Volunteering for the Traverse City Film Festival has been one of the most rewarding ways to spend all of my spare waking-hours for nine days in the summer. As a photographer, I get to float from venue to venue to events and parties all week. Between musicians, movie introductions, Q&A sessions, and Cinema Salons, there is always something to shoot. This exciting week in Traverse City happens at the end of July every year. You can learn more about this festival on their website here: www.tcff.org
This was my second consecutive year photographing the TCFF. I shot the festival a few years back, but I just didn’t have adequate gear. I’ve learned a lot over the past twenty years of shooting, but I’ve learned more just by getting out and shooting the festival than I ever would have on my own. The main criterion for this year’s photography was to focus on the human aspects of the festival – how we interact, how the films make us better just for watching them, how we are all connected as creators, volunteers, and patrons, by this invisible thread of humanity.
I shot with my Canon 6D – and mainly my 85mm f/1.8 USM lens, supplementing that with my 50mm f/1.8 STM lens, and my 24-105mm f/4 L series lens. I found that I was typically in a position where the 85mm lens was giving me the best field of view – when I was right in front of the stage – and also when I stood toward the backs of the theaters. I also realized that that is the nicest of my two fast lenses. The 50mm was a great buy at $125 because it made me realize that I love shooting at that focal length. It is so similar to a natural field of view that it immediately became my favorite lens. It wasn’t until I compared its image quality with that of the 85mm that I realized that it just didn’t hit the mark. It’s a great cheap lens – I love it for candid family shots and when I’m trying to pack as light as possible – but it isn’t giving me the quality I need for professional shots. So, I ordered the 50mm f/1.4 USM lens (I didn’t get it until after the festival – but it’s a beaut!). I used my 24-105 when I felt that movement was going to be unpredictable and I’d need to be able to zoom my lens instead of move my feet – and also to get some wide angle shots (funny how I like wide angle shots less and less).
I shot as many events as I could all week long. I didn’t take a break from my regular job – so I would shoot before work, on my lunch break, and then hit a few events each evening too. I met some celebrities, listened to many great discussions and thoughtful questions from the audience, chatted with lots of out-of-towners and fellow volunteers, felt the reactions of the crowds through my lens, and did my best to capture the human element of the festival. I didn’t go into the festival trying to win anything – I didn’t last year either – but maybe that is what brought me luck. I just concentrated on actively shooting great images of the festival and all of the people involved and because of the consistency of the quality of my images, I won the TCFF Photography Award for volunteer photographers.
Here is my advice for volunteering your time as a photographer for an event:
1. Wear comfortable shoes. This is a rule for life in general!
2. Bring water and a snack. Sometimes you won’t have time for a break. Be like a Girl Scout. Be prepared.
4. Clean your gear, dump (and format) your cards, and charge your batteries. Treat this like a photo job – be a professional.
5. Make sure you’re keeping your commitment reasonable. I never do – but that is what keeps the event exciting for me – covering as much as humanly possible and arriving for all of my assignments on time. If there are other reliable photographers on your team, it helps make things less stressful. TCFF has a great crew – see all of the photo contributions from this and past years here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tcfilmfest/albums/
6. Be a tourist. Try out some new place you’ve been meaning to – and talk to some people you’ve never seen before. Do some exploring in your own town – you’ll probably be surprised to find some new favorite places. Find time to enjoy yourself.
7. Remember: You are capturing moments. Some moments are meant to be private and should be kept that way. Pay some respect to your subjects – even if you don’t know them or what their situation is. If you have a chance to talk to them – do. You might learn something about them that will help you decide which image best represents them in the moments you chose to capture. This gives me a feeling of authenticity in the images I share.
See My TCFF 2017 Gallery Here
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