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San Diego Comic-Con 2013

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This San Diego Comic-Con 2013 report was written by Brent A. Thale on July 23, 2013. Please do not use these pictures for any commercial purpose or post them on any web site without written consent from Brent A. Thale, the copyright holder. The non-thumbnail pictures linked on this page are 600x900 pixels, contact me for the full (24 megapixel) versions.

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Every July the center of the universe is San Diego, California, as the city is transformed for four days of Comic-Con! Hollywood megastars, all types of content creators, crazed fans, toy vendors, cosplayers, and even religious zealots converged on the San Diego Convention Center July 17-21, 2013 for another spectacular extravaganza of comic book culture!

Did I mention costumes? Yes, I think I did, but I'll mention it again because that's what we do here. For five years now as an exercise in people watching and photography training, we've been making the trek to San Diego to get as many cosplay pictures as possible. Comic-Con is the biggest show of this type anywhere, so it attracts some of the most dedicated and talented costumers in the world, and we endeavor to get the best shots we can of them to run on this blog. Cosplayers, I salute you once again for making Comic-Con fun with the results of your amazing work!

Costume photography keeps us busy every single day of the show, so we don't really have time to explore any other parts of Comic-Con of which there are many. Some people come just for the Comic-Con exclusive toys, but doing that requires quite an investment in time (and money), since the competition for the hottest items is brutal and long lines are to be expected. Speaking of lines, the most famous line at Comic-Con is the line for Hall H, where the big stars meet with their fans to promote the latest movies and TV shows. I'm told the line for one of the hottest panels featuring surprise appearances from "Loki" and Tom Cruise, and announcements for "Guardians of the Galaxy" began before 6AM and the doors did not actually open until 4PM! We spoke to a person who endured that line and she was happy as a clam to have gotten in despite the ordeal. Feats of endurance are not our thing (unless it involves carrying camera gear), but different strokes for different folks!

I think the most popular costume for men this year was once again "The Joker" from the Batman universe, something about the variety of Joker versions and the long-lasting popularity of the Batman property appeals to a lot of guys. For women, I think "Harley Quinn" was very popular, also from Batman. There was even a "HarleyPalooza" photo shoot involving just Harley Quinn costumes, that says something. Zombies were ubiquitous, and we saw several really awesome Walking Dead mashups with other properties. "Monster High" had a huge following with girls, and "My Little Pony" was big as well. The online comic "Homestuck" always brings together a legion of fans in their trademark troll horns.

Comic-Con attracts many of the highest-profile costumers, we were lucky to once again see the always-awesome Yaya Han in her Phoenix armor, and Linda "Vampy" Le, as Psylocke and a rare Anime character! We also ran into Tony Kim from "Crazy4ComicCon" blogging fame on Twitter, and on the celebrity front we briefly saw Lou Ferrigno and Patrick Warburton, but celebrity photos are a kettle of fish we don't try to catch.

One of the most frustrating things about shooting cosplayers at Comic-Con is that we often get only one minute (or less!) with each person because we aren't allowed to block traffic through the hallways to set up shots. The difference between having one minute with someone and having 15 minutes with them to get a good shot is huge. We did get the chance to go offsite with one awesome cosplayer from "Ragnarok Online", and we spent an hour with her doing jumping and forest nymph poses and got a chance to use most of our gear, it was fun!

Speaking of photo gear, we went all out this year and brought more gear than we ever have. Our main and only camera was my brand new Nikon D7100, which is a DX-format camera, but as long as the light is good it puts an incredible number of pixels on the subject and I was very pleased with the look it gives. Almost all the shots were taken with the Nikon 17-55 2.8 DX lens, my standby favorite that I use for pretty much all costume shots because it lets me get in close enough to shoot in a crowd. I also brought along the Sigma 8-16 superwide and the Nikon 70-200 f4 lenses which are nice, but we had limited opportunity to use them due to conditions and the burden of carrying them.

For lighting we use two Nikon SB-900 flashes and one rented SB-910, which all worked great. One flash was in the Chimera Octa 2 24-inch collapsible fabric beauty dish, one was in an Orbis ring flash attachment on camera, and one was in a SaberStrip that we used as a rim light in some of the pictures. I love the rim light look, but it requires a stand or a third person to hold it in the right spot, so it's a lot more work to use but we'll try to get better at using it more effectively in the future. We also brought a 42-inch circular reflector with one black side which we used as an impromptu backdrop to block distractions like people in the background, it worked well. We even had a Westcott X-Drop backdrop setup with white and black cloth backgrounds, but using this sort of thing at a dynamic convention is hard. Our Makita electric leaf blower served as a wind machine, it's neat but it takes a lot of practice to use well, I want to get better with it and get a great windblown shot next time.

When I say "we" in this blog, I mean me (Brent Allen Thale a.k.a. Batty) and mega-Realtor Melissa Case, who acts as my lighting assistant and roper-in of costumers, since there's something about her voice and personality that is hard to ignore and hard to say no to. Melissa and I practiced pose setups in advance and we used every opportunity to direct people into interesting poses, since we endeavor to have as few default, generic poses as possible in this report. I think we did a lot better, but there's more work to be done in this area, I'll be researching direction more and more, it's a fascinating combination of art, psychology, and people skills, which are all things I would like to be good at.

One thing we noticed about the crowds this year is that even though it was as crowded as ever, the Comic-Con staff seemed to have put a lot more thought than usual into crowd traffic management. For instance, many wall areas that were previously used as lounging spots for tired con-goers were now marked as "No sitting or standing", which sounds bad but it actually seemed to improve flow through those areas. I guess people found other places to hang out, keeping the hallways a little more open than last year. Also, many atrium areas had security actively prodding people to move on and not stop too long and block flow. As photographers we of course are terrible offenders in this department, but we gotta do what we gotta do, and in any case I enjoyed the show more this year because of increased ease of movement around the halls.

Another nice thing this year was the new design of the famous Comic-Con swag bags, giant fabric containers intended to store all the things people pick up around the show. New designs for this year included a fold out Batman cape, which we had to trade for, and a new backpack style attachment system which made the bags easier to carry, nice touches!

We stayed at the lovely Sofia Hotel, a boutique resort on the edge of downtown San Diego, about nine blocks from the convention center. It's in the historic Pickwick building, which was used by NBC and Art Linkletter to film his show starting in the 1930s which was interesting, but the legacy of an older building is limited space, so the bathrooms were crazy tiny and there was no pool for a morning swim, but oh well. And the sometimes rowdy Comic-Con crowd causes the nearby police station and hospital to be extremely active, so expect loud sirens outside the window all night long.

So San Diego Comic-Con 2013 has come to a close. Was a lot of fun as always, and we are re-energized to attend next year! Onward to pre-registration!

Next stop: Dragon Con 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia Labor Day weekend! remembered to "Like" this page, right?

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