Sometimes, it pays to step out of your comfort zone a little.
I have a camera, and I like to use it. It’s employed for family events, weekends at the cottage, trips to the zoo, and the occasional conference. I haul it with me whenever it’s reasonable and practical. I’ll use it to shoot flowers, frogs, amusement parks, and yes, even race cars. I’m not averse to a bit of street shooting, and would be happy to photograph a rock concert, if I went to rock concerts any more, and if I didn’t think my camera would be taken off me by security. And I always like a new photographic challenge.
So what’s this about comfort zones?
Well, a couple of weekends ago, I found myself smack-dab in the middle of a convention hosted by a Christian men’s organization, as an official event photographer. Let me tell you: these men are righteous in their belief, strong in their faith, and and clear on what they feel is important. Now, I’m not interested in turning this into a debate about belief or faith, nor about presenting or defending my own opinions on the topic. Without getting into detail, let’s just say that a hockey arena full of three thousand or so Christian men is not usually where you’d find me.
But, as you might imagine, there are connections and connections and connections behind this. One of the organizers, an evangelical Christian minister who does marketing for the convention’s organizers, is a friend of mine, and (you guessed it) a motorsports fan. He’s run the volunteer photo corps for the Honda Indy Toronto race weekend for years. It was John who recruited me to the Indy team in 2010, in part on the strength of my 2009 photos. It was John who invited me back for 2011, and barring any unusual circumstances, 2012 and beyond. And it was John who asked me if I would mind shooting last year’s Legacy convention… and this year’s Built for Battle. I’m not averse to doing a favour for a friend, and if it involves wielding a camera – well, why not?
So this year wasn’t quite as far outside my comfort zone as last year, but it was still a far cry from the racetrack. For one thing, the experience of being surrounded by an audience completely comprised of men again felt a bit unusual. And then there were the speakers. To a man, they were tremendous, combining different degrees of evangelism, quotations from scripture, easy conversational tone, and here and there little licks of good old southern U.S. baptist fire. I’ll tell you this – anybody could learn a thing or two about public speaking from these gentlemen. No Powerpoint here, folks – these men are captivating in and of themselves. And again, although heavily slanted towards traditional definitions of family, home, faith and morality, these talks were full of broadly-applicable life lessons. There was a lot to be learned about trust in oneself and one’s peers, looking out for your neighbours, and guarding against all manner of, for the want of a better term, evils.
And then there was the music. A full-on rock band on stage, headed by Promise Keepers’ National Worship Leader Andrew Thompson, with Irish Christian musician Robin Mark as a guest. Once again, not exactly what you’d find on my iPod, but these guys can absolutely cook, and with an enthusiastic audience that’s ready and willing to participate – well, the results were certainly uplifting, if not shiveringly magical at times. Music to empower faith, indeed.
As for the photography – well, I mentioned that I’d shot this event last year, so I had some idea of what to expect. Dim lighting, viewpoints that varied from interesting to just plain difficult, on-stage performers in constant motion, and a requirement to shoot without flash so as to avoid being distracting. All of this meant using very wide apertures, high ISO sensitivity, and as slow a shutter speed as possible. Translated, that meant pushing the camera to get as much light into it as possible, while increasing the chance of blurred motion and grainy, gritty image quality. The day became a protracted balancing act, keeping one eye on the shutter speed and the other on the subject, waiting for the lights to transiently flicker up and the speakers to pause for dramatic effect. Wait, wait, wait – click. Fortunately, my life was easier this year, as John had brought along another of our racing comrades, Patrick, who was working from the same shot list as I was. Two bullets in the gun, so to speak, and we were able to tag-team when there were multiple things going on that needed attention.
In all, the day turned out well and Patrick, John and I managed to re-live a little of our fun racing times in the summer. We nailed a lot of photos. The ones I missed, Patrick got, and vice versa. Done and dusted. And the event was, once again, a nice reminder to me that there are an awful lot of different ways of looking at the world, either through the lens, or not.
[The full Built for Battle 2011 photo set is here.]