Every summer for the past few years a hoarde of cosplayers and photographers have descended on the picturesque Polish town of Wleń in the Bóbr Valley. They're not there for a comic con or games expo, not for any convention like you and I know it. It's an invite-only event, just a handpicked selection of photographers and talented cosplayers, and everything is free. This is FotoCon: an event singularly focused on producing some of the best cosplay photography in the world.
FotoCon has been held since 2015, but this year was its most high-profile event. A number of Europe's top cosplayers and photographers were present as special guests, but even more were there just to participate. In order to get an invitation you have to fill out a rigorous application, arguing why you deserve a spot. German cosplayer Sina Voss (Aigue-Marine Cosplay) gave us some insight into the application process:
It's not about fame, it's not about likes. When you apply you can submit only one picture of your work and you have to write a text of what you have done so far. But they don't pick according to likes, because there were newbies and really famous people. I think they selected about 200 cosplayers and about 50 - 70 photographers and videographers.
FotoCon later contacted us with more exact numbers: apparently around 200 cosplayers and 150 photographers and videographers from 22 different countries of residence were selected, along with nine makeup artists. Of course, there's a reason it's so difficult to get an invite.
One of the big draws of FotoCon is that everything is free — food is provided, as well as accommodation (though very basic). Cosplayers and photographers don't have to pay for entry to the event or for the photos they want. FotoCon even has makeup artists on hand to contribute to shoots.
Wleń is out of the way for most people, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a place that's better-suited for taking beautiful photos. The town is situated within a large reserve, meaning there's swathes of beautiful forests including creeks and waterfalls to shoot in. There's also a ruined castle, a Japanese garden, an old church called the Pearl of Zeliszow and a gorgeous old manor house.
Along with all the area's pre-existing attractions, the FotoCon organisers have really gone out of their way to provide cosplayers with some amazing photoshoot opportunities. Attendees can shoot with wolves, horses, pyrotechnics and even a herd of the fluffiest alpacas you've ever seen.
Despite the picturesque location, attending FotoCon still sounds like a lot of hard work. Days are scheduled full of shoots down to the minute, with so many different opportunities to work with. "They have a system which you can only access when you get picked for the con," Voss elaborates. "In there you can send photographers invites or they send them to you and you can create a shooting schedule for the three days."
As with all events it's not all sunshine and rainbows of course — quite literally in this case. The last two FotoCons have been plagued with rain, which really throws a spanner in the works when you're dealing with so much sensitive photography equipment (and sensitive costumes). The scheduling can be difficult, says Sina Voss — this year meals were often delayed, meaning cosplayers would either have to cancel shoots or go without food in order to stick to their schedules.
Despite the difficulties, it's clear that FotoCon has achieved its main goal, producing cosplay photos of an incredible standard.
Oh, it's not just photography either — cosplay videographers were invited as well, producing cosplay showcases like the one below from CinelFilm. With such a huge volume of shoots completed, there are still more photos and videos from the event coming out now. Keep an eye on FotoCon's Facebook if you want to see more!