Parade Shooting

If there’s one thing I’m learning about photography, each shoot is different and presents unique challenges from the one before.  In some ways, it reminds me of when I went through what I’ll call “my triathlon phase.”

I thought I would be able to do a triathlon and look at my times and compare them to the previous triathlon to see if I’d improved.  In reality, there were so many variables from one event to the next that there was never a good comparison.

Unlike triathlons, I don’t spend hours every day training only to be left exhausted, run down, and incredibly sore.  Perhaps this is why I don’t feel so discouraged when I come away from a shoot and feel like I’ve backtracked instead of making progress?

Shooting the Mainx24 Parade presented several challenges.  First, the parade started at 11AM on a wonderfully sunny day just when the light was getting really hard and bright.  Adding to the challenge, the parade participants marched with the light mostly behind them.

In addition, a parade is somewhere between a portrait shoot and an action shoot–the people are moving at such an incredibly slow speed that you think you have plenty of time.  Yet, with each step forward, the light changes, the people rearrange and get closer–just when you think you’ve figured it out, they have their backs to you.

To further complicate things, I’d decided to try shooting with two cameras for the first time.  I had my 70-200mm on my trusty old 40D and my 24-70mm on my 5D Mark III.  I haven’t shot with my 40D in so long that I had to get out my glasses to find the on button!

I took a tripod to simplify dealing with two cameras.  I set up my 5D on the tripod–I would likely have knocked myself unconscious in front of an oncoming horse if I were juggling two cameras.

I found the tripod had an additional advantage.  It allowed me to create a space to shoot in that most people respected–they tried to stay out of my shots for the most part.  Of course, when candy was being thrown to the children, all bets were off.

However, it was also restrictive and unnecessary give the shutter speeds I was shooting at.  On the flip side, I did pop the camera off the tripod from time to time, so it wasn’t like I had to use it.  I’m on the fence as to whether its advantages outweighed the difficulties.

The images in today’s gallery were all shot with the 40D.  I probably should have put it on the tripod and panned with people.  MIght have made for some better images.

In the end, this was not a banner day.  But, it was fun and I met a couple of other photographers in the process.

You Get What You Pay For

Remember what it was like to be really scared?  Scared when you knew there was nothing to be afraid of, but you were scared anyway?  What is it that’s fun about that?  Yet we seek it out from the time we’re little.

Like hide-and-seek.  We know the people are out there, but when we find them, we’re often startled or even terrified when at last we stumble across those we seek.

Going to a Halloween haunt is a return to our childhood roots.  We know we are safe.  We know no one is going to hurt us.  Yet we go to be scared.  There’s an underlying hysteria to the whole process of gearing up for a haunt.

It starts with the gathering of the group.  And the group psychology is important to the whole experience.  There’s an optimal group size.  If the group is too big, there’s too much safety in numbers.  You can hide in the middle of the bunch.  If the group is too small, the contagious nature of fear is lost.  I think 4-6 people with a couple of total scaredy-cats is perfect.

It’s small enough that the fear of 2 can spread to the rest of the group vs. the swagger of several buoying up the rest of the group’s courage.

And, let’s be honest, as much as I hate to admit it, there’s a gender difference.  We women haven’t spent our live pretending to be brave.  We’ve been taught to be afraid for our safety in so many subtle ways; we’re more likely to be startled, frightened, and even terrified than our male counterparts.

We’re also more likely to fully enjoy the experience of a haunt.  This is also true of children–the younger, the more disbelief is suspended.

I ponder the attraction of being scared.  It’s a reminder of our vulnerability, a feeling of helplessness.  Why do we enjoy this feeling of not knowing what’s going to jump out at us?  Is it the rush of having experienced terror and having survived?  Is it significantly different from the rush of thrill seekers who sky dive, climb Mt. Everest, or go cave diving?

These images were taken on the haunted trail at the Acres of Darkness event.  I was hidden in the shadows, waiting for the moment when the victims were suddenly startled by the various actors on the trail.  While I can’t claim there great images in terms of lighting, framing, or composition, they captured a moment of true fear for at least some of the guests.

I laugh when I look at their faces.  I laugh because of the complete abandon of their expressions.  Is it macabre of me to enjoy having captured fear?  In my own defense, if they would have been in real danger, it wouldn’t be funny to me.  But these are “we got you!” moments.  They came to be scared and they were.

It’s photographic evidence that the haunt achieved what the audience paid for.

Show Me Terror

While shooting the Acres of Darkness haunt, I wanted to get shots of people while they were waiting in line.  This was truly shooting in the dark because I literally could not see them in the view finder at all.  Unfortunately, I had a single flash unit attached to my camera and was trying to light groups of people, so it was a bit tricky.  The lighting is, well, shall we say “not dramatic”?  But, the assignment for this series of shots was fun and the participants nearly made up for the bad lighting.

The assignment I came up with for the attendees was to show me their most scared face.  I asked each group waiting in line to show me absolute terror.  I got some mixed results, but overall, I was impressed with much of the acting!

Some people were immediately into it.  Like the ladies in the 3rd shot.  They really got a kick out of how scared they could look.  We actually did 3 shots because they were having so much fun.

The larger groups were fun because they would have some people who were really into it and others who really just wanted me to go away.  Like the family in the 8th image–the teenage girl in the background looking utterly bored spoke volumes about adolescence.

But even some of the pairs were a 50/50 mix on willingness to act.  One of my personal favorites is the 6th shot where the guy is totally acting scared and the girl is looking like she’s not really sure she wants to be seen in public with this guy.  Made me wonder how long they’d been a couple and how much longer it would last.  🙂

Then, there’s the image immediately after that one with the three guys.  The one on the far left said he imagined he was writing an alimony check to inspire his expression.  I thought he looked more like he’d had an accident in the restroom, but I appreciated his effort.

The two young girls in the 11th image cracked me up.  The one on the left gave a pretty realistic scared look.  The one on the right, who appeared to be the younger of the two when seen in person, seemed to think throwing up her hands was all it took to look scared.  Maybe she has yet to experience real fear?

This assignment, by the way, only worked well because I could show the subjects their picture immediately on the LCD of my camera.  They looked at the result and immediately wanted to try again to make it even better.  They all laughed and made fun of each other’s faces in the shots.  Who knew photography could be so entertaining for the subjects?

Afterwards, I had several people approach me and ask if there was somewhere to view the photos so they could decide if they wanted to buy them.  Maybe next year.

Night Moves

I don’t know much about event shooting (besides the fact that it makes me nervous), but I figured having some photos of the crowd would be a good thing.  Since the crowd at the Acres of Darkness event was standing in line for the haunted trail, I figured that’s where I needed to be.

This presented a special challenge:  Large groups of people clumped along a line that spanned about 50 yards.  Add to that, ridiculously little light.  Even with my ISO setting all the way up to 25600, with an aperture of f/22, I needed a 1.3 second shutter speed to get the shot of the line.

Funny, I don’t remember ISO 25600 being in the table of reciprocal settings to get the same exposure with different ISO, shutter speed, and aperture combinations.  I still shake my head, remembering how excited my dad was when he discovered 800 ISO film.

In any case, getting 50ish people strung out in a line to all hold still for 1.3 seconds was not an option.  I experimented with even longer shutter speeds to see how much blur I got and whether I liked the effect or not.  I like the mood the slight blurring creates for the halloween theme quite a bit, actually.  The motion makes it seem more interesting somehow.

I might have gotten a bit carried away when I decided to try to create ghost images as people entered the trail.  I asked several groups to “slow walk” as they started down the trail in the hope of creating some really great apparitions.  This didn’t work out so well.  The people created more of a haze in my image instead of actual ghosts.  Next time, I will have them stand still for approximately 1/2 the time my shutter is open and see if that creates more of the effect I’m looking for.

On a more positive note, I added an entertainment factor no one expected.  The people I asked to slow walk turned the assignment into the hokey pokey, robot moves, imitations of the 6 million dollar man (although I’m not sure any of them were old enough to have heard of him), and even a brief line dance.  I, on the other hand, did not do any dancing.

I find it an interesting psychological experiment:  ask people to perform and unusual but simple task and their self-consciousness causes them to turn it into something more usual, like dancing.  Or, maybe it’s more of an act of embracing a moment of silliness and just rolling with it?  Whichever the case, we all laughed a lot.

Event Shooting

I am gaining a greater and greater appreciation for event photographers.  Think about it.  You show up, you’re supposed to get great photos in what may be the most difficult of circumstances to shoot in and you’re supposed to do it without distracting from the event.

We went to a wedding reception Friday night and I found myself feeling incredibly grateful that I am not a wedding photographer.  I’m not sure I could take the pressure of shooting that kind of once (or twice or thrice) in a lifetime event.  I watched the two photographers at the event and they seemed so calm and collected.  They were both young.  They shot for a while, took a break to eat cake, and then started shooting again.  They seemed to feel no stress at all.  I admire that.

I got to play event photographer Saturday night in the lowest stress situation possible when it comes to event photography.  First, it was a volunteer job, so I didn’t have to worry about people feeling like they didn’t get what they paid for.  Second, the group is fun and appreciative, so I felt like they would be patient.  And finally, this is a recurring event, so it will happen again next year and there will be more opportunities to get better shots.

However, what did create stress is that it was a Halloween Haunt.  And that means it was dark.  Very dark.  And I am not exactly an expert with a flash.  In fact, I had kind of given up on learning how to use my flash a few months back when I broke a hot shoe adapter that allowed me to put it on an umbrella stand.

I seem to take little interest in flash photography until the moment of panic when I realize I’m going to need to shoot with a flash.  Then I suddenly wish I’d spent a lot of time becoming an expert with the thing.

Saturday night, I decide to warm up in the family area.  This area is well lit by comparison.  It still requires a flash, but people are sitting at tables for pumpkin decorating and face painting, so I have the opportunity to shoot and reshoot without having to worry about missing the action.

With my flash unit attached to my camera directly, I couldn’t shoot vertically.  It was like having a hand tied behind my back.  Having a manual flash turned out to be quite a bit more difficult than I expected.  For one thing, it has no auto focus assist feature so I had to pull out my iPhone and use the flashlight app to find focus in the dark.  It was also hard to see to adjust the settings.

I found myself creating a shopping list:  flash bracket, speedlite, portable battery pack.  I guess I’d better decide if I like event shooting or not before I start buying more equipment!

Shots Not Fired

There are so many things to do within an hour’s drive of Chattanooga.  It’s hard to imagine ever running out of new things to show people.  However, it’s a little different when you’re thinking of things to do with children.

On day 3 of our friends’ visit, I recommended we go where there were cannons.  After all, if there was one thing that fascinated the four-year-old, it was guns.  The bigger the better.

When we arrived at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, we thought we’d hit the mother lode.  A group of people were out by a row of cannons loading them.  We were all sure we were about to witness the firing of several cannons.  I’m not sure which one of us was most excited.

Unfortunately, it was just a training session for volunteers who would be firing the cannons at a future event.  Today was not the day.

There’s nothing worse than disappointing a child.  I try so hard not to let a child hear me when I make suggestions so they don’t get their hopes up.  I don’t know why I think children shouldn’t have to deal with disappointment–maybe it’s good for them to start preparing young.  I just don’t want to be part of the preparation.

I’m sure I get this from my mother–she was always one to avoid getting our hopes up.  If she thought we might get to do something special, she kept it a secret until the last possible moment.

For example, the year they decided to take us to Disney World, they never mentioned that we might get to go because they didn’t know if there would be enough money to pay for the trip.  I don’t think my brother or I had even dared to dream about going to Disney World because it seemed so far out of reach.

Not until we opened our Christmas presents and found airplane tickets (which had to be explained to us since we’d never been on an airplane) did we have any idea our parents had even considered taking us to Disney World.  To this day, I still remember the excitement of that surprise.

I always appreciated that about them–we always knew we could trust them to deliver on their promises.  It’s something I try to emulate–especially with children.  I don’t want to be that person who gets a child all excited only to find out it’s not going to happen after all.

I felt like our visit was like that a lot for our four-year-old friend.  We didn’t go on a boat ride because the stroller wasn’t allowed on the boat.  We didn’t go on the merry-go-round because wet clothes weren’t allowed and he was wet from playing in the fountains.  And now, the cannons were not actually going to be fired.

I feel like I may be first on the list of people who will disappoint him in his life.


When we made the decision to move to Chattanooga, we knew about Head of the Hootch (a huge rowing event here in the fall) and we thought that was THE big event in Chattanooga.  However, it turns out Riverbend is THE big event here.

Just by chance, we completely missed Riverbend last year.  Our visit to pick a place to live was in March.  Our visit to make it official was in July.  Riverbend happens in June.

Riverbend, is a 9-day music festival that, this year, features 6 stages and something around 100 bands.  Supposedly, 600,000 people will descend upon Chattanooga (population 300,000) for this event.

The first sign that Riverbend was coming was the arrival of a stage via barge.  It was floated up the Tennessee River and parked for a couple of weeks in front of the Aquarium.  Eventually it was raised onto a huge dock (we always wondered why that dock was so big) where it had quietly remained for at least a week before the opening of the festival.

During that final week, tents started appearing followed by rides.  Soon, the riverfront looked like an abandoned carnival.  Billboards all over town advertised “get your pin at such and such place.”  Pins were $32 for entry all 9 days.  Of course, “entry” doesn’t include the lawn in front of the main stage (another $10), a program (yet $35 more), or seats anywhere.

Had we know pins at the gate would be $45, we would have bought our pins early.  We, of course, didn’t discover this until after the discounted pins were no longer available.

Finally, opening night came.  It was Friday night, June 8th.  We expected to hear the bands playing from our place, but they were drowned out by traffic noise on this side of the river.

Instead, the start of the festival was announced to us by a ridiculous amount of noise on the roof over our heads.  Some of our neighbors had apparently invited a large group of friends over to hang out on the roof deck; we’re pretty sure they spent the night.

I went up to the roof top to check out who was up there and to see what kind of shots I could get from the roof.  I left my 100-400mm lens at home since I figured I was going to need my faster 70-200mm lens in the twilight over the extra length.

Alas, the scene was far enough away that I couldn’t get very interesting shots of any details.  Plus, I couldn’t see the river from our roof, which was full of boats listening to the music.

I turned to the sunset briefly (reminding myself that I have too many shots of the sunset and it wasn’t that interesting) and then returned to shoot the skyline wide.  Sine the sky was completely uninteresting that direction, I cropped those shots to panoramic proportions.  I probably should have just put my camera away instead.

First Flash

I finally got caught up on post processing photos from my whirlwind trip to Columbus.  These photos are from the baby shower I attended.  Rule one:  decide if I want to shoot or attend a party.  When I’m trying to do both, I don’t do either well.

There’s a certain geek factor about walking around a baby shower with a big lens and a flash on a stand with a funny looking box over it.  Now, imagine if I would have added my loupe hanging around my neck.  Would that really have pushed me over the line between overly enthusiastic and completely socially inept?

I’m thinking I crossed that line the moment I decided to put my flash on a stand.  And as one guest pointed out, people will put up with my flash because they want the pictures.  This only holds true if you do a really good job on the pictures.

In any case, I discovered several things my first time out with my new flash.

First, I understand why event photographers often put the flash on the camera even though the lighting options are limited.  Having the flash on a stand in a relatively small space with a lot of people was a bit awkward.  It was often difficult to find a position for the flash stand without asking someone to step out of the way.  There were many times I didn’t bother to use the flash at all because I didn’t want to disrupt the whole room by setting it up in the middle.

Another thing I learned was that since I was working without a tripod (not something I do too often these days), I needed to have a fast enough speed to not get blur from movement but also slow enough not to exceed sync speed with the flash.  I ended up with a shot where the shutter speed was too slow for my hand-holding ability when I was using flash. Seems like it defeats the purpose of using a flash.

I was pleased with the effect of using the flash to light the shot of the gifts.  Although there is a bright reflection in the piano, it’s not actually from the flash–it’s just brighter because of the flash.  There seems to be a pretty even light.  Of course, the ambient light from the windows helped with the fall off.

While an umbrella might have been even better light, we decided it was too crowded to have a big umbrella sticking out of the stand.  That was definitely a good decision!

Another thing I learned was the challenge of lighting multiple people.  Especially when the people don’t know each other that well enough to get into each other’s personal space.  Or, when there is a huge height difference between the subjects.  Shadows get exponentially harder to control.

All in all, given it was my first time using a flash, I’m trying not to be too hard on myself.