Con Survival Guide: Running a Photoshoot

Voltron Legendary Defender Photoshoot group picture from MomoCon 2017 by Kollig ArtPhotoshoot meet ups at conventions are a lot of fun and have started gaining higher popularity over the past few years. On the surface they seem like just a gathering of people that pose and take photos together. You might think all you have to do is tell people a time/place and show up with your phone camera to take some pictures.

While that is technically true there is so much more to them, especially if you don’t want it to turn into a huge disorderly mess. So let’s talk about what things you should look at when it comes to running a fun and smooth photoshoot that people will be happy they came to.

Planning / Pre-Event

The planning stage is always a critical stage for any event. You’re going to have to determine some basics as well as review the event’s photoshoot/meet up policy (if they have one). I have a pretty basic checklist that I use for planning.

Planning Checklist:
  • Decide if I want to organize/host a photoshoot and for what property/fandom
  • Review any convention information or guidelines about photoshoots
  • Decide on a day, time, and location for the shoot
    • A location with stairs is nice for larger groups
    • Be mindful of the weather if you pick an outside location and have a backup plan in case of bad weather.
  • If the convention advertises photoshoots it’s a good idea to submit the event to be included in their list (this might requires a FB event link)
  • Create a list of photos I want to take
  • Create a list of ground rules for the photoshoot
    • I typically stick to safety rules but also at least one rule that no harassment will be tolerated. We’re there to have fun and fandom drama can stay on the internet. I also like to include a reminder for people that it is up to them what photos they join, no one will force them to do anything they don’t want to or are uncomfortable with.
  • Reach out to photographers
  • Book a photographer for the photoshoot
  • Promote the event all over the place

Fallout Photoshoot from DragonCon 2017Make sure that you are very clear about when and where the photoshoot is. Adding pictures and/or maps to your event page goes a long way in helping people find the event.

Also, keep in mind that organizing and hosting a photoshoot is a lot of work. You will not be in most of the photos since you will be leading everything. If this is a problem for you or you just really want to be in all the pictures I’d recommend not hosting one and just going to whichever ones others host. A co-host can help balance this more since you can share responsibilities but that brings it’s own issues/needs into the equation.

Photographer

You can have someone be your photographer and take cell phone photos but that’s really not the ideal. What you’re really going to want is a dedicated photographer with a decent camera. This isn’t really hard to find but remember that not all photographers will take your photos for free. Some will asked to be paid. It’s just something to aware of and to budget for accordingly.

You will also want to have a backup photographer planned in case of emergency. It really sucks to try and find a replacement last minute or even day of the event (trust me, I’ve had to do it). Photographers  who shoot at cons tend to book up quickly so you don’t want to leave this to the last minute.

My friend (and sometimes event co-host) Elfgrove has a really nice and simple requirements list for picking photoshoot photographers. I agree with it fully and it’s basically the exact same thing I look for myself when I try to find photoshoot photographers.

Photographer Requirements List:
  • Someone that’s a good photographer
  • Who has a camera nicer than a cell phone or cheapo point-and-shoot (or can take photos that makes it looks like they do).
  • Will be available to stay the entire shoot time
  • Ideally can arrive a little before the shoot (5~15 minutes) to set up and let me know if they need anything before or during to make the shoot go smoother once on location and be introduced to anyone that’s helping run the shoot.
  • Is willing to post the photos to a publicly accessible gallery (facebook or other website of their choice) within 2 months after the con so the people who attended the shoot can see them.

At the Event

Disney Princess from the Disney Photoshoot at DragonCon 2016This is where the fun happens but remember that there is still work to be done. Your organization and prep work will go a long way in making the event run smoothly, which makes everyone happy.

I find that making sure I welcome everyone and layout the rules/set up of the photoshoot right at the start makes a huge difference. It’s a great way to get everyone on the same page and ready to have fun.

What I cover right away:
  • Welcome everyone and introduce yourself, any co-hosts/helpers, and the main photographer.
  • Tell everyone the ground rules for the shoot.
  • Explain the pose countdown structure so everyone knows/understands.
  • Remind everyone of these key things:
    • Unless told otherwise they should be looking at the main photographer.
    • Get consent from others for any poses.
    • Speak up if they’re uncomfortable, can’t hold a pose any longer, need help, have to leave the photo, etc.
    • Do not lock their knees. This can cause them to fall or faint.
    • If they can’t see the main photographer’s camera than the camera can not see them.
  • Point out the photo clear zone (aka the range of space that will be in the photos) so that they can keep personal items in safe spaces to the sides.
Things to remember when running the photoshoot:
  • You will have to repeat yourself a lot so be prepared for that.
  • You will also have to speak very loudly so everyone can hear you. If you have trouble with that then a megaphone (about $15 on Amazon) is a great investment.
  • Your main photographer gets the best/center spot to set up. If others are there to take photos they must do so around your photographer and can’t block them.
    • Remind your photographer to speak up if they need anything and help control the people around them so they have enough space and can get the best shots.
  • Stick to your list of photos but remain flexible and open to changes/requests.
  • Take a group photo at the start and end of the event. People come and go and this will allow the best opportunity to get everyone in a photo.
  • Be courteous of costumes, especially large/bulky/heavy costumes. Plant them where they are best able to be seen and then shuffle others around them. Try to get all of their shots at once (back to back) to maximize time and not slow everything down by having them go in and out.
  • Give every photo an end countdown. This helps let everyone know when the photo is over and that a new one is coming up. (countdown from 5 to 1 is common)
  • Be respectful of people’s time and make sure you stick to your set photoshoot time (generally between 1-1.5 hours)

These are the main things I focus on for my own photoshoots that I run and have seen done at some of the best run photoshoots I have gone to. Organizing a photoshoot is a lot of work but it can also be really fun.

If you have any other tips or experience to share please do so in the comments. I always love learning new things and hearing about other people experiences. 🙂

Also special shoutout to Elfgrove’s awesome twitter thread about this topic. Start of the thread is here:

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