I think I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that perhaps, photographically speaking, I’m going through a “down” period.
(Yeah, ok, so it takes time for these things to filter through my befuddled brain but I get there eventually… sometimes).
Whatever happened to the good old days, all of a couple of months back, when I could simply point the camera at something, click, and my only concern was whether or not Flickr would be playing up.
I say this because my most recent little photographic escapade turned out to be one more screw-up in what appears to be turning into an almost unbroken series of rather less-than-satisfactory sessions for one reason or another.
In fairness this latest experience of how things can go pear-shaped wasn’t totally unexpected… but nevertheless the fact that it did go pear-shaped was still a tad irritating.
Wednesday 19th November. Evening. Public Debate (that is, a debate attended by members of the public) on the topic of “Islamic Values vs Secular Values”. To which I’d been invited for the purpose of taking photographs. So far so good. Bit of a breeze really, you’d think.
Ahem. Not quite.
Y’see, the venue for the event was a place named The Harpur Suite (in Bedford town centre). I’ve been there before, taking photographs. In fact more than once.
Very first time was in the days, years ago now, of the antiwar protests. We’d organised a public meeting there to be addressed by a prominent MP, local dignitaries etc, and I thought it’d be a good idea to grab some photos of it for the website of our local antiwar campaign.
Used a 35mm film camera I’d acquired from somewhere (not too sure where now). All the pics were rubbish; couldn’t use any of them. Not surprising really. I never did get on with film. Of course, if I’d known then what I know now I could have easily identified that what was wrong with the pics was the white balance. Might even have been able to remedy the defect (to a large extent anyway) once they’d been digitised and converted to JPEGs… had I known then what I know now. But I didn’t, so I hadn’t. And they were a bit blurred. Um… very blurred actually (didn’t have a clue about tripods then; and on recent showing anyone could be forgiven for thinking I still don’t have a clue). Consequently there was a marked absence of photos of that event on the campaign website.
More recently, the last event I attended at the Harpur Suite (again for the purpose of taking pics) was quite a few months ago, possibly last year now I come to think of it.
And once again I came away with nothing. That time it was all down to my own pet idiocy. Yep, you guessed it… not taking a tripod.
What these experiences have done is make me very much aware of the, um… “peculiarities” of the venue.
I have a sneaking suspicion that when the place was decorated and equipped the particular needs of photographers weren’t high on the list of priorities.
The main issue with the place (in fact, possibly the only issue) is the lighting. Its weird. Its deceptive.
For starters… as a visitor, and to the human eye, the place appears to be very well lit. Quite bright in fact. But its deceptive. Very deceptive. Cos to the camera’s lens it isn’t! In fact, the lighting’s actually quite poor.
Most of the light fittings are in the ceiling, which is quite high, with a few shaded ones high up on the walls. And the walls are painted in a sort of darkish cream/magnolia type colour. No doubt its this combination, plus the “airiness” of the place, that contributes to the illusion of being brightly lit.
Well, I already knew all this, from the experiences previously related. I also knew that, given the nature of the event and the way such things are run by these particular organisers, use of a flash probably wouldn’t be appreciated.
So, in a complete departure from my normal carelessness and/or forgetfulness, I took a tripod. And not just any old tripod, but my super-duper rock-stable beast of a tripod… the Slik! “Hah!” thinks I, “well sorted”.
Arrive at the venue in plenty of good time, whilst they’re still getting the place set up. Sort out a few really good vantage points for myself (even getting them to move a complete row of chairs so that I’ll have comfortable access all around the perimeter) and take a few test shots. White balance will probably need tweaking a bit when I get to process the RAWs, but that’s no big deal (I can remember from last time that there was a huge shift to the yellow).
But then occurs the first hint of things to come.
Someone decides they don’t like the layout… it all looks a bit too “formal” apparently. So everything’s rearranged… and my chosen vantage points go completely out the window.
Modify my plans somewhat and come up with a scheme that though not giving me quite the same all-round coverage, will just about do.
Then the next snag reveals itself.
By now members of the great British public have begun to arrive and get themselves comfortable. The majority of whom are Muslim. As was expected. About two-thirds of the seats have been arranged one side, one-third on the other side, the two sections separated by the width of a couple of seats or so. That’s fine. The larger section accommodates the men, the smaller the women. That’s fine too.
But then one of the organisers requests that would I please avoid photographing the Muslim women.
Ok, anything to oblige. But that suddenly imposes quite a significant limitation on the angles and shots available to me. Dammit!
(That particular request was later countermanded by someone else, but by then it was too late.)
Well, the debate gets under way. And then I hit the next snag. No-one stays still! Not the moderator. Not the debaters. Not even the audience. Fidget fidget. Twitch twitch. Nod nod. Sway this way, sway that way. And I’m on longish exposures. Dammit again!
And of course in this sort of situation there’s no time to experiment, to play around with different settings (ISO and shutter speed sprang instantly to mind). You don’t really get the chance to try something then, if it doesn’t work, try something else. You’re doing it all real-time and no-one’s going to wait around while you get your act together. And you’re totally reliant on what the LCD’s telling you… no opportunity to quickly offload a batch to a laptop and see what they really look like. And past experience has taught me not to rely on the LCD overmuch anyway. Dammit once again!
But the real whammy is yet to come…
The principal source of recorded imagery for the event was intended to be video, with photos as a backup. Suited me fine. And that was sorted. I’d brought along a videocam and extra tripod and delegated its operating to a couple of helpful folk. No headaches there.
But the event turned out to be not quite as, um, “inspiring” as had been hoped. So they decided they wouldn’t use any of the video at all. Just go with the stills. All down to me then. Da… no, I’m getting fed up saying “dammit”.
Well, I finally managed to burn a CD with close to 40 so-so pics on it, but nothing to write home about.
What I’ve come away with is the growing suspicion that I probably need to revise my technique a bit for this type of event… at that particular location anyway.
Hmm. Time for a bit of experimenting methinks.
And there’s a particular person who first got me into this whole caper who’s now owed another thump… not once did he warn me that I’d actually have to work at this photography lark! I’m deeply unimpressed.