photoshop

Angie and Brooke and Benson // DragonBallZ Cosplay

On the weekend, I was lucky enough to get to do a cosplay shoot with Angie, Brooke and their good friend Benson at the Australian Movie & Comic Expo in Melbourne. They were cosplaying Bulma, Chi-Chi, and the Ox-King respectively, all characters from DragonBallZ. This was challenging, because I don’t know anything about these characters! But it actually turned into something of a blessing, because while they could take control of the posing and the way they wanted the shoot to look, I took care of the technical side.

The day before in Melbourne had been bright and sunny, but overnight it had gotten overcast. This was actually better photography-wise, because it meant a softer, diffused light with less harsh shadowing. Except it was windy. Exceptionally windy. If it was possible to physically harm the wind, I think by the end of us shooting outside Brooke would have tried. I tried to reason that the wind would make it look more realistic with the movement of material and hair, but I don’t know if she believed me.

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Too windy for Brooke!

We did the bulk of the shoot outside after finding a grassed area surrounded by tall shrubs. It had the advantage of both looking good in the photos and hiding the surrounding cars, trucks, buildings of the Melbourne Showgrounds.

Brooke, Angie and Benson started bouncing ideas around and started posing. The settings were relatively straightforward and I actually shot everything about 1/2 – 1 stop under so I could work with boosting in post. I also tried using the “shady” white balance setting this time around, whereas I usually keep the white balance on auto and fix it later.

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There were certain poses that were “must haves” for them; ones inspired by things on the show they’d seen. But other than that it was just them bouncing ideas around. When we couldn’t take the wind anymore, we all went inside to see what we could get inside the pavilion under lights.

Naturally, the change in environment meant changing the exposure settings. I put the white balance back on auto, slowed the shutter speed slightly, widened the aperture slightly and boosted the ISO. The main thing I wanted was a wider aperture to get a shallow depth of field because I didn’t want too much of the background to be in focus (eg. all the people milling around), but not too shallow to make focus difficult.

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I actually really liked the effect if I crouched low and shot up, as it caught the lighting and lines running along the ceiling and I thought it was a cool effect.

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Editing was another challenge for me, because I knew that since these were anime characters it would lend itself to a more vibrant, saturated colour edit but I still wanted to avoid blowing out the highlights. Shooting slightly underexposed helped with that. In Lightroom I boosted the saturation slightly, then after importing into Photoshop I played with the curves and levels to boost the light. I made sure to keep the light on their face, and tried to slightly burn the backgrounds. I also used the lasso tool to select certain specific colour aspects of the photo; Angie’s hair and Brooke’s dress. Then I would use a selective colour mask and boost the cyan / magenta levels respectively. This helped make those two areas stand out brightly without sacrificing the rest of the photos (eg. especially skin tone).

I was so proud of how these turned out but the thing that really stood out to me was how much fun it was – and how they looked like they were having fun. I truly believe that if you’re subjects are relaxed and having fun and you are, it will come out in the photos and I think this is a good example of that.

I’m so lucky to have such talented people who want me to photograph them.

Shooting At A Con // Some Tips

There isn’t really a magic formula to taking photos at conventions. It’s like all things in life – it takes a mixture of practice, patience and grit and more luck than people like to admit. What works for me won’t necessarily work for other people, but there are several questions that I get asked a lot that I thought I might try to answer here. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and things like actual photography theory and detailed editing would take too long to go into. But I can touch on some general things to help make it all seem a little less daunting.  I’ll also pepper the blog with links to articles explaining terms that I think might need more explaining, and add some useful links at the end.

That was one of the biggest things when I started out – it all seemed too big and too complicated and I just read and read and practiced and I was lucky that I had people willing to give me advice.

EQUIPMENT

I didn’t start out using the camera or lenses I have today. When I first started taking photos at conventions, I was using a Sony “bridge” camera. It’s called a bridge camera because it’s not quite a point and shoot, not quite a DSLR. It had a fixed zoom lens and could actually zoom quite far.  It was a great camera to learn on, and I used it at a few conventions. But as I started wanting to improve myself, it wasn’t giving me enough detail in low light.

 

Misha, AHBL 3 2012. This was shot using my Sony "bridge" camera

Misha Collins, AHBL 3 2012. This was shot using my Sony “bridge” camera

I then moved to a Canon 600D (which I’m not sure they even have anymore?) This was the camera I did quite a lot of learning on. It was close to what I’m shooting with now, just not as robust. Again, it was a great camera but it wasn’t giving me the scope I needed for the low light situations I was shooting in. At every step though, I made sure it was the fact that I felt I was outgrowing a camera rather than just upgrading because I thought it was what was expected, or thought the camera would somehow make me a better photographer. It was about what I thought me and the camera could do together.

That’s when I got my current camera body, a Canon EOS 5D MK III.

 

 

Jared Padalecki, SFCon 2015. Shot using my 5D MK III

Jared Padalecki, SFCon 2015. Shot using my 5D MK III. The benefit of not only a robust camera body but hours and hours and hours and hours of practice in photography and post-processing.

I have 3 lenses – a 50mm f/1.8, an 85mm f/1.8 and a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L Series. The 70-300mm is the workhorse and the one I use most often at conventions. It is by no means what they call a “fast lens”, meaning that it doesn’t have a particularly wide aperture setting  (http://digital-photography-school.com/what-is-a-fast-lens/) So it takes a bit of work to use it in low light settings like a panel room, but I’ve used it for three years now and I’ve made it work!

If I ever wanted to experiment with other types of lenses, I would hire them. Hiring is a great alternative to outlaying money for a new lens. A quick google search brought up this example in the US, and to give you some idea, a Canon 70-200mm  f/2.8 would cost you over $2,000 US, and yet you can hire one from borrowlenses.com for 10 days for $112 US. Perfect for having before a con weekend to play around with.

Photography is an expensive hobby and despite how appealing it seems to want the best equipment, especially because you think it will make your photos better, it is unnecessary to outlay so much money on something that in all likelihood will sit in a bag in your room for the majority of the time. Unless you are seriously considering making a career or a serious hobby of photography, there are much more cost effective ways to shoot conventions and renting is a big one.

There is a lot of talk in the photography world about how mirrorless cameras are going to take the place of DSLR’s, but I have never used a mirrorless camera so can’t really comment on it. It is another route to go though, if you’re interested in looking at different equipment.

AT THE CON

My camera takes both SD Cards and Compact Flash cards, and I use CF cards 99% of the time now. When I first started out, I was extremely reluctant to go over any of my cards, especially if they had photos that I was proud of, or of cons that I wanted to remember. The hard truth is, like everything else about photography, Compact Flash cards especially are expensive. So I had to give up being precious about my cards and I had to reuse them at each con.

When you start out with a card, if you’re going over an old card or even if it’s just out of the packet, don’t forget to use your camera menu and format your card. This completely cleans your card and gives you a fresh slate to work on. You’re much less likely to end up with a corrupted card, which is a nightmare. Take a few cards with you, since it’s always better to have more than you need than less. I actually carry a small pencil case in my camera bag, and once I have used one card I will put it in there and I know it’s used and not to go over it the rest of the weekend. Professional!

 

On the left, an SD Card and on the right a Compact Flash Card

On the left, an SD Card and on the right a Compact Flash Card

SHOOT IN RAW. If you are at all interested in doing a lot of processing and making big editing changes to your photos after the con, shoot in RAW rather than JPEG. Raw files contain every single scrap of information; JPEG compresses a lot of that information. JPEG is fine if you are simply wanting to capture photos and share them online without too much fuss. It’s quick and you don’t need specialized software to open them and work on them. But if you’re wanting to perhaps fix up some photos – recover any exposure mistakes, make any big changes – you’ll need access to as much digital information as possible and that means using a RAW file. RAW files are subsequently much larger and take up more room on your cards. You also need dedicated software like Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom to open the files and work on them. But if you are serious about working with your photos, your best bet is to always shoot in RAW.

Always remember to have your charger and charge your batteries at night. I have a camera grip on my camera, which is an extra attachment that means that I have two rechargeable batteries working rather than one. This lessens the chances that I will run out of juice during the day of a con. It’s not necessary, but it’s something that has helped me (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/847530-REG/Canon_5261B001_BG_E11_Battery_Grip_for.html) It’s also useful because it means that when I’m shooting portrait and turn the camera vertically, I have a vertically positioned shutter button and control dials. Which, again, isn’t necessary but it helps ergonomically for photographing for long periods of time.

I do have a flash gun, but I never use flash at conventions. By their nature, the reach of a flash will only work if you are in the first couple of rows at best, and if you’re that close chances are you’ll have light spill from the stage lights and won’t need it. You’re better off trying to work with your camera settings organically, rather than introducing an artificial light source that in all likelihood won’t help much anyway. If you’re not using it outside the con, it’s an expense you don’t need at one.

EXPOSURE SETTINGS

This is a topic that could take another whole blog on its own. I can put some links to some basic exposure tutorials, but it’s impossible to give a strict guideline about how to expose because every con venue is different. There’s even often differences from one panel to the next in how they are lit, and so how you need to best adjust your settings is a matter of experimenting.

If you’re working with a DSLR, you will have Automatic, Program, Manual, Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority settings. The camera picks all the settings for you if you use automatic, the camera picks settings but allows you to make adjustments if you want if you use program, and manual it is all up to you. Shutter Priority means you will set how fast or slow you want the shutter speed and the camera will adjust the other settings to compensate, and the Aperture Priority is the same only you set how wide or narrow your aperture will be. People will often talk about going “full manual” as if it’s the pro thing to do, and while it will give you maximum control over your exposure choices, it is perfectly acceptable to use the other settings, especially in an environment as complex as a convention panel where you have absolutely no control over the light sources. I will often use Shutter Priority, because I want to keep my shutter speed up to avoid camera shake, which can happen if you have your shutter set at a slow speed which you can tend to do in a situation where there isn’t much light.

Probably the single biggest lesson I’ve learned is not to be afraid of grain.

Exposure is an equilateral triangle. All three settings – shutter speed, aperture and  ISO work to expose an image correctly, but they are entirely dependent on each other. If you change one, you have to change the other two to compensate. In low light settings, one of the things that often have to be pushed to the limit is your ISO. The ISO determines the sensor’s sensitivity to light.  The higher the ISO, the more grain or noise is introduced. Have you ever taken a photo at a con and it’s come out very grainy like an old photo? That’s digital noise and often comes from having a high ISO setting.

The thing about grain is that it can be cleaned up in editing. Poor exposure is a lot harder to fix. So if you need to pump up your ISO, do it. Just be aware that it can also affect how sharp your images can look, so go high but not overboard.

 

EDITING

I use a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop when I’m editing. There are other options, but these are the ones I’ve always used. Unless you have the physical software from a few years ago, Adobe now works on a cloud based subscription, and you can purchase a Photographer’s Bundle that is Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC for $9.99 US a month.

I use Lightroom mainly to as a way to catalogue my photos, open the RAW files and to do very basic early touching up. I’ll open the RAW file and adjust white balance if needed, and sharpen and reduce noise in Lightroom, then export the photo into Photoshop to do the bulk of the work. Don’t be afraid of either Lightroom or Photoshop – they are daunting, but there are plenty of online tutorials to show you how to make your way around them. I’ve used Photoshop for over ten years, even before I started photography again I was using it for graphics work, and there is still a lot I don’t understand. But like most of photography, it’s about experimenting and finding what works. The beauty of it is if you do shoot in RAW, your files will not be destructed by anything you do – that original file will always still be there and recoverable for you to work from and start again. One of the joys of this is to go back on old photos and edit them with all the updated knowledge you have gained along the way.

 

Events like Karaoke at the SPN Creation conventions are a great opportunity to experiment with camera angles and pushing your editing to extremes

Events like Karaoke at the SPN Creation conventions are a great opportunity to experiment with camera angles and pushing your editing to extremes. Matt Cohen, Karaoke, PasCon 2015

REMEMBER

The biggest tip I have for shooting at a convention is not really to do with photography technique at all. It’s to do with looking after yourself.

I am a big believer in how you are feeling affects your output. If I am having a bad day, or I’m not feeling very well, I really believe that my photos won’t be as good. A convention is a very unnatural environment. It’s frenetic and emotional and it’s very easy to get swept away in the adrenaline. But there are a few ways you can keep an even keel and it will help you avoid such a startling crash at the end of the weekend.

Drink water. All the time. Even if it’s a con like VegasCon where there is a steady supply of alcohol, drink water too. Water will help you concentrate, help you sleep and help you function.

Eat. Even if you can manage one sit down meal with friends at some point in the day, where you are actually sitting and focusing on eating it’s better than nothing. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, just one proper meal. Throughout the day, try to snack on things like nuts or fruit.Trail mix is great. You will mostly be running on adrenaline and chances are you’ll be too nervous to eat much, but try to eat something.

Sleep. Even if it’s a couple of hours a night. You’ll want to stay up all night deconstructing every photo op with your friends, and that’s part of the fun of a con. But try to snatch a few hours just so that you are somewhat refreshed for the next day.

Shower and take any medications you need. Showering will make you feel more human, and take any medications you would take at home. If you’re on blood pressure meds, or anti-anxiety meds or anything like that, be responsible and take them during the con when you should. I am on anti-depressants, and I am of absolutely no use to anyone if I don’t take them. It’s my responsibility to make sure that I do.

If you have any questions or concerns or something has gone wrong, speak to someone. A volunteer, a staff member, a friend. Don’t think that any question is stupid, or trivial. Chances are, you are not the first person to ask it and you won’t be the last.

Thank the cast, thank the staff and thank the volunteers. They all need to hear it, especially the volunteers. It’s a hard job and they have to do and put up with a lot all weekend. (If you’re at a Creation convention, thank Chris, the photographer in the photo op room!)

Have fun! It’s one of the most fun things you will ever do but it’s so easy to get caught up in feeling anxious and overwhelmed that you miss out on the fact that it is fun. Especially if you’re wanting to photograph the con, you can get distracted by wanting to do such a good job that you forget to really listen and enjoy a panel. It’s okay to say you want to sit a panel out and just be there and experience it rather than photograph it. There’s no shame in that. A few years ago, I had a bad migraine on the Saturday night at SPN VegasCon, and the next day I couldn’t focus properly to photograph Misha Collins’ Sunday panel. He brought his son West out on stage and while I was extremely disappointed I didn’t get to photograph that, I knew that in all likelihood my photos wouldn’t have been very good anyway because I was so sick. So I just got to be there and enjoy the panel itself, and there are still lots of other photos of the panel out there.

This may all seem like strange advice for a blog about con photography, but taking care of yourself on a weekend like this is a big deal, and your photos, and your experience overall, will be much better for it!

 

USEFUL LINKS

Exposure Guidehttp://www.exposureguide.com/exposure.htm

Cambridge In Color: Learn Photography Concepts –  http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/learn-photography-concepts.htm

Digital Camera World Lightroom Tutorialshttp://www.digitalcameraworld.com/tag/adobe-lightroom-tutorial/

Digital Camera World Photoshop Tutorialshttp://www.digitalcameraworld.com/category/tutorials/photoshop-tutorials/

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC Photographer’s Bundlehttp://www.adobe.com/creativecloud/photography.html?promoid=KSDQE

Borrow lenses US – borrowlenses.com

Fstoppershttps://fstoppers.com/

How To Become A Rockstar Photographerhttp://howtobecomearockstarphotographer.com/ – a great blog that is geared towards concert photography but the principles between that and con photography are often the same

Digital Photography School on twitter – @digitalps

Fstoppers on twitter – @fstoppers

 

 

 

Osric Chau and Timothy Omundson, AHBL 6 Melbourne 2015

Osric Chau and Timothy Omundson, AHBL 6 Melbourne 2015

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Rob Benedict, Louden Swain Saturday Night Special, PasCon 2015

Bruce Campbell, OzCC Melbourne 2015

Bruce Campbell, OzCC Melbourne 2015

Misha Collins, DenverCon 2015

Misha Collins, DenverCon 2015

Jensen Ackles, DenverCon 2015

Jensen Ackles, DenverCon 2015

Osric Chau with fans, Karaoke VanCon 2015

Osric Chau with fans, Karaoke VanCon 2015

Briana Buckmaster, PasCon 2015

Briana Buckmaster, PasCon 2015

Gil McKinney, Louden Swain Saturday NIght Special, DenverCon 2015

Gil McKinney, Louden Swain Saturday Night Special, DenverCon 2015

SPN Cast, VegasCon 2015

SPN Cast, Louden Swain Saturday Night Special, VegasCon 2015

Matt Smith, Whoniverse Melbourne 2015

Matt Smith, Whoniverse Melbourne 2015

Mark Sheppard and Osric Chau, Jus In Bello

Mark Sheppard and Osric Chau, Jus In Bello V, 2014

Up // Osric Chau Cosplay Photoshoot

This past weekend I attended Salute to Supernatural Burbank 2014 (which I will write about in another post). It was special for many reasons – I could see all my friends again, it was the last convention of the circuit for 2014, and I was also going to be photographing Osric Chau in his cosplay outfit after the convention.

Osric has started getting photographers to record his different cosplays at each convention, and this time he asked if I would be interested. Of course I was! But I was also intimidated – this was way outside my comfort zone. I’ve met Osric a few times before so I knew he would be amazing to work with, so it wasn’t so much working with him that was making me nervous. But I’ve never done a location photoshoot before outside of my family. This was outdoors, somewhere in Burbank and before I saw him at the con he didn’t even tell me what the costume would be!

So this photo, of him making an entrance for his panel during the convention, was the very first time I saw what costume I’d be working with!

Osric as Mr Fredrickson from "Up"

Osric as Mr Fredrickson from “Up”

 

Now I haven’t even seen all of the movie Up (all I know is that the first part should be avoided at all costs and that came from tumblr) so I was really flying blind! At the last minute my friends Angie and Brooke came along and offered moral support (thank you so much guys!) , and luckily they are both hugely talented artists who had seen the movie and were great at making posing suggestions. We were lucky enough to find a small park off a main road, that had these huge old trees and lots of green grass. There were park benches and a playground. It was such a perfect setting it was like we were supposed to find it.

Osric was very good about posing – very patient and willing to listen to ideas. He kept emphasising scope and colour and shape – Mr Fredrickson was very squat and square, contrasting with the roundness of the balloons. He suggested wide shots to show the height of the balloons, but I also wanted tight shots because the balloons were such a good framing device, and also to see the incredible makeup work his friend Devan had done for the cosplay. We really were fortunate in our location – I loved the trees, with the greenery acting as a canopy and the branches shooting through the backdrop of some of the shots. The light was beautiful, throwing dappled spots onto the trees and grass.

It was a very relaxed, positive photoshoot and we were all bouncing ideas around.

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As far as editing went we all thought that since it is animation, the colours were extremely important. That was also a challenge for me, because I work much more comfortably in black and white. But I tried to go for vibrancy and saturation – there’s an unrealistic quality to the colouring that I think suits what we were trying to do.

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It was so much fun, and by the end of it I was feeling a lot more confident about it. It’s still something I will need practice at, but at least my foot is out of my comfort zone now! Osric was a fun, patient subject and I’d love to work with him again!

I think this has to be my favourite shot of the day.

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