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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 and doing some interesting portrait 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 horrible for skin color. Your best defense is to use a Lastolite EzyBalance grey card or a Calibrite ColorChecker Passport to ensure you have a good baseline for your colors.
Is your camera giving you weird, inaccurate colors in your photos? Avoid that issue entirely by using the Lastolite 12-Inch Ezybalance Card.
This helpful tool lets you set your camera's white balance perfectly, so you'll never have to worry about poor coloration again. Not only that, but the Ezybalance Card is also great for exposure control and creating accurate color rendition. It's collapsible and durable, so you can take it wherever you go, and it's easily cleanable too. Plus, it's double-sided with grey and white tones to suit your needs.
The Calibrite ColorChecker Passport Photo 2 is the perfect tool for avoiding frustration with poor colors in your photos.
The Portable Protective Case accommodates multiple positions for easy use with four specialized targets. You can create custom camera profiles based on your individual camera/lens/lighting combinations for DNG and ICC workflows. You can also create a custom in-camera white balance for a consistent white point across a set of images without needing to correct each image later.
The enhancement patches allow you to check and evaluate shadow details and highlight clipping, and the lanyard ensures that your Passport is always where you need it.
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.
Cosplay celebrities 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.
Except for 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 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 in the foyer.
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.
Thank you for listening to the Photo Flunk Show, episode number 70. Today we're going to be talking about comic convention photography and I've got seven tips for you. Then if we 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 70. We have a comic convention that's coming to Orlando 10 days away from when
I'm recording this on Sunday and that is Star Wars cCelebration. I've been to this a couple of times. I've also been to MegaCon and a couple of other comic conventions for doing a little 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 because not only are some of the costumes,
some of the displays and the material that people sell there or trade. It's all interesting, but it was also a 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 kind of hide behind your camera. Going to a comic convention is really good practice for being a little bit more engaging.
So if you're on the introverted side, which I got to tell you I am, it is actually a lot of fun out there. You kind of forget about your own introversions because there was 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. And just as usual, I want to let you know that you can find a transcript of the 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 kind of where our podcast player is. You can listen to this episode and other episodes all the way back to the first one. Finally, I want to remind you, get your free copy of my ebook,
Creative Portraits. You can get it at williambeem.com/freebook or you can text the phrase CP book to the number three three four four four. Okay, let's get down to comic convention photography. That's a mouthful in itself, isn't it? Really, the reasons why you go to this is because there are a lot of passionate people. The people who go here are normal everyday people.
You just simply 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. Lot of these folks have created their own costumes at the Star Wars conventions are also seeing a lot of building going on. There are people who build their own droids.
I mean they have droid races, they have panels there on how to build your own droids. They also have these diorama's that people have set up with, you know, a little miniature figures that I remember seeing something like the whole battle of Hoth on one of the Star Wars Celebration conventions that was in town and a number of other ones, but they're also full sized sets.
There are some Belgium builders who seem to go to every one of these things and they build amazing sets. I'll put a this copy of the 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 Lifesize TIE Fighter Interceptor built there and as well as a number of other displays.
I've seen Jabba the Hutt full size at his palace and Jawas running around the place and 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. And the first one is obviously you want to check for restrictions at the event and that includes personal restrictions.
So 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 were all the, I guess all the displays are and where people are moving around plus other parts of the convention center. You're free to take photos, but inside of the panels where they're going to be showing maybe some video or something like that,
photography is restricted and you could get booted out. So make sure you check what the restrictions are for the event that you're going to be going to. Now want to talk about personal restrictions. What I mean is you can't just go around snapping photos of the people who are attending. There's a saying in this kind of field, cosplay does not equal consent.
If you want to take a photograph of somebody who's in costume and obviously attending the event and kind of working the scene, ask them first, and this is one of the reasons why I said it's a good opportunity to go out and develop some practice going up to strangers and just saying, hi, I'm so and so, I like to take photos. Would you mind if I took your photo? And the reactions you get generally in my experience have been positive.
You may get some people to say, I am busy right now, but I can arrange a time to meet with you later. There are some people say, sure, take a picture now, and also some of those diagrams that I mentioned at the Star Wars Celebration conventions are available for people to go up there and take their photo and there was no charge when I did this.
It was something these Belgium builders did. It is remarkable work and there's often a line kind of going up there with people want to take their photos, so make sure you check before you go on a set. One if you're allowed to, because sometimes these things may be a little fragile. Two, you also want to check and make sure that you're not jumping in front of the line of somebody else that 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 want to tell you about is bring a white balance card. The lighting in convention centers is horrible. It's like sodium vapor.
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 the skin tone is going to be right. At the very minimum. I would suggest bringing, you know, 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.
If 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 those in the show notes as well, but do you want something to make sure that you're getting the color correct because one, like I said, the skin tone was going to be horrible under these lights and two some of these costumes really work with the colors that they're having.
It's a very colorful event. You want to make sure 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'm, I'm kind of, you know, follow Star Wars. I've watched the movies multiple times. I like enjoy the TV shows, but I don't know every character in the whole Star Wars mythology. I never really got into reading many of the books,
but there are characters that are come out of some of the books that people will dress up and I don't know who they are. So I will ask and I was like, who is your character? What's he or she done? Or what's it all about? And that's a good way. Even if you know what the character is, it's a good way to bring somebody out and just start a dialogue,
have a little question. You will 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 Fem Trooper, Julie, I think her name was, and you know she's dressed up like a Stormtrooper with kind of like a little bare midriff showing and you know,
lovely woman, she's got a following. I want to make sure that you engage with someone like that because the next thing I'm going to say is you want to offer to provide them with photos. If they like your work, they'll share it with their community and following and that might bring some business or some traffic back to your website or page, whatever you want to do.
So by all means engage with people at the event. These are fun people, they're engaging. They're 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 downsides of a comic convention like Star Wars Celebration or MegaCon or any of the others is you've got to watch out for your backgrounds.
There is junk and clutter all over the place. There are lights that are kind of shine around in different places. Some of them might have a stage where you know how like at a concert or some kind of a show the stage lights may be rotating and might just hit your camera at the wrong time. If you're 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'll recommend is if there are sets built, see if you can use those because, one, that'll give you a nice clear background and it will be appropriate for the 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 can probably find an empty area where you can have a plain background, have beautiful light without all that green stuff coming from the fluorescent and sodium vapor lights overhead and you might get some of your best shots. If you can just go do straight up portraits out in the foyer rather than inside of the convention hall.
I'm up to tip number five and that would be don't overload on gear. You're going to be walking around. There's 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 at the maybe one more lens probably at a maximum and for me that might mean walking around with my 24 to 70 and also having an 85 millimeter prime,
you know in a messenger bag or a shoulder bag or something like that. You don't want to have too much stuff. There is one thing though, kind of would recommend, and not everybody's going to be up for this, but here's an example. Trying to take photos in that horrible lighting environment is it doesn't work well as an available light photo. I think because of the color and the lighting.
Bringing external lighting, like if you want to have a flash, if you have it on your camera, you've pretty much kind of ruined your shot there anyways. Getting off camera light is difficult as well because then suddenly you're in a position where you either need a stand or person helping you or you're gonna be holding your arm way out with a light modifier and you you're just going to be booked 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 the people who are into cosplay and also the folks who are doing the droid racing, you know, trying to set up some of their stuff, work best with using a tripod and doing HDR portraits rather than using the available light in the convention hall or trying to use light in and balancing your light with that sodium vapor,
you know, for rest and kind of light it. It's just horrible. So give some thought to taking a very small tripod. You don't want to have something set up that splayed out that other people may be tripping on because these are conventions, they get very crowded. 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 want probably want to check to see if there are going to be anyone who turns you away if you do 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're probably going to do better because the lighting conditions are horrible and there's not much light. You're going to have slow shutter speeds and which means you're really cranking up your ISO really high.
So if you can get a tripod, get a stable platform and ask you if you've got a portrait subject, ask them to hold still. Most of the software these days does a very good job of kind of minimizing ghosting. And if you're gonna take a photo of 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, they're usually, they're going to find a staircase, you know, so they can kind of 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, but you're also gonna 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're considering going to a comic convention for 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 were 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 were 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're screening videos. So it makes sure that you don't break the rules or you don't upset anybody and you will have a wonderful time with your comic conventions 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
slash episode 70 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 on iTunes, Google Play Music, BluBrry, Stitcher Radio, and of course all those links are also photoflunky.com on the player.
Finally, don't forget to claim your free copy of Creative Portraits at williambeem.com/freebook or just simply whip out your phone and text the phrase CP book to the number three three four four four thank you so much. We'll see you again next week.