The Supernatural conventions have been evolving ever since I started going in 2011, and it feels like the more they have been changing and the more I have been learning about photography, the more I can see how there are subtle differences in the way I photograph the different “sides” of the convention.
Bear with me, this may sound very esoteric and impractical and airy-fairy and maybe will only make sense to me, but I really believe there are different approaches to the convention.
The Karaoke party is always on a Friday. It’s loose and a free-for-all (literally it’s free, anyone can walk in and attend even if they are not at the convention). It’s not about having the perfect, uninterrupted view. It’s dirty and gritty with limbs flying everywhere and it’s costumes being askew. I try to introduce a lot more movement, a lot of blur. My framing is even more extreme than it usually is! It’s harsh, contrast-filled lighting and in post-production I boost the blacks to where they are often clipped on the histogram. I usually don’t clean up any noise (grittiness) in the photos from having the ISO pushed up high. It’s probably the most unrestrained part of the convention, and consequently the most unrestrained as far as technique and editing.
The panels in contrast are all about making the guests look their best. You work out the best way to expose for the lighting, and you frame in a way that tells a story but still presents them in the most flattering way possible. If you’re lucky enough, the lighting won’t change too much during any particular panel, so your settings won’t need to change. Then you can concentrate on composition, and waiting for the perfect “beats” within the overarching rhythm of the panel.
You learn to anticipate when a question will make someone laugh, or look thoughtful. Within that framework, once you get comfortable, you can start playing with using more extreme framing and pushing boundaries in that way. Rule of thirds is a good rule for photography, but it’s not one that can’t be played around with to create your own individual style.
If the panels are black and white (and most of my photography is now!) it is still a deep black and white with plenty of tonal range, but not the dramatic high contrast of the karaoke. It’s a more even, “flatter” sort of lighting. It’s not to say that shooting the panels is boring or predictable – especially with this cast it can be anything but! It’s just a different sort of skill set that you bring to photographing it.
The panels are the most difficult part to photograph and the one that requires the most time and study and experimentation to get right. I think I’m a long way from being where I want to be technically, but I’ll keep trying!
The “Cabaret” or the “Louden Swain Saturday Night Special” as it is called in 2015, is another area entirely. It’s kind of a hybrid atmosphere of the two – it’s more raw feeling than the panels, but less unrestrained than the karaoke. I don’t have experience with concert photography, but I imagine it is close to what is expected in that.
There’s a heightened sense of vulnerability that is present at the cabaret, because it really is something that is slowly evolving over time. The guys are putting themselves out there in ways they maybe haven’t before, or haven’t for a long while. There’s a lot of emotion, and movement and noise and it’s about capturing as much of it as you can in a frame.
The point of all of this is documentation and memory – you are taking photos for the people who are there, and the people who want to be there. You want an accurate memory so you can look back and know how you felt at a particular time, and likewise you want people who weren’t able to be there to get some sort of sense of what it felt like. Capturing all of this over the course of a weekend can be exhausting. It’s a rollercoaster, and the thing to remember is that for every photo that is emotional in any way, the person photographing it is feeling it too. No matter how you are capturing it – on your phone, on a point and shoot, on a DSLR – that’s the amazing thing about photography. You really are taking a moment that meant so much and freezing it so you can come back to it later. None of the techniques or rules that you learn prepare you for how to work with that emotionally.
The best photograph, no matter how you take it, is one that makes you feel.