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Mon, 03 Jul 2006
Shooting Gnomedex

When Chris and Ponzi asked if I would take photographs of Gnomedex for them, I had about the same reaction that as if someone asked me to photograph their wedding: "Are you sure"?! Doing a good job of photographing a conference is hard work, and having watched my friend James Duncan Davidson do it, I know how much work it is, and the level of pictures that someone like James is producing. In the end, they assured me that they were not looking for "O'Reilly quality" photographs, and I promised them that I would do my best. Here's my Flickr set for Gnomedex 6.0, which contains (what I think) are the best of the photographs that I took.

It's a very different experience to be just running around a conference with a camera, and being on the hook to try and really record what is going on. You don't want to miss anything, and you want to make sure that the photos that you take don't portray people in an unflattering light. Practically, this means lots of running around and moving round the room to try to get different angles and magnifications of people. During the course of the pre-party and the two days of Gnomedex, I shot a total of 1578 frames, and by the end of the show, I was totally pooped out. It turns out that camera equipment is heavy if it is in your hand all day.

Of course, there are also benefits. If you are walking around with a "big camera", along with an external flash, and a monopod, people are very accomodating. Lots of people stopped to let me get a shot, I leaned over many desks, stood on chairs and countertops, and no one said a word. I also got access to some things that other people didn't like private photo ops with John Edwards in the green room.

There was also a fun community thing that happened. It turned out that one of the best places to shoot was right down in front, in the aisle. That spot turned into a little hangout for the photo crazies at Gnomedex. Scott Beale, who I finally met in person, wisely set up his base camp right in the front row, so he had a seat and full access to his computer. Kris Krug was down there often, although sometimes it felt lik he was spending more time shooting me than shooting the stage. Dan Farber also came down quite a number of times to grab some shots.

A couple of anecdotes from the photographer's view. When Edwards came out on stage, there was a huge burst of flashes. The burst was very visible from where I was in the front row. After that died down, people in the front row were probably deafened by the sound of Scott, Kris, me, and the official Seattle PI photographer. It was click, click, click, click. It was pretty funny.

Ironically, the most likely to be remembered shot was not taken by Kris, Scott, or me. When Chris went into his Michael Jackson routine, all of us were using fairly long lenses, and focusing in just on Chris. I don't know about Scott or Kris, but I couldn't see the "Think Small" text on the screen behind Chris. But Josh Bancroft saw it, and he got the shot and piped it up via his EVDO connection. Just goes to show that it's not the equipement that makes the shot. I'd guess that Josh is pretty glad that he "caved" and got a new camera.
For Speakers

James has already written a great essay giving speakers tips on being photographed well. I would add a few more things.

  • Move away from the podium - being stuck behind the podium seriously reduces the number of decent looking angles that a photographer can use.
  • Don't move too fast - conferences are held in dark rooms, and the cameras stretched really far.
  • Take your hands out of your pockets - It is really hard to make you look good when your hands are in your pockets.

At Gnomedex there were a few speakers who were just exceptionally easy to photograph. For those speakers, I had lots of great shots - it made it hard to pick just one. For speakers at the other end, even though I shot many pictures, it was really hard to get even one shot that was flattering.

For photo geeks

When you shoot 1500 frames, post-processing and flickring them become an issue. I ripped out an enormous number of shots -- I shot an entire 1GB card (110 RAW frames) of John Edwards alone. I think that there is something that needs to improve in my technique, because I've watched James and he clicks a lot, but I don't think he's clicking as much as I am. Seems like I am using brute force to solve the problem here. Everything about this experience has given me even more respect for James than I already had.

As far as post processing goes, Aperture got the nod, and did admirably. I am pretty sure that there are still a few ways that I can streamline my workflow, but I was mostly happy. The only source of unhappiness has to do with the way that versions and ratings interact. I created an new Aperture project with sub albums for each day of Gnomedex (if there's a next time, parties get their own albums too). Then I used ratings to help me get to the set of pictures that I was going to post. The problem is that sometimes there were pictures that needed an adjustment before I could tell whether they'd move to the next level. I discovered that when you create a new version, the ratings aren't coupled between the versions, at least when you are working in an album. In any case, this needs some serious manual reading to get to the bottom of it.

I've been using the Yahoo/Flickr uploader since I switched to Aperture. Oh how I miss Fraser Speir's IPhoto Flickr Export! One night I had the Flickr uploader crashing all over the place on me. I think it has something to do with the program not being native for Intel, or the PPC emulator getting confused. It caused major pain. Here are some features that the ideal uploader would have:

  • Be Universal
  • Be fast
  • Allow me to arrange the pictures into the order they will appear, even if I add new pictures (before I upload the batch)
  • Setting the title and description and licensing as a batch operation
  • Description "footers' so you could do things like "Attribute to Ted Leung"
  • Let me navigate with a keyboard
  • Complete tags using my tag set from flickr
  • Upload on a schedule and in batches. A few people that I talked to just hooked their cameras up and uploaded the entire contents of their memory cards, which buries everyone who came before. I'd like to see a way for me to upload a big batch in smaller chunks and spread out over a period of time -- but I want to set that all up at once and then walk away from the computer

Thanks again to Chris and Ponzi for the opportunity to do this. I'm glad to see that people are using the shots.

[21:45] | [photography] | # | TB | F | G | 7 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

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