When I saw the first challenge for this week – “It’s not this time of year without…” – I thought I’d have fun with posting some beautiful autumn pictures, odes to squash, or my anticipation of a big family Christmas.
Then I saw “Mind the Gap” as the second prompt – highlighting the challenges between a goal or intent and the resulting product, and the endeavor to close that distance and realize your objective. This is a poignant topic but an important one.
With most photographers, you see only the finished images. You seldom see what it took to get there. And photographers aren’t quick to tell you about their failures.
For this post, I’m going to be especially candid, as it’s important to recognize photography isn’t all amazing pictures and praise. In fact, it’s a lot of rejection, missteps, and blundering before you get it right. And it’s more than the photography; it’s the people you interact with and how you handle the events you shoot.
As some of you know, I shoot for several local anime conventions. This is very different from the landscapes and travel photography I also enjoy. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t get paid for these events (I wish!); they are entirely volunteer. But I love (almost) every moment of it, and the memories captured make me smile every time I see the photos.
I have been attending my home convention, Kumoricon since 2009, and until this year, it has been over Labor Day weekend. Therefore, when Labor Day came and went without crazy cosplay and rooms bursting into a boisterous rendition of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” I felt somewhat lost. However, I knew the fun times were just around the corner, this year moved to Halloween weekend.
Kumoricon kicks off the con season, followed by Newcon over New Year’s and occasionally Sakura-con over Easter. I also sometimes get some summertime mini-cons to get me through. My late summers aren’t complete without a few weeks slaving over cosplay.
I’m a glutton for punishment, and I don’t know how to *not* add more to my plate, so I’ve also been managing the photographers for Kumoricon since 2013. And here’s where this post gets real: I consider myself a decent photographer, but I’m a lousy manager.
I’ve got the excellent organization (almost to an obsessive degree), and I can control minute details, but I’m not really good with people. I admire those who can always say the right things in any situation, who inspire others to follow them. I just don’t have that.
I made several big mistakes with Kumoricon this year. I failed.
Now, before you think I’m getting down on myself, this is not meant to be a negative post. In fact, I am galvanized more than ever to improve for next year, and I know what to fix. I merely hope my experiences can help others take away the underlying lessons and possibly learn from my mistakes.
Mistake 1: I started too late
I pushed off bringing on photographers until a few weeks before the con. This caused undue stress and a scramble to build the team. I should have focused on this much sooner.
Planned fix: I will start the recruiting process earlier. If folks need to back out, we’ll still have adequate time to bring on someone else.
Mistake 2: I was too hands-off with my coordinators
When I got coordinators to help, I relied too heavily on them. I was relieved I had people to pull some of that weight, but I then abandoned them. This meant they didn’t have much guidance or direction from me, putting more strain on them. This filtered down to the photographers, who weren’t clear on what they needed to shoot. Some critical panels were missed.
Planned fix: I will ensure my coordinators have all the support they need to be successful. I will lead more and help them in their tasks.
Mistake 3: I neglected the managerial duties pre-con
I went home early on Day 0 instead of ensuring the editing computers were up and running. I trusted too much that our tech guys would get everything set up. As a result, we were missing login credentials and couldn’t access the machines all of Day 1. This caused ripples that hurt us all the way through Day 3 with a backlog of photographers who needed to offload pictures and edit their daily picks.
Planned fix: I will have a checklist of everything that needs to be done before the start of the weekend, and I will ensure those items are taken care of before I leave on Day 0. This includes logging into the machines, opening new Lightroom catalogs, and creating basic folders to stay organized.
Mistake 4: I neglected the managerial duties during the weekend
I am first and foremost a photographer. However, at con, I have to shift my focus to being a manager first. I didn’t do this. I spent almost no time in the Publicity Office. I wasn’t there to assist when a photographer needed help with Lightroom, and I wasn’t collecting necessary photos for Closing Ceremonies. Therefore, Day 3 was a mad scramble to compile these images and get them to the designer putting together the slideshow. She didn’t have time to finish it, she was unnecessarily stressed, mistakes were made, slides had to be dropped, and Closing Ceremonies was late to start.
Planned fix: Throughout the weekend, I will collect necessary photos for Day 3 so there’s very little work left for the final day. I will be more present and available for those who need me.
After managing the department for three years, how could I have messed up so badly? Part of it was I grew complacent. When we moved into a bigger venue, the game changed. The stakes were higher, and I tried to coast along as I had before. I thought I finally had the full support I needed (which I haven’t before), so let go when I should have held on for a bit longer. And I underestimated the time it would take to complete the tasks necessary for a successful convention.
All in all, I look back at everything coming to a head on Day 3, and I want to erase that day from the calendar. I am disappointed in my performance. However, I learned so much from those mistakes, and I won’t make them again; I have a path for improvement.
And the weekend wasn’t all bad. I still had the time of my life, the photos are amazing, folks loved my cosplay, and the panels were superb.
This just means I’ve guaranteed next year will be all the better.