The MCM London ComicCon is a phenomenon that just seems to grow. It started in 2002: now more than 100,000 people go along to each event. It presents a wonderful opportunity for fans of characters in fantasy, comics or sci-fi to recreate their heroes (or villains). Many people now spend endless hours on making costumes and developing makeup so they can role play - cosplay - at conventions, of which the one in London is both huge and a magnet for photographers.
I had gone to the autumn 2014 edition at the ExCel centre in Docklands with Martin and Phil. The characters were fantastic, but the light was dull, and the enormous numbers of other people, both in and out of character, were hard to deal with. So, this year I wanted to change things up a bit.
My idea was to try to isolate the characters using selective flash. Phil and I went together, and what I’d not warned him about was that he was going to be my voice-activated light stand.
The wonderful thing about ComicCon is that all the cosplayers are so happy to interact and pose for pictures. Approaching any of them and asking to get a picture was always greeted with smiling assent. Often as not, the cosplayer (is that really a word?) instantly strikes the pose they’d prepared. Actually, the biggest problem is getting them out of the pose, and to interact with the photographer to make the personal connection. Even when people are simply walking along the road, they will instantly assume their pose: at one point Phil and I were sitting down by the Novotel by the ExCel just taking the weight off for a few minutes, when I noticed over my shoulder a couple in brightly coloured tight Lycra and helmets. I couldn’t help but shout “Power Rangers” at them, and instantly, they went into their pose.
< Photo Geek mode >As far as the external flash lighting goes, I had decided to use a trick that goes way back to when using tungsten-balanced film was the way to get properly balanced lighting in pictures taken under artificial light. It was well known that if tungsten balanced film was exposed in daylight, the world would go blue. Under-exposing would turn broad daylight into twilight. The trick then comes with lighting the subject. Putting a colour temperature orange (CTO) gel over the flash then effectively works with the tungsten-balanced film to give neutral colours on a subject lit by the flash. This means that it is possible to give the appearance of someone picked out by a spotlight at twilight, even in the middle of broad daylight. Swap a digital camera for film, and set it to tungsten white balance (around 3000 K), and you’re all set. The nice thing with modern digital cameras well is that high speed sync means it is possible to minimise the exposure of daylight by using a very fast shutter speed. Incidentally, I picked up this trick from two wonderful books: Michael Grecco’s “Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait” and Joe McNally’s “Hot Shoe Diaries”. I highly recommend both of these. < /Photo Geek mode >
It is showing my age, but I’ve been a Batman fan ever since I was very young, and watched Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo in their scrapes with Burgess Meredith, Julie Newmar et al. The Batman comics of the time were altogether darker than the comic TV series: such a shame I no longer have any. The long and the short of it is that my main targets for the day were the characters from the Batman universe. I was richly rewarded. There were multiple Jokers, covering interpretations from different movie eras. One, shown in the opening shot of this post, evoked the Heath Ledger interpretation, and I think works well. He was ever so cooperative, and I managed to talkhim onto posing against the side of the Novotel. With Phil as VALS for the off-camera flash, I got a picture that I think is quite evocative. He was in quite a party of people, including Catwoman. She was closer to the Julie Newmar version, and had a lovely clawing cat pose.
There was no shortage of other great characters too: Game of Thrones, Star Wars games, Mad Max and many others all were popular. Before I realised I’d used the flash so much, my batteries gave out, and Phil and I called it a day - well, actually, we headed over to Brick Lane for lunch :-)
All told a wonderful experience, meeting lovely people who show an amazing dedication to their characters. To steal a phrase from another well known character… I’ll be back.