Samathy Barratt

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More Optics more Opportunity

As a side-job, I'm an event photographer. I normally shoot things like conferences, talks and events in museums, and lots and lots of LGBT+ Pride events. Event photography is all about capturing what happened, showing people enjoying it, making others wish they were there. As photography goes, its quite tough to be good at, largely on account having to capture fleeting moments as an audience member smiles, or spotting just the right second to get that person joyfully hugging someone else. It requires quick reactions to a rapidly changing environment.

I take photos with a Nikon D7100 DSLR. Its a great camera and sits right in the sweet spot of doing everything I need it to do, really well. I normally pair my D7100 with a selection of prime lenses, for that fast aperture and bokeh effect that works so well when snapping people's happy faces.

The downside of loving prime lenses, is that they're a fixed focal length, so they're not great for rapidly adapting to a situation. If I want to shoot people further away, and I currently have my 50mm on, I need to switch lenses to my 85mm. Or just accept that I'm 50mm shooting atm, and not get the shot I wanted.

This issue could be solved by buying some lens that fulfills multiple roles, perhaps a 20 - 100mm, f2.0 or something. That kinda thing exists, but the downside is that they're super expensive. Like this Sigma 50-100mm f1.8 coming in at almost £900.

So, how do I solve needing a range of focal lengths on lenses, but not having lots of money to spend on one lense to rule them all? The answer is multiple camera bodies.

A few months ago, half way through the 2019 Pride season, I bought a Nikon D3300. An entry-level DSLR which, despite lacking lots of the features about the D7100 that I love, has made a huge difference to the way I shoot events.

Previously, I would have attached one lens and spent a considerable amount of time during the shoot working with the creative benefits and limitations of it. Unless, of course, it was clearly not the right lens for the day. I would dutifully deal with the restrictions the focal length put on me and actively ignore potential shots that wouldn't work with the lens currently on my camera. I generally avoided swapping too much because swapping lenses takes time and its an awkward process to do when running along side a parade.

There are of course lots of reasons why you might want to restrict yourself to one lens. to force some creativity and get shots you never would have thought of before, or to really learn how to use a new piece of glass. However, it does somewhat limit the amount of opportunities one can take advantage of and get the shot from. This is especially pertinent when I'm shooting photos at an event that doesn't last very long ( a couple hours or so). Less of an issue at long, entire day, pride shoots.

Nowadays, with the D7100 and D3300 camera bodies on me at all times, I can instead utilise 2 lenses and very rapidly switch between them. While the downside of this is that you have to carry multiple bodies about with you, the bonuses are massive.

I normally work with one camera having a shorter focal length lens on, and the other a much longer one, for that flexibility. This often means the D3300 has my 85mm on it, and the D7100 takes the 50mm ( My current 50mm is an older 2002 Nikon lens with no autofocus motor, so it only works on bodies with a built in autofocus motor, like the D7100 and not the D3300 ). Or the D3300 takes the 35mm and the D7100 takes my Sigma 17-70mm f2.8 HSM Macro (the latter doesnt work on the D3300 for frustrating reasons related to the firmware on the lens itself!))

This strategy makes a big difference to how I shoot and the number of opportunities I can get great photos out of. It enables me get all the bonuses of using prime lenses, but with out the restrictions of having too long or too short of a lens to capture that moment. In my opinion, its also better bang for buck than using an expensive all-rounder lens because you get gorgeous prime len bokeh and the fast reaction times that come with not having to, or rather, not being able to, zoom in and out to frame the shot. I still carry multiple different lenses about, and I do switch what is on my cameras throughout the events. But now I switch more out of creative desire to use a different lens for a little bit, than because 85mm really isnt getting many shots today so lets try the 50mm.

Sometimes, having two similar focal lengths of lenses on can result in getting two very different looking images of the same subject. For example, a wider, 35mm shot and quickly switching to a closer 50mm shot. I use this technique when shooting, for example, press-style photos of a speaker at a venue; Heres them with the host at 35mm, and the same image slightly more intimately framed at 50mm. The client then has options, without cropping my images, depending on where they want to use the image. Again, both with gorgous portait lens looks from those primes.

When handling multiple camera bodies at an event, you need a proper harness. You simply can't carry more than one body using just the regular camera strap. I use this one from Focus - even when carrying only one body its a big improvment over all the weight of a camera hanging around your neck. I highly reccomend it. Perhaps I'll try a dual-body harness at some point, especially if I get another D7100.

When carrying two cameras, one hanging at my side and the other on a strap round my neck works well. I can slide either out of the way when I need to use the other one. Some of my colleagues swear by using belt-hooks for their cameras - but I've tried those, and seen them fail. I dropped my camera once when I didn't slot it into the belt hook correctly and that was enough for me. Shoulder holsters are much better, I'm not even giving a belt hook the honour of a link.

That brings me to the conclusion of this rather long and rambly post about how I shoot events. I could probably write forever about my processes for photography, but we'll leave this one here for now. If you want to know more about my photography work, or my process, I'd be happy to chat! My contact info is here. I don't have a portfolio website, but I should probably make one.

All the photos in this blog post are from an event at The National Videogame Museum featuring Masayuki Uemura, previously manager of Nintendo R&D2.

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