Event Photography – World Wetlands Day 2019

We were asked by the Woodland and Wetlands Trust to capture some social photographs at their World Wetlands Day (WWD) event. This event commemorates the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention), signed in Ramsar, Iran on the 2nd February 1971. World Wetlands Day aims to raise public awareness on the value and benefits of the world’s wetlands, along with promoting conservation activities worldwide.

man holding Diamond python

This was the first event we’d photographed together and we hadn’t been to previous WWD’s before so didn’t really know what to expect. We carefully studied the hand drawn map of stallholders and planned our method of attack. It was an overcast rainy looking Saturday morning which we thought would affect the turnout. This all went completely out the window as the clouds had cleared to a sunny, humid afternoon by the time the event kicked off at 4pm. Our first stop was at the Trust’s tent to pick up a stack of photo release forms from the communications officer. You see there was a tiny hitch, so the Trust could use our photos on their social media and share them with OutInCanberra we had to have signed permission from everyone who could be identified in each photograph. So, with forms in hand, pens and cameras at the ready we set off.

boy looking at snake in glass enclosure
A young Harry Potter fan?

We felt completely out of our depth straight away and headed for some familiar territory – the reptile display! Here two stall holders from the Canberra Reptile Zoo (Reptiles Inc.) watched over a bunch of different scaled creatures as kids scampered between displays trying to pat everything they could. It was quite warm so the reptiles were all very active. Two Water pythons reared up and snaked their heads around as children approached their glass enclosure. The Diamond python, wrapped around one of the stallholders, kept trying to make a break for it, heading up his head in an attempt to climb up to the marquee tent above. The goanna was a hit with the kids as it kept digging up the AstroTurf and tipping over the fake rock in its enclosure. After a few shots of the animals to feel comfortable again (and who wouldn’t want to get a shot of the snake with its tongue out?!) we stepped back to get some photos of the kids interacting with the animals. Mitch had chosen to shoot with a wide angle while I was using my macro (which I haven’t brought myself to take off my camera since getting it last month).

child reaching to pat diamond python
Maybe the wrong spot to pat

The reptiles were very popular, we’re not sure how but every kid that came up seemed to have a goal to pat all the reptiles in the display as quickly as they could. Needing a change of scene, we headed off to see the firemen as we kept hearing them sounding the alarm on their truck. After a quick chat we coaxed both of them out of the shade for a quick portrait. It only took one comment about them posing very naturally to hear a story about them being involved in a tasteful nude photography project. Somehow, I think every firefighter might have one of these stories.

two fireman lean on the front of their fire truck
You think they’ve done this before?

We kept hearing about the bees and were welcomed by the friendly and very funny ACT Bee Association. We were quickly given some honey to try (very good!) and while I ducked down to take some macro shots of the bees on display Mitch disappeared. The next time I looked up I saw him wearing a full beekeepers costume, including head protection and telling me we were going on a tour of the hives. So off we went with a few others, the whole time I felt very under dressed in a T-shirt and shorts. We were shown a number of different hives, including some belonging to native bees and different shapes where you could lift the lid or remove a section of the hive box to see inside. It was getting later in the day so we had some nice warm light to shoot in by this time but it was still very bright. Mitch took this as a challenge and decided to shoot bees in the shade with a person in a white beekeeper costume standing in full sun. A few tweaks in Lightroom and it came up quite nice. This was a good reminder to underexpose shots in tricky situations, we find it easier to keep as much detail in the brighter areas as possible and bring the shadows out in post processing.

beehive with beekeeper in background
beekeeper checking hive
Full suit, no gloves

Gaining confidence in asking people to sign the release forms we decided we were ready to attempt some photos at the face painting tent. After Mitch gained a few parents’ permission we began taking photos. Even though there were kids everywhere patiently waiting their turn and watching the face painting it was easy to find room to get the right angle. For the first time (ever!) I wasn’t having trouble shooting over the heads of a crowd, there probably wasn’t one kid there over six (years that is not feet). My macro lens is the Nikon 105mm, this is great for portraits as I didn’t have to get super close and could chat to one of the mum’s while waiting for the girl being painted as a lorikeet to smile. Timing is everything for these shots as we got quite a few with less than picturesque expressions because the kids talk the whole time. From our experience in animal photography we just kept being patient and waiting for the kids to smile or look the right direction (disclaimer: animals and children share no similarities…..animals are easier to work with).

girl getting her face painted blue

Smelling smoke we headed over to the Bush Tucker Garden and had a chat to one of the traditional owners. He was telling us about all the bush foods he was selling, the damper he had on the fire and the different types of bush teas we could try, all as the sun beat down. He was doing better than us, it was already very hot and being closer to the fire didn’t help, after a few photos we headed into the cooler air. By about 7pm the light was quite nice so we focused our attention on taking some general crowd photos. We’d been asked to get photos of the stallholders so Mitch was ready with his wide angle to get some great portraits of the basket weavers and the ACT Parks and Conservation mascot Gigi the Gang Gang cockatoo. Gigi was a crowd favourite, playing it up for the camera while also managing to greet any kid that happened to be passing by.

crowd watching traditional owner cook on fire

We wrapped up the evening with wide shots of the event as the sun started to dip through the clouds. An interesting challenge set by bright sunlight and shaded structures. Again, under exposing a little let us pull more detail back in post-production whilst capturing the light and the feel of the event. It was a great event involving a wide variety of people and activities which gave us an opportunity to stretch our skills in a direction we normally wouldn’t.

landscape of the event
signs for tours with crowd in background

Considerations for event photography:

  • Do you have permission? We were lucky enough to be invited to work with the Wetlands and Woodlands Trust to capture the event. This meant the stall holders were already on board before we even introduced ourselves. The only hurdle was the public, however we found introducing ourselves, handing out a business card and explaining what we were doing helped enormously.
  • Have a plan. With an idea of the layout for the event going in we had a vague idea of how and what we wanted to capture. It doesn’t need to be a plan of every image, but gives you a place to start.
  • Just ask. While you probably don’t need to put on a bee suit to get them, asking people if they can show you something in particular can give you some great opportunities.
  • Permission! Yes, this is here again. Check the laws as they relate to your country. For example, in Australia you can freely capture images of anyone in a public place. Sounds good right? However, the definition of public place by law is not your general layman’s definition. If in doubt ask permission, even if you think you don’t need it, that way you’re not the creepy person with a camera.

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