Denver Comic Con 2015: Lessons From a Large Convention

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Denver Comic Con 2015  by a landslide was the largest pop culture convention that I have ever attended. With over 100,000 people in attendance over the Memorial weekend, the challenges that I thought I knew about candid photography in a convention environment couldn’t have been more frustrating.

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At any kind of comic convention crowds are a given. No matter how large the space is, no matter how well designed the flooring is, there is always going to be an issue with crowding. What I wasn’t expecting with how dense the crowding was going to be at just about every turn. Many of the shots I had taken were lost or ruined by the amount of people blocking  subjects or intruding in parts of the frame. The only real solution to this problem goes back to the age old saying- if the shots not good enough, you’re not close enough.

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I found myself being uncharacteristically timid during my time in Denver. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t been in one of these candid environments in a long while but I found myself being further away from my subjects and not being in the scene that I was shooting. As time went on I got better about it and just needed to kick off the rust but a lot of my work suffered because of it.

 

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Another tenant I forgot when shooting in Denver was patience. While going through my edits when I finally got home to Albuquerque I noticed that large sum of my photos were severely out of focus. I had forgotten that when shooting in continuous auto focus you need to give the camera time to lock focus and not just start shooting the moment you point the camera. Even when I was on the floor shooting I knew that I had hit the shutter too early. Some photos had more obvious flaws then others but none the less many were lost because of a itchy trigger finger.

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A big thing that could have helped me in my photos would have been to slow down. Today’s camera technology has conditioned many to adopt a spray and pray technique that may yield some lucky grabs but it doesn’t replace good technique when it comes to getting a high percentage of keepers. Often I set myself up with gear like Prime lenses to make sure I take my time but I noticed on many of my snap shots that I had issues with composition and camera shack that wouldn’t have been there if I had just slowed down a bit.

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One thing that could have helped me was actually bring my desktop to edit at the hotel every night so I could see my work from the past day and see what I was getting. Having the opportunity to reflect on my work and see what was working and what wasn’t could have helped improve my shooting that weekend. It’s like going back and watching tape the day after the game. But of course hindsight is 20/20 and you can’t don’t get any extra lives.

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Though there are plenty of frustration that came out of shooting this convention there are still some stellar diamonds in the rough in this take. Any photo outing you can be expected to take hundreds of images expecting that maybe only 10% of them survive the gauntlet of editing. I left Denver Comic Con with almost 900 images on an hard drive and by the time I had it widdeled down there were about 268 left on the block that got toned and exported. So over all I can’t say the entire outing was a failure. I just believe I could have done better.

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Once I had made it down from Albuquerque, kicked a stomach bug, and found time between errands and my day job, I got to editing the photos and the trend began… So much black and white. I’ve recently had complaints that I do it too much but quite frankly photography and photo editing like any art form is subjective. My decision to make photos colored or black and white comes out of a feel for the images and if I feel like that image works better in black and white that’s what I’m going to do to it. If a client was paying me for a shoot and specifically asked for all photos in color I would, but in my own creative freedom I’m going to do what works best for me and my sensibilities.

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There are certain set of instances where black and white has advantages over color; such as low light situations using higher ISO’s. The noise looks more like film grain in black and white and you don’t have to worry about lost color detail because you’ve thrown the color out the window; also busier backgrounds aren’t as distracting which befits candid shots well. Color can still work in these situations but you never really know how it’s going to work out until you spend some time toning the images.

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Cosplayers put a lot of work into their outfits (some more than others) and they want the pictures taken of them to show of as much of the costume and details as possible. My shooting style doesn’t really do that very well. I am much more concerned with getting a good image than I am showing off a good cosplay. Elements like interaction, juxtaposition, action, and raw emotion are more of what I’m looking for in a shot. Not how well made the costume is. A good costume can go a long way in catching my eye and dragging my lens to it but if that photo doesn’t come out that way I want it to I’m not going to share it with the world.

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What I love about these conventions is their diversity. People from all walks of life, backgrounds and mentalities come to these things for one purpose and that is to just have a good time and celebrate the things they are unironically enthusiastic about. It can be done in almost a million different ways, dressing up, meeting people who have worked on some of your favorite pieces of entertainment, or just buying new things to add to their nerd collections. You definitely run into some interesting characters at these things.

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However after several years of attending these events and shooting them the way I do, I seem to be developing a since of Convention Fatigue. I maybe end up attending 3-5 different conventions a year and the more and more I attend them the more I feel like I’m just going through the motions. Last year Denver Comic Con was my favorite convention I had ever gone to. This year it just felt like another convention just this time with 100,000 people crowding around.

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Denver Comic Con didn’t particularly do anything wrong this year. They just didn’t offer anything new for me. Perhaps I just need to take a hiatus from conventions for a while. Albuquerque doesn’t have a Summer con this year so that gives me an opportunity to get some distance from the nerd circus and be able to come back to it with a fresh take.

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But who knows, maybe that’s just the nerd flu talking. Knowing me I’ll end up caving and submitting for another press pass for the closest convention before anyone knows it. But for now I think I deserve a rest.

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