As I have mentioned in previous posts, I decided to do a bunch of photo shoots at Costume College this year. I thought it was time to challenge myself to see what I could produce in a convention setting on my own. I don’t typically shoot that many photos without Mike around to give advice. Frankly, I’m usually handling more of the editing side of photography, processing shots that Mike has taken. But in order to improve my photography skills, even just my editing, I knew I needed to get more practice shooting. Mike wasn’t coming with me to Costume College, so this was my chance.
On Friday I had a scheduled shoot with Rebecca. I also ended up taking photos of two groups because I happened to be free during their meetups, plus I did photos of me and Stephanie. Looking back at these, I’m happy with the results. However, comparing them to what I did later, I think I got better as the weekend went on.
Throughout the weekend, I used several locations at the hotel repeatedly, because they provided good backgrounds and light. (Though the quality of the light definitely depends on the time of day. I looked up what the sun angle would be using this website, which told me that the sun would rise on the lobby side of the hotel, and then set over the pool.) Here I’ll briefly describe my preferred spots and give each a nickname, because I’ll be referring to them over and over again:
- The Little Poolside Park: a small grassy area behind the pool with a living wall on one side and a hedge on another. This is probably the best all-around location in terms of background, so I used it the most. It looks like a garden, without that much modern stuff to distract the eye, although there is an electrical box in the corner, some streetlamps visible above the hedge, and some metal fencing visible below the hedge. I can often frame most of that out, and I have come up with some tricks for removing what remains in the shot. The biggest challenge here is the lighting. Up until about noon you get enough shade along the living wall to work there, then in the afternoon you have to move away from that wall and deal with more dappled light coming through the trees. The sunlight is pretty harsh from about 2 to 4 PM. In the early evening the shade starts returning, but you still have to be careful about dappled light. Also, the amount of greenery in the location can reflect green onto light colored fabrics and lighter complexions. In terms of logistics, it’s out of the way, so you’re less likely to be disturbed during a shoot. But you have to walk alongside the pool to get there, which can be slippery.
- The Traffic Circle: the front traffic circle where cars pull up to the hotel has some nice landscaping to one side. It’s in the shade for a lot of the afternoon and early evening, so when the Little Poolside Park is too harshly lit, I usually switch to here. The sidewalk is a bit modern looking, though, which can affect full lengths.
- The Katsucon Wall: a white wall with a wavey texture that is along the outside of the lobby snack shop. Kenna and I dubbed it the Katsucon wall because it is reminiscent of the decor of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, where Katsucon takes place. This wall faces the windows at the front door of the hotel, so it has good light during the daytime. At night, it unfortunately has little light at all. I found that this was good for afternoon shoots. It is where folks line up to go to the Sunday tea, however, so you cannot use the space then.
- The Grey Hallway: a hallway off of the lobby, where the Bargain Basement is located. One side has windows with sheer curtains that get direct sunlight in the morning. The other side is a wall with grey, slightly textured wallpaper. This is good for morning shoots, but you have to watch how close the model stands to the wall, as shadows can be visible behind them. Logistically, crossing traffic can be an issue.
- The Restaurant Booth: there is a big round booth in the hotel restaurant, whose back faces some windows by the pool deck. The back of the booth can be used for a background if the model is seated in front of it. There is a television screen and some lights above that would appear in wide shots, so tighter shots are the way to go here. Often this corner is occupied by people sitting in the armchairs along the window, so it’s not always free. I did an in-depth breakdown of one photo I took here in this post.
As a warm-up, I started Friday morning with photos of me and Stephanie. I wanted to try working indoors first, as practice for my later shoots that would be taking place when the outdoor temperature would be warmer. Since it was morning and I knew light would be coming through the windows on that side of the hotel, we started in the Grey Hallway.
Below is the best shot that resulted. I set the camera on my typical portrait settings and had Stephanie take the photo. (Thank you Stephanie!) Unfortunately, I did not position myself quite right relative to the wall, which resulted in a hard shadow behind me. I was able to edit it out, but that was a lot of extra labor. When I get a chance, I’ll try to put up another post explaining how I did this editing. (Also, the same style of necklace as what I’m wearing here is available in my Etsy shop.)
Yesterday I finally uploaded the random photos on my phone from Costume College…which means it’s time for recap posts! I’ll start here with a post about the convention itself, and then follow up later with more on the photo shoots I did and on hall photos.
Costume College takes place every year in the Los Angeles suburbs during the last week of July. My trip started with an early morning at BWI airport on Wednesday. For the flight to LAX, I wore a Star Wars skirt and came prepared with tea.
It had been raining all week in the DC area, so I was looking forward to a bit of California sun to replace these grey skies.
I went to Costume College again back in July of this year. But this time, I decided to try something new and book photo shoots throughout the weekend. I had never done much formal convention shooting before without Mike there. I usually stick to hall shots. However, I was feeling more confident with our newer camera (we got a Nikon D7500 last fall), so I decided to give it a go. I ended up scheduling seven 20-30 minute sessions throughout the weekend, in addition to shooting meetups and doing a bunch of extra impromptu shoots. It was a learning process throughout, but I’m quite happy with the photos I produced.
One of the biggest challenges of the weekend was finding good locations. Costume College takes place at the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills, California. The hotel is a pretty nice place for a convention, but it’s not really laid out inside for photos. This isn’t a problem if you shoot outside, but, as luck would have it, it was extremely hot the weekend of Costume College. It was about 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit each day. So although I did do some photos outside, I also wanted to have indoor locations so we could stay out of the heat for at least part of each session. The Marriott lobby was not exactly easy to work with in this regard. However, I found a few solutions.
Perhaps my favorite indoor shot is this one. I was working with Vivien of Fresh Frippery, who made an amazing Star Wars First Order/vintage mashup costume. This is the final shot.
Earlier this summer, Maggie and I wanted to host a picnic on the grounds of a local house museum, Montpelier Mansion. However, much like the Victoria Day Party a couple weeks previous, we were rained out. So instead, we switched to having a party in the function room of Janine’s apartment building. (Thank you so much, Janine!) Despite the weather and the last minute location change, we had a great turnout. It was a lovely afternoon of snacking and socializing. I especially appreciated the opportunity to hang out with several people I had not seen in quite a while. Thank you to everyone who came!
Before it started raining, we were able to get a group photo on the outdoor patio. The top row from left to right is Marianne, Mike, me, Britney, and Britney’s husband. The middle row is Terry, Janine, Kristen, Carolyn, and Glynnis. The front row is Nastassia, Kenna, Maggie, and Chelsea (with her daughter).
Back in May of this year, Carolyn hosted a party in honor of Victoria Day. It was originally intended to be a picnic, but a week straight of rain nixed those plans. Instead, Carolyn welcomed us into her lovely home that she and her husband rent, a restored early 20th century town house in Washington, DC. Carolyn invited guests to wear costumes from any era during Queen Victoria’s lifetime, which led to a wonderful variety of ensembles.
I’m pretty pleased with this group photo, because I was able to direct everyone to fit inside a narrow space. I wanted to get the group to face the windows to maximize light, but that limited the area we had to work with.
On the day after the Governor’s Palace Garden Party, Mike and I hosted a spring photo shoot in the Williamsburg historic district. We weren’t sure how the weather was going to be or how the flowers were going to look, so we kept it to a small group of people who were already staying the weekend or lived nearby. Thankfully, the conditions worked out great for photos, and we now know enough to host a larger gathering in the future.
Mike and I scouted three main locations, all of which had abundant spring flowers and/or greenery. The last time we visited Colonial Williamsburg (in December), we had gone behind a number of the houses to see the Christmas wreaths and holiday decorations back there. As part of that, we learned about some of the gardens that are set back from Duke of Gloucester Street. We picked a few that were walking distance from each other for our shoot. The weather was slightly overcast (it had threatened rain, but happily that held off), so the light was nicely diffuse. It turned out to be the perfect setting for costumes featuring bright colors.
We started in an area with a number of boxwood hedges. Mike and I arrived early to test things out.
In early May, Mike and I had the opportunity to attend a new (to us) event at Colonial Williamsburg, Mr. Jefferson’s Palace Garden Party. This was an evening reception held on the grounds of the Governor’s Palace. We started with mingling and hors d’oeuvres, followed by some dancing and entertainments in the garden. Then we were treated to a concert by Betty Buckley, whose credits include originating Martha Jefferson in 1776 and Grizabella in Cats on Broadway. The evening ended with a fireworks show.
I wore a yellow Italian gown that I had first made in 2015, but had not brought back out in a while. I paired it with a collet necklace and matching rhinestone earrings from my Etsy shop.
While we were waiting for the doors to open, we watched a procession of carriages pull up to the Governor’s Palace gates. Mike went over to take photos, and was lucky enough to get a picture of Betty Buckley (in the green waistcoat and sunglasses) as she arrived.
We went to the Fort Frederick Market Fair at the end of April. Last year, it was brutally hot. Thankfully, this year the weather was much more pleasant. There was some chance of rain, but it held off the entire time we were there.
Mike and I began the day by taking a few photos in the shadow of the fort. I wore a printed linen jacket that I made several years ago, but had not brought out to an event in a while. I accessorized with a necklace and earrings from my Etsy shop.
In addition to our many Catwoman photo shoots at PAX East, we also did pictures of a few other costumes. On Friday, Mike wore his Garfield the Deals Warlock cosplay again, so I got photos of that. Then on Saturday we had the pleasure of shooting with our friend Liz of Goodbye Midnight Cosplay in her Witcher/Star Wars mashup. Finally on Sunday we reprised our My Little Bruins costumes.
We were in a bit of a rush on Friday, so I did not get a lot of photos of Mike in his Garfield the Deals Warlock. (Garfield is a character in The Adventure Zone podcast.) I was also in the process of learning how to use our new camera. Despite these logistical challenges, I’m quite happy with how the photos came out.
The faces Mike makes!
At PAX East this year, I did something I’ve always wanted to do, which is cosplay Catwoman for multiple days of a con. I have so many Catwoman costumes that I can wear several distinct looks back-to-back, which allows me to highlight the many facets of the character. Catwoman was created over 75 years ago, and I love exploring her rich history.
For this con, I chose “Knightmare” Catwoman for Thursday, DC Bombshells Catwoman for Friday, and Jim Balent-style Catwoman for Saturday. These are three very different takes on the character, and I love cosplaying each of them.
The “Knightmare” Catwoman design is from the “Rules of Engagement” arc in the Batman comic, written by Tom King and drawn by Joelle Jones. I whipped this cosplay up quickly for a photo shoot earlier in the year, but this was my first time wearing it to a con. It’s one of my more practical costumes!
We mostly shot in a small area with large windows on the second floor of the convention center. The textured concrete wall in this photo is one of our favorite spots, as you’ll notice from our pictures throughout the weekend. There are not that many great backgrounds at the BCEC, so we’re usually shooting here or in front of the many plate-glass windows.