Comfort Zone

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.

Stage setup, Built for Battle 2011
The stage setup, just before doors open.

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?

Steve Farrar - onstage
Speaker Steve Farrar, delivering a college football anecdote.

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.

Built for Battle, Hershey Centre, Mississauga 2011
Shot from a location that was still in bounds (just).

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.

Percussionist in blue - Seppo Salminen
The always popular “behind the percussionist” point of view.

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.

On Stage, Hershey Centre, November 2011
There was on-stage access at a few times – which is always fun.

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.]

About Richard Wintle

I am Canadian by heritage, and a molecular biologist and human geneticist by training. My day job is Assistant Director of a large genome centre, where I do various things along the lines of "keeping the wheels on". In my spare time, I tend to run around with a camera, often chasing horses, race cars, musicians, and occasionally, wildlife.
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7 Responses to Comfort Zone

  1. cromercrox says:

    No Powerpoint here, folks – these men are captivating in and of themselves – now, that’s a blog post all on its own.

    I don’t shoot anything these days except on my iPhone, so gone are the days when I was battling apertures and shutter speeds. However, I am always fascinated by the sports photographers I see when I visit Carrow Road to see Norwich City play. My seat is right down on the touchline, so I see these people close up. They have to shoot subjects that are a long way away (so max telephoto) but moving quickly (so rapid shutter speed). The result is those humungous lenses that look like space rockets and cost £££ with specs such as f2 and 3000mm.

  2. rpg says:

    Nice work.

    Men’s conventions are an interesting beast. We should have a drink sometime because as you say, this isn’t the place.

  3. ricardipus says:

    Thanks, both.

    @Henry – I’ve never shot field sports before but I can imagine how tricky it is. Those monster lenses show up at the racetrack too, of course. Most of my photos at this event were taken with a very short (35mm) but very fast (f/1.8 maximum) lens. I’d love to own a longer, fast lens (a 70-200mm f/2.8, or a 300mm f/2.8 would be nice) but as you might expect, $$$ are lacking.

    And I’ve seen stunning photos taken with iPhones. The old gear vs. hands debate again… in the right hands, the gear doesn’t matter.

    @rpg – long overdue. But you knew that already. 🙂

  4. Beautiful photos, Richard.

  5. Heather says:

    Very interesting. I think it’s good and healthy to take oneself out of one’s comfort zone on occasion. Incidentally, that’s why I even bother forays onto Isis’ blog (especially when she goes out of her way to be insulting to friends). No, but really, I thought your insight into this other world – and there are so many other worlds – was welcome, and friendly, and a good read. Thanks!

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