Beakerhead – My Sophomore Experience

My first year as a member of the Beakerhead photo team was such an amazing experience that Beakerhead 2014 hadn’t even ended before I decided I’d volunteer again this year.

LRT-nightThe first meeting of potential members of the 2015 photo crew took place way back in February. Three things became obvious over the course of the evening:

  1. Larger crew – One guy did most of the photography for Beakerhead 2013 – Neil Zeller. He was the obvious choice to head the 2014 photo team of about a dozen creatives. Under Neil’s continuing leadership, the 2015 crew grew to twenty photographers plus 2 videographers. With 62 events to photograph over 5 days, every member of the crew was busy during Beakerhead 2015.
  2. Peer-to-peer support – Most members of the photo crew are professional photographers. From the first orientation session right through to the end of Beakerhead, they freely shared tips, tricks and tools with others in the group. There was a wonderful sense of camaraderie, not competition over who could get the best shot. And when I think about it, that kind of generous behaviour is entirely consistent with the fact that every member of the crew volunteers time, equipment and talent to showcase Beakerhead to the rest of the world.
  3. Other support – In 2014, members of the photo team were also the social media team, with some backup from the Beakerhead secretariat. This year, we had support from a social media crew. At some of the events I photographed, I just passed my images off to the assigned member of the social media crew who took it from there. Where this wasn’t the case, I’d send photos to the cloud where they were picked up by a member of the social media crew.

Rothney-ObservatoryBetween the February orientation and the first day of Beakerhead in September, the photo crew met two more times: a night photography workshop at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory and a final meeting to pick up our media credentials, ask any last questions, etc.

Beakerhead ran Wednesday, September 16 through Sunday, September 20 and featured something like 65 events/installations. My assignment list included 13 of those events/installations, including one with 5 distinct locations and a couple that I visited more than once over the 5 days.

Favourite Assignments

I was way outside my usual subject material for my first assignment during Beakerhead 2015. Bail Out A Bot took place in a downtown shopping complex and included demonstrations, opportunities for audience participation, and some cool robots. The two biggest challenges for me were a) finding the right trade-off between shutter speed and noise and b) framing things to eliminate as much background clutter as possible. Looking back, it’s a good thing I was given this assignment on Day 1, because on Day 2 I was back to photograph the second round of Bail Out A Bot – with the added element of special guest Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques! This turned out to be one of my favourite events to photograph. David Saint-Jacques was so interested in what the students had to say, and he had just enough awareness of my camera that he’d look my way just frequently enough that I got some great shots!

Another assignment that I really enjoyed was called How to Stay Upright – By Juggling presented by Dr. Peter Nichol, a cardiologist from Canmore. I already subscribe to a lot of what he said about healthy aging and it was fascinating to hear about the balance, core strength and neuroplasticity benefits of taking up juggling. Despite giving similar talks several times now, he didn’t have a photo showing him presenting and I was happy to remedy that by sending by sending him copies of a few that I took that afternoon.

Rounding out my top three favourite assignments is the Atari Punk Synth workshop, mainly because I persuaded my youngest son to register and one of his friends, too. So it was a shared-with-family Beakerhead experience! And the participants really got involved in what they were doing, yet were generous in suspending their work for photographs. It was a joy to watch them as, one after the other, they finished wiring the parts and started producing sounds.

Biggest Opportunities for Improving my (Beakerhead) Photography

My primary regret is that I didn’t spend more time doing low light photography between Beakerhead 2014 and Beakerhead 2015. I realized last time around that my micro four thirds camera (which is so great for carrying on hikes) is really pushed to the limits at low light events. I fought it through the entire first half of the Rock n Roll History of Space Exploration, finally remembered Neil’s admonishment from last year (shoot the highlights) and came away with some better images from the second half.

Rock n Roll History of Space Exploration, featuring Jay Ingram and the Cosmonauts, Cow Town Opera singers and Clara Venice

The second thing I need to practice is portrait-type photography. I was charged with photographing sponsors during the VIP reception before the Rock n Roll History of Space Exploration and another one of my assignments was a sponsor photo shoot at the Fabulist. Giving direction, while watching out for unwanted things poking into the frame and posing people are all skills I should practice before Beakerhead 2016.

And speaking of Beakerhead 2016, I’ll be putting my hand up to volunteer again. It’s a great opportunity to see and do cool stuff, push myself as a photographer and to work with (and learn from) a team of very talented people. And it’s a great way to have the chance to make photos like these…

My Sophomore Beakerhead Experience by the Numbers:

  • 13 events/installations;
  • 1000+ photographs;
  • 11 LRT rides, 4 vehicle trips and 110,000 steps walked to travel to/between events.

4 thoughts on “Beakerhead – My Sophomore Experience

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