Events and Portraits

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Elle finds a rock–or maybe it was a feather?

I am not excited by event photography.  Every time I review my photos from an event, I realize that this is apparent in the images.  I have not found the energy to learn anything about event photography other than individual portraits, which I interest me after landscape, wildlife, nature, architectural, macro, and sports photography.

In spite of this, I regularly shoot events for the Chattanooga Audubon Society and I feel bad that I can’t deliver better results than people who know nothing about photography, like this one:

The kind of event photo that makes me cringe with embarrassment

The kind of event photo that makes me cringe with embarrassment

I have dozens and dozens of images that look like that–random groups of people poorly arranged not paying attention to the camera and often caught with strange expressions on their faces.  I am very good at capturing the moments no one wants captured during an event.

My latest endeavor was at the 69th birthday party for the Chattanooga Audubon Society.  People were sitting in chairs or standing in lines around the walls of a large room.  They were eating cake and ice cream and talking.  When I would attempt to shoot small groups of people, they often either hid their faces or moved out of the frame.

Elle showing me a leaf

Elle showing me a leaf

This led to stealth shooting of the whole room.  Which, in turn, resulted in images like the one above.  I was quite relieved when one of the young guests needed someone to take her for a walk–she was a much easier subject.

I did manage to sneak up on the cake.  The cake is rather funny.  I ordered a cake with an outdoors theme and asked for trees and birds.  I’d never ordered a cake from the place I got it, but since the place I planned to get it from stopped making sheet cakes and I was ordering 1 ½ days ahead, I didn’t have a lot of choices.  I crossed my fingers and hoped they would come up with something good.

Elle pausing to pose for me while looking for the next interesting find

Elle pausing to pose for me while looking for the next interesting find

They did a lovely job creating a lake–they said they “didn’t have any birds.”  I’m not sure why it’s so difficult for people to create a bird outline in icing, but I didn’t ask.  The funny thing is that while the Audubon has 3 properties–an island in the Tennessee River, a property with a mixture of a stream, woods, and open meadows, and a wooded mountain property–none of them have a lake.

The cake--that's about all that can be said about this photo

The cake–that’s about all that can be said about this photo

I’m sure there is a more artistic way to capture a cake, but I feel like the straight-on, from-the-top framing that one might expect from the average soccer mom at a kid’s party is completely appropriate for this cake.  Perhaps with a spot light and some fog it would be possible to shoot this cake artistically, but there wasn’t a fog machine handy.

Oh well.  I would start reading up on event shooting, but I think I’m going to leave it on the bottom of my “to-do” list until it’s time to prepare for the next event.

One last image of the endlessly curious Elle

One last image of the endlessly curious Elle

 

Bring on the Parade

Not sure if there's still room to sleep in this camper, but the tree sure looks nice.

Not sure if there’s still room to sleep in this camper, but the tree sure looks nice.

It’s hard for me to look at my parade pictures today.  I remind myself that every child shouldn’t suffer because of the 20 lost on Friday.  Perhaps the loss makes Christmas (or whichever holiday each family celebrates), hope, and cheer that much more important.

I realize the feeling I have is the same one I always get following a tragedy.  It’s best described as “heightened visceralness” (even if it’s not a real word).

Most of the time, I go through life thinking about what I need to do in the next hour, the next day, the next week.  I push aside any bubbling sensations in my stomach, throat, or guts and stay focused on what I need to get done.

In the process of disconnecting from my visceral reactions, I also seem to disconnect from my own life.  I often walk into rooms and wonder why I’m there, fail to realize my husband has come home or left, or drive somewhere without being able to recall any part of the drive.

When I am reminded how tentative life can be, first I choke.  My throat closes, I have trouble breathing.  Then I cry.  Then I am left with rumblings in the pit of my stomach that I suspect are the disquiet of knowing I am doing nothing to change anything.

I have a sneaking suspicion that these visceral reactions happen every day, but until I am literally choked with tears (which doesn’t happen often), I refuse to pay attention to them.

Now that I am paying attention, I am reminded once again that I must pay attention to now.  To the moments I have.  Like the moment I am in right now sitting on the sofa, typing, dog curled next to me with a warm foot pressed against my leg.

To fail to notice each moment because I’m so distracted by the news is to give a piece of my life to a dead gunman in Connecticut when it’s far too late to make a difference.

And so, I close my browser full of news feeds and videos about Sandy Hook elementary.  I pull up the photos I’d prepared for yesterday’s post.  I think of all the smiling children at the Chattanooga Starlight Parade with a warm feeling akin to a mental hug.  I say to myself, “Bring on the parade.”

“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down.  Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.”

~Gilbert K. Chesterton

That said, here are the next set of photos from the Starlight Parade in downtown Chattanooga.  I’m normally not that excited by cars in a parade.  But, I did enjoy the creative decorations folks came up with.  I especially enjoyed the children around me calling out the names of familiar characters they saw go by.

 

This VW bus makes for a more creative way to enter a float.

This VW bus makes for a more creative way to enter a float.

The lawn mower racing team made a striking night time appearance.

The lawn mower racing team made a striking night time appearance.

Smiles adorned this float.

Smiles adorned this float.

This ancient fire truck hitched a ride so it too could make an appearance in the parade.

This ancient fire truck hitched a ride so it too could make an appearance in the parade.

The Chattanooga Zoo opted for simulated animals instead of live ones.

The Chattanooga Zoo opted for simulated animals instead of live ones.

Not a great shot, but I love thinking about how much more fun the Grinch would have had taking this down the mountain!

Not a great shot, but I love thinking about how much more fun the Grinch would have had taking this down the mountain!

A brightly lit Rudolf adorns this collectible car.

A brightly lit Rudolf adorns this collectible car.

Electric Eclectic

Carefully arranged dancers make an artistic float.

Carefully arranged dancers make an artistic float.

Let’s talk about the word “eclectic.”  According to dictionary.com, it means “deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and divers range of sources.”

I think the Starlight Parade qualified as eclectic.

Is this a giant Elmo or am I just out of date on kids characters?

Is this a giant Elmo or am I just out of date on kids characters?

Let’s see:

  • Semi Trucks
  • Santas on Harleys
  • Vintage VWs
  • Marching Band
  • Cheerleaders
  • Lawnmower racing team
  • Ballerinas
  • Flame twirlers
  • Lighted twirlers
  • Roller derby-ers
  • Military Color Guard
  • Antique Fire Engine
  • Rescued Dogs
  • WWII Duck
  • Gymnasts
  • Corvette collection
  • Bread mascot
  • Double-decker London tour bus
  • Soccer players
  • Chinese dragon
  • Baseball mascots
  • Soccer mascots
  • Girl scouts
  • Hula hoopers
This little ballerina reminded me of an impressionist painting I have a vague memory of.

This little ballerina reminded me of an impressionist painting I have a vague memory of.

 

Oh, and, how could I forget:

  • The cast of all 6 Star Wars episodes.

 

If rebels and empire-ists can ride together peacefully, can't we all get along?

If rebels and empire-ists can ride together peacefully, can’t we all get along?

Now that I think about it, just the Star Wars characters decked out in Christmas decorations alone was probably enough to qualify for “eclectic” status.

Of course the best shot of a storm trooper I got was of the only one with no Christmas lights.

Of course the best shot of a storm trooper I got was of the only one with no Christmas lights.

“Eclectic” has sometimes been used as a polite way of saying “messy,” “cluttered,” or even, “no taste.”  But sometimes being eclectic works quite well.

In the case of the Starlight Parade, all divergent themes were tied together by the overarching theme of Christmas.  As such, it kept the interest going for the full hour the parade lasted.  You just never knew what was coming next.

This mascot stopped long enough for a family to get a picture.

This mascot stopped long enough for a family to get a picture.

And, yes, we saw the lawnmowers and VWs and cheerleaders in the Mainx24 parade, but that was during the day.  See the difference?  This time it was dark.  And they were wearing lights.  Completely different effect.

I was slightly disappointed with the Star Wars group, I must admit.  I kept waiting for Yoda to pop up with a lightsaber and start flipping around while fighting Count Dooku.  If Yoda was there, he was quietly meditating behind so many Christmas decorations I couldn’t see him.

No acrobatic lightsaber fights erupted during the parade.

No acrobatic lightsaber fights erupted during the parade.

 

The Star Wars characters were courtesy of two local chapters of a national organization of Star Wars costumers.  One is called Rebel Legion.  These folks are serious about dressing like the heroes of the Star Wars episodes.  If you want to dress like a villain, however, you have to join the Fighting 501st Legion instead.

This is a hobby I’ve never considered.  Tutorials on their website teach how to create authentic costumes.  They include advise on Wookiee hair punching (which confused me until I saw a photo of a mask with hair being punched through it to create a hairy face), making your own blood stripes (which turn out to be red bars sewn on a sleeve), and creating a realistic lip curl (a mechanism to get a Wookie mask to snarl when roaring).

I don’t see myself turning into a costumer in the near (or distant) future, but the diversity of interests in this world is pretty amazing.  What really amazes me is these folks spend a lot of time and money creating these costumes all for the purpose of appearing at charitable and community events in exchange for smiles.

Much like the car decorating hobby, I don’t quite get it, but I appreciate the effort at creating joy.

The lighted sign appeared like a thought bubble above this curious baby's head.

The lighted sign appeared like a thought bubble above this curious baby’s head.

The Next Parade

Well, it’s that time again:  the next Christmas parade.  If the Mainx24 parade was challenging with it’s bright daylight, the Starlight (aka Street light) Parade was even more with its very dark setting.

With my 5D Mark III on a tripod with a ball head attachment that also allows for panning, I was able to pan with the parade.  This is the only way I was able to get anything in focus.

I started out with a non-panning shot of the crowd in front of the Tennessee Aquarium.

In honor the celebration, the Aquarium displayed candy-cane-stripped lights

In honor the celebration, the Aquarium displayed candy-cane-stripped lights

The Tennessee Aquarium has glass pyramids on its 3 separate buildings.  The two buildings in the image each have two lighted edges.  From some angles, you can see all four lighted edges.  From other angles (like the view from our balcony), one of the lighted edges disappears behind the front glass surface.

This is a fun phenomena when walking along the riverfront.  If you start at the West end of Renaissance park, all four edges are visible.  As you walk East, the one edge gradually disappears from view.  I have thought about putting a mark on the sidewalk at the point where the one edge disappears completely.  I might be the only one who notices.

The crowd was getting pretty excited by the time the parade started.  People kept surging into the street to see what was coming.

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What was coming was a fire engine, fortunately with its sirens silenced.

The Howard High School marching band soon followed.  They had also marched in the Mainx24 parade.  I found myself wondering if they have a shortage of funding for band uniforms–their drum corps was wearing matching sweatshirts and beanie caps.

They stood in front of us for a long time, waiting for the traffic in front of them to make the turn ahead at slow speed.  The drum corps continued to drum a beat and the rest of the band swayed in time.  The young man to the left seemed to be grooving.  It was fun to watch.

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While the band waited to move on, the horn section swayed to the beat of the drum corps

The same dog shelters that were at the Mainx24 parade were also at the Starlight Parade.  However, they opted for more vehicles and fewer dogs.  What they lacked in numbers, they made up for in size.

A giant inflatable dog made up for the lack of live dogs--hopefully they all got adopted

A giant inflatable dog made up for the lack of live dogs–hopefully they all got adopted

Instead of mini-cheerleaders, this parade had twirlers.  I’ll share some photos of individual twirlers later, but this was their float with the tiny-tot-twirlers riding and waving instead of twirling.  I imagine this was a wise decision.

To avoid chaos, the tiniest of the twirlers traveled on a trailer

To avoid chaos, the tiniest of the twirlers traveled on a trailer

A group of girl scouts walked by next.  they all wore red pajamas and santa hats.  Most of them seemed to be busy talking amongst themselves, but one girl scout gave me a long smile while I panned with her.

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While the rest of the girls scouts chatted, one girl scout smiles for the camera

Through all of this, Tisen clung to Pat’s side at the curb while I kneeled in the street shooting.  Doesn’t seem like he likes parades much.

Tisen kept giving me "when are we leaving" look

Tisen kept giving me “when are we leaving” look

Lighted Boat Parade

A long exposure of the lighted boats circling in front of Ross's Landing

A long exposure of the lighted boats circling in front of Ross’s Landing

The Lighted Boat Parade is a Chattanooga tradition, if a relatively new one.  Boaters decorate their boats with thousands of Christmas lights and then parade down the Tennessee River to Ross’s Landing where thousands of spectators watch.  Here, they are joined by the Southern Bell–a longer-lived Chattanooga tradition that offers boat cruises to tourists.  Then, they form a giant circle.

The Southern Belle provides the center of the boat parade circle.

The Southern Belle provides the center of the boat parade circle.

Since the boat parade immediately follows the Starlight Christmas Parade, we had to high-tail it back across the bridge to find a spot I could shoot from in Renaissance Park.  Having walked Renaissance Park 3x a day for nearly a year now, I feel like it’s really my yard.  And what a lovely yard it is.  While I’m not into yard work (making a park the perfect yard), I do pick up litter.  Part of me thinks this small contribution to keeping the park clean should entitle me to first choice of places to shoot from.

I love this look--who can resist Santa on a Harley?

I love this look–who can resist Santa on a Harley?

Plus, I really thought I had the insider’s track on a good spot to shoot from–the launch ramp under the Market St bridge.  After all, how many people even know the launch ramp is there?  The kayakers, a few fishermen, maybe a stray cat or two.

This boat was tough to keep up with while panning with a telephoto lens

This boat was tough to keep up with while panning with a telephoto lens

No.  As it turns out, about 5000 people know about the launch ramp and they all showed up there to watch the Lighted Boat Parade.

There probably would have been fewer people on the boat ramp if the park itself hadn’t been closed off along the riverfront.  The fireworks were fired from there, so this forced the crowd off to the edges of the park.

I set up my tripod somewhat precariously on a rock retaining wall held together by chicken wire.  This allowed me to get the long exposure shots I so love.

The lead boat caught me off guard, but I got this light trail from my camera on the tripod

The lead boat caught me off guard, but I got this light trail from my camera on the tripod

I also borrowed my husband’s new Rebel, unashamedly put my 70-200mm lens on it (I really should post a picture of what that looks like–it’s pretty humorous to see this big, heavy, amazing lens stuck on the tiny body of the Rebel).  I used that for panning with the boats.

This clean-lined boat slightly resembled a shoe

This clean-lined boat slightly resembled a shoe

I am getting better at panning.  Considering how dark it was and how slow a shutter speed I was shooting at, I was pretty proud that I got any closeups of the boats at all.  You can tell which ones were shot while panning because the background lights have a bit of a trail.  I especially like this effect on the candy-cane lighting the Tennessee Aquarium opted for in honor of the celebration.

Panning with the boat caused the candy cane lights on the aquarium to gain a trail

Panning with the boat caused the candy cane lights on the aquarium to gain a trail

The best boat in terms of entertainment value was one that had spot lights that would turn on, revealing a group of women in santa’s helpers costumes doing a dance to very loud music.  It was great.  I think they may have set a new bar for the other boats for next year’s parade.

This boat really went all out on entertainment value

This boat really went all out on entertainment value

It's not entirely clear what the dancers are doing, but it's funny

It’s not entirely clear what the dancers are doing, but it’s funny

As for great decorations, I think this boat takes the prize:

I think this boat's decor was a really crowd pleaser for anyone looking for tradition

I think this boat’s decor was a really crowd pleaser for anyone looking for tradition

The End of the Parade

Note:  To see larger images, click on a photo and a gallery will pop-up.

Well dear readers, you will undoubtedly be happy to hear that I have, at last, reached the end of the Mainx24 Parade!

The end of the parade included car art.  This is something I saw a lot of back home over the past few years.  People adhere a wide variety of three dimensional things to their car.  Usually, they do this to older, not very expensive cars and the first trends I saw involved adhering things like troll dolls.

An example of the more three dimensional variety of car art

An example of the more three dimensional variety of car art

I admit I felt some judgment when I saw these cars.  I couldn’t quite understand why someone would do that to their car or what value they got out of it.  Then, one of my friends told me she’d met a guy who drove one of these cars down our street on a regular basis.  She asked him why he decorated his car.  He said, “I just love making people smile.”

This driver definitely looks like she's all about making people smile

This driver definitely looks like she’s all about making people smile

I still have a hard time appreciating car art, but I now smile when I see one of these cars none-the-less.  It’s not the car that makes me smile.  It’s the thought that maybe the person driving it went to a lot of effort to bring a little joy into the world.  That’s definitely smile-worthy.

One of the art cars definitely created a lot of smiles–they had a supply of candy that caused children to line up outside the windows to receive a handful.  This car seems less three dimensional in style and more about happy thoughts in general.  I like happy thoughts.

Whether the kids appreciated the happy-thoughts car or not, they certainly enjoyed the candy

Whether the kids appreciated the happy-thoughts car or not, they certainly enjoyed the candy

If an artistic car doesn’t conjure happy thoughts, perhaps a horse-drawn carriage will?

Look closely for the Dalmatian on the driver's seat

Look closely for the Dalmatian on the driver’s seat

This is one of at least two carriages that are available for a spin around downtown on weekends year-round and all week during the summer.  Notice the Dalmatian riding along on the driver’s seat.  Both carriages always have a Dalmatian who accompanies the driver.  One of these days, I’m going to ask how that tradition got started.

With the end of the parade came the big man himself (or his quintuplet, given that we saw him many times before)–Santa Claus.

A more practical santa uses sled dogs instead of reindeer

A more practical santa uses sled dogs instead of reindeer

Instead of driving a sleigh with reindeer, he used sled dogs.  That seems more practical to me–reindeer have all those horns and hoofs to worry about.  Plus, what do they eat?  According to wiki answers, in the winter they eat lichens.  I haven’t seen any bags of lichens even at the most premium of pet stores.

As I walked back to my car, I stopped to shoot two more images.  First, a man playing the piano out on the street.  Perhaps the fact that it was December was what made this remarkable to me.

I'm guessing this guy doesn't go busking around town

I’m guessing this guy doesn’t go busking around town

The second was a tree who had bonded with a building in a way that probably isn’t healthy for either.  Not sure which will win the battle for space in the end–right now, it looks like the tree is winning.  I silently cheered it on.

This tree and building have become so intertwined, it's not clear they can be separated

This tree and building have become so intertwined, it’s not clear they can be separated

VWs and Bicycle Art

The pop-up top VW Bus

One of the fun things about Chattanooga is that it happens to be home to the only US-based Volkswagen manufacturing facility.  This is a pretty big coup for Chattanooga.  It’s interesting how much a single event like attracting a company to open a new manufacturing plant in a town impacts that town.

While there were probably other things that contributed, there was quite a growth spurt in housing development concurrent with the kickoff of building the plant.  That peak in activity precedes when I arrived in Chattanooga, and the housing market crash.  Development kind of stopped for a while of the various condominiums and housing developments around town, but things seem to be starting to pick up again.  Although, I think more multi-tenant rental units are being built than condos or single-family homes.  But, I’m just guessing.

In any case, the presence of Volkswagen doesn’t just provide several hundred jobs at their facility and construction jobs for people in housing and infrastructure, it also brings funding into the area for community projects and education.  VW happens to be pretty environmentally conscious as well, preserving a wetland on their property and occasionally allowing the Chattanooga Audubon Society to host bird walks there.

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Most importantly, the presence of VW has created huge demand for the local VW club (unrelated to the company) for events around town.  And, of course, the Mainx24 parade included a long line of vintage VWs.  The VW bus with the pop-up top is my favorite, but the “Thing” is a close second.  For many years of my childhood, I had it confused with a comic book superhero–they look pretty similar.

The Car Version of the Thing

The Mainx24 parade once again demonstrated the breadth of character of Chattanooga when the VWs were followed by bicycle art.

mobile art

I am a cyclist.  Maybe not a Lance Armstrong kind of cyclist, but I like to ride and I do it as often as possible.  I have seen downhill mountain bikes that look like off-road motorcycles without the motor, tandems, unicycles, electric bikes, bikes pulling dogs in carriers, you name it.  I really thought I had seen every possible type of bike there was to see.

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But, the clever artists of Chattanooga managed to surprise me (and the rest of the crowd) with amazing sculptures on wheels they rode in the parade.  I particularly like the swing on the bike.  I imagine it had to be pretty terrifying the swing above the pavement on a bike as it moved forward.

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I can’t say I saw a model I wanted to trade my bike in for, but if I did, there would certainly be plenty of places to hang shopping bags when I ride to the market.  I’m thinking maybe I should see if I can commission them to come up with a photographer’s bike, incorporating portable lighting solutions, lens storage, and a tripod holder into the design.  Then form and function would really come together.

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