A few weeks ago I shot my first event which was KiwiPyCon 2015 at the university campus in Christchurch, New Zealand. KiwiPyCon is an annual programming and software development conference organised by the New Zealand Python User Group (NZPUG). It consisted of talks and tutorials on Friday, and talks (plus many morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea breaks) on Saturday and Sunday. All photos can be found on the Flickr page I created for the event.
I came to the event with two cameras and two lenses: my Olympus OM-D E-M1 (de) with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 (de), and a borrowed Panasonic G5 with my Olympus 45mm f/1.8 (de) prime. The lecture theatres were fairly dark so I expected to use the prime lens quite often during the talks.
The first challenge which, much to my frustration, didn't even have to do anything with photography itself, was to get photos up onto the Internet as fast as possible, ideally while a talk or conference segment was happening. New photos and updates could be announced on the official @NZPUG Twitter feed. I tried the Olympus OI Share app on my phone because I figured it would be easiest to select files from my camera via Wifi and share them directly to a Twitter app. This didn't work at all: loading photos from the camera was very slow and my phone often switched back to using the conference Wifi and therefore loosing connectivity with my camera. When I finally managed to load a full photo from the camera, I had problems sharing it to Twitter due to connection timeouts which was probably due to the slow university Wifi or Internet on the "visitor" network we were assigned. After trying for half an hour while all sorts of activity with people streaming in, signing up, chatting and getting ready for talks was happening around me, I gave up and tried using a tablet which can read SD cards from the camera, and the Android Flickr app.
The Flickr app wasn't working either: I couldn't use my existing account (Yahoo said something about inactive account even though it works fine from a PC) and creating a new account and logging in also failed. So while it looked like reading SD cards directly and uploading to Flickr was the way to go, I wouldn't be able to use my tablet (with the long battery life) and eventually had to resort to using my old trusty Thinkpad laptop (with its 40 minute battery life). Finally, after deciding to use a proper computer, everything worked as expected: I pulled the photos from the SD card to the laptop, put them into a folder for each day and camera, and uploaded them to Flickr via the website. No apps, no camera Wifi, no sharing or APIs: just memory cards and HTTP. I still decided to not shoot RAW and I also downsized the images to around 5 Megapixels in camera so that the slow and sometimes unreliable visitor Wifi network would be able to handle all the uploads in a timely manner.
One big problem I ran into with the silent electronic shutter of the Panasonic G5 was with the florescent lights: while not a problem with the normal shutter, the slower readout (technically the readout is the same but the exposure across the whole frame happens much faster with a mechanical shutter) caused horizontal line artefacts to appear in the final photo:
I'm not sure why it wasn't a problem with some of the other portraits of presenters before this one since I've used the electronic shutter quite a lot on the first day but after this experience I quickly changed back to using the mechanical shutter. While a little bit more annoying for the audience, as an event photographer you aren't completely invisible anyway while running around the stage, and luckily neither the E-M1 nor the G5 have a loud shutter.
A similar technical issue was around camera settings, specifically white balance. Being primarily a landscape photographer I like to use manual mode with manual ISO and manual white balance. However, I quickly learned to use a more automatic mode like A priority, and set ISO and WB to auto. There are still a few photos were the white balance is way off which was before I put the camera into a more automatic mode. After I learned and switched, most photos came out really well. The E-M1, despite being a m4/3 camera and therefore not a very good low-light performer, looks great up to ISO 1600, and together with the f/1.8 prime it was enough to capture action and speakers unless they waved their hands around really furiously. In this case I just had to wait a few seconds for them to calm down and then quickly get the shots.
Over the three days I extensively used my Peak Design camera clip (de) I talked about last week, attached to my belt, in order to carry and work with two cameras, or during breaks grab some food and have conversations without having to hold a camera in my hands all the time. It performed flawlessly and kept even the fairly heavy (for a m4/3 camera) E-M1 + 12-40mm zoom lens secure on my hip. The built-in lock functionality was good to have because the opening of the clip is to the side when worn on a belt so in theory bumping the spring-loaded unlock button and nudging the camera could result in dropping it from hip height onto a potentially very hard floor.
One of the bigger challenges was to capture the moment during prize-givings when a book, voucher or other gadget was handed to the lucky winner. Because the lecture theatre was fairly big and the prize-giving was happening so fast I wasn't always close enough or didn't have enough time to get a good focus. Ideally as a photographer you would want more time and a bit of a pose, and the person bringing the prize to the winner shouldn't stand between the camera and the person receiving the prize. I'm not sure what would work better in the future apart from having more than one photographer so that we can spread out in the theatre.
Please head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article and let me know how you handle event shoots like these. I ran into a few problems and challenges so any tips for the future are greatly appreciated. My Flickr and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.