Madness at SXSW

I’ve been having lots of fun at SXSW 2011 so far. I think my favorite part has been getting to spend time with friends I run into down at the convention center, some of whom I haven’t seen for years but who’re in town. My second favorite part is feeling a part of this atmosphere of buzzing creativity. I also really like being a volunteer photographer, so far. I typically have to shoot a panel and then have an hour or so off before shooting the next one. To give you an idea, I had to shoot 3 panels on Sunday in the span of nine hours “on the job”. So I had quite a bit of off time. I use this off time to text friends to meet up, get some lunch, attend other panels I’m interested in, or just wander around the convention center and people-watch 🙂

Shooting the panels themselves is interesting. I’m always paired with another photographer, all of whom have been really nice so far. We’re supposed to shoot the panel participants, obviously, which can sometimes be tough because of the room arrangement. For example in Room 15 of the Convention Center, there’s very little room in between the front row of seats and the stage, so I’m always climbing over chairs and ducking a lot to avoid blocking anyone’s view. I don’t have a telephoto lens, which is something I need to rectify, so I need to be rather close. However, I try to be as inconspicuous as possible, which sometimes means turning up ISO so I don’t have to use a flash. But I do have a “job” to do so I’m not very shy about popping up in front for a quick barrage of shutter-pressing. Taking interesting photos of panel participants is challenging, because they are literally just sitting there and talking. So I try to see whether they’re the type of people to tell jokes or laugh and look out for moments like those. The trick is getting a photograph without the damn microphone in the way!!

I also like to shoot the attendees. I look for ones who are smiling or who look super involved in the discussion. I try to get groups of them with at least one in the foreground and in-focus, the closer-up on their faces, the better. I ignore people who are on their phones or laptops as that obviously doesn’t convey interest. If a panel’s crowded, I’ll get a crowd shot — but I shot a panel yesterday that was super empty, so I didn’t want to convey the lack of attendance with such a shot.

After the panel’s over, I’ve taken to asking the participants to gather underneath the SXSW banner that hangs behind them for a group photo. So far everyone’s been nice and obliged me, although they certainly don’t have to. But I just smile and say “Hey, I’m an official SXSW photographer …” and ask politely. Our “bosses” told us to get as many shots as possible that include these banners, as they’re good publicity for not only SXSW itself, but also all the sponsors whose logos are on the banners, so there’s a higher chance of those shots being used somewhere.

I have four panels to shoot today (Monday) and then I’m off tomorrow, going back to “work” on Wednesday at 6 PM. I’ll use the off time to browse through the photos I’ve taken and eliminate the duds in advance of the April 1 deadline for turning these photos into SXSW. So far I’ve done some of that but I’m concerned about leaving all the “cherry-picking” work until the last minute, which will leave me browsing through thousands (literally) of photos in about a week. I’d rather front-load the work and do some of that selection/editing early so I can be prepared.

More to come! Stay tuned!!

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