Denver Comic Con 2015: Lessons From a Large Convention


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


Albuquerque Comic Expo 2014: Street Photography on the Show Floor.


The Albuquerque Comic Expo has now came and went and there are a tone of photos to share from the show floor. Like Most Conventions I spent most of my time shooting in a candid fashion carrying myself as a photojournalist. ACE was so kind as to present me with a press pass for the event giving me free range to shoot where ever whenever (within reason.)


For this event I shot exclusively with my 85mm 1.8 on my D600 Shooting at f2.5 and 1/400 of second, changing my ISO depending on where I was and the lighting that was present. On the show floor my ISO was at about 3200 and in the lobby it was dropped to about 800.


My 85mm has always been my workhorse lens. I like having the short telephoto length to where I don’t have to be getting up in people’s faces but I can still be present in the scene. Many street photographers like using a more standard focal length like a 50mm or a 35mm. For me those angles are a little to much on the wide side. If I was confined to a tighter space I would probably use a 50mm but I didn’t want to be getting into peoples faces with my camera. I wanted them to act natural at the convention.


The greatest thing about these conventions is the visual variety. People will dress up as their favorite comicbook, video game, Anime or movie characters, They’ll wander around the show and look at all the artist and vendors selling their merchandise and they’ll interact with each other in unique ways giving interesting Juxtaposition.

ACE-81I always leave conventions 1. exhausted but 2. pleased with the experience. I always leave making a couple of friends, taken tons of good images that seem to get a lot of people’s attention. And that alone makes the exhausting 3 day work weekend all the more worth it.






Albuquerque Comic Expo 2014: Preview

ACE photo by Aaron Anglin

We are now officially a week away from the Albuquerque Comic Expo (ACE) and just like last year I will be there all three days with my camera equipment on the show floor documenting everything the show has to offer.

Last year ACE was my introduction to shooting not only conventions but doing photography in a candid and unique way. One thing that I do differently from most photographers at conventions is that I take a run and gun approach. I move around, I don’t stop my subjects and I try to capture moments as opposed just posed portraits. It’s a fairly unconventional style of photography when it comes to comic conventions but people seem to always enjoy the results.


Though I enjoying shooting in a candid style at conventions it’s not uncommon for people to stop and pose when they see the camera pointed at them. I don’t mind this in the slightest. I try to take more of the street photographer mentality of capturing candid moments but obliging  people who want to pose in their cosplays that they’ve worked so hard on.


On top of covering the show floor I also take posed portraits of my lovely cosplay friends. Most of them have worked very hard to put multiple outfits together for the convention and I’m always happy to oblige.


This year I’m hoping to show off how much I’ve improved as a photographer in the last year. I’ve learned a lot of different techniques, rules and concepts that  I didn’t know a year ago. So if you thought the pictures from a year ago were good get ready. Because shit is about to get awesome.

See you all at ACE.


Photographing Albuquerque Comic Con: The Challenges of Low Light and Crowded Spaces

This past weekend was Albuquerque Comic Con (ACC) and as previously mention I went to to cover the event in a photographic fashion. This year the event was being held at Hotel Albuquerque down in Old Town and while it was a great venue it came with some of the hardest conditions to shoot in. 2 factors played into making this assignment challenging .1) The lighting was awful. It was a dimly lit hotel all over the show floor using mainly tungsten light bulbs with some areas letting natural light in through windows. 2) Incredibly tight spaces with a large turnout made crowding and moving about the area difficult. Both situations were manageable however with just a little know how, patience and letting go of some nit picky things.

The main thing I needed to figure out was how I was going to deal with the low lighting. Being that the light was so low I pushed the ISO to 6400 on my D600 and was shooting at a wide open aperture.  The workhorse lense I was using all day was my 85mm f1.8g and it pretty much never came off the camera body. Ideally I would have liked to stop down to f2.8 or f3.2 to get some added sharpness and depth of field but I needed all the light I could get so wide open at 6400 was where I had to go.



As a result I had to sacrifice keeping slight amount of grain out of the images and the risk of missing focus on the subjects in order to get properly exposed images and cut down on motion blur. As an added bonus for shooting at f1.8 I created some excellent Bokeh (out of focus areas) to cause awesome subject isolation. Now a lot of other photographers that were there covering the event were handling the low light differently by using a flash. There is nothing wrong with using a flash but I personally don’t like using an on camera flash that is going to cause some awkward shadows in the background and not to mention being that I wasn’t there shooting in an official capacity I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself while I was on the floor. (Note: I was aloud to shoot this event I just wasn’t there for a publication or affiliated with the con itself.)




So the main thing I did to handle the crowded spaces was to stick with my already tried and true style of shooting candidly/journalistically. As previously mentioned in a past article on convention photography you see that a lot of people will stop the cosplayers in the hall and ask them to pose or take a photo with someone else. At this event especially it caused some problems with blocking traffic and resulted in some missed opportunities to capture moments as opposed to posses.  So by shooting in aperture priority and high ISO and keeping tabs on what shutter speeds I was getting I just kept shooting on the go. There were times when I would miss focus or get some annoying backlighting messing up my exposure but for the most part this style served me well. I couldn’t quite nail focus on every shot I took but being that I was shooting candidly and not posed portraits I didn’t lose much sleep over not having the sharpest image possible.



Now it wouldn’t have been a convention if my cosplay friends hadn’t asked me to take some portraits of their cosplays. This is how the final challenge of the con took place, finding a secluded area to shoot that has useable lighting. Long story short I was able to find a place outside with no people around to get some portraits of my friends. Now I could lower my ISO to low and noise free levels and stop down my aperture to f3.5 and f4 to get that added sharpness.



Overall it was a great event and I got some stellar images out of the whole thing. So far I’ve been getting incredible feedback and it’s always great to shoot cosplay.

Convention Photography Tips.

Well the annual Albuquerque Comic Con (ACC) is right around the corner and chances are if you are attending (assuming you live anywhere near albuquerque and you’re into that kind of thing) you’re going to see a large number of photographers and regular patrons out with their DSLR’s, Smart Phones and point and shoot cameras taking pictures of everyone in a costume. I’ve shot quite a few of these comic book/anime conventions  like the Albuquerque Comic Expo (ACE) and smaller ones like Con Jikan, and have seen other peoples photos from said conventions and I have noticed some trends in the photos taken at these events. Some of them good some of them bad and others are in the grey area of photography that is personal preference and style. So here I want to give some tips on how to get some of the best images at these conventions. (Note: These are all personal opinions on what you should do. I am in no way an authority on Con photography nor do I claim to be and the thing about photography is that we all find our personal styles and vision in the craft. I’m just giving you guide in what I like seeing in my personal images when I cover events like this)

Tip #1 Shoot Candidly.

ACE photo by Aaron Anglin

Candid photography at these kinds of events is one of the most underrated styles of photos and people miss out on the opportunity of capturing rare moments that you’ll never get to see in regular day to day life. Where else are you going to capture Members of the Justice League mingling with the Avengers, Joker and Harley Quinn going up an escalator dressed as Batman and Robin or Rick from the Waking Dead eating a cheeseburger in a dining hall? The answer is nowhere else.



If you aren’t looking for candid shots however I’m going to let you in on a little secret: You don’t necessarily have to pull the cosplayers over. In my experience if you go around shooting at a convention if a cosplayer sees you have a camera pointed at them they’ll stop and pose for you. I know, crazy right? It’s quite the change of pace from candid shooting in public where if someone sees a camera pointed at them they get skittish and shy or sometimes even paranoid. It’s actually rather gratifying to know they want to have their photos taken. If you choose to shoot this way I would recommend using a  short telephoto like and 85mm lens of even a 70-200 so you don’t have to be getting in their faces. It’s not a nessesaty, just a suggestion.

Tip #2: You don’t have to get the whole costume in frame

This is just a personal pet peeve of mine and I realize that not everyone agrees with me but I get annoyed when I see people get a mediumly wide shots of a cosplayer to get the entire costume frame. It throws off the composition, You’re getting a lot of things going on in the background that are going to be distracting and over all you just don’t get a very good photo. I might be guilty of overusing tight shots I will admit but once again a tighter shot helps keep your composition clean and makes it easier to blow out the background. Now I know many cosplayers will spend weeks and sometimes even months putting their costumes together and they want to show off their work but if they really want to show off they’ll get a photographer to do more professional portraits in them as opposed to just getting images done on the convention floor.


Tip #3 Publish and Share

These days copyright and having images stolen or appropriated is a problem, and sharing them online on places like Flickr or Facebook can be a little risky but in my experience putting the images up and letting people find and tag themselves in their photos has been a huge help in getting my images out there and letting people see my work, and more often than not the response has been incredibly positive. Sure a lot of the times people will only praise the subject in the photo and not the person who took it but if you do quality work people will recognize that and appreciate that and that leads to networking and establishing credibility.

These have just been a couple of tips that you can take to heart if you ever find yourself shooting at a convention. Feel free to try them, or ignore them as you see fit but remember that the important thing is to go and shoot. These Conventions can be fun, exciting and even exhausting but you can get amazing images and meet unique people that you won’t find anywhere else. I look forward to seeing what ACC has in stores for me and am looking forward to getting more images to add to my portfolio. If you are attending I hope to see you there and if you ever get the chance to shoot at a convention I would encourage you to do so. It can be incredibly rewarding.


Weekend at the First Ever Con jikan.

When you think of convention you think about large convention centers filled wall to wall with nerd oriented merchandise and cosplayers dressed in your favorite or sometime even unknown anime characters running around getting stopped every 5 seconds to get their pictures taken. Now imagine all of that shrunken down to at least a 1/4 of the size. That is the experience felt in the first year of Con Jikan.

Attendees of Con Jikan prepare to play a round of cosplay chess

Attendees of Con Jikan prepare to play a round of cosplay chess

Conjikan behaved like any other local convention I’ve attended over the last year. There were a handful of panels for those interested, a local maid cafe for people looking to be entertained, a gaming room to get the competitive juices flowing, a vendors hall for anyone looking to add to their already impressive collection of god knows what, and of course the one thing every convention needs, cosplayers.


One thing that really worked to Con Jikans benifit was the familiarity to the space and how everything was laid out. Being a student at UNM where the convention was being held made it a lot easier to know where everything is and where I would be able to find it if I needed to ask. Now I can’t speak personally for anyone who may not be familiar with the UNM Sub but the organization for the event felt fairly tight which is impressive when you consider how many things can go wrong at conventions.



The one disappointing thing I would say about Con Jikan is the lack of a unique factor that grabs my attention. Being that I’ve only been working the convention circuit for less than a year now I’m already aching for some kind of variety. As a photographer I feel like I’m constantly seeing the same faces in the same outfits at every convention and I wish there was something different that I haven’t seen before. It also doesn’t help that this was an anime and video game convention when I find that my paradigm of nerdom falls in line with more of the western comics and film. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this it’s just incredibly limiting to the opportunities of what can be seen at the convention.



Some may be concerned with the overall size of the event, however I don’t believe that being a small convention should be held against it. 1) Because it’s the first year of the convention that is being run by a small group of enthusiast and 2) there is certain level of intimacy when you have a much smaller group. Suddenly it doesn’t feel like the guest are being put behind a glass wall between them and their fans and you get to interact with them more closely.

Jon Sakura, President of gamers anonymous during his Cyber Zone panel.

Jon Sakura, President of gamers anonymous during his Cyber Zone panel.

Over all Con Jikan can be considered a success being that it is such a small convention and has such a small but dedicated crew behind it. As it continues to grow in the future the changes I would like to see is more outreach to sponsors, fans and other parts of the community of Albuquerque. Having a small local convention is great but you have to be diverse in order to set yourself apart from being just another convention and that’s something that I feel a young convention can accomplish.