Report: Wizard World discusses its ban of professional photography equipment

Contributed by
May 5, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT (Updated)

When William Gatevackes, fan and writer for Film Buff Online, waited for an autograph at Wizard World's New York event in 2013, he chatted with a security guard to pass the time. At one point, in mid-conversation, the guard excused himself to stop a person from taking a picture of Stan Lee with "a top-of-the-line personal camera."

This mirrored the time in 2002's Wizard World in Chicago when he saw a security guard stop a fan from taking a picture of Kevin Smith. In both cases, the photographer was "between 20 to 40 feet away."

Wizard World has made its policy clear: As you can see from the photo above, the convention, which appears in 16 cities around the United States, the poster reads, "No cameras with detachable lenses are permitted on the show floor."

Except, to many, the policy isn't very clear at all.

Photographer Dave Lucchesi said, "As a professional photographer (weddings, headshots, and portraits), with a passion for cosplay photography, I think it's just wrong and discriminatory. What they are saying, that I can't shop or see my favorite artist because I am a photographer. I can't cut through the halls to get to another shoot, I can't pop in to their con session stands for an overpriced slice of pizza, and I can't take part in something that has been part of my life for most of my life."

Lucchesi and others may be under the impression that they can be stopped from walking from point A to point B across a Wizard World convention with their cameras—or that photography with removable lenses has been banned throughout the convention—because the wording "the show floor" is unclear and ambiguous.

We spoke with Wizard World to ask the question, "When it comes to photography, what is, and is not, permitted at your conventions?"

According to public relations manager Jerry Milani, photographers with removable lenses are actually not orphaned from the convention. He said, "There are certain areas where photography is restricted, such as the autograph areas, where we have professional photo ops that are part of our show." In addition, some panels also have restrictions on what kind of camera is permissible.

However, "95% to 98% of the physical area" of the convention is available to photographers with professional equipment.

In fact, all photography "is encouraged. We want people to take as many photos that they want, to share with their friends on Facebook and Twitter and to make Vine videos ... what is not welcome or permitted is professional telephoto lenses that are not needed for a personal experience," said Milani.

Even with this clarification, some fans still find fault with the ban, considering that all telephoto lenses are removable, but not all removable lenses are telephotos. A photographer who has a DSLR camera is banned, even without a telephoto lens.

Joel Jackel, fan and cosplayer, said, "Given the relatively low cost of DSLRs, this puts an unreasonable restriction on a large swath of the general public." 

That swath may be larger than Wizard World has considered. Although Milani said, "99% of the photos taken at our shows are taken with iPhones and pocket cameras," his numbers may be anecdotal. According to Grand View Research, a full 17.2% of all cameras sold in 2012 have removable lenses. 

Although prosumer cameras (high-quality cameras that cost between $1,000 and $2,000) have removable lenses, fan Rock Robertson notes, Wizard World has "already missed how the technology has leapfrogged over them. Neither of my cameras have detachable lenses; they take excellent pics."

But even this ban is not hard and fast. Milani said that fans who do have cameras with removable lenses can take photographs on the Wizard World show room floor by applying for permission in advanced. These requests, he said, are reviewed on a "case-by-case basis ... Professional equipment isn't permitted."

By using the words "professional equipment," Milani does not describe cell phones, which also have removable lenses. Plus, apps such as Camera+ already give cameras telephoto capabilities, and although those shots are not considered professional-quality now, it's likely the technology will evolve into taking photos even a professional can be proud of. But Milani understands that the policy may need to be more precise. "We’re developing our policy as we move forward," he said.

Not all fans find this policy against cameras with removable lenses onerous. Fan and cosplayer Lora White said, "I'm not bothered. I can see how it would curtail the number of people trying to profit from the event without paying percentages to the con. How many times do you get your pic taken, get given a business card, go online, and find out that if you even want to see the hi-res proof, you've got to pay $10? And then if you want a copy, you have to pay even more? I don't mind having those people cut down on."

So why are cameras with removable lenses banned? Milani explained, "Some types of equipment, tripods, are going to interfere with the flow [of foot traffic]." But then why don't they consider a ban of removable lenses universally across the convention?

One potential reason Wizard World may have banned cameras with removable lenses on the floor where the professionals and celebrities are giving autographs or taking photographs: It undercuts sales. Fans can pay from $35 to $145 for a photograph with celebrities, plus extra for a JPEG or additional prints.

Considering that conventions entice celebrities to appear by giving them a chance to earn several thousand dollars in a day just for posing for photographs -- and considering that fans can avoid paying for pictures if they take their own shot -- keeping high-quality telephoto lenses off the show room floor is in a convention's best interest.

Wizard World may intend to protect the professionals whose livelihoods stem from autograph and photography sessions, but at this point the convention is clearly not communicating these intentions. Now, some fans, including photographer Lucchesi, say they will no longer attend a Wizard World convention as long as this policy is in place. 

To lure fans who happen to be shutterbugs back to Wizard World, Wizard World should consider clearly explaining their reasons for banning removable lenses. It may bring about more goodwill from the people who are effected by this rule. 

As every photographer knows, when it comes to rules and restrictions, it's important to have more light.