San Diego Comic-Con 2014
This San Diego Comic-Con 2014 report was written by Brent Allen Thale on July 30, 2014. Please do not use these pictures for any commercial purpose or post them on any web site without written consent from Brent Allen Thale, the copyright holder.
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San Diego Comic-Con, the largest pop culture celebration in America, overran the San Diego Convention Center July 24-27, 2014 for another awesome show! This was our fifth year attending, we are of course the cosplay photography team of me, Brent Allen Thale aka Batty, and photo assistant extraordinaire/Bay Area Realtor Melissa Case. There are so many things to do at Comic-Con and people have many different interests and agendas, but the main reason we go is to take pictures of people in their awesome costumes they wear to the show!
Comic-Con is notorious for being crowded, and although this year I believe the same number of people were in San Diego for the show, for the first time the show felt a little less crowded. I think this was due to coordinated efforts to disperse the crowd across multiple events and alternate locations. For example, "Nerd HQ" was a big event at Petco Park that had games, Commander Holly's Costume parade, celebrities, and many activities for con-goers to enjoy. This drew quite a few people out of the convention center and into the stadium across the street, which was awesome. Other events like the Walking Dead Escape, the zip line event near the Hilton, the Simpsons dome, the Godzilla experience, and the Assassin's Creed obstacle course all helped as well. Until the San Diego Convention Center's expansion is ready in 2017 or so, crowding will still be a major issue, so a BAT Cave salute to the event planners this year for thinking about overcrowding!
Another new event this year that deserves special mention was the Her Universe Geek Couture Fashion Show held at the Hyatt Hotel near the convention center. This was a show promoting a new line of science fiction and fantasy-inspired clothing primarily for women. They had the designers of the clothing and models showing off the pieces on a runway in front of a large audience. My personal favorite was the classic Cylon dress from the original Battlestar Galactica show that even had the swinging red LED eye and silver metallic fabric, awesome. It didn't win though, I believe the Back to the Future skirt outfit won the judges' vote and a Russian-inspired model in a black Darth Vader-ish dress won the popular vote. While tallying the votes, the designers and models mingled with the crowd during an intermission, which was great because we got to meet them and get some quick photos that are more interesting than just low-light runway shots from the show itself.
Hollywood movies have become the main reason many people go to Comic-Con, since Los Angeles is so close to San Diego and it's easy for LA actors to attend the show. We avoid this for the most part since the biggest movies are usually featured in the notorious Hall H at the convention center which features a line so long it even has its own Twitter account to keep people informed about how many more hours they will need to stand (or sleep) in line before they can get in to see a celebrity. It's not worth it for us, since we are there to get costume photos, and the kind of photo ops made available at panels are not really our thing. Anyway, "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" were being promoted heavily, with actor Robert Downey Jr. giving another one of his energetic Comic-Con performances alongside actors like Ben Affleck, Michael Douglas, Henry Cavill, and many others. The hit fantasy TV show "Game of Thrones" also had panels, actors, and cosplayers galore.
Comic-Con is so huge that it can be impossible to find any particular person just by wandering around and looking for them. This year, though, we were very lucky finding high-profile cosplayers and sometimes encountered them multiple times and got shots of them in different costumes! For example, we saw Adrianne Curry, Yaya Han, Linda "Vampy" Le, Annisse Damefatale, Svetlana "Kamui Cosplay" Quindt, and Leeanna "The ghoul of my dreams" Vamp several times, and they always have interesting things going on. We also ran into Tony '@Crazy4ComicCon' Kim, who runs a popular blog and for the last few years has been sporting original costumes made from Comic-Con swag bags! This year he was the Comic-Con Jedi with tailored Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker duds which looked snappy!
Comic-Con has a costume contest in a special format called the "Masquerade". It involves original costumes that have never been seen before they are revealed at the Masquerade on Saturday night. The costumes often have skits associated with them and this event always draws a huge crowd. We skipped it this year because the format doesn't allow for creative photography, you either get stage shots or posed shots in a little room after the performers come off the stage, which is ok but since there are literally 50 other photographers shooting the same costumes in the same light, it's frustrating and we don't add much value to the process.
The most popular costume for women seemed to be a tie between perennial favorite Harley Quinn and Game of Thrones dragon lady Daenerys Targaryen. Also lots of Wonder Women and Disney cosplay, especially Frozen. For men, the Joker and Batman are always popular, with boys Spider-Man seemed to be number one.
This year there were so many child cosplayers, it seems like a lot of regular-clothed parents bring their kids who want to wear costumes. Child cosplayers are awesome because they truly believe they ARE the character they are dressed as, as opposed to an adult who knows they don't have super powers. My photo assistant Melissa, who is a mom herself, is good with kids and usually has them jumping, webbing, and posing with the best of them in no time. This year she found an awesome child Venom who must have had a thousand different poses and never got tired of doing another one!
People often ask about our photo gear, so I feel obligated to talk about it here. I kept it relatively simple this year, we only used one camera, a Nikon D7100, and one lens, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, which is one of the most awesome lenses I have ever used. It's so crazy sharp around f/4 to f/5.6 which is where I like to shoot costumes. For lighting, we use 3 Nikon SB-900/910 speedlights, the main light inside a Chimera 24-inch collapsible beauty dish, with a second light inside an Orbis ring flash adapter on my camera, and the third light was a bare speedlight used sometimes as a rim light. The point of all this gear is to put classic portrait-style lighting on people with a small, soft shadow below and to the side of their nose, sometimes this is called "loop" lighting, which I like. The lights are set and triggered from my camera using Pocketwizard MiniTT1/FlexTT5 radio triggers and the awesome AC-3 controller that lets me set power levels remotely, they always work like a charm.
This year we really tried to focus on "making" the shot, instead of "taking" the shot, meaning we asked people to do stuff for us and to pose in interesting ways. I think it worked to some extent, but we still need to get better at this. The difference between a default pose and an awesome pose is tiny in terms of movement, but huge in terms of impact. A noncommittal expression and a come-hither expression are only millimeters different on the face but make all the difference between a picture we can't use and one that goes viral to millions of people. Coaxing those poses and expressions out of costume-wearers is the single most important thing we can do to get better pictures.
We tried driving to Comic-Con for the first time ever (from San Francisco to San Diego, ~480 miles), in our brand new Tesla Model S electric car, which I call the electro-Batmobile. The advantages are general awesomeness since the Model S is really fun to drive and can easily pass most anything on the highway, and the Tesla Supercharger network which lines California freeways with powerful electric charging stations that can charge the car's battery to full in 30 minutes or less, and is completely free. The disadvantage is Los Angeles-area traffic is notoriously terrible and once you get stuck in it, there's no getting out. We crawled through LA at barely 20 miles per hour, and the trip ended up taking about 11 hours both ways, which is a little long. So, next year I think I will go back to the hassle of flying, since a 90-minute flight plus security overhead still beats 11 hours of sitting in traffic.
We stayed at the Wyndham Bayside Hotel on the extreme northern edge of walking distance from the Convention Center. Although it was nice, and it did have a swimming pool (that was supposed to be open at 7AM but actually had the cleaning crew out there till 7:45), I probably wouldn't stay there again since it's a little far to walk to the con carrying camera gear. We ended up taking the pink shuttle line all but the first day, so we really could have stayed anywhere and walking distance didn't help us much.
So another San Diego Comic-Con has ended, thank you to all the cosplayers who graciously posed for photos and listened to our sometimes crazy direction. And thanks to the Comic-Con security team who have a job to do and who fortunately understand the job we are trying to do and give us a little extra time when we're trying to get the shot!
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