Beakerhead 2018

Even after five years on the volunteer photo crew, Beakerhead never fails to delight, impress and challenge me! Through a growing network of local and international artists, scientists, engineers and other creatives, the annual program of events and installations has something for everyone – much of it free!

Beginning with my first year on the photo crew (also my first go at event photography), I’ve made a practice of showcasing a handful of my favourite photographs, sharing what I learned over the course of five jam-packed days and identifying aspects of my photography practice to improve over the coming year. For example, I’ve developed some basic competence with on-camera flash, entirely motivated by my Beakerhead photo crew participation.

What stands out for me about my 2018 experience?

1. Teamwork! As a member of a larger crew, it’s not always on you to get the shot. So there’s not as much stress as there is when you’re the sole event photographer. That makes the whole thing more fun. And it encourages creativity, knowing if your approach doesn’t work out, the team will still produce a portfolio of fantastic photographs. I took advantage of this creative license to carry a second camera fitted with the Lensbaby Sol 22 tilt-shift, sweet spot lens – too gimmicky to use for every shot on every assignment, but a great option in some circumstances.

beakerhead-sextant-tesla-coils

Thanks to consistently damp weather, the Sextant Tesla Coils operated somewhat sporadically during Beakerhead. Fortunately, those of us who went out on preview night with the Beakerhead astronaut were on hand to photograph the initial test run after the installation was set up. For this shot, I mounted Lensbaby’s new Sol 22 tilt shift with sweet spot, to really emphasize the purple lightning bolt and purple lights on the Calgary Tower.

2. Pay attention to the speakers and attendees and ask questions. You learn interesting stuff about the event or installation that may spark an idea for a photograph that reflects the thinking behind the piece. Plus, you never know who you’ll meet, like the afternoon I met Dale Leckie (author of Rocks, Ridges, and Rivers: Geological Wonders of Banff, Yoho, and Jasper National Parks) at a workshop I was assigned to photograph.

beakerhead-writing-about-awe

I was the sole photographer assigned to a couple of the speaker events this year, including “Writing About Awe” at the CSpace Project. I concentrated on getting lots of candid people shots, including this discussion between three writers. The guy in the center is Dale Leckie, geologist and author a recently self-published book that fits with our adventures out and about in the Canadian Rockies. I hope to run into him on the trail one day, preferably when I’m carrying my copy of “Rocks, Ridges, and Rivers” so I can have him sign it.

3. Even published schedules change, so keep your phone in a pocket where you can feel it vibrate to be sure you receive notifications from whatever messaging app your team is using. For example, I was at Fort Calgary on the Friday evening for an event that had nothing to do with being a member of the photo crew. But I had one camera/lens with me and when I saw the message that a mash-up of five local bands was going to be playing at Beakerbar for one evening only, I stuck around long enough to come away with a few photos. It was my first time photographing a band concert, so there’s definitely room for improvement. But the team got something! 🙂

beakerhead-local-music-lab

When I first joined the Beakerhead photo crew five years ago, I would have hung out at the back of the tent, taking a few bad photos over the heads in the crowd. This year, I was at Fort Calgary for another event when a bit of an urgent call for any member of the photo crew to cover this special event: an arts experiment that brought together beloved Calgary indie-bands and musicians Windigo, 36?, The Ashley Hundred, Laura Hickli and others for one “supergroup” show. I love the show of emotion from the percussionist! It was a fun, first experience photographing a live band performance and I’d definitely do it again.

4. Expect bad weather. In 2017, heavy rain made for challenging conditions on day 1, but it also made for some of the best reflection photographs. In 2018, fog and mist added to the challenge (think blown-out daytime skies and orange light-pollution night skies), but drops of fine mist on a camera lens also makes for lovely bokeh. And yes, it was cold enough for Beakernight that I wore long johns under my fleece-lined pants, about 5 layers on top, a toque, mittens and doubled-down on the Little Hotties hand warmers!

pulse-and-bloom

I had the good luck of being at Fort Calgary for something else, with a few minutes to pop outside to photograph this interactive sculpture. I framed it carefully to get a couple of flares, and that took just long enough that some of the atmospheric mist hit my lens and produced a lovely, unexpected bokeh.

5. Some images should be re-processed after it’s all over. It’s always a mad rush to download, cull, process and upload the 15-20 “best” photos from each event. Delivery within hours is strongly preferred. But after it’s all over and I’ve had time to catch up on my sleep, I like to make another quick pass through all of my current year Beakerhead photos to see if there are any that I could take in a completely different direction, like this one of Notorious B.A.D. by local creative team True North Absurdities.

 

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It was a pleasure to meet/chat with one of the creatives behind this installation, recently seen at Burning Man and back in Calgary in time for Beakerhead. I went way beyond my usual editing for this one, replacing a dreary, crooked, partial city skyline with an amazing Calgary sunset form 2013, with a view to portraying a dragon in flight.

Final Thoughts

Heading into year five, I did wonder if I’d feel that volunteering for the same thing five years in a row would feel like enough. But it’s never actually the same thing…the events are different, the installations are fresh and there’s always some aspect of my photography practice where I end up way outside my zone of experience. That alone is enough to motivate me to put my hand up for next year. And between now and then I’ll seek opportunities to refine my practice around speaker event and flash photography (not something I typically use for my nearby nature project).

Are you a long-term volunteer for some event or organization? What motivates you to keep contributing this way?

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