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Shooting events (like the Special Session) in unexpected conditions


By Kathleen Barry

When you can't anticipate the lighting or your access, how do you prepare to tell the visual, emotional story of a large event like the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference?

Take a deep breath and remember the following:

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Shoot overall, midrange and close up

UMCGC 2019 is being held in the huge space of The Dome at the America's Center. Such scale adds a punch to the story. While photographers always advise "move in closer" to a subject, the opposite is also true. An overall shot of the arena floor and side seats will convey the immense scale of the event — both literally and figuratively.

The Special Session of General Conference will be full of prayerful conversations. Capture these candid moments through midrange shots of a group of three to five people engaged in prayer or conversation.

Represent the emotions by shooting close-ups. Examples may include a shot of hands in prayer, a face full of emotion or even a General Conference badge.

If you're shooting as a news photographer for your conference, aim to reflect the story of the points of view — not only of the different plans presented but also physical points of view. Shoot a scene from the top of the stadium seating and then from ground level looking up (or wherever you are allowed to shoot). Be mindful to only photograph in areas that are permitted. For example, some locations may be restricted for safety reasons, and these areas shouldn't be entered just to get the "perfect" shot as it may have unintended consequences for you and others.

While on site, you'll likely recognize or know many people from your conference who are in attendance. Personalize your coverage to reflect people from your region. Be sure to note who and what's happening in your photos. This will help you to add captions or metadata tags for your event library after the event.

vary your focal distance


Use light hacks

Finding the best light for photography in a convention center can be hit-or-miss. Luckily, there are simple things you can do to mitigate the inconsistencies.

The ISO setting, which represents your camera’s sensitivity to light and impacts photo brightness, is your "best friend." Remember the days of film ASA where the higher number (100, 400, 1600) was for the worst lighting conditions? Similarly, today's digital cameras manage lighting challenges through ISO. Experiment but expect to use a higher ISO number for poor, low-light conditions.

If the stage has a bright spotlight with an intense dark background, the speaker may be overexposed (washed out) compared to the rest of the shot. Setting the camera on automatic is unlikely to capture the shot you're after. Experiment with manual settings until you find the exposure you like.

Pack the right gear

This may be the time and event to pack more since strong visual stories will be everywhere and at diverse vantage points. Be prepared!

Essentials to pack:

  • Monopod or tripod
  • Telephoto lens
  • Your best camera, which I define as the one you're comfortable using
  • Notebooks and pens to record names, titles and activities as you photograph
  • Comfortable shoes and dark/neutral clothing

Remember the two P's: professional and polite

Gatekeepers will be assigned to different areas of The Dome to keep everyone safe and where they need to be. Even as a photographer, you will not have unlimited access to roam wherever you desire. Remember that their professional responsibility is equal to yours, so keep things polite and professional.

By implementing these tips you'll be on your way to telling the story of General Conference through compelling photographs.


Bonus: Get help with your photography needs

Do you want to gain access to professional photos to supplement the photos you take? Are you reporting on General Conference remotely and still want photographs to visually tell and emphasize the story of what's happening? United Methodist Communications has you covered with a wealth of photographic assets.

Although you may prefer to snap your own photos, it's important to remember there is a bank of photography assets always available to assist you. United Methodist Communications can provide you with images, information, photo-heavy resources and shareables to aid you in comprehensively covering General Conference, news of the church and general church-related events.

Access coverage from the United Methodist News team
Stay up to date with coverage from the United Methodist News photo team by accessing UMN flickr sets. Albums will be added during the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference.  Editorial usage of these photos is available for free given that proper captions and crediting accompany the image in your placements.

You may also wish to register for a free account using the UM Media Library — an archive of thousands of United Methodist photos, logos and headshots. Whether you're an attendee that missed the perfect shot, or you're sharing the news from afar, the photo team is here to assist your efforts no matter the event or need.

Convey the importance of responding to God’s call
Photography rich resources can also help you tell the story of General Conference and the overall church. United Methodist Communications has created a series of free, shareable resources called “The Movement Continues” that celebrates all that unifies us as United Methodists. These also serve as a reminder of how the church’s purpose, mission and heritage move all to respond to God’s call.


Eric Seiberling

— Kathleen Barry works for United Methodist News in Nashville where she shoots and edits photos, builds web pages and coordinates the digital library. She will be part of their UMCGC 2019 photo team in St. Louis led by Mike DuBose.