This month saw three major conventions take place in the UK. What does a convention photo shoot look like in the era of COVID vaccinations? And what can you do to prep
Sci-fi conventions can be magical places. They're a chance to meet up with friends you haven't seen in a while - a chance to have a laugh and connect about something that properly gets you excited. They're a place where you can be anyone, or anything, and relax in the knowledge you're amongst people who get just as excited about your chosen show as you.
One of the best things about conventions is meeting your childhood heroes, or the actors and crew who have brought your favourite show or film to air. People can queue for hours to meet the star of their choice, and to tell them how much their performance has meant.
But meet and greets - and meet and greet photography in particular - is designed around giving you the chance to meet celebrities up close. Shake hands. Get a hug. Pose that silly pose you were dared to do by your mates. How has a world where you keep a 2m distance affected convention photography? And how is it evolving as more people become vaccinated?
This month saw London Film Comic Con, Wales Comic Con, and Pandorica 2021 from Fantom Events, for whom I have been running a Covid-Safe photo studio for the past eighteen months. I've previously blogged about what it's like to run a studio mid-pandemic but, having returned home from the first Pandorica event in two years, and having seen friends' posts about LFCC and WCC, I thought I'd reflect on what it's like to visit a photo studio and answer any questions you might have. So here are some tips.
1. Masks are cool, but not for everyone
Your convention organiser will have formal rules and guidelines about when and where to wear masks, so check before you leave and ask if you're unsure. All venues have to follow strict rules to ensure they keep people safe and convention organisers have to abide by these. In the UK, mask wearing is personal choice - but conventions work because they are generally safe spaces. If you can, and your event asks you to wear a mask, do so. It's polite, and you could be queuing in close contact with someone for a while. A good convention has a friendly and welcoming atmosphere - and every attendee plays their part to make it that way. So look around you. If you choose not to wear a mask when asked, or are exempt from doing so, do your best to not make anyone else feel uncomfortable. If you're offended by people not wearing a mask, try not to get angry. Everyone has their own circumstances. In essence, keep looking after each other. 'It's okay to say that you're not okay' and the crew will always be there to answer any concerns you might have.
2. Understand and respect the guest's preferences
Your guest will be meeting hundreds of people on the day that you have their photo with them. Each and every one will have different views on how tolerant they are to risk. Some will be perfectly fine with close contact. Others will be more reserved, or ask the event organiser to put additional precautions in place. Sometimes, an agent may request additional restrictions - their job is to protect an artist who may lose a substantial amount of money if they are asked to quarantine, after all.
So whilst in the early days of COVID, things were pretty standard when it came to what you might expect, you may find arrangements slightly more fluid now. Some guests may request the use of transparent screens. Other guests may still request a distance be kept. Others may be happy to embrace, 2019-style, as long as you are. At Fantom Events, for example, we maintain the social distancing prop we introduced in 2020 as standard. Still no hugging, mind - sorry Katy Manning.
But the key thing is to try and be prepared. Find out, if you can, what the arrangements for each guest are - so you aren't disappointed if restrictions are in place. Ask the event organiser for advice. If there are restrictions there, they are for very good reasons. Whilst it's okay to be disappointed, it's not okay to bad-mouth organisers or guests because they've put safety precautions in place. The people who negotiate attendance work magic and need lots of tea.
3. Go with the flow - and enjoy yourself
You only get a few moments in the photo studio - so make the most of them!
Take a look at your convention schedule and plan your day. If you have the chance to see your person beforehand for a signing, do so. It'll mean you'll be less star-struck meeting them for the first time on-camera, and you have something to talk about ("Oh, hi, I remember you from earlier!"). Your photographer will be taking hundreds of photos, so you'll need to be quick - but that doesn't mean your engagement should be awkward.
Not only will your guest have their own tolerance to COVID risk, you should be able to judge how receptive they'll be to a photo that's a little more out of the ordinary. Whilst you're queuing, 'read the room', and ask the member of staff for advice. Photo studios are great fun, but they're also a lot of hard work and - believe it or not - they can be quite intimidating for a guest. The most outrageous person on screen can be the shyest person in real life. It's acting, after all. But if you're meeting a person who you know is up for some fun - then go for it. Ask for a silly pose, a funny face - anything that'll make this a memorable experience for the both of you. The funniest photos go crazy on social media. And, if you're a pro at this convention lark, you'll be glad of the variety in your photo studio portfolio.
So did you go to any of the conventions this month? How did you find it? What tips would you give people who want to return to the world of conventions but are a little nervous? Let me know after the awkward group shot below.