Global Winter Wonderland Event Photos

The best way to learn…is to teach.  I’ve always enjoyed that saying.  I also like: the master never stops learning.  For this series of photos I thought I would post a whole mess of images from a recent project, event/marketing photos for GWW here in Atlanta, and give a little sentence or two about the how’s and why’s of that particular image.

What I’ve always considered “Event Photography” is a bit more broad than most.  I would say it is anything that has a time frame and location in some difficult shooting situations, with actions happening at the same time in different spots, requiring logistical planning, the right gear and a good sense of timing, people interaction skills, and lastly photography skills.  Yes, I would put photography skills low on that list.

I think it should be assumed that the technical aspects of photography (and using one’s camera and lens) should already be fluent before someone really tries their hand at this type of reportage.  So I hope that everyone can see the difference between considering a birthday party  “event photography,” as opposed to say a wedding, concert, festival, marathon, convention–things that really require a person to step into the shoes of a photo journalist, portrait shooter, and of even social image maker.

One disclaimer though, I’m definitely not a photo journalist by trade, I’m just the Drawing and Painting student that picked up photography along the way.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t have strong ideas and opinions on the role of photographers and image makers in this post digital social revolution.  We all need to take pride and have that code of bushido in everything that we do, high quality craftsmanship that is a bit lacking in the Western mindset (of which I’m quite guilty btw).

This is a pretty long post, hopefully for those that read it, can glean just a few things that can help you in your photography.  Like the master said, absorb what is useful, cast away what is not.

Logistically this was a difficult series of shoots due to location, and the weather, which has just been dreadful here in Georgia.  Warm days mixed with really brutally cold days, which by Murphy’s Law, always seemed to coincide with the days I was there.

On a technical note, all these photos were shot using lots of different cameras and lenses.  That’s just how I roll.  In some situations, portraits, hanging out with a girl/boy, etc, one could get by with just a 50mm, but in more business oriented settings, one has to have the right tools for the job.  2 cameras is the minimum, with a wide angle to medium, and a telephoto on the other, with a flash or artificial light source.  I’ve found that to be the bare minimum, and this applies to photographing weddings, fashion shoots, even regular pictures.  It just makes the shoot easier.

So I usually start off with a pretty picture.  Shot with a 70-200 cranked out all the way out, with out of focus elements in the foreground.

A normal crowd in a line shot, with 3 elements in the frame, the Universoul logo, the slide, and the dinosaur.

A photo with people to set the relative scale of the main subject, the lanterns.

A photo showing some of the performers.  As a regular picture showing the feats and daring of the performers it is good in capturing the dangerous moment, but from an event photography/marketing/journalistic perspective, the same scene (but from a different night), shot from the reverse angle works better.

These bouncy balls came out to the surprise of everyone.  Most working photographers shoot in all the various modes on their camera.  It isn’t just for bragging rights, to be locked in Manual.  All the modes have their purpose and strengths and weaknesses.  If the camera was in S (or Tv) mode, a quick flick of the wheel could get a proper shutter to capture the images and expressions.  (Assuming AUTO ISO was set to maintain exposure)

Even if you’d never seen the act before, when the music slows down, one can assume something daring is about to happen.  Continuous burst mode on the camera will give you options to pick the best sense of action, composition, figure relationships, etc.

Sometimes a little motion blur is a good thing, because well, the human brain is used to this sort of thing even in reality.

This is a staged/posed photo because well, sometimes you just have to.

I believe one of the duties of an event photographer/documenter is to interact with the folks participating.  These photos would have never happened if I hadn’t used my rudimentary Espanol skills to ask for the photo.  The goal is to get real smiles, good photos, and then email them later.  You’d be surprised at how small gestures like that can make someone’s day.  To put it in perspective, the time it took for the performers to practice, dress, and play in front of non existent crowds, just dwarfs the mere minutes it takes for a competent photographer to crank out a decent image that can be used for future purposes.  Believe it or not, simple cameras and photography can still be used for a little good in this world.

This image was shot with an 85mm 1.4 on a Full Frame D600 camera, which is already a supreme low light machine.  The existing light falling on them is from the other lantern displays.  And since they are pretty far away from me and relatively on the same plane, I can shoot 1.4 and have enough depth of field.  The locations were a bit away from the stage, but by gaining the trust of the talent and making picture taking fun, good images can come from this.  It’s funny, business oriented people always “want” headshots because it is expected of them in their white collar field, but when they finally sit in front of the camera, it is the most awkward teeth pulling type of picture making ever.  Regular folks need pictures too, photographers need to spend more time interacting in real life as opposed to message boards.

Photography is mostly about where you stand.  I’m serious.  If you aren’t in the room when the moment happens, you can’t get the picture.  If you’re out of position at least try to figure out what is the image with the most impact that can be taken from this vantage point?  This applies to photographers without full access, but even those with free reign have to decide on a spot to either maximize a variety of angles or that one marketing angle.

I carry so many cameras because I absolutely hate changing lenses.  It’s my strong opinion that no serious photographer should ever have a lens cap on in the field either.  You’re there to work, not fretting over scratching the front element of what ever lens.

X100 panorama is a good substitute for an ultra wide angle.

Wide angles are meant to be used close, which is opposite of the tendencies of most people.  This is a standard composition created to show a place, crowd, and time.

If you wait in areas long enough, interesting shots will appear.

One skill that every photographer needs to practice is to photograph people without them knowing the camera is right in their direction.

An elementary shot with leading lines toward the center of attention, the circus’ hype man.  And the center doesn’t always have to be literally in the center.

This shot is a similar variation of the previous one.  Find the compositional and leading lines in nature and incorporate them in the photo.

A posed/stage photo that sums up our times.  All of these done with an on camera speedlight (flash).

Most “professional” camera bodies don’t have pop up flashes.  Just a foolish archaic design from way back when.  In tight situations with no time to mess about with a bigger speedlight, sometimes just popping the flash on the camera body is the difference between getting the picture and not.  No matter how good the high ISO capabilities get on cameras, the flash, even direct one, can solve difficult metering and lighting situations.  “Pro” cameras like the 5D mk III still have no pop up flash, but cameras like the Nikon D700 do, which can be used for many purposes.  Good to have and not need, then need and not have.

Photos of singers and even people talking at the microphone need lots of photos to capture that one non awkward image.  This is digital photography reportage.  You’re basically taking still frame captures of the moment and then culling through the images later.  That’s just the workflow.  No one expects even a film photographer to get that one right expression in one frame.  If you get one good useable flattering frame out of 20-30, I would say that’s pretty good.  It’s digital imaging, use its strengths to your advantage.  What most photographers don’t tell you is that they shoot a lot, to work out the ideas, boil down the difficulties in a particular spot, to get a usable image.

Colored lights appear different to the camera’s white balance.  Even when shooting a lot of images, it is still imperative to shoot RAW.  It just makes color correction much easier.  I know RAW’s take up space, but there is no rule on keeping every single last one of them.  What I do after editing images is, I only keep a few RAW’s for posterity’s sake and teaching examples, the rest can remain as edited compressed JPEG’s.  A folder of 10-15 RAW’s isn’t going to break a person, but 800 will.

This photo was shot with an assistant holding a small video LED light.  Again, this photo wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t asked a Mandarin speaking person to ask the acrobats if I could take them outside for a brief photo.  Unless it is pouring down rain or hail, most humans can put up with brutal cold temperatures for just a few minutes to pose for a simple photo.

This photo was with the pop up flash on the D600 and 70-200.  Again, instead of messing around with speedlights in a softbox like I normally do, the simplest option was the best and correct on here.  Basically 4 minutes of their time got all of us a decent image that works as a posed portrait, that can be used for future marketing for all parties.  If you have your composition skills down (which in my opinion is the first thing all creatives need to be fluent in) then every camera can be learned and used to great affect, even a camera phone.

This relatively simple looking photo of the castle was shot with a Nikon J1 on a monopod, held up very high above my head, triggered with the Nikon IR remote by an assistant.  This was to get a perspective without distortion, and without resorting to carrying a ridiculously heavy ladder around.  The combo is light enough, wide enough, and the results at 100% are sharp enough.  All cameras can become effective tools if we play to their strengths.  Reading online reviews are pointless.  Only you can see if Camera X is “worth” it if you can use it for your needs.  And from an image quality standpoint I think the Nikon J1 in controlled situations beats my old D200 handily.

This is using the same J1 on a monopod combo.  Placing the camera as close as I could to get the wide angle forced perspective.

For the dinosaur maze, the combo gave me the security camera look.  Had the weather been better, more visitors could have given me that blurred exploratory marketing shot.

These next photos, still J1 monopod combo, but with the rinky dink Lego pop up flash, which you know, is actually not bad for this type of fill flash.

This was quite possibly one of the coldest days ever, and why I am currently sick.  The above image I personally like because the lights remind of 35mm film sprocket holes.  The temple of heaven I feel is the signature lantern of the event, and this reverse angle image says more than most straight on concert photos could.

You can always make a vertical image out of an horizontal one, but not the other way around.  I think this off center image works as is, but you can see that if I wanted a vertical picture of the performer I could simply crop him out, even in the 2:3 aspect ratio.

This is one of the typical crowd gather shots that is good for promotional purposes. 3 layers/elements in the frame.

From a documenting standpoint, this image sums up the evening.  Just so cold, and I really feel for the dancers and musicians performing out in the elements for basically themselves.  Inside the tent however, a different story.  December in Georgia is still December.  You have to get down to Savannah before things start feeling like our neighbor the Sunshine State.

PJ’s tend to stick to the prime directive type of photography.  In the top image, by shooting with the 70-200 from a far distance, you are putting the viewer distant from the subject.  In the second image.  I ran up to where they were and shot the wide angle in close and got a reaction from them, trying to lighten the 30 degree mood.  By being a social event photographer you can wear different hats, getting a variety of shots.

This is former Mayor of Atlanta, Bill Campbell.  I took this after I noticed he was standing in front of a cluster of lights that I new would look crazy through the 70-200.

The different lenses you bring to a job site or gig lets you do things that other folks might not be able to deliver.  In this competitive world with essentially the same access to the same hardware, I think the more serious photographers will be the ones that put up with hauling the heavy gear.  It’s not like lugging a log around, and although the new crop of mirrorless cameras are pretty good, there’s still no replacement for displacement.  Larger sensor sizes combined with their native lenses will just provide a different look that can’t be mimicked.

Inside the tent was much better shooting conditions, lighting, and heat.

I tried to get the reflection of the lanterns in his sunglasses but it just didn’t work out.

Adding geometric layouts to the composition helps the image, creating sight lines and further enforcing the subject matter.

Again, newer cameras like the 6D might be great in low light, but it lacks even a rudimentary pop up flash, which is faster for stopping action than any shutter speed, especially in difficult lighting.

For these images I tried to find the angle from the side of stage that would give me a different angle and edge lighting.  Shot without a flash, with the D600, which is seriously one of the best low light cameras I’ve used.  By editing the RAWs I can come up with many variations of color and contrast.

The reverse angle just says more about an event, than the typical front view of a person singing, dancing, etc.  The 35mm angle of view on the X100 is just tailor made for jamming it into spots that a DSLR would look funny.

The camera has the very valuable shutter speed knob, so I bounced in between 250 and 125 to get these images.

This was a fortuitous moment, a large group picture being taken, so I just got in there and took one for the event.  After the photo op, another one came about as well, when the group turned to actually start visiting the theme park.  While the front facing photo is good as a souvenir, the second one is better for marketing purposes.

So some of our images are finally being used!  You can see our earlier location scouting images used for the larger icons.

This image I personally like because it came from a 6 year old camera, my D300 and 17-55 combo.  The websites will tell you the newer cameras are “better” but with that comes the sinking suspicion that they want you to believe that the old stuff is now obsolete and unusable.  A bunch of baloney.  Cameras and lenses aren’t like some devices (iDevices cough cough) that have a remote kill switch.  They are just as good as the day you bought them.

Always be prepared when covering people of note.  They control the circle and you are there to document it.  Same principles apply to wedding couples.

Again, it’s a simple premise, but to get the more successful image, you just need to know where to stand, not be out of position and be ready.  These scenes grew organically, the former Mayor of Atlanta and his family taking a tour of the artisan’s market inside the tent.  Anyone can get the last group shots with their phone, but to document the event unfolding takes paying attention and being in the moment.

Note: the dragon is made from sugar!

This amazing sculptor from China actually did a portrait sculpture from clay in real time of the former Mayor.  Being an artist and portrait person myself I was awestruck at the likeness that he captured.  From a photographic standpoint, wide angles are a necessity in this situation to bring the viewer closer into the scene.  Everyone online will preach about the 50mm all day, but for some shots, even it must stay in the bag.

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