Photography at Pop Culture Conventions and What I’ve Learned

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Photography at pop culture can be fun, interesting, and precarious times. These events not only present the opportunity to make contacts and meet many possible new clientele, but also lead to great opportunities to add some fresh images to your portfolio. Pop culture events are great places to boost experience levels while having a whole lot of fun. I recently shot the New York Comic Con for the first time with a DSLR and I left the convention with some new knowledge from this cultural experience.

Homework

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Preparation of your gear and mindset when attending a pop culture convention is one of the most important things you can do before the madness. Knowing the layout, the most popular locations, and times of events are very essential. This information can be found at the main convention website. Another good thing to do is have a backup plan and if you are in a city like Manhattan, know where the closest camera shop is.

I always find it best to arrive at nerd conventions right before they open. This way you have a great chance of catching people in costume and at their freshest. There are many interesting people to meet at pop culture events. They could become either potential customers or just all around good people to know. Talking to the people running the booths are your best bet at future business possibilities.Most of them are levelheaded and actually want their pictures taken, to show off all their hard work.

A few people may be wary or having a bad day—kill them with kindness and if that does not work, walk away, sometimes they just need to cool off and rest. There are many other friendly people around to have as subjects.

Gear

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An easily accessible bag is nice to have at a convention. My camera backpack, the Crumpler Customary Barge, was not particularly useful. I could not  get anything out of the bag or put it back quickly even though it held a lot of stuff. I am now thinking about adding a messenger style camera bag to my collection.

As for gear, a towel is necessary (all jokes aside) depending on the time of year or the amount of walking you do sweating can occur, especially when walking around the showroom floor for long periods of time. Some other hygienic products to think about are hand sanitizer, because you will be possible be shaking a lot of hands and want to avoid con flu. Chris Gampat here on the The Phoblographer likes to carry stain remover sticks for the clumsy people who may spill things on him.

You can avoid looking like a total wreck at times this way. Carrying an extra shirt is also recommended, because when people spot that spill , it won’t be very attractive. You should carry an extra set of fully charged batteries. A lens pen or micro fiber cloth should be packed also.

There were a multitude of photographers at New York Comic Con with expensive glass and tricked out camera set ups. I went the simple route and paired my beloved Nikon 50mm F/1.8D with my Nikon D90. My camera seemed too big with the grip attached. Thankfully, the lens was not in the way due to the small size. The thing I did learn from my camera set up was that I was not completely flexible.

Pop culture conventions are crowded and full of activity. There can be bottlenecks in the aisles while you are trying to get candid shots. Sometimes when you just can’t move, a zoom will give the comfort of getting closer to a subject instead of being stuck in one spot on a crowded con floor. In a perfect world I would like to shoot with a lens with f/2.8 like the Nikon FX 24-70mm zoom for its versatility in low light and being able to shot wide and take portraits. The craziness and unpredictability of the convention floor will not always give you enough time to compose a shot and get close enough to a subject to take it. This demands a zoom.

Keeping my gear simple made me less intimidating as a photographer. For me that was nice. I was able to get my shots quickers to dial in. The convention floor can get crowded, but because of the simplicity I did not hold people up or create traffic jams because I was trying to get a shot. Taking a shot on the busy floor meant not having to have a person walk somewhere just to pose. It helped me as a photographer keep a nice quick flow to things while not inconveniencing any of my subjects for more than a few minutes. because I had less setting

If I had to make a suggestion on the most efficient camera kit to carry to a convention, it would be a DSLR without a grip, a Gary Fong puffer, and an f/2.8 zoom along the lines of a 24-70mm lens. You only really need a flash if you like off-camera lighting as much as Chris does.

Lighting Concerns and Settings

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A slight bump of the ISO usually solves my lighting issues at a convention, but sometimes I  actually used my speedlight. I had a few problems while I was shooting, like people were getting in my way. I had no time to re-take some shots and the light was dim due to a large booth blocking the light; so I would use the flash. I did this to keep my shutter speed at 1/ 60th of a second to keep things sharp. That generally worked. I did not want to blind people or have images that were too noisy so I lowered the power on the flash by 2 stops. I liked the light I got when I did that also. I was using a Stofen Omni Bounce -Diffuser but would have preferred a Gary Fong Light sphere Collapsible Universal Dome Diffuser that diffuses the light better. Shooting many things below f/4.0 enabled me to blur most of the backgrounds most of the time and really define my subject.

Composition

 

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Composing an image at a pop culture convention is tricky. If you are not just taking snapshots, you will find yourself with quick windows of opportunity to create a proper image. It’s a good idea to know ahead of time what images you would like to capture. If the images are just for you, it’s okay to be narcissistic in your decision-making, but if you are going to show you images publicly or on sites like flickr, you may want to think a little differently.

Objectiveness and confidence is necessary. You may want to approach people and ask them for their pictures so everything does not appear completely candid. Getting close is a good idea also. Try not to hide the convention. I like to have the convention in the background of the shot. I do not like to use black, blank, or simple backgrounds when there is some much going on around you. I used the convention for the background and bokeh using aperture f/2.8 and bigger. It is a convention, not a fashion shoot. When being candid, try to get people in happy moments and not looking bad. The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep your compositions quick using the rule of thirds. It is great when lining up a person for your shots. I keep my Nikon’s D90 grid feature up at all times to make things quicker.

After a Day of Shooting

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When you are at a multi-day pop culture convention, try to get your images up as soon as possible. There will be a strong interest in them because it’s not over yet. There is a buzz and people want to see how cool they looked. Tagging your photos properly is very important because if people are searching from images from the convention, yours will be seen. Using the proper key words like the name of the convention, the date, even the possible name of the subject can help people easily find themselves of the pictures as a set and helps make the image more accessible to the public. Most photo sharing sites, if not all, had ways to tag your image when you share them.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun

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A happy photographer leads to happy subjects . If you are going around pissed off and angry you may find it hard to approach people and have them take a moment and pose for you. Being polite makes you more approachable also and if people like your images, they may want to use you for future events.

Note: All photos here are my property and protected by my government copyright. If you’d like to use them, just ask, I am a nice geek, no really! why the look?! ( O_o) Shoot me an email at GevonServo[at]thephoblographer[dot]com.

Full set of images for first day of New York ComicCon

Full set of images for second day of New York ComicCon

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Gevon Servo

Gevon Servo aka @GServo is an eclectic, NJ/NY Photographer. He’s a Nikon shooter, by choice nevertheless, will always test any piece of photography equipment. He believes that like ‘Photography’, ‘Coffee’,’Beer’ and ‘Comics Books’ and other things ‘Geek’ “You must try everything once to discover what you want to try again.