By Douglas Gritz
Denver became on of seven cities awarded a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Arts Innovation and Management program. The program helps arts and cultural organization in Denver with operating assistance and consulting.
Last week representatives from a number of Denver’s arts organizations gathered at the Space Gallery in Denver’s Santa Fe Arts District to take part in a capacity building program for Denver nonprofit arts managers.
The event was organized and presented by the Devos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland. They reached out to hire me as their event photographer for the meeting.
I was excited for the shoot. I am an artist myself (I do fine art photography and painting) and so seeing an large investment made in Denver’s arts scene has impact me and I like being a part of a city where arts organizations play an important role in the community. And I was excited to be photographing in the Space Gallery, an art gallery set in a unique space.
My assignment the first part of my shooting day was pretty typical for event photography — capturing people talking, enjoying themselves, and networking. As I’ve explained in previous posts, I’m always on the lookout for smiles or some degree of intense engagement. These moments are fleeting and so it’s important for me to be pre-set with my camera locked on to a person or persons with the anticipation of interested expression or exchange happening. I go for a wide variety of angles for these. I always have two camera bodies with me and so I will work between the two getting both wide angle and telephoto shots of people interacting.
And so began the meat of the program, which was a seminar. It was a nice change of pace shooting in the Space Gallery. I find myself in a lot of dingy and featureless hotel conference rooms for event photography assignments. I love the nice high wide angle shot I was able to get above. The trickiest part of the shoot was the lighting situation. There was fair bit of natural light coming in, which is great, but the house lights were all tungsten (and they wont to be). And they were mostly narrow beams pointing straight down on people’s heads. So no matter what direction I shot in, it seemed like I was getting some face or head in the background blowing out. On top of that, direct sunlight was hitting the crowd in a few spots. So if I wanted to shoot someone being bathed by that light, they were either going to be blown out or the background was going to be massively underexposed. I did my best to work around it.
The speaker was another challenge. The background behind him was pretty dull and featureless and it was pretty much right on top of him. The best medicine for situations like this is a telephoto lens. That allows me to get in tight on the face and fill the frame up with that and minimize the background. It also allows me to soften the background and compress it, which also helps make it a little more interesting and less of a distraction.
Ah yes, the ever-requested group shot. Boy, these are my least favorite thing to shoot by a mile. It takes a massive effort and great deal of time herded together. Then, especially with large groups, people are busy chitchatting and not really paying attention to direction on where we need them to stand. But I understand the importance so I always give it my best. For this, we needed a big shady spot to fit so many people. All of the area around the gallery was in bright sunshine, which is no bueno for photographing faces (harsh shadows). So that meant needing to line people up against the building to keep everyone in shade, and therefore evenly lit. Fortunately there was a flower box that we could the back two rows on and that helped us see faces in the back. Phew!