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Convention Photography Techniques: ACEN 2011

I wanted to go over the techniques I used at this convention partly for a personal log and also for anyone who might find the discussion of techniques interesting. This really is just a selection of techniques, but a good overview nonetheless.

Primary Equipment:
Pentax K-5 camera body
Pentax FA 31mm f1.8 lens
Sigma 530 DG Super flash + Stofen diffuser (used in certain situations)
Pentax DA 50-200mm WR lens (fashion show and masquerade)
K-7 + DA 55mm f1.4 SDM (only used them once for a private shoot)
Kata 3N1-22 backpack

Camera modes:
The K-5 camera body has 5 selectable setting modes allowing the photographer to select and save settings in those 5 slots. I used three slots primarily, which I will go over below. I’ll also include any other factors in how that mode was used.

USER Mode 1 (flash photography):

– ISO fixed (usually 80, but a range for creative and testing reasons)
– Av mode (usually large aperture)
– Exposure compensation like -2 inside, only slight reduction like -2/3rds outside
– HHS on (high speed sync)
– Sigma flash being used.
– Selectable point focus mode.
– Full 77 segment metering.
– Auto white balance.
– AF.S (Auto-Focus Single mode switch)
– In-camera shake reduction on.
– FA 31mm f1.8 lens.

USER Mode 2 (natural light):

– Program mode with program line for background blur. This was often hand modified for my shots using Pentax’s Hyper-Program functionality where I can change aperture/shutter/ISO on the fly.
– Selectable point focus mode.
– Auto ISO mode with 80 – 12800 set.
– AF.S (Auto-Focus Single mode switch)
– FA 31mm f1.8 lens.

USER Mode 3 (event lighting):

– AF.C (Auto-Focus Continuous mode switch)
– 5-point Auto-Focus mode in auto select.
– Program mode with program line for background blur. It basically means the camera will try to use the largest aperture possible.
– Auto ISO mode with 80 – 12800 set.
– DA 50-200mm F4-5.6 ED WR lens. It is certainly slow with f5.6 at 200mm which is what I used most of the time. It is surprisingly sharp for such a cheap lens.
– Exposure compensation -4 (give or take). In a dark room with bright stage lights. I was a long distance from the subjects so it was necessary to take down the exposure a good amount to deal with such a variation between the stage and background.

Posing and framing:
Using the 31mm lens on the K-5 means that I am using the equivalent of 46mm in 35mm Full-Frame terms. It’s pretty close to what is called the normal focal length. In convention situations, it’s still a pretty tight focal length to work with depending on how much room I have on the convention floor. I decided that I would primarily focus on upper-body and knee-and-above shots as it is usually the perfect framing for the amount of room I had to work with. You really won’t see many shoes or feet at all in my photographs for the convention. While I’m sure some people prefer full-body images to get an idea of the complete subject, it was just a choice on my part to focus on certain types of framing given my tools and what I wanted to accomplish for the event.

Dutch Angles:

Wikipedia article.
I utilized the concept of dutch angles to maximize subject coverage. I also used it to improve background simplicity. If you angle your camera and take a low stance you are filling the frame more substantially with your subject as well as using the natural simplicity of the sky or ceiling to make a nice smooth background.

Classic portraiture:

I love the waist up classic portrait style. It give the perfect amount of detail of the subject to allow for a good well rounded amount of interest and focuses on them exclusively instead of some other aspect of the frame. It’s also a good framing technique in fast-paced situations.

Full body:

When I have the space available and the time necessary, I did take some full-body shots. In the case of this example image above, I was using my older camera with a 55mm f1.4 lens at f2. With enough room I was able to get a nice solid full subject shot with good blur in the background. There is a multiplier in effect because of the large aperture, but also due to the lens focal length magnifying blur to make it appear smoother. Both factors help in situations where there is a perceived wide angle of view. An even longer focal length would have improved blur quantity and quality most likely.

Giving direction:
I really need to work on giving my subjects direction. I did try a few things, but often I allowed the cosplayer to decide their stance and look. I spend as little as 3 seconds with some people, so that’s a big reason I don’t try to give direction. I try to be polite to cosplayers as possible by not wasting their time unnecessarily.

Close together:

Photos can look amazing when people are close together. I love getting my subjects to move in closer. My first reason is I often have a normal prime lens and the second is that the photos turn out better with that intimate feeling. Some cosplayers are more open to getting closer than others. The the two female cosplayers above had no issues as I motioned my hands inwards and said closer, but in a previous day two male cosplayers in large suits of armor didn’t understand my direction. It’s just something that needs to be applied on a case by case basis.

They had amazing costumes, but I failed in giving them proper direction, so I basically just got an awkward snapshot.

Focus on being in character:

For my single private shoot of the event, I gave only simple direction and suggestions. I suggested he focus on how the character acts in the show. In this case the character is a police officer, so we tried a more stern approach to the images. It seemed to me that it was out of character for the cosplayer himself, but he pulled it off well I think.

Business cards:
This year I decided to only give out cards in select situations. There were a few times people asked and also some others where the atmosphere was professional feeling enough that I felt a business card was in order. For example, there was a group of four cosplayers sitting on ledge and I asked for photos. I just went down the line and took individual shoulder+face photos and handed the perceived leader my card.

In that situation, I felt the card gave me more legitimacy with the request as I said “I’ll just take one of each down the line” or something like that. Not handing out business cards has both positive and negative aspects. I’m sure if I handed out more cards then more people would visit my website, but not offering a card and explaining myself each time really improved the speed at which I could work.

While I’m sure I could come up with more by skimming through images this will have to be enough for now, I hope you found the information above valuable in your quest for great convention images!