27 August 2017

Retiring from fitness event photography?


I've thought long and hard about this, and as much as I've hugely enjoyed photographing fitness events over a great many years, I think it's probably time gracefully retire from shooting them.

Over the last 15 years or so I've photographed many of the biggest and best fitness events;

Arnold Classic (Columbus, Ohio)
GNC Show of Strength (Atlanta, Georgia)
Fitness America / Bikini America / Musclemania (Miami and Los Angeles)
Miami Pro (London)
NABBA (Italy)
FAME / WNSO (Toronto)
UFE (Birmingham)
and of course WBFF (Toronto, Edmonton, & London)

The only thing missing from the list is Olympia, which although I've been to the Expo a few times, I've never quite managed to get in to shoot the competition bits.

I've fallen out with some (I spoke out about the awful organisation behind one of the first Miami Pro events), and some have simply struggled to get going over here in the UK.

Despite getting published more times than I can remember in North America (Planet Muscle, Musclemag, Oxygen, American Curves), and doing 100's of photo shoots across the pond, I've always struggled to translate that success to the UK market.

Indeed, I remember a conversation with Paul Dillett quite a few years before their first UK event saying how well I think WBFF would do in the UK, and it was (is!).

I've had the privilege of being the only photographer allowed to photograph every WBFF UK event to date (not including the 2017 Worlds), and I've enjoyed every moment of it.  Sadly though my business skills aren't quite up to standard, and I've struggled to turn the passion I have for photography into profit, which is a big part of why I think this is the right time to retire.

Who knows, hopefully it'll be a temporary retirement and I'll be back at shooting soon.

Only time will tell.




03 June 2017

Photographing Common People Southampton - Day 2

I arrived a little later on the Sunday, missing the first couple of acts.   One thing I noticed that was very different to the 80’s festivals I’m normally photographing was the crowds.  There was almost no one watching the first few acts, whereas for big crowds are always present from the start for the 80’s gigs.

Another day, and another artist late, again blaming traffic.  You’d think these creative types would at least think up a better excuse for their tardiness.   Nadia Rose had just three songs, and she didn’t stray from the front right hand side of the stage.  She stopped shortly into her third song because the next band were sound checking, and she didn’t much like it.  My guess was the band didn’t much like her performing during their scheduled sound check time either.  She tried to get them to stop, they didn’t, so she sang her song anyway.   Again I found the whole situation rather amusing.

Again the acts came and went throughout the day, as did the rain showers, thankfully clearly late afternoon.  Amy MacDonald, Black Kat Boppers, British Sea Power, Signals, and Wild Beasts.

Groove Armada played another DJ set.  I simply don’t get it as a main act...  Sure stick them on the side of the stage and let them DJ away between sets as Sam Hall (aka Goldierocks) had been doing all day.  At least she wasn’t hidden away towards the back of the stage.   Groove Armada couldn’t even be bothered with their presentation, with plug sockets showing, talking to each other, and not really seeming to give much of a damn.   I took a few snaps, and then headed out into the audience who were for the most part, apparently enjoying their act.  

Oh.

With nearly two hours to kill before the headline of Sean Paul, I bimbled around a bit, got another cup of tea, a portion of cheese chips, and generally sat politely moaning with some of the other photographers about how dull DJ sets are to photograph.

I’d never heard of Sean Paul before, although I did check him out on Youtube.   Hmm, not exactly my kind of music.   However, just because I don’t much like the music, doesn’t mean to say I can’t appreciate a good performance / show, and that Sean Paul gave.  He worked the stage brilliantly, a real showman, giving the photographers more than enough to photograph.

We only had two songs before we were ushered out.  A few of us headed out into the audience to try and get some crowd shots of the stage and light show, with the disabled access area directly next to the sound stage proving the perfect place to photograph from. 

By the time I arrived home at around 22:30 I could still hear Sean through my bedroom window, the sound, and the ultra heavy bass travelled.

It had been a good two days, actually I lie, it had been a great two days!  Much fun, and not a hint of any of the problems the negative reviews from last year had mentioned.

This was the first time I’d used my newly acquired Fujifilm X-T1 with 40-150mm f2.8 lens in anger at any kind of music event, and I was a little unsure how it would handle, or how long the battery might last.

The only problem I had was my memory card (Sandisk Ultra 80mb/s) weren’t up to the job, and I kept hitting the buffer limit which caused the camera to freeze up for what seemed like hours, but was really only a few seconds.  This has never been a problem before, but I was shooting RAW+JPG which meant much bigger file sizes than I was used to with my Olympus.  I found a slighter faster card (Sandisk Extreme 90mb/s) which was better.  I’ve already purchased a couple of UHS-II cards (Lexar Professional 150mb/s).

The X-T1 isn’t the ideal camera for fast action.  The focus system is a little slow, and I know that the updated X-T2 would be much better, but that’ll have to wait until I’ve saved up for a while.

I wasn’t sure about the battery life, and I had a bag full of extra batteries.  I didn’t have to worry though, as they lasted rather well.  I had to change the battery in the grip of my X-T1 just once on day 1, and on day 2 they lasted for the whole day.  Obviously they’ll never last as long as a DSLR battery, but yeh, I was impressed.

What I did like, and this was quite refreshing, was the quality of the JPG’s straight out of camera (SOOC).  I’ve never not processed RAW files from any concert before, and it was a revelation, not to mention a huge time saver when you have 700 images to get through.

I will still be shooting in RAW and messing around with processing them as and when necessary.  The extra detail they hold can at times save an image, but if the JPG’s are this good (everything I’ve posted here is SOOC) then why make work for yourself?

















02 June 2017

Photographing Common People Southampton - Day 1

When I was told my photography pass for Common People Southampton as confirmed, I actually wasn’t sure whether to be happy or a little bit worried.  You see, I’d read some pretty bad reviews of last years event, not about the music, but the security and the way a minority of the crowd had behaved.

Also, the lineup was, full of artists I’d never heard of, except for a DJ called Pete Tong..  A DJ with an orchestra, I mean how good could that be?

With the event happening just 5 minutes drive away from home, it’s the perfect location for me.   Getting in on day one was easy, I was there early, and picked up my wrist bands from the box office, and then my pit pass from the press area backstage.  There was a small press tent with a scattering of tables and chairs, power, and wifi.

After sweet talking the lady with the tea and coffee stand into giving me a deal, I spent most of the day either shooting from the pit (audience and stage), or lurking around the VIP area.

Photographing was made that bit tougher because of the 7 foot high stage, and lots of lights with black plastic bags over them (presumably for the headline act much later in the day).

The time keeping and stage management couldn’t be faulted, although the same couldn’t be said of one of the acts, Stefflon Don, who was late, blaming traffic.   They let her play a shortened set, but turned off the sound when she tried to play an extra song (one assumes she was told to get off after 2 songs?).  It amused me. 

The acts came and went, some good, some, let's just say not exactly to my tastes.   Becky Hill, Kassassin Street, Loyle Carner and Tom Odell.   The highlight for me was Elvana, which on paper sounded terrible, “an Elvis fronted Nirvana”, but the lead singer was utterly brilliantly bonkers.  Top entertainment.

The same couldn't be said of the DJ set by Faithless.   An hour of music from someone who occasionally pointed into the air, hidden away towards the back of the stage.   Yeh, I simply didn’t get it.

Finally on day one was the headline act of Pete Tong and a 65 piece orchestra.   The lights were set, and there were oh so many extra lights just for this.   We’d been told a laser display would start after the first three songs.   It was so good, so worth waiting for.   Tough to photograph though, with Pete up high at the back of the stage.














23 February 2017

Showcase Cinema de Lux in Southampton

As of last week the first new cinema in Southampton for around 20 years opened its doors.

I paid my first visit there today.

It's very shiny, and in a whole different league to the two other mainstream cinemas in the city.  In fact, how those two cinemas are going to be able to compete must surely be a big question with their respective management.

The Showcase Cinema de Lux is without question the best cinema I've ever visited.  You can even take a beer in there.

The only slight negative are the "farting" chairs that make rude noises as you recline.  Funny for the first few seconds, and then a tad annoying.

If they can keep it looking as nice as it does a week after opening, it will be a joy to visit in the future.

Oh, and I found out shortly after watching John Wick: Chapter 2 that I'd spent the last two hours watching a Keanu Reeves movie and not for a moment recognising him - indeed at one point coming to the opinion that the dog in the movie was a better actor that the lead was...  Opps!

I took a few photos of the lobby areas while I was there - it was too dark inside the auditorium for photos.










20 February 2017

Modifying a regular backpack into a camera backpack

The search for the perfect camera bag is seemingly never ending, and as such I'm always looking at bags, and more recently that search has included bags from tactical (military) manufacturers.   I've found that the "molle" system (a means to attach various pouches and pockets to bags) is a much better system to help create the "perfect" bag than any photography manufacturer has yet come up with.

My current camera backpack, a Tamrac is stupidly uncomfortable when even moderately loaded.  Strap a tripod on the side and...  let's just say it doesn't get used often.

So, after much research, reading reviews, watching videos, looking at photos, I decided to build my own bag starting with the Hazard 4 Second Front backpack, and with a trip to the deserts of California and Arizona looming for later in the year, I decided on the coyote (tan) colour.

First up was to source some supplies.


 The padding came in the form of a yoga mat, for just £1.99 from the local sports store.

 A 5 metre long length of hook and loop tape (5 cm wide)


 The tan felt I purchased annoyingly didn't work very well with the hook and loop tape, but I used it anyway to cover the expanded foam yoga mat.  

 Spray glue, £2.99.

 A very sharp knife to cut the foam to size.


My plan was to put the foam padding around the inside of the bag to in part help it hold its shape, and also to give the inner padded dividers something to attach to.  I held it in place just to help measure out the correct size (130cm x 11cm)

I tried to sew the hook and loop tape in place, but with a sewing machine not quite up to the job that was a big bag of fail, so I used the spray adhesive again.

This it what it looks like after covering the foam with felt, and hook tape on the outside, loop tape on the inside.

A closer up look of the outer loop side.


 Using a bit more of the yoga matt to form the bottom of the bag, this was also covered in felt.


Hazard 4 do actually make padded dividers similar to these, but sadly they are not available for purchase in the UK.  The postage cost from the USA is stupid, so I decided to make my own.  Not exactly up to Hazard 4 quality, but they'll do the job until I can purchase the dividers from a UK retailer.

Cut a bit out of the loop tape to enable the dividers to "stick" nicely to the inside of the bag.

Not the final layout, and a bit of a mix of dividers but it gives the idea.

One of the things I like about this bag is the ability to open it just a bit and easily get inside.


With foam inserted, the bag keeps its shape, and even stands up straight (ish).



Room for improvement, but I'm fairly pleased with my efforts for version 1.0.

I'd like to source some loop fabric and use that instead of the loop tape, which would improve the look of the bag, and also reduce the weight a bit.