Tag Archives: NYCC

The Man Who Shot Superman

The Best You Can Do

The last of my photos from New York Comic-Con are finally up. It took me two months, sure, but do you want them Right Now, or do you want them Done Right?

(Eh? You don’t want them at all?)

(Go to hell.)

New York Comic-Con 2010 – The Costumes

I get truly excited when I know I’m coming to an event or a place with terrific opportunities for picture-taking. It’s like a wonderful scavenger hunt. I know that there are incredible photos hidden somewhere inside this enormous place and I have just three days to find as many of them as I can.

There’s also a serious puzzle-solving component to the adventure and that part of it can deliver as much frustration as pleasure. Some elements were easy: there were going to be lots of colorful people at the event (check) and all of them were going to be perfectly happy to stop for someone with a camera (DOUBLE-check).

Fab! But they’re walking around inside the Javits Center. I’d attended plenty of shows there. Even compared to other convention centers, I knew that this was one dark, dark set of exhibit halls.

So I came to New York with pretty much the whole inventory of photographic armament. I had my D200, the really fast 50mm lens, the plain-jane wide-to-telephoto zoom lens, and an external flash. Clearly I was going to have to rely on a lot of trial and error to get decent results.

Ach. It was kind of even tougher than I had imagined. I’d hoped that I’d figure out the right combination of equipment and settings that would yield clear, sharp, colorful photos with a properly-illuminated subject and background. Instead, I had to file this under the “accept the things that I cannot change” part of that embroidered poem you’ve seen hanging on a wall at your aunt’s house.

Over those three days, I think I tried every trick and combination of settings imaginable. But nothing was really foolproof. Even using rear-curtain sync (a slow shutter gathers a blurry handheld image of the background, while a pop of flash at the very end overlays a sharp exposure of the person in the foreground) didn’t work 100% of the time.

Here’s the solution I came up with to the problem of Ambitious Javits Center Photography. These notes are for my future benefit as much as anybody else’s. Alas, it’s rather boring:

  • You need a real SLR. Cameras with big image sensors can handle high ISOs very well. Almost any pocket camera can barely take a decent photo at 400 ISO.
  • 800 or 1000 ISO seems to be the sweet spot. With my SLR (and most others) that’s enough sensitivity to pull details from the background without introducing so much noise that it starts to get in the way.
  • Simple, direct flash is the only surefire solution. I wanted three things in each image: sharp detail, strong colors, and lots of background detail. It seemed as though I could only have two of them at once. If it isn’t in sharp focus, it isn’t a usable photo. And what’s the point of shooting costume photos with dull color? Sometimes you’ll get lucky and there’s enough light in the background to give you some kind of detail. Or at least enough light that you can salvage it in Photoshop. But in the end, it’s best to simply accept that some venues just aren’t great for photography.
  • Just trust to luck. After assuring myself that there was no one Magic Answer, I settled into a routine of taking two separate shots, with the flash on and off. My camera has a user-programmable function button, which made it easy. I didn’t even have to take the camera away from my face between shots: I just hold down the function button with my ring finger, sight-unseen, to suppress the flash. One of those two shots would come out OK.

So that’s what I wound up with for shooting costumes at the Javits Center. I hope to do better next time. And there’ll definitely be a next time: I had a great weekend at the Con, and much of what I did there was actually job-related.

I did take away two lessons. Next time, I might decide to more or less set up camp in the Javits’ atrium area. It’s loaded with people coming and going and there’s plenty of great light. It sometimes seemed as though everyone you’d ever want to shoot was walking through there at one point or another. All of the photos that made me think “Hey, that one came out great!” were shot outside of the exhibit halls.

And the experience underscored how handy it’d be to own a fast, wide-angle lens. Remember, when I snap the 50mm onto the SLR body, it turns into a telephoto-ish 75mm lens. I tried using it during the first day but I was missing way too many shots because I just couldn’t get my subject into the frame. Digital SLRs are popular enough that prices of nice, fast, 30mm lenses are starting to come way down.

And then: Comic-Con

Hooray! I’m attending Comic-Con!

No, not that one. People say “I’m attending the San Diego Comic-Con” for the same reasons why they say “I’m going to swallow a whole bottle of rat poison.” It can only be considered a positive announcement in the sense that if they truly intended to successfully commit suicide, they wouldn’t be stating their intentions ahead of time. The suffix “…for God’s sake, stop me!” is implied.

Those of us who enjoy both life and comics gave up on San Diego a while ago. It’s just too damned big. Instead, I’m attending the New York Comic Con, which starts on Friday.

The NYCC is less than five years old but it’s quickly achieved a San Diego vibe. I don’t know how I’ve managed to avoid it for this long. I mean, c’mon, Andy. For years and years you’ve wanted to go to a huge national polymathnerdcon but have complained about the travel expense. The Industry obligingly establishes one in a city just a short Amtrak ride away, but do you go? No, you do not. Are you aware that there are far, far fewer of those scary Klingons at these things than there were back in 1999 when you attended the San Diego Con? You’re perfectly safe, son.

Well, all that matters is that I’m coming now, and that I’ve already agreed not to make any snarky comments to any former castmembers of “Manimal” that I might encounter over the weekend.

This was going to be just a fun, light weekend. In fact, it was as much an excuse to visit some NYC pals as anything else. But when I registered as a member of the media a few months ago, that changed everything. Benefits of a media badge: free admission, and I can cut any line that doesn’t end in either a bathroom or a “Twilight” castmember signing. Disadvantage: whatever my intentions, I’ve turned this into a business trip. I forgot that (oh, that does make sense) the press list is available to people who are keen to meet with members of the press.

Emails started trickling in last week. Actually, yeah…I kind of do want to talk to Autodesk and Wacom about their digital art tools. Two briefings go on the schedule. Whoops, if I can talk to publishers about their iPad and Android tablet plans, I should probably take advantage of those opportunities. More briefings.

One email in particular merited a good twenty seconds of re-reading and the chewing of a bottom lip. But inevitably, I said yes. It’s very difficult to be asked a question like that and then send back the reply “No. I have absolutely no interest in being part of a table interview with Stan Lee.”

The coolest bit: I’ll be moderating a panel on Sunday. “The Vision Machine” is a new creator-owned limited series written by Greg Pak. The panel will be an hourlong discussion of the central theme of the book: what happens to the world after a fantastic new consumer device kicks the legs out from under the concept of personal privacy and upsets the balance between government, corporations, private citizens, and the common good? You thought the iPad was a game changer…well, you ain’t seen nothing.

It’s fab stuff. I expect to spend most of the hour reminding myself that the moderator’s real role is to keep an eye on the time and to make sure that all of the speakers get to say their fill. I’ve read a PDF of the first issue and I think I could blather on about the questions it raises for a whole hour all on my own.

Full details are up here on Greg’s site. Abbreviated details are between the following set of quotes: “Sunday from 2:30 to 3:30 in Room 1A14.”

For all of my faux-complaining about my schedule, I fully expect NYCC to be a blast. In many ways, a big national con is no different from most of the big trade shows I cover. It’s a huge convention center packed with people, most of them seem to be in your way, and the same reality distortion field that Apple erects around its product announcements is fully armed and operational around the venue’s food stalls. But there’s a special energy that’s generated by a huge crowd of people united by a common interest. I anticipate lots of things to see and checking out the work of lots of writers and artists whose work was completely unknown to me before I stopped at their table, checked out a sketchbook or a sample issue, and became an instant fan.

And one could say that at a comix con, of opportunities for photography there are not a few. I just need to figure out if I want to be one of those dorks at a Con who walks around with a big-ass SLR around his neck…or if I want to be one of those dorks who wears two.

“But if you carry the D80 body in addition to the D200, you can have both the pro-quality 50mm f1.4 and the flexibility of a consumer mid-range zoom on hand at the same time!”

It’s a compelling argument. But it’d probably be more compelling if I had the build of a mid-Seventies Dennis Hopper, and could claim that I’m cosplaying as his character from “Apocalypse Now.”

Dennis Hopper in "Apocalypse Now" - Photographer wearing multiple cameras.