This Colossalcon 2016 report was written by Brent Allen Thale on June 7, 2016. Please do not use these pictures for any commercial purpose or post them on any web site without written consent from Brent Allen Thale, the copyright holder.
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Colossalcon is an anime and cosplay show held in Sandusky, Ohio near Cleveland the first week of June. Since we live on the west coast, we don't go to many eastern conventions, but people have assured us Colossalcon is awesome and we were not disappointed. This year the show ran from June 2 to June 5, 2016 at the Kalahari Resort, which is a nice African safari-themed hotel that includes a large waterpark and pool area. The water is what makes Colossalcon different because people tend to wear swimsuit-themed variants of cosplays instead of the canon versions, making it a fun and informal experience. When you consider many larger shows have really cracked down on body display, forcing cosplayers to cover up bikini-type outfits, it's refreshing to see Colossalcon offer a more relaxed and sexy event. I thought it was a bit odd to have a bikini cosplay show in Ohio instead of some other place (California girls, anyone?), but it was nice with perfect swimsuit weather.
For those who don't follow our travels, I should introduce our team. I am Brent Allen Thale, the guy taking the pictures and writing this. Melissa Case is Key Grip, holding our key light and wrangling cosplayers into position. Tobias is Best Boy, holding our rim light and reminding me about how good he's been so he can get to play in the waterpark when we're done. Many people called us The Photo Family.
And by the way, even though Colossalcon has panels about anime and other topics (we missed the Crazy Cat Lady one, dang), and also features other activities like gaming, we only go to cons for one reason: Cosplay. Wearing an awesome costume? We'll try to get you on our blog. World-famous dude but not in cosplay? Not really into that, this is a con report from the perspective of a cosplay photographer.
Note to cosplayers: Can you share our shot of you on social media? Yes! Just be sure to credit me, my photo name is Brent Allen Thale, and if possible, link back to the page on my site where you found your photo because that helps with our Google rankings. If you're a commercial organization like Playboy dot com or you want to put the image on a T-shirt or something like that, please ask me first. Do we make money doing this? No. Why do we do this? Well, I love shooting cosplay and we're probably somewhat insane.
This was our first year attending Colossalcon, so I didn't realize rooms at the Kalahari, the only host hotel, sell out at the previous year's show! I had to snag a room at the Great Wolf Lodge a few miles up the road, which strangely enough is also a waterpark hotel. (What is it about Ohio and waterparks?) Anyway it worked out fine since we had a rental car and we were always able to find a parking spot at the Kalahari by arriving early even though the lot does fill up to capacity later in the day. I'm happy to say we will be returning to Colossalcon in 2017 and we were able to book a Kalahari room which should make things way more convenient for us.
Sandusky is a fairly small town, the big local attraction is the Cedar Point amusement park that features classic roller coasters and modern scary thrashing rides that some people like. There is adequate shopping in town with a Wal-Mart and a mall very close by, and many chain restaurants to eat in, although only Applebee's seems to serve late dinner, closing at midnight weekdays and 1AM weekends. We wanted to try local restaurants but Sandusky is not very big in OpenTable, which I use to book places to eat, OpenTable only had like three restaurants to choose from. So we went on Yelp and looked for places there and found Sartino's Little Italy Ristorante, a family-run place that was nice, will probably return next year. Cleveland is the nearest city, it has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that we didn't have time to check out, maybe next year as well.
We saw lots of familiar faces in cosplay, but a lot of new ones as well. I have to award The BAT Cave prize of awesomeness to cosplayer Kaybear, who we caught in all her costumes, and she still had time to save me from drowning while looking fantastic as always. Anyway, nearly all cosplayers were totally awesome to us, patiently waiting for us to get our lighting right and giving us their best poses while also taking direction, which is something we've really been working on lately.
Since much of the con is held outdoors in bright sun, we had to use our lighting skills to tone down that light and not get people squinting with super-bright patches of light on them and harsh shadows. What worked well for us was using "High Speed Sync" mode on our flashes, and turning the cosplayers away from the sun so their faces were in shade. That allows us to put the light we want on their faces instead of bright sunlight. I like how it worked out, but next time I am definitely turning up our key light a stop or so to make it more noticeable. The other part of the con is more of a traditional convention center/hallway type arrangement where the lighting is more muted and easily controlled with flash. We got quite a few indoor shots as well, although it does get quite crowded around the main hall rooms. One nice thing about the Kalahari is they have lots of African-themed decor, which would be awesome for witch doctor backdrops and maybe even Hemet Nesingwary from WoW, although we never saw either one this time. The hallways also have a surprising number of chairs and couches, many cons intentionally remove all seating to discourage people from sitting and taking up space at the con.
The weather at the show was interesting, with rain threatening a few times and I believe most people went inside to shelter from a shower Saturday afternoon and Sunday as well. This made for some dramatic clouds which was nice, what I like best is big poofy tropical clouds but no actual rain, since our gear can't take getting soaked. Really liked the dark clouds in the Daenerys and Reaper shots, we don't do fake backgrounds, we use our lights to make the subject brighter than the clouds in the background, then some tonal contrast in Photoshop to make the clouds pop, I like that look.
Colossalcon offered a unique burlesque show featuring the girls of "MyGeekGoddess", but it was held at 1AM on Friday night, so we missed it. We really need to stay at the Kalahari to attend shows like that because driving to another hotel and back in the middle of the night is a big pain, especially if alcohol has been consumed. Anyway, I heard the burlesque show was interesting, with adult-themed cosplay, will check it out next year if it returns.
We carry a ton of gear with us when we are shooting, many people ask us about it, so I always like to cover the gear in detail here. This year, we just switched to a new lighting system made by Godox, an up-and-coming Chinese company that licenses its gear to many other companies for rebranding. So, we used two Godox AD360-II lights and two Cheetah 360X lights, which are exactly the same thing except for the branding. Our key light was in an Elinchrom 28-inch Deep Octa softbox, our rim light was just using the basic 5-inch reflector that comes with the light, and our fill light was two Cheetahs in 18-inch octaboxes held on either side of my camera lens with a Promedia Gear "Double Jay Six" bracket. The fill light is big and complex because Godox doesn't yet make a ring flash that goes with this new system, I may switch to that if they ever release one. I control all four lights from a radio remote attached to the top of my camera, which was a Nikon D7200. I was pretty pleased with this new system, I notice a consistent underexposure in TTL from the key light, next time I will power that one up a bit to get more of our classic lighting look. For lenses we used the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 for Nikon, and the brand new 50-100mm f/1.8 telephoto from Sigma, both are awesome lenses, razor sharp and with nice bokeh, highly recommended.
I didn't see or experience a lot of mishaps at the con. One issue we had was our fill light octaboxes kept falling off because the mount isn't strong enough to deal with the shock and vibration of walking around in crowds. And the screw that mounts my flash brackets to my camera kept working itself loose after six hours or so, thank you to the unknown photographer with a Swiss Army Knife who helped us re-tighten the screw and keep shooting! Location-wise, we did lose the water in the fountains I think on Saturday when someone dropped a glass prop in the water and it broke, forcing them to get a cleaning crew to remove the glass. Overall, no major issues.
One thing that really chapped my hiney at the show was the selfish behavior of some of the photographers. Most were great, getting the shots they needed and sharing the most popular costumes, but a few guys seemed to take pleasure in monopolizing cosplayers for twenty to thirty minutes each, taking hundreds of similar photos knowing full well many other photographers were waiting to shoot with that person. Come on guys, unless money is changing hands, don't take forever to get your shot at a con. If you need thirty minutes with a cosplayer, arrange something offsite so you can spend that time without inconveniencing others. One famous cosplayer who we have shot many times asked us to wait until she was done with a long shoot at the pool, which we did, and then when I asked her for a quick shot, she said she was too tired to shoot with us! Arg.
Battle of the Shoes update: For the last few years, Melissa and I have been wearing flashy shoes and counting the number of times people say "I like your shoes!", each time being one point. I have routinely crushed Melissa in this contest with my sartorial expertise and impeccable taste in footwear, but in a shocking reversal, Melissa beat me this year. She played dirty with flashing LED lights embedded in her shoes which caught people's eyes and racked up the points like crazy. She won 15-1 or something like that, I stopped counting. If all else fails, play dirty and go for a cheap gimmick for the win, that's what I got out of this.
So Colossalcon 2016 (they call it Colossalcon 15 because it's the 15th for them which is a bit confusing) was awesome and we will be returning next year!
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