To Smash Or Not To Smash

I had been considering whether to attend SMASH this year. I had been scaling back my attendance to pop culture conventions already, because I no longer enjoy in these events. I don't look forward to them and many friends had stopped attending altogether. The venue this year for RTX, SMASH and Oz Comic Con might be the final nail in the coffin.

This year SMASH will return to the site of the former Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre (now known as International Convention Centre Sydney). ICC Sydney is not a photographer friendly venue. Even as a contractor to do some jobs last year, I found site security to be a royal pain in the ass. They were rude and unforgiving. So I generally avoided dealing with them. As my clients were the ones to book the venue, I arranged to have the client meet us before going to ICC. This bypassed a whole lot of unnecessary confrontation with site security.

Before I started working as a professional photographer, I spent a decade improving my photography at pop culture conventions. It was a good opportunity to learn about photography and fine tune my skills, because pop culture conventions pose a number of unique physical and technical challenges to amateur photographers, many of those you might not find yourself in every day photography.

Initially you attend with a simple camera and lens combo. You are adventurous, versatile and mobile. You take loads of low quality pictures and aren't too worried about the technical aspects of photography. Essentially you are just taking 'happy snaps' of stuff. You think about nothing other than to take pictures of everything.

In time you see others producing high quality work, and then you wonder what you can do to improve your images. You might try to copy the style (and fail miserably). If you are truly interested or naturally inquisitive, you begin to ask questions, or study the technical aspects of photography seriously. You might look at other people's work and wonder about the equipment they are using. You probably haven't considered controlling light, and how it is an essential component to every photograph yet.

2007 to 2016 was a great time as a hobbyist and cosplay photographer. There were loads of amateur photographers all learning from each other. We were on a quest to improve our skills and compete with each other (and ourselves) to ascertain who captured the best photograph after each convention. We made new friends all the time (through the discovery of cosplay and friends-of-friends), and of course socialising, or having a great time.

Then some of us diverged from 'available light' photography. We began down the path of using remote flashes or studio strobes.

Available or ambient light is exactly what it means. You use what is available to you as you take a picture. Strobists use remote flashes to add to the available light. In some cases you may not even want the available light, so you bring powerful studio lights to overpower the sun or the ambience.

After going down the rabbit hole, I can't go back to available light photography. The difference in results are too great. The biggest challenge to working with studio strobes is that there are more equipment to bring along to any photo shoot. More equipment means more planning.

Our setup is static. We spend a lot more time on one or two good sets of photographs rather than a large volume of low quality shots. We have light stands to hold up the flash guns or studio strobes. We take sand bags and camping stakes to stabilise the light stands. We have all manner of light modifiers including beauty dishes, softboxes and umbrellas. This equipment is bulky, heavy and expensive, on top of your cameras, lens and other accessories.

This is where there is friction at venues like ICC Sydney. As far as site security is concerned anyone holding a camera larger than a smart phone is a person that needs to be searched, reprimanded and removed from the venue. Unless you have a prior arrangement as media, sub-contractor or an event organiser's written permission, then you are gonna get kicked out.

Local photographers including Gany, Andrew and others have already been ejected from RTX earlier this year. I know I would be pissed if that happened to me. So I might as well spend my weekend doing other things instead.

Plus there are other considerations:

  • $18 for parking in the city (per day).
  • $40 entry fee per day, or $60 for the weekend.
  • Food, fuel, and other expenses
  • Physical strain carrying heavy equipment around.
  • High risk of con plague = time at doctor's appointments + medication + recovery.
  • Stress to produce images after the convention

Just thinking about the logistics and other considerations make my head hurt. A weekend of sleeping in, getting chores done, cooking, gaming and relaxing on the couch with an audio book seems like a better use of my time after all!

2018, journal