This Katsucon 2016 report was written by Brent Allen Thale on February 16, 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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We have now been to so many cosplay shows that it's hard to keep track of them all, but going to a show we've never been to still gives us a thrill and a twinge of excitement to see what's new! I've seen tons of awesome cosplay shots come out of Katsucon, held in National Harbor, Maryland, that I figured we had to go to do what we could do. Katsucon is a celebration primarily of Japanese Anime culture, but also includes cosplay of pretty much anything people want to dress up as! And, as a hotel con, we hoped to find some sexier cosplays than the increasingly children-oriented larger cons, and we generally did.
Before I get started with the blog here, here is a special note to cosplayers about our photos: Can you share your picture here on social media? Yes! Just be sure to credit me, my photo
name is "Brent Allen Thale", and if possible, include a link back to the page on my site where you found your photo. We do this for fun and to support the cosplay community, not for money, so if you don't mind clicking "Like" on this page
while you're doing that, we shall be forever indebted to you! Thanks for being awesome! For other uses, please ask me.
We are the cosplay photography team of Brent Allen Thale (me, aka Batty) and Melissa Case, along with our occasional additional teammate of nine-year-old Tobias, who holds our rim light and does a lot of stuff that makes sense to nine-year-olds. For people who attended the show, I was the photographer with the giant double-softbox bracket that many people commented on. We are not professional photographers, we do this for the love of cosplay. I am a computer programmer, Melissa is a Realtor, and Tobias is a kid.
We are based in San Francisco, so we are used to near-perfect weather and not really having to worry about weather issues. Katsucon is held on the East Coast in February and is unfortunately subject to the brutal weather they occasionally get there. A week before this year's con they had three feet of snow on the ground, but it had nearly melted by the time it arrived and it only snowed a trace the whole time we were there, but even so it's hard to describe exactly how cold it was outside the host hotel. I was wearing my World War II German leather coat, a trapper's hat, and fingerless gloves, and even so walking more than a quarter mile in the single-digit wind chill air was hard to bear. I'm told right after we left it snowed again and caused weather delays, so at least we missed that!
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Katsucon is held in the beautiful Gaylord National hotel, it's a big complex surrounded by shopping (and soon an MGM casino!) on the banks of the Potomac River in National Harbor, Maryland. It has a little town in the atrium with great landscaping providing backgrounds for photo shoots. It's one of the better locations I have been to for cosplay photography, although it gets so crowded at peak hours that getting a clean background can be a challenge. We stayed in Room 2021 overlooking the atrium, I think it was one of the best possible rooms to have since it was so close to the action, literally steps from shooting cosplayers. There was a little noise at night, but that's to be expected at a con like this, I slept like a log.
Katsucon's reputation is good enough to attract many of the highest-profile cosplayers, we were fortunate to shoot with almost every famous cosplayer we know, including superstar Jessica Nigri, who we have not been able to shoot with for three years due to photographer demand, Stella Chuu, Danielle Beaulieu, Kaybear, Miss Yeru, Maki Roll, Lyz Brickley, Casey Anne Cosplay, and I'm sure some we didn't even recognize in costume. A hearty BAT Cave salute to all the cosplayers who graciously gave us a minute or two of their time despite being tired or under schedule pressure!
There were several cosplay themes this year, one group of beautiful ladies re-imagined Pokémon characters as sexy armored women, they were awesome. Japanese artist Sakizou is famous for his intricate dresses and headpieces, we lost count of how many girls were in Sakizou-inspired costumes. There was a big League of Legends meetup (although video game conventions like PAX have way more of that), and Blizzard had a good turnout (although nothing like BlizzCon of course).
One bit of excitement at this year's show was the fire alarm went off on Saturday afternoon causing a mass evacuation of the hotel. This is a major pain since we were carrying photo equipment and the poor cosplayers were either in heavy armor or, even worse, skimpy female costumes that gave no protection from the insane cold! We saw many people dashing for the nearest warm restaurant for refuge, and we did the same. I'm told there really was a fire, possibly a microwave in the Maid's Cafe was smoking, so it was legit and not a prank at least.
For some reason Katsucon attracts a huge number of really skilled photographers, both the usual cosplay show crew and many people we have never seen before with awesome gear and talent. At some times it seems like there are more photographers than cosplayers at Katsucon, and there is some friction and etiquette involved in not stepping on people's toes to try to shoot with awesome cosplayers. I've never seen a con with so many scheduled shoots, many cosplayers have arranged in advance to shoot with a particular photographer, so they're not really available to shoot on a moment's notice. I am used to "anything goes" shows like Dragon Con and San Diego Comic-Con, but variety is the spice of life I guess.
Speaking of photo gear, there was a lot of confusion about what is acceptable behavior from photographers at Katsucon. I thought the policy was very clearly stated, that all handheld equipment was acceptable, and all non-handheld equipment like light stands was unacceptable without special permission from the con. However, these rules were very inconsistently enforced, we were harassed several times by hotel guards despite all of our gear being hand held. When we pointed out Katsucon's policy, the guards changed their complaint to our gear looked "too professional", which is hilarious since we have never charged a dime for any of our work, and I'm certain there were professional photographers there who were charging, and yet had worse gear than us! Oh well. And several hallways were filled with lightstands in clear violation of the rules, and the guards seemed not to care at all, so selective enforcement created a lot of confusion.
This year we used brand new lighting gear, the Profoto B2 system, which is an ultraportable TTL system, meaning the flash power gets set automatically instead of fiddling with manual power. It definitely has a learning curve, I frequently had to override the flash power settings it chose, I am going to be investigating this to see if I can get it figured out. We had a B2 as key light in a Profoto 2-foot octabox, a rim light with a 30-degree grid, and two B2's on the "Double Jay Six Beats" bracket, which is two metal arms that hold the strobes far enough away from the camera so they aren't in the shot. It was quite heavy, but worked well enough. We alternated between the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens for wide and normal shots and the 70-200mm f/4 Nikon lens for headshots.
Battle of the Shoes update: For the last few years Melissa and I have been wearing awesome shoes that occasionally get noticed by cosplayers on the floor. The Battle of the Shoes is a contest where if a cosplayer says "I Like Your Shoes!", the person receiving the compliment gets one point. My track record is pretty supreme at this due to my excellent taste in and large budget for footwear, but Melissa sometimes puts up a challenge. This year she matched a rainbow pattern and gold-tipped black shoes against my old standards shiny blue velcro high tops and golden leopard mid-tops, and I easily claimed victory, 4-2. Two of my compliments were from high-profile cosplayers Jessica Nigri and Maki Roll, so that's really like double or triple points for me, but who's counting?
So Katsucon was awesome, thank you to all the amazing cosplayers who top themselves every year, will try to return next year but it is very hard to make it there from San Francisco with the flying times and the weather delays. We also enjoy PAX South which is held around the same time in San Antonio, Texas, hmm. Our next stop is still up in the air, perhaps San Diego Comic-Con or for the first time ever, ColossalCon! Hmm, all day lines for Hall H or cosplayers in bikinis... can't decide...
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