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|| News Item: Posted 2011-08-07

Covering The Con

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter Newsletter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Grace Noble, 25, like thousands of comic book, si-fi and video game fans flock to the San Diego Convention Center, packing shuttle buses and the city's trolley system to attend Comic-Con.
I've covered probably the biggest cluster f***s imaginable: Super Bowls, the Olympics, NBA All Star Games, riots, revolutions and the Consumer Electronics Show. But nothing compares to THE cluster f*** of them all: Comic-Con.

For the uninitiated, Comic-Con is the annual gathering of geeks, freaks, Manga aficionados, sci-fi crazies, cross-dressing superhero nuts (what--- you haven't photographed a 6-2, 200-pound DUDE in full Wonder Woman costume complete with the high heel boots?) and yes, actual comic book fans.

Over 125,000 descend on San Diego every July in the name of truth, justice and the sale of t-shirts.

Covering this event is a measure of a photographer's stamina, tolerance of body-on-body crowds, B.O. emanating from polyester costumes that haven't been laundered for days and patience in getting an Internet connection to try to make a deadline.

As you turn to see the legendary Stan Lee signing autographs surrounded by hundreds of fans at a booth over there, you might miss a group of Princess Leahs dressed in chain bikinis right in front of you. And be careful you don't run into a Grim Reaper’s 7-foot rubber sickle!

Yes, this isn't just survival of the fittest, it is more importantly survival of the craftiest.

Finding and making photographs and videos is actually the easy part in covering The Con. Getting to the San Diego Convention Center and moving around to work is the problem.

For 5 days I produced images for galleries and features plus shot and edited one or two videos a day. But as I said, shooting was easy. Getting the gear to The Con and moving around that was the biggest concern.

How I roll on assignment these days is, well, I roll. I use a rolling case. But at The Con, rolling is difficult; there just isn't the room to pull a roller behind you. It gets kicked, people trip over it and there is actually a posted rule prohibiting carts and rollers.

For the past couple of years I have gone with a backpack to haul gear around the convention center, stripping down what I take to the bare minimum.

There's a scene in "Saving Private Ryan" where the Tom Hanks character confronts a newbie private going to the front with his squad, pulling off all of the gear not 100 percent necessary to the mission.

Same thought process here: Strip down and take what’s needed, no more. And for a gear geek like me, that’s really tough.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Hanashiro stripped his gear to the bare minimum for his multimedia needs at Comic Con.
Because I had to shoot both stills and video, I went with a Nikon D3S body and left the Sony HD camera back at the hotel. My second camera was a Nikon P7000. Seriously.

Lenses were 14-24mm, 24-70mm and 105mm f/2. (I used the 105 for the annual "costume gallery" because I wanted to shoot tighter faces this year.)

One SB800 speedlite and a couple of off-camera TTL cords for quick, down & dirty lit portraits of artists and writers on the trade show floor.

A Sony wireless lav mic/body pack, handheld mic and receiver for interviews plus a Zoom H1 digital audio recorder.

For video lighting, a very small LED light for fill (never used it but it doesn't weigh anything). Also packed were a GoPro Hero, card wallets and a Rode VideoMic.

Tripod? Left it in my hotel room. I used a Manfrotto monopod that has flip out "feet". It's not totally stable, but was good enough.

Thinking things out, improvising and having a real idea of what my equipment can do saved my back and shoulders.

Trying to save the company some money, I stay out in Mission Valley, away from downtown San Diego, 8 or 9 hours a day of that craziness is enough for me. So I book a hotel near a trolley stop and use public transportation to get back and forth each day. It's "green" and also saves hassles in traffic and parking.

Finding photos and stories to shoot during The Con is like shooting aliens in a barrel. They are literally walking all over the place.

On Friday morning standing at the trolley station I ran into a woman painted head to toe blue, a character out of the hit movie "Avatar". She was basically naked except for a couple of pasties and tights with a tail attached. She drew stares from just about everyone and as we walked into a car bound for downtown, I figured it was worth a small picture story on her trip to The Con.

Talk about just stumbling into a story.

Photographers love to complain about just about everything we cover and I'm no different. I bitch & moan about The Con. But even though comic books have changed drastically from the classic Marvel of the early 60's that I love, The Con is a one of a kind event. Nutty, yes. Challenging, for sure. And one of the guilty pleasures to cover.

'Nuff Said.

* * *

This issue of the Sports Shooter Newsletter features several essays on a topic that photographers and editors either love or hate --- tilting photos. We asked several Sports Shooter members what is their favorite iPhone app in Ask Sports Shooter. James Madelin’s continues his series of columns on getting the most out of your speedlites. And the Sports Shooter Academy has a new Facebook page …plus other news about THE coolest sports photography event of the year.

* * *

The Kahuna’s reading list this month includes “The Godfather of Kathmandu” the fourth novel in James Burdett’s series on Royal Thai detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep and “Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy: The Double Life of Laurel and Hardy” by Simon Louvish.

The Kahuna’s playlist recommendation is “Rave On Buddy Holly” a tribute album of covers commemorating the Lubbock, Tx. rocker’s 75th birthday. Featuring artists ranging from the Black Keys to Lou Reed to Paul McCartney to Fiona Apple to Kid Rock ---this is must-listen stuff!

* * *

As always, special thanks to: Deanna & Emma Hanashiro, Brad Mangin, Grover Sanschagrin, Joe Gosen, Jason Burfield, Jody Grober of Robert Distributors and Jeff Snyder of Adorama.

Thanks this month to contributors: Brad Shirakawa, Trent Nelson, George Bridges, Bruce Ely, Sam Morris, Eileen Blass, Preston Mack, Robert Scheer, David Cooper and James Madelin.

The comments, opinions and other perceived nutty statements that the writers may have expressed, implied, imagined or made up are theirs and theirs alone. Sports Shooter, Inc. and published these articles in good faith with the purpose of education and inspiration. Permission in writing must be obtained from Sports Shooter, Inc. and the author of the article before being reprinted. I welcome any comments, corrections, suggestions and contributions. Please e-mail me at The Sports Shooter Archives as well as tons of cool resources and information can be accessed through the Internet at For information on the Sports Shooter Academy workshop, go to the newly redesigned site at:

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