London Planning Awards – a photography case study

The 2013 London Planning Awards were held at City Hall next to Tower Bridge and as a supplier to one of the sponsors London First I was commissioned to cover not just the presentations but also the receptions before and after the event.
they need. Every venue is different and City Hall is no exception with its large central meeting chamber, a mine field of mixed lighting sources and day light.As a regular supplier to London First I have built up a relationship where the client now understands with the long experience I have of events that I am going to get the shots

Preparation and understanding of location

What also was apparent was the timing of the event would be during the quickest changes in daylight at dusk, therefore depending too much on the natural light coming through the vast glass structure would not only be a mistake in the terms of light levels but also the change in the colour balance of the images.

These are all the basic things a good photographer should be able to calculate for, unfortunately so many of the new breed have been brought up on camera auto colour balance and exposure their skill levels lack in this direction.

So, having achieved a colour balance and general exposure I could expect to remain constant from the stage lighting. I had five minutes to spare before the need to be up on the 9th floor for the reception and decided to take advantage of the time to try and capture the interior helical staircase of London City Hall, a brilliant design feature by Sir Norman Foster that seems to hang unsuspended for it’s entire length of nine floors, after all this was the Architectural Design Awards for London so I thought the client might appreciate my take on the subject matter!

London Planning AwardsWith the widest lens available and the light levels just reaching that perfect balance between daylight and dusk I achieved another shot I’m proud to include in my folio.

Pre Awards Reception

On to the reception, as the guests started to arrive there were the usual mixture of new bright young things excited to be at the event and the more mature establishment. It’s always interesting to see in any industry, trade or business group as a professional watcher of people it’s easy to spot the celebrities, power players and the climbers. Subtle differences in shoe quality, thickness of soles, the sit of a shirt collar and knot of tie all are helpful indicators for a professional photographer who has to get into a room and quickly pick out the important pictures, this is one of the benefits of experience.

The pre-reception was handled in my usual manner of a mix of fly on the wall images for groups deep in conversation and drawing others into shots to camera where it was easy to start a conversation.

A good event photographer has to be able to talk to anyone duchess or dustman, princess or army private.  Another skill learned through experience and one where one must have the natural skills of being a good listener and interested in people generally, two of my overriding natural skills.

Our guest of honor was Boris Johnson, Major of London, a character larger than life who can be unpredictable but also magic for offering those photographic gems that can lift an event out of the ordinary.

The Award Ceremony

The ceremony got underway and all my lighting predictions proved to be right, I’d secured a position in the front row to get a good shot of the speakers at the lectern with the screen text placed just at the right angle behind, sometimes these sort of second guesses work perfectly as in this case but at others you can have to very quickly change position when a speaker decides he’d rather speak free roving across a stage! Being a corporate event photographer is not for the shy or faint hearted.

I had been instructed on this particular occasion that the actual awards would not be interrupted for pictures on the stage at each presentation but that the preferred images would be posed to camera after the ceremony, award winner, Boris Johnson and the prize sponsor. This would have to be done quickly, efficiently and with the least fuss possible – no pressure then!

Sometimes event organisers can be far more nervous about the occasion than myself who is having to produce the goods and sometimes my job is to feed them with confidence, which is of course something I’m good at otherwise I wouldn’t be used at so many of the major London venues and Royal Palaces for both celebrity and VIP events.

The ceremony went fine with Boris being his usual flamboyant self, giving some great photo opportunities. The ceremony was over and it was my turn to jump into action changing from reportage photographer to image choreographer!

In these situations you have a lot of people moving from their seats wanting to congratulate friends and colleagues or get a private word in with the celebrity, it is important to take control immediately having got agreement from the organiser.

The Group shots

I quickly steered Boris and the first sponsor towards where I wanted them left and centre of the designated background with all the sponsors names on it and was chuffed to bits that the first winners, whose names I had on a list as the event organiser had already provided me with.

As a corporate event photographer one has to have a voice that carries, not necessarily be shouting but good projection is important. It’s also important to remember the groups photographed are normally a mix of excited people and those who just want to go and have a drink with their friends so a slightly larger than life projection of one’s personality helps to keep their attention. Make it fun and make it quick and the job gets done to a clients satisfaction, the technical skills are taken for granted.

I am pleased to say I rolled through the group shots like a steam train each group I called for the people came reasonably quickly or the event organiser had got the groups together, working like a team with your event organiser must be the goal of every event photographer, building up the confidence and trust between the two of you results in the best results always.

The last group shot of everyone

The finally was a group shot of all the winners on the stage with Boris Johnson, a group of about 50 that needed to be organized quickly, that had to have all the faces in and preferably everybody looking happily to camera. At this point I move into full performer mode, I’m up and down the line of 4 the deep group getting the shorter one’s or those trying to hide into a visible position. Taking full advantage of the two steps up to the stage to add height variations to the group.

When organised it’s up on a chair to get a little extra height, continually talking to keep their attention while the brain is actually thinking at a silent level about framing, exposure and light balance levels, checking all corners of the frame for any unwanted element that might interfere with the desired image. Once 4-5 exposures were taken a couple to really make them smile holding the camera above my head not even using the viewfinder and the job is done!

Then comes the best compliment of the night, Boris booms out “Well done Mr Photographer, a very slick and efficient job! Many thanks”. Luckily it was within earshot of my client – another satisfied client!

Copyright Brian Russell BRD Associates

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