The BAT Cave
Dragon Con 2013
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This Dragon Con 2013 report was written by Brent A. Thale on September 3, 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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Dragon Con is Atlanta, Georgia's giant sci-fi and fantasy convention/party/cosplay show/gaming tournament/... there are so many things going on that I haven't seen the half of it after three years attending the show! 2013 was another awesome year featuring some interesting changes, most notably a name update from "Dragon*Con" to "Dragon Con", a change in ownership of the show to resolve some legal issues (Yay!), a new parade route, and the takeover of an additional building to house the bustling vendor area to try to disperse the gigantic crowds a bit more. The host hotels were just as jammed as ever, though, so it's hard to tell if the extra building made a difference.
There's no way any one could do it all at Dragon Con, so we don't even try. Being fans of cosplay and photography, our fun at the con comes from interacting with as many awesome costumers as possible and trying to get the best pictures we can of them. This year's mantra was "Don't TAKE the picture, MAKE the picture!", which means we tried to focus on direction and composition for our images, instead of just accepting the circumstances of finding a person in costume and taking one snap of a default pose. If you look at some of the pictures on this page, I think we achieved that pretty well, but I would still like to practice a lot more and improve for next year. I would love to somehow perfect that magical ability to turn a corner, meet someone in costume for the first time ever, and a couple minutes later walk away with a perfect moment saved for eternity and ready to post on this blog for your viewing pleasure!
Dragon Con runs from Friday all the way through Labor Day Monday, which is a bit unusual for con schedules. The days tend to start late and end late, with very little action in the mornings except for the big parade on Saturday morning, which requires staking out a spot by 8:30AM if you want to be able to take pictures. There is no actual convention center involved, the show is spread out across multiple hotels and buildings in downtown Atlanta, which does wonders to reduce crowd chokepoints that other cons suffer from.
We stayed at the lovely Hyatt Regency Atlanta, which is one of the host hotels for Dragon Con, which means it's right in the middle of the action, with events, parties, and panels going on around the clock. Our room on the 21st floor was great, very spacious with a nice view of Peachtree Avenue, would recommend it to anyone for next year. Host hotels also feature Dragon Con TV, kind of a private TV channel with fan videos, comedy, and panel rebroadcasts. I think I have the groove for the "Last Dragon Con" music video burned into my brain, plus I can recite lines from that mini-movie where the two guys summon Princess Leia and gain the powers of The Force. Good times!
Dragon Con attracts many of the highest-profile cosplayers, it's sometimes hard to find any one in particular in the crowds, but we did see Annisse Damefatale, Meagan Marie, Margie Cox, Monika Lee, and of course Atlanta hometown favorite Ambassador of Cosplay Yaya Han. Yaya was super nice as always and took a few minutes to chat with us about cosplay photography and her new television show "Heroes of Cosplay". She gave us some behind the scenes anecdotes of producing the show, and we jokingly (or maybe not...) tried to implant in her mind a spinoff series, "Heroes of Cosplay Photography", where various photographers try to outgear each other and dramatically jockey for position to get the best costume shots! No? Oh well.
Speaking of photography gear, so many people ask us about it when they see us at cons that I feel obligated to keep an updated list of gear on the blog. This year we were using just one camera, the Nikon D7100, with my old Nikon D7000 as backup, although for some reason the D7000's battery drained on the flight over and went mostly unused. We are a team of two people: Me (Brent Allen Thale aka Batty) and realtor extraordinaire/part time lighting assistant Melissa Case. I shoot the pictures, do all the processing and editing, worry about gear, and write the blog. Melissa carries our two off-camera lights and uses her interpersonal skills to try to get the best performances out of costumers.
(Warning: next paragraph contains gear talk, feel free to skip!) This year our key light, which is the one that casts the dominant shadows, was a Nikon SB-900 flash inside a Chimera Octa 2 24-inch portable beauty dish. This light is triggered by PocketWizard radio triggers (a Mini TT1 on camera and a Flex TT5 mounted under the SB-900, which is then mounted to a paint pole for support), with the power level set by the PocketWizard AC3 Zonecontroller on camera. For one afternoon only, we replaced this SB-900 with a Paul C. Buff White Lightning X2400 studio strobe for the purpose of taking outdoor shots in bright light and action shots, which was a new experiment for us. It worked pretty well, I note on the individual photo pages where the X2400 was used, its additional power allows for some unique looks. Our second light is a Nikon SB-900 flash inside the Orbis ring flash adapter which we use to fill in (lighten) the shadows cast by the key light. Our third light was a Nikon SB-910 flash inside a SaberStrip tube, which we used as a rim light whenever we could. This requires a third person to hold the rim light in the right position, but most costumers have friends and there are always helpful congoers available who are willing to help, so we used it quite a bit. Look for the white light lining people's faces, shoulders, and hair, that's the rim light. In the future we may have a third team member, I just need to check the child labor laws to see if seven-year-olds can stay up past 11PM to hold my rim light at BlizzCon, mwahahahaha!
One more photo secret that we weren't aware of is on the 10th floor of the Marriott Marquis hotel, there is a great block of open air meeting rooms that can be used for photography, I don't know how it took us three years to find out about this. There is space for photographers to set up light stands and backdrops and really put some thought into creating images without pressure from crowds or Security. For a more relaxed pace and a chance to get that perfect studio-shot look, it's worth the trip up there (sounds easy but it requires using the notoriously jammed Marriott elevators).
Whenever we hit Dragon Con we always try to shoot with Atlanta-area local costumers who we don't often see at the West Coast shows we frequent. A special shout-out in that regard to our friends and awesome cosplayers Brooke Fox and Benjamin "Captain Ahmazing" Moon who never fail to disappoint with unique and exciting costume ideas for Dragon Con. This year Brooke's Sergeant Calhoun for "Wreck it Ralph" was truly inspired and Captain Ahmazing's special edition white Mass Effect power armor with pink accents was a sight to behold. Always a hoot to see fun, creativity, and skill combined into a final wearable costume. Sal-ute!
And while I'm doing shout-outs, kudos to Marcus, a photographer from m9cosplay, who graciously returned the very expensive grid for our Chimera modifier which we left on the Hilton lounge floor while distracted. Additional thanks to photographers Jason Chau and Kay from Elysiam Entertainment for coordinating the search for the missing gear. That was a special-order item that would be hard to replace, glad to have it back.
People have told us that Dragon Con features sexier costumes at night, so we made an effort to stay up later to try to catch some of these, since at other cons the costuming is pretty much over after 7PM. We attended Talloolah Love's "Pinups by the Pool" party at the Sheraton pool and were rewarded with some very attractive ladies who were willing to pose for us. Wandering around further until 1AM or so, we encountered some very revealing costumes along the lines of "Vampirella" and "True Blood". It's neat that Dragon Con has this side of costuming as well since many cons actively discourage even fairly tame body display. I can't imagine the confidence some people have to wear less-than-bikini costumes in crowds of thousands of people, but my hat is off to them! (Or maybe on, oh whatever.)
Dragon Con is always held over Labor Day weekend, this year it ran from August 30 to September 2, putting us in Atlanta right at the end of the infamous Georgia heat and in hurricane season. This year some cloudy weather kept temperatures down a bit, and a brief rainstorm even caused the cancellation of the big Marvel character photo shoot, but on the plus side we didn't have to dodge hurricanes as in past years. Even so, the humid heat puts a severe strain on costumers, who are sometimes asked to stand for hours in sweltering costumes for photo shoots and meetups. I don't know how they do it, but judging by how much I was sweating just in my photo vest, I bet the stamina required is extreme.
So Dragon Con 2013 is over, we had a great time as always, will definitely return next year! Thanks again to all the amazing costumers who graciously allowed us to help to tell their story! See you in Atlanta Labor Day 2014, baby!
...next Dragon Con! (Do it all again!) ...next Dragon Con!
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