I’ve learned a lot about photos and photography over the past several years thanks to going to cons. When I bought my ticket to my first con – a gold ticket to Chicago 2011 – I was so excited about taking photos and getting to share my experience with fellow fans. But it turns out, they were crappy photos. I went to the con with my first DSLR – a Canon Rebel Xsi – and my zoom lens and that’s all I thought I needed. I didn’t bother really learning or researching how to get a good photo. If I remember correctly, I went full auto and just shot photos. That wasn’t the way to go. They turned out gross and orange-hued and I couldn’t do much with them since I only shot in jpeg and didn’t know what RAW was.
I was so disappointed that I did research, learned the various settings on my camera and experimented. I asked people (family and friends) who knew about digital photography, listened to their suggestions, and practiced.
Fast forward to DallasCon and ChiCon 2012. I’m shooting in RAW and using Manual mode, playing with the exposure and aperture. I was also closer (seat B25 & C6 compared to F6) and didn’t need to zoom in as much. The photos came out alright and I was able to adjust the settings in Photoshop after dumping them onto my computer. But with Photoshop (or at least what I knew then…), you could only edit one photo at a time. I had over 1,500 photos to edit. It was tedious.
I still wasn’t entirely pleased with my photos or how I edited them. I posted them as individual photo posts as well as a ‘master post’ with links to my gallery. I got some positive comments on the photos so I knew I was going in the right direction. Still needed practice with shooting as well as editing.
By the time DallasCon and ChiCon 2013 rolled around, my best photography friend enlightened me to the world of Lightroom for editing photos. I couldn’t be more thankful for that since it’s more user-friendly and quicker to use than Photoshop. Bulk editing (copying and pasting settings to a whole set, if the settings work for the whole set…) was a huge time saver. I needed (and still need) to scroll through the sets and spot touch various photos but the overall process cut my time down by hours. I also learned more about my camera and editing and practiced more over the year between cons which, in my opinion, improved my outcome (even if ever so slightly).
I recently attended VegasCon and put my new camera to use. I’m more satisfied with the results than before – it’s an ongoing process, baby steps – but I’m still not there yet. I still had to play around with the lighting that Creation uses for their stage during the panels and events. Some panels were more problematic than others, as with any other con I’ve attended or will attend. The J2 lunch panel was my worst and least favorite panel to photo, given the lighting is always horrible and the photos turn out bad no matter how I do. it. But thankfully, there are no more ‘breakfast’/’lunch’ panels anymore, just extra panels in the main panel room. Score!
I took the bold step of tweeting out my gallery link to the popular fan sites and received quite a few hits, mentions, retweets, and recognition than I have before. I’m glad about this but I still think my photos need work. Something’s missing and I don’t know what it is. Maybe the post-photo editing in Lightroom wasn’t enough or I the settings I used weren’t up to snuff. Again, it’s a work in progress. You never stop learning.
One of the major things I’m working on now for future cons (next up: DallasCon in September then the planned 4-con marathon of 2015) is trying to minimize the blur factor – aka getting sharper photos – and reduce the amount of the backs of heads that I have in the lower portions of my photos. I don’t really know a good way around that since it’s dependent on where I’m sitting and who’s in front of me.
One thing I refuse to do is use flash. I attempted to use it during the breakfast panel at ChiCon in 2012 but I won’t use it again. I find it distracting and rude to fans and the guests on stage. Additionally, it’s unneeded for those sitting in the first 10 or so rows. I’ve had quite a few otherwise good shots get ruined by the flash of others. Flash tends to overexpose/blow out the photo and leave the subject of the photo look pale, lifeless. To others, this is preferable since it delivers a crisp shot of the actor and you’re able to see everything, right down to the sweat and pores on their face. It seems to be popular among the more well-known fandom con photographers and the fans love it. I don’t so I’ll agree to disagree.
So for people who ask me what camera I have or what settings I use: I have a Canon Rebel T5i and I tend to use Manual mode, floating between 1/20 and 1/80 for the exposure (depending on the lighting situation and how much I zoom), and an f-stop between 4.2 and 5.6. These settings don’t always work. I try to sort things out within the first few minutes of the panels. I shoot in RAW+JPG (takes up a lot of space but worth it) use Lightroom to edit my photos before I post and upload them. Again, the camera is a large part of the deal. But if you don’t take time to learn it and experiment with it and go into the con thinking you’re going to just get good photos, you may be in for a wake up call.
Now I guess I should also mention that I am in no way a professional photographer (if you couldn’t tell from my photos) but I am an enthusiast. I enjoy taking photos, learning, and sharing my shots with the fandom and world. I’ve received questions from time to time about what camera I use and what I do and use to take photos. I’m just providing my $0.02 on the issue.