Improve Your Comic Convention Photography
Star Wars Celebration is coming back to Orlando, which seemed like a good reminder to share some advice for improving your comic convention photography.
These events are incredible fun because the fans who attend are talented and passionate. People put their heart and soul into creating costumes and becoming their character. You can meet some wonderful people and have a great time at comic conventions. These folks make great photography subjects because they are vibrant, colorful and just out of the ordinary.
Of course, you need to know the rules of each convention and what sort of technical pitfalls await. With that in mind, we have seven tips to help you prepare and get your best shots at comic conventions.
1: Check for Photography Restrictions
There are two types of restrictions that you need to understand before you go to a comic convention.
The first thing you want to know are the rules of the event. For example. Star Wars Celebration Orlando permits still and motion photography on the show floor and around the convention center. However, you may not take photos in the panels, screenings or other gatherings. If the rules say don't take photos or video, you risk being booted out for any violation.
The second type of restriction is more of a personal matter. There is a saying that “Cosplay does not equal consent.” In other words, don't just start snapping photos. Ask people before you take their photo. A great many will agree. Some may be busy, but are willing to meet you later for a shot. A few will just decline.
Celebrities at these events are sometimes available for photos for a fee. Trying to take photos of them without paying is poor etiquette. Just as with anyone else, ask before you take a photo of someone.
2: Use a White Balance Card
The lighting in convention centers is horrible for photographers. It's often some kind of sodium vapor or fluorescent light with a green color cast. It's absolutely horrible for skin color. Your best defense is to use something like a grey card or an X-Rite Colorchecker Passport to ensure you have a good baseline for your colors.
**This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.
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3: Engage with People at the Comic Convention
Some people travel thousands of miles to attend these conventions. Talk to them! They want to be with people who share a similar interest.
- Compliment their costume
- Ask questions about their character
- Find out if they have a web page or social media following
- Offer to provide them with photos
There are Cosplay celebrities who have a large following at these events and on social media. Share a nice photo of them and you may get a bump as they share with their audience.
This is Femtrooper Julie. She's a Star Wars and Cosplay entertainer. I had no idea who she was during the show, but looked her up afterward. She was great fun to be around, and she has a decent sized following online.
4: Watch Your Backgrounds
Even the Man of Steel can't save this photo.
Nothing ruins a photo quite like a distracting background. It's really very difficult to get a good shot without background distractions in the middle of the show floor. Besides, you never know if someone else with photobomb your shot looking at the backside of someone's cape.
The Cosplayers want good photos, so ask them if you can shoot them someplace without a distracting background. Look for a clean wall. Sometimes you may find that there are sets available for photos, as with these shots.
5: Don't Overload on Gear
Convention floors can get very crowded. Also, consider that you could spend up to 12 hours a day at some of these events with opportunities to shoot all sorts of interesting people. Do you really want to lug around a lot of gear?
I typically go with one body and one or two lenses. The Nikon 24-70 is a good walk-about lens for me, and I also use the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 prime for some portraits. I'll keep the gear in a messenger bag so it's convenient, but not too bulky.
6: Prepare for Horrible Light
I already mentioned that most convention centers have awful lighting that creates a nasty color cast on skin tones. You can see some of it on the Superman photo above. He looks like he's trying to recover from some Kryptonite.
You should also expect to find a relatively low light environment. That creates some possible alternatives.
1: Boost your ISO
2: Try using Flash (which doesn't balance well with the available light and can be cumbersome with light modifiers.
3:…or you could bring a tripod and do HDR
I know, it sounds like a weird idea. I recommend a small tripod that fits in your messenger bag. Try not to set up in high traffic areas so folks won't trip over your legs. Then you can ask your characters to hold very still and shoot off a bracket of frames.
With the exception of Superman, all of the photos above were HDR portraits taken on a tripod. Here are a few more examples.
7: Not All of the Great Shots are Inside the Convention Halls
People are naturally drawn to the convention halls, but they go in and out. Don't forget to go outside and get some shots. You don't have to deal with the horrible lighting and you may get some interesting group shots. You also see people behaving in character as they come across other people. More often than not, it's hilarious.
Also, you may have much better light for your comic convention photos.
The Orange County Convention Center hosting Star Wars Celebration & Megacon has glorious windows along the exterior. You can take some very nice portraits with the diffused light coming through those windows. You also don't have as many distractions out in the foyer, either.
Don't forget to go outside the building. You can get some great shots as a character like Darth Vader walks along the sidewalk. Move around. The action is everywhere.
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THE PHOTO FLUNKY SHOW: Episode 70
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Thank you for listening to the Photo Flunky Show, episode seventy.
Today we are going to be talking about comic convention photography, and I’ve got seven tips for you. And if I get a few more in there, we’ll see how that goes.
My name is William Beem and I really appreciate you listening to us. This is episode seventy.
We have a comic convention that’s coming to Orlando ten days away from when I’m recording this (on Sunday) and that is Star Wars Celebration. I’ve been to this a couple of times. I’ve also been to Mega Con and a couple of other comic conventions for doing a little bit of photography there.
It’s an interesting experience and it’s something that, even if you don’t think that it’s your style, you might want to go try it because not only are some of the costumes, some of the displays and the material that people sell there all interesting, but it is also really a wonderful exercise for going out and engaging with people that you want to be photography subjects. So if you’re a little shy and kind of hide behind your camera, going to a comic convention is really good practise for being a little bit more engaged.
So if you’re on the introverted side, which I’ve got to tell you I am, it is actually a lot of fun out there. You can kind of forget about your own introversions because there is just such a spectacle of color and activity going on at these conventions. It’s really worth going. There are a lot of wonderful people that go to comic conventions and particularly, I really enjoy the Star Wars Celebration conventions.
That is kind of what our topic is for today.
As usual, I’m letting you know that you can find a find a transcript of this show for free at williambeem.com/episode70
Links to subscribe to the show will be on the show notes page and of course you can find them on photoflunky.com which is where our podcast player is. You can listen to this episode and other episodes all the way back to the first one.
OK, let’s get down to comic convention photography. That’s a mouthful in itself, isn’t it!
Really, the reasons why you go to his is because there are a lot of passionate people. People who go here are normal everyday people. You just wouldn’t notice it by the way some of them dress when they go to a comic convention. And I am really impressed with the amount of dedication they put into the things that they create.
A lot of these folks have created their own costumes. At the Star Wars conventions I am also seeing a lot of building going on. There are people who build their own droids and they have droid races. They have panels there on how to build your own droids. They also have these dioramas that people have set up with little miniature figures that I remember seeing something like the whole Battle of Hoth at one of the Star Wars Celebration conventions that was in town and a number of others.
But there are also full sized sets. There are some Belgian builders who seem to go to every one of these things and they build amazing sets. I will put a copy of this photo in the show notes page. I’ve got a photo of a character dressed up as Princess Leia inside the Millennium Falcon and honestly you would think it was shot on the movie set.
I have seen a life sized tie fighter interceptor built there as well as a number of other displays. I’ve seen Jaba the Hut full size at his palace and Jawas running around the place. It’s just amazing what kind of creativity people put into this. So in other words, if you like to do on-set photography with people in costume, this is an amazing opportunity.
So let’s go ahead and get started with the tips.
The first one is obviously you want to check for restrictions at the event and that includes personal restrictions. I’ll tell you what I mean by that.
First, the event. With Star Wars Celebration it says on their page that you can bring your camera for either still or video and on the floor where all the displays are and people are moving around plus other parts of the convention center, you are free to take photos. But inside of the panels where they are going to be showing some video or something like that, photography is restricted and you can get booted out.
So make sure you are sure what the restrictions are for the event that you are going to be going to.
When I talk about personal restrictions, what I mean is you can’t just go around snapping photos of people who are attending. There is a saying: The old cosplay does not equal consent. If you want to take a photograph of somebody who is in costume and attending the event and working the scene, ask them first.
This is one of the reasons why I said it’s a good opportunity to go out and develop or practise going up to strangers and saying hi, I’m so and so and I’d like to take photos. Would you mind if I took your photo?
The reactions you get, generally in my experience, have been positive. You may get some people saying, “I am busy right now but I can arrange time to meet with you later. “
There are some people who say, “Sure. Take a picture of me now.”
And also some of those dioramas that I mentioned at the Star Wars Celebration Convention are available for people to go up there and take their photo and there was no extra charge when I did this. It was something these Belgian builders did with their remarkable work. And there is often a line with people who want to take their photo. So make sure you check before you go on a set, one, if you are allowed to because sometimes these things may be a little fragile and two, you also want to check to make sure that you are not jumping in front of the line or somebody else who may be waiting to take their photo.
There are a number of group shots that will happen at these events. So keep in mind that not all of the shots are going to be inside of the area where you see all the vendors and displays.
The next tip, number two, I’m going to tell you about is bring a white balance card. The lighting in convention centers is horrible. It’s like it has a green kind of tint to it. It is just miserable stuff. You want to be able to make sure that you can get your color and make sure you can get your skin tones right. At a very minimum, I would suggest bringing some kind of a small white balance card. I don’t care if it’s something that came out of the back of a book – you get a little Lastolite pop up thing – or maybe you bring your X-Rite Color Check Passport and I’ll have links to all of that in the show notes as well.
But you want something to make sure that you’re getting the color correct. Because like I said the skin tone is going to be horrible and some of these costumes really work with the colors that they have there. It’s a very colorful event and you want to make sure that you capture the right colors. White balance at a minimum, I would say an X Rite Color Check Passport would probably be one of your best bets.
Tip number three and we kind of went over this a little bit, but engage with the people attending the event.
And by that I mean don’t hide behind your camera. Compliment them on their costumes. Ask them questions about the character. Sometimes I’ll go to these events, even if it’s a Star Wars event and I follow Star Wars, I watch the movies multiple times, I enjoy the TV shows, but I don’t know every character in the whole Star Wars mythology. I never really got into reading the books. There are characters that have come out of some of the books and people will dress up and I don’t know who they are. So I will ask who is your character? What has he or she done or what is it all about?
And that’s a good way, even if you know who the character is, it’s a good way to bring somebody out and just start a dialog; have a little question.
You’ll find that some of the people who go to these events are actually quite popular in the Cosplay community. I mean I wasn’t aware of some of them, but I remember I met a woman named Femtrooper Julie, I think her name was. She was dressed up like a Storm Trooper with a bare midriff showing; a lovely woman. She’s got a following. I want to make sure that I engage with someone like that because the next thing you want to do is offer to provide them with photos. If they like your work they will share it with their community and following and that might bring some business or some traffic back to your website or page or whatever you want to do. So by all means engage with people. These are fun people! They are engaging and very passionate about what they do and it’s a good reason to get away from hiding behind your camera and just have fun with the event.
One of the down sides of a comic convention like Star Wars Celebration or Megacon or any of these is you have got to watch out for your background. There is junk and clutter all over the place. There are lights that will shine around in different places. Some of them have a stage like at a concert or some kind of a show where stage lights are rotating and might just hit your camera at the wrong time. If you are creative you may want to use that flair for dramatic effect in your photos or you may want to avoid it. That’s your choice.
But watch your backgrounds.
One of the things I recommend is if there are sets built as a scene, use those. Because that will give you a nice clear background and it will be appropriate for your character.
The other suggestion I would have is don’t necessarily take your photos inside the convention hallway where all the traffic is going on.
Here in Orlando at the Orange County Convention Center there is beautiful window light just outside that hallway and you can probably find an empty area where you can have a plain background and beautiful light without all that green stuff coming from the fluorescent lights overhead. And you might get some of your best shots if you’re just going to do straight up portraits, out in the foyer rather than inside of the convention hall.
I am up to tip number five and that would be don’t overload on gear. You are going to be walking around, there are a lot of people there. In my case I kind of like to go with one body and one lens. It’s very rare that I want to take too much stuff with me, but maybe one more lens probably at a maximum. For me that might mean walking around with my 4-70 mm and also having an 85 mm prime with a messenger bag or shoulder bag or something like that. You don’t’ want to have too much stuff.
There is one thing thought that I would recommend and not everybody is going to be up for this but here is an example. Trying to take photos in that horrible lighting environment doesn’t work as well as an available light photo because of the color of the lighting.
Bring external lighting, like a flash, if you have it on your camera, you kind of ruin your shot there anyways. Getting off camera light is difficult as well because then suddenly you are in a position where you’ve either got a stand or have a person helping you you’ll be holding your arm way out with the light modifier and you just going to be bulked down.
What I’m going to recommend is actually bringing a small tripod and doing HDR portraits. It works better with some people than it does with others; it depends upon their ability to hold still and of course the faster you can click off your exposures, the less motion you’re going to have in them. But the portraits that I’m going to show on the show notes page are all going to be HDR portraits. I found they work the best.
I get the best color out of them and I get plenty of detail and depth. It really worked out well and I found that a lot of people who are into Cosplay and also the folks who are doing the droid racing trying to set up their stuff work best with using a tripod and doing HDR portraits rather than using available light in the convention hall or trying to use a light and balancing your light with the florescent kind of light. It’s just horrible.
Give some thought to taking a very small tripod. You don’t want to have something set up and splayed out that other people may be tripping on because the convention center gets very crowded and you don’t want to be in anybody’s way. I’ve been able to do this at a number of conventions here in Orlando.
Other conventions may vary. You probably want to check to see if there is going to be anyone who turns you away if you come in with a tripod. But it’s something to consider. If it’s available and you can take your photos with a tripod you are probably going to do better because the lighting conditions are horrible and there’s not much light. You are going to have slow shutter speeds which means you are going to be cranking up your ISO really high so if you can get a tripod, get a stable platform and if you’ve got portrait subjects, ask them to hold still. Most of the software these days does a very good job of minimizing ghosting.
And if you’re going to take a photo from a scene or maybe the droids or some other kind of stagnant character, then you don’t even have to worry about asking anybody to hold still.
Finally I mentioned the window light coming in the foyer of the convention hall. Keep in mind that not all of the great shots are in the convention hall. There are plenty of people who are walking around the foyer.
Also if there are going to be group shots, usually you’re going to find a staircase so they can drape the people up and down the stairs and they’ll have tons of people in costume, ready for a group shot.
Those are opportunities where a lot of photographers are going to be around. You kind of have to jockey for position a little bit. But you’re also going to find people walking back and forth and it may be easier to approach somebody in that foyer rather than in the convention hall itself. So not all the great shots are in the convention hall.
I hope this helps you out. If you are considering going to a comic convention and doing photography I really would urge you to do it. I’ve had a lot of fun doing this in the past and I think the people who are attending these are great. The people who are putting on the shows are great. Just remember everybody has their own little rules about whether they are willing to engage in photography or not and of course some of the conventions are not going to allow photography in the panels or places where they are screening videos. So make sure that you don’t break the rules or you don’t upset anybody and you will have a wonderful time with your comic convention photography.
Thank you so much for listening to the Photo Flunky Show. I really appreciate you. Show notes are going to be available at williambeem.com/episode70 and of course you can find a transcript of the show there for free. Please subscribe. We would love to have you as a subscriber of this podcast. You can find links on the show notes page so you can subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Play Music, Blubrry, Stitcher Radio; and of course all those links are also at photoflunky.com
Thank you so much. We’ll see you again next week.