Friday, May 24, 2019

MegaCon Orlando 2019: Black-Out Portraits From The Con Floor!

John and I are about to upgrade Cake Wrecks to a newer, more secure platform - a tedious process nearly 6 months in the making - so with that constant stressor it's been like a vacation getting to edit my MegaCon portraits each night.

That means I'm taking my time, though, so I'm not even halfway through our flash photos yet. Here comes a sampling of some of my favorites so far, though - hope you'll find them worth the wait!

This Mary is practically perfect in every way. Look at that pose! I wish I could take credit, but all I did was ask her to raise the umbrella, and she gave me this radiance.  ::swoon::

If you're new here, you should know all of these photos were taken right on the convention floor, with people and vendors all around us. I call our technique black-out flash, though the proper term is "strobist photography." You can read all about how we do it - and how John and I customized our equipment to be fully mobile - right here.

Hopefully you'll also see some improvements since my first attempts two years ago. I'm constantly fine-tuning, trying to make every new batch the best I've ever done.

(Harley: GuiltyWithGlee)

One of the best parts is showing the cosplayers the results on the camera. It blows everyone's mind that there's no background! And then when I tell them they can download their pics for free later, it's like I gave them a little gift. Makes me happy.

The exception to the no-background thing is if I shoot outside the hall with bright windows in the background, but even that can look cool:

Rey, a drop of golden sun.

 The real challenge - beyond the technical - is explaining to the cosplayer in less than 5 seconds how and why I need them to pose a certain way. This isn't a studio, it's a busy convention floor with masses flowing around us, and I only get one, maybe two tries, so it's a roll of the dice every time.

And you guys, it's so much fun. 

 Yasha from Critical Role!! This is who I'm going to picture as the real Yasha from now on; she's so perfect.

I was delighted that Valkyrie's pose here turned out; I usually aim to have their shoulders turned into the light, but this was an especially rushed shot. She had just finished high-fiving a little toddler in a stroller, which was THE cutest thing. 

She's holding a bottle, btw. If I'd had more time I'd have shifted her around so that was clearer.

 It's funny that black-out flash works best for both beauty and horror cosplays:


So eeeeevil.

If you enlarge this photo, you'll see tiny purple lights right above his eyes; they were wired into the mask, and shone blue.

Since she's wearing all black, you can barely see the puppeteer in Snowball's mech:

I know I'm talking more about the photography side here than the cosplay itself - sorry 'bout that! - but I don't have anyone else to geek out with over this stuff. :D

 The Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus got an Elizabethan style make-over, and OH. MIGOSH:


Look at them.




They called themselves the Royal Witches of Sanderson. SO GOOD.

If you're ever interested, convention photography is a hobby that will help so, so much with your confidence and social skills. (And frankly, it's a hobby that desperately needs more women.)

When I first started I was so shy that just asking for a photo was a challenge. Now - a short 10 years later, lol - I'm comfortable giving a little direction, telling folks where to look or what to do with their hands.
This Rose Quartz has the most stunning dress, and for her first shot she held her shield high in front of her chest, blocking all of it! Things like that will get me to speak up and ask for another shot.

 I'm still working on the harder things, like interrupting large groups of cosplayers to ask for photos,  (CRINGE), asking for more time, or to change locations - even though I see male photogs ask all the time.

(Would you believe I am STILL the only "professional" female photographer at nearly every convention I go to?! It's definitely taught me the meaning of Imposter Syndrome.)

I should paint out this background, but I thought I'd show you what's happening behind the scenes in all these shots. There's a sunlit window right behind me, so the black-out effect didn't quite work.

Same with this fantastic Darth Maleficent:

Such a good mashup!

Blacks are tough to photograph this way, but you get all this extra drama:


It's also tough to do group shots well; evening out the light in post takes a while:

Love this LotR family!

Sometimes a "failed" black-out will look like a green screen effect, like this:

Dig that Captain Marvel's pose, though!

Peggy and Nat looking fierce:
When possible, we put the person in the darkest outfit closest to the flash. Otherwise Black Widow would be just a floating face on the left.

I love convention photography because I never know what I'm going to get: it's a photo safari where you get one shot at each of hundreds of amazing cosplayers, and sometimes it's meh, and others it's MAGIC.

I'll end with the very first flash photo John and I took at MegaCon this year, which is possibly my favorite I've EVER taken:

The Rocketeer! 

For the first time ever I saw the photo in my head first, asked the cosplayer to pose in a way he didn't expect, and it actually WORKED! Woohoo!

I'm positively giddy over this, you guys. This is the closest I think I'll ever get to creating art, and it's soul-satisfying in a way no other craft can touch. Everyone should try this. 

Now the final cherry on top of this post: John's Saturday video is done!


Told you we got some great shots. Doctor Strange and his dancing cape! Uncle Fester! The dwarves "floating" in barrels! Ahhh, these were so much fun.

As always, cosplayers, feel free to download & share my photos of you. I'll eventually be posting ALL of my flash photos over on Flickr, so watch that space if you don't see your photo here yet. (I'll probably have one more post here, too, once I finish editing everything.) You should also subscribe to our Youtube channel, and see if we've ever filmed you at cons before!

I'm doing my best to tag every cosplayer that wants it, so please let me know if I missed someone up there.

And finally, if you'd like to help me keep writing posts like this and giving away pretty photos, please consider sharing my posts or videos with friends who'd like them! 

Thanks for being here, peeps, and for giving me an excuse to do what I do. I love you all.

Happy weekend!


  1. Somehow I miss you every year!! I love seeing all the amazing shots you get though, and maybe one day I'll get to meet you two geeky masterminds :)

    1. We're an ever-moving target! But there's always next year. <3

  2. Fantastic! So many beautiful souls and amazing costumes! Love, love, love this!

  3. These are gorgeous photographs. You guys constantly amaze me with your many artistic skills!

  4. You said this is the closest you’ll come to creating art, this is art, and you rock it!

  5. I hate to be a pain, because I love all your artwork, and your photos are awesome art! I just wanted to point out one problematic makeup job you caught in your Megacon video here. At 1:08 you've got a person cosplaying Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element, the costume is great, but the makeup job is.. not a good idea. I know the person was just trying to look more like the character, but when your head does not match your body, and you darken your skin like that, well it's not a good thing to do, actually I'm pretty sure even if the person had done the whole skin, it'd still be problematic (I just probably wouldn't have seen it), due to the history of people putting on blackface. On a more geeky note, it's dwarves in the barrels.

    1. Thank you for saying this. It's not about the beautiful work that Jen and John do, or about the wonderful nerdiness found in the cosplay but being respectful to others.

    2. I admit I had to go back to see what you're seeing, because Ruby is in NO WAY wearing black face; the cosplayer *is* black, and his face probably only looks darker because it's in shadow from his wig, or maybe from the sun. It didn't have that much contrast in real life, and I don't believe he was even wearing makeup. (Believe me, if I'd noticed anything inappropriate, I never would have asked to film him.)

      Please be careful in the future about making these kinds of assumptions; you can cause a lot of damage to an innocent person, and it's always better to assume innocence and good intent until proven otherwise.

    3. Sorry about the misunderstanding. I checked on a couple of my screens, because it popped out to my eyes and I didn't want to assume. I also tried to find a way to PM on facebook in case I was wrong. Feel free to delete my comments if needed, I'm totally happy to be wrong in this instance, and did not want to assume the worst. Thanks for sharing all the awesome costumes for those of us who can't get to conventions.

  6. I love Katniss in her mockingjay dress, giving the salute. It brought tears to my eyes!

  7. Thank you so much for posting these!! As someone who has yet to make it to a Con, despite really wanting to go, it's so much fun to see the amazing Cosplay!!!

  8. Yay! Emma's Tank Girl was in the video!

    1. I love Emma! Only wish I'd caught her Tank Girl while we had the flash rig out, it would have looked SO COOL. :)

  9. Oh, wow, so many of these costumes and shots are incredible! My personal favorite costumes of this set are the Hocus Pocus witches (so much gorgeous detail!), the Rose Quartz (so sweet!) and the Wonder Woman (she looks like she stepped out of the movie!), but I like seeing all the pictures and hearing more about your process.

  10. Aww, yay! My Redd cosplay ended up in the video! Thank you so much for the work you do! Do you mind if I share that portion of the video on Insta? :)

  11. (Pssst. It's dwarfs in barrels, not hobbits.)

  12. These are fantastic. Thanks for all the hard work you put into these!

  13. Wow, that Rocketeer photo is absolutely stunning! Well, I mean they all are, but I totally get why that's your favorite shot! You and John do such an amazing job with your photography!

  14. Oh, these are great! I normally am too lazy to watch videos, but this was the nicest thing to watch while having my morning coffee ^^

  15. I'm a little late to the comment party but... THE ROCKETEER!!!!!! ::squeeeeeeee:: I love that movie and your photo is amazing! Thanks for sharing your glorious art (and you are creating art, never doubt it).


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