6.26.2011

A quick post about a menacing problem for event photographers. Blogger shares trade secrets.

Hear ye.  Hear ye.  Proceed with caution.

I've photographed a lot of events.  Over twenty years worth of events.  And I always seem to over pack, over prepare and carry around a lot of pre-event anxiety that has to to do getting all the gear just right.  Yesterday evening I photographed a reception for two really great kids, James and Debra.  The come from well to do families and had gotten married in Napa Valley.  But they wanted to have a party for friends and family here in Austin who were unable to get out to California.  I'd been booked on this event for the better part of a year by one of my favorite meeting planners.

I spent hours trying to decide on just how to use flash in this instance.  We'd start out the evening with good natural light but the sun would be fully gone by 8:15 and I'd need to add flash.  I tested five or six modifiers before settling on a small, Speedlight ProKit soft box.  I went thru my collection of brackets and decided on the Alzo bracket that extends up.  After an hour of actual use I jettisoned the bracket and went hand held with the flash and the box.

I packed cameras three times.  Finally went with two Canon 5Dmk2's and mainly used the 24-105L lens.  Four extra batteries and 60 gigs of memory cards in the bags.  Extra cameras and lenses in the car.  All this for a four hour, low key reception.  But I wanted to look good.  The father of the groom is an old friend who is also the CEO of a bank chain.......

So what was the horrible menace?  What do I want to save other photographers from?  HEARING LOSS.  While the guests may go to a big party with an amplified band once or twice a year event photographers tend to go to these things about once a week.  And if you brought a decibel level meter with you to most venues you'd find that they all exceed the safe limits to prevent hearing loss.  All of them.

If you are a young photographer you've probably chalked this blog up to the philosophy of:  "If it's too loud you're too old."  But you'd be fooling yourself.  All hearing loss is cumulative.  Happens over time.
I used to not pay attention to this either.  We'd be doing a photo set-up next to the band or across the ballroom from a band and get pounded for hours.  One evening I went home with my ears ringing and I did some research.  I won't bore you with it but a few exposures like that and you'll have trouble hearing your kids talking when you hit your thirties and forties.  Really.  Just about everyone.  Few are immune.

So twenty years ago I started wearing in ear ear protectors anytime I was in an environment where people had to shout at each other to be heard.  I pass em out to my assistants too.

Well, back to last night.  The last three years have been more about book writing and advertising jobs for me and I'd done very few social event functions.  I meticulously packed up all my stuff and headed to the venue.  I got there early.  Just in time to hear the band warm  up.  They weren't over the top but you had to lean in and shout to have a conversation with anyone.  I started looking for earplugs.  The venue was a big golf resort and corporate meeting center west of downtown Austin.  I hit the gift shop in the lobby.  No dice.  I found the A/V department hidden away in some back hall.  No plugs.  I even went to the catering department.  Again, no luck.

Finally, over chicken sandwiches in the green room I asked the members of the band (sheepishly) if anyone had any earplugs.  Great Luck.  The lead singer had a set in his bag and he was happy for me to use them.  In my head I thanked him a dozen times as I angled myself between the speakers in front of the stage and the subjects I wanted to shoot.  Thank you, lead singer.

When the evening wound down I  pulled the plugs, so to speak, and instead of that dull wongy feeling you get when you've been listening to loud music, unprotected, I was able to hear accurately and crisply again.  I know I'm losing some hearing as I get older but that makes it even more important to keep what you have.

Every live music venue in the world should have ear plugs available.  But they don't.  Head to the drug store and buy in bulk.  Or find a supplier of safety ear plugs for industrial use.  Keep a stash in all of your camera bags.  Use them early.  Use them often.

But if you forget, and no one else remembered either some dampened Kleenex, rolled into a small cone will work better than nothing.  When you can hear your child's voice clearly you'll thank yourself for having JUST THE RIGHT GEAR.

And that's what I re-learned last night.

Lest anyone think I'm just a music hating grouch I must say I've been to more live concerts in my life than movies.  And I don't think anyone doubts that I love live theater but during dress rehearsals for big rocking musical shows I always try to remember to pack "foam".  I don't want to unfairly accuse Ben of mumbling........