Event Photography is demanding, hectic and often riddled with changes of plan - the 'live' tv version of shoots. Throw into the mix the addition of timelapse and you've got a whirlwind of chaos. The key to success here is control and that comes with planning.
I'd been to The Photography Show in 2014 and spent a couple of days there putting in the miles and basically dribbling over kit and one year later, I found myself with the task of shooting a timelapse video of the build and the first day of affairs.
The 2014 show was split over a couple of halls at the NEC in Birmingham but this year was bigger and better and luckily for me, was all self-contained in the biggest area, Hall 5.
A shoot on this scale has many challenges, the main one being is that you never really know what's going to happen. As many plans and drawings you get to see, timings change, orders can change and just when you've set up your intricate track shot and pressed go, a great big scissor lift needs access to your spot.
So how do you overcome this?
Planning and Control
It's a simple solution to a complex situation: One Camera. When I say one camera, you're not limited to one camera but for this situation, I used a single, fixed camera for the duration of the shoot for my 'control'.
Now some of you may have already seen the video and are wondering what the hell I'm going on about when I clearly used more than one camera. When I'm talking about my 'control' camera, it's a shot I can cut in and out of in the edit - it's always the same angle - my 'wide angle shot' and it's often used throughout to show progress. It's known in tv circles as a covering wide.
In a similar fashion to stories where they have a start middle and end, my control camera will capture everything from start to end and the viewer will recognise this shot throughout so there's no need to 'explain' it in the edit. It's also useful if the client also just wants a single shot for their marketing material of the whole event.
Planning wise, I'd seen the floorplans so had a rough idea of where everything was going and would spend three days capturing the build and one day shooting the opening day of the event. I was in touch with the site managers and without pestering them too much, I felt it was best to ask the contractors on an individual basis as to what was being built next so I could capture it with my motion control rigs. It's kind of like run-and-gun shooting, but on a much slower, timelapse scale!
Out of all my long-term camera rigs, I've got to say that this was the simplest and most trouble-free of them all. I turned up on a Tuesday afternoon to be greeted by a team of sparks and a couple of riggers with a cherry picker, coiled like springs and ready for action.
A lot of people, I thought, for a single camera but no complaints from me! I whacked my trusty 12-24mm Sigma on a Canon 5D II and up I went sixteen metres into the air to rig the wide shot.
The camera was powered by mains and having spent a few minutes aligning the shot exactly in the centre (I'm going through somewhat of a Wes Anderson phase at the minute), I calculated the intervals based on a nearly full card for the duration and pressed go.
For exposure levels, it was still daylight on a sunny day and all the lights were on so I slightly underexposed in Manual knowing that I had plenty of headroom should every stand decide to include it's own lightshow, just in case.
The difficulty with shooting indoors with a combination of external light and a mixture of lights inside is white balance but as I was shooting raw, I could deal with this in the edit in Lightoom.
Have you ever watched a television program recently that's been shot with a single camera that doesn't move and stays in a fixed position throughout? I'm guessing no unless it's something 'arty' but very rare. Why? Boredom. I see this all the time with long-term timelapses and although there's some merit to seeing change and watching things develop, they're either too long or uninteresting, especially with today's attention-lacking, fast-paced society.
The average shot length in a film was 12 seconds in 1930, down to just 2.5 seconds in 2010 so to keep people's attention, I'd always advise at least two cameras on every shoot I undertake at an event. To spice things up, the majority of the shots from my second camera would be motion-control to add a bit of movement.
This, however, is no easy task and it was a task to be undertaken over three days. On the Wednesday morning I set about gathering shots. There's a very fine line between quality and quantity as you need enough shots to make the edit interesting but also be able to capture enough time to show some change.
Picking a decent spot
One thing to bear in mind here is that there are a couple of hundred workers erecting the various stands and it's a busy situation. You want to be amongst the action but you also don't want to be in people's way as we've all got work to do.
Luckily for me my experience in dodging the crowds of tourists whilst shooting in London helped a great deal here and having the foresight of knowing what may happen because the last thing you want is to set up and find out halfway through your shot that you'll have to move.
What I do first is pick a spot, stand there for a good five minutes and just watch the activity. To the bystander, I'm chilling out but what I'm actually doing is looking to see what will give me the rage should I have to move mid-shot. Most exhibitions will work to a grid system with parallel walkways that are very busy with rubbish collection, people moving kit around and the odd forklift or cherry picker. so if you do set up here, be sure not to block it and keep to the edges. On the other hand, you don't want to dump yourself in an area where something will be built so ask as many people as possible to get a view of what's going on.
I'd recently taken delivery of eMotimo's cart system and was itching to test it out on this shoot. Due to my eMotimo pan and tilt head being used on another shoot, I adapted this to be used with the Dynamic Perception Stage R unit and NMX controller. I used a slightly larger 12V battery on this otherwise it would have been front heavy because of where I'd rigged the camera.
Setting up the cart was a lot of fun as I had to scrap any plan of being out of the way as I was travelling between 10 and 20m per shot! Every shot from the dolly was down to luck and a few polite 'excuse me's' along the way!
The other thing to create interest is to rig the camera to something that moves and there was plenty of this around - the cherry picker, the rubbish cart whizzing around all day and also on top of a flight case which I pushed around for 30 minutes.
I'd seen this stand last year and intrigued at their kit I got chatting to the guys about their tripods. When buying kit I'm a loyal customer and generally tend to stick to one manufacturer for life if the kit works. Since I started out, I've always been a Manfrotto man but at the show I was blessed by the good folk at 3 Legged Thing and was given 'Frank' and an Airhead 2 to have a play with.
I've got to say I'm very impressed with the tripod which has since accompanied me to Morocco and a few other shoots and I love it's versatility. Actually, scrap that. I'm actually in love with it. Sorry Manfrotto. Does a lightweight carbon fibre tripod stand up to the timelapse test? Review on it's way...
I'd agreed to edit my shots on a daily basis so the shots could be broadcast along with other material at the show. I'd also agreed to have a final timelapse edit done by Sunday night which meant not a lot of sleep which I'm pretty accustomed to now.
I'd finish shooting every day at around six in the evening, open the laptop, copy the files to a drive then import them into Lightroom. I'd then render the stills overnight then awake early at around 4am to then render the stills into videos. I'd then drive back to the NEC and do it all over again!
On the final day of shooting on Saturday I de-rigged the camera from the roof, got back around 7pm then pretty much ran through the night rendering, deflickering and then cutting the shots together. By around 4pm on Sunday I drove back to the NEC with coffee now replacing my blood and presented my wares. Given a bit more time there's a few things I would have changed with the edit but it went down well!