I know I really should get some rest.. but if I can just finish the pictures from Day 1…
On the plus side, I exit the weekend with almost no editing remaining. But I can only survive so many weekends like that.
Attendee: attends; Photographer: is
So why don’t I just attend? Photographing a con sounds like a lot of work! Well, it is. But I love every moment of it. It’s high-paced and crazy, and I thrive in that contagious energy. I share in the moments and the inside jokes of my fellow geeks, but I also do what I love – and I’d be shooting anyway.
The responsibility pushes me outside my comfort zone to discover fun events I would have otherwise skipped, and it opens my eyes to a new way to experience something I already love, giving me another way to enjoy it.
Besides, the truly rewarding piece is that by shooting the convention, I get to be part of the convention. I’ve made so many friends, and we all make it all happen, on a level attendees will never know. We return year after year, we help the guests prank attendees, we take bets on who will go crazy first, we have our own additional layer of inside jokes, and we share a bond that only those still pushing their limits at 2am can feel.