We are all storytellers. As with all stories, ours can be molded into a variety of configurations depending upon their nature, their intended audience and the circumstances. The listener can experience or learn something just by virtue of the fact that they heard the story. A story is a means of transferring information, experience, attitude or point of view. Every story has a teller and a listener. No matter the medium, there has to be one telling the story and one receiving the story. That seems to be essential.
It was three years ago when I first reached out to Matt to ask whether I could photograph his event. I had done my research and, seeing that he lacked a photographer, boldly stepped out of my comfort zone. In real life I was trembling a little bit and there were quite a few finger-biting moments in the run up to sending my message. He said yes, and I was back this year photographing the event again a few weeks ago.
This conference has always kept me on my toes, not just because of the great lineup of speakers that Matt keeps securing but also for the photography opportunities. I think a while ago I mentioned that I love to photograph crowds of people watching something or interacting with their surroundings. I love to capture that moment of delight when they see or hear something new, or when their self-restraint lapses and their emotions seep out. In previous years I photographed the crowd extensively, but as times are changing and mediums are being added this year I spent more time focussing on those on the big stage.
This year in particular I’ve been making a conscious effort to photograph more using manual configurations, rather than relying on one of the preset modes. I want to push forward how I photograph in various environments. The conference has been held in Conway Hall, near Holborn Station, for a few years now and it has always been a bit of a challenge. The room is a decent size and allows a good amount of natural light in. When it gets too sunny, we have the option to cover the windows. But when it gets dark, the only option is pointing stage lighting at the podium and many speakers turn out a lot darker in their pictures than I would hope for.
Each speaker had the stage for roughly 20 minutes to tell their stories of who they are and what they are passionate about. Now that isn’t very long, especially when you sometimes forget that you are also meant to photograph as well as listen to their stories. But thankfully, due to a wonderful behind-the-scenes route, I spent my time nipping in and out of doors, appearing upstairs and downstairs in attempts to get that shot without missing much of the talks.
I discovered this year that the stage also had direct hidden wings and hidden back passages, which I used very frequently during the speakers’ talks to try to achieve the best angles. Those who preferred to stand in one spot were much easier to photograph; however, having said that there was a speaker who stood directly in a spot light, which gave her highlights on the tops of her glasses and parts of her dress but threw the rest of the room into darkness. I’m not sure if that was her intention but for me it added a little bit more of an atmospheric feel to her story, as she spoke of wanting to share other people’s stories but eventually changed small details.
These lovely ladies shared their backgrounds and personalities in forms of zines. I found them hard to photograph because they split into pairs beside the projector. The stage lighting was playing against me this time; by no means am I a studio lighting whizz and there is no way that anyone in their right mind was going to adjust lighting for every single person that walked on stage. I just found it really hard to photograph them, as individuals and even as pairs. Thankfully, if you don’t manage to get your that shot, asking nicely in a break will often get you a prized group photograph.
Over the years I’ve changed how I’ve photographed events, especially as my kit has grown to include a telephoto and a wide angle, which I mostly use for this kind of work. Nowadays I’m more confident in adapting the settings if the image isn’t quite what I want, rather than just holding down the shutter button and hoping that one will have to turn out right due to the laws of trial and error. But every year it has always been a challenge that I welcome. In a way I’m sad that I don’t photograph as many events as I have done in previous years because I have a full time job now, which sometimes demands that you wake up at 5am for a couple of mornings just so you can post-produce, maintaining your high standards but also honouring your clients’ deadlines.
I no longer photograph as many conferences and events as I would like to mainly because I’m pushing myself onto the first rungs of a different career ladder. Thankfully, I can say that my current job incorporates photography and every moment is part of a learning curve.
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