Being an amateur photographer, I am increasingly getting interested in all things photography—from conceptualizing shots, to taking the photos, all the way to bringing the files over to an editing software such as Adobe Photoshop where “magic” happens. Because of my growing passion, I decided to take my interest on a different level—to that of observing other photographers during shoots. What better way to learn than to see up close how different people handle their valuable cameras in different photographic situations.
An opportunity to observe, as well as try out my own photography skills, came at the instance of a college party, named Chronos, last February 22, 2013. It was organized by the Management Engineering Association, together with some company sponsors such as Universal Robina Corporation (URC), Claw Daddy, and Apartment 8, and was held at Ford Autohub in Bonifacio Global City (BGC).
A photographer friend, Casey, who also was my key informant for the evening, had previously invited me to bring my camera to the party and take pictures alongside her. The opportunity turned out to be more than thrilling. It was my first time to cover an event where I would see and eventually take photos of people I both knew and had yet to meet. The minute that we arrived at the party at 9:00 PM, dance music was already blaring over the speakers, while partygoers were casually going around talking to friends, having a few drinks at the mobile bar, or huddled around an XBOX 360 playing area that had been set up by the organizers. There was also a stage setup at the front of the venue, in which Casey told me that the program was about to begin. Soon, two hosts came out from behind the screen separating the stage from the dressing area behind. As soon as they had come out, people cheered; expectations that the party was about to starthad already come true.
And with that signal I whipped out my Canon 650D, a recent gift for my birthday, which until that point, had just been used for food photography and test shots. To start, I took a few pictures of the two hosts while they were speaking on stage, adjusting my camera settings after each take to get the right ISO, brightness, flash intensity, etc. Casey had her camera as well, and pointed out some of her own settings that I could adopt, despite her camera being a Nikon. After a few more tries, I was able to get the adjustment that I wanted, and thus set out with Casey to take photos of various subjects. “Instead of (just) taking the hosts,” she said, “we should go around and picture the bar or the people, rin.”
And so we did. It was a new experience going around the room, taking photos of both partygoers and objects, such as alcohol bottles or party props. For the first part of the evening, photography was simple and regular-paced. As mentioned earlier, the party was generally still steady due tothe onset of the program. There were occasional cheers from near the stage when something funny or exciting had taken place, such as the fashion show & a dance performance, of which both Casey and I would dart back to the front of the room to take pictures of the happenings. Although there were also times when she and I separated ways so that I could try out my photography by myself.
Not too long after, the program ended with a collective chant of “MEAmore!”, the org’s cheer, which signaled the actual start of the party. “Tugs-tugs na!!!” shouted some individuals around me, as house lights dimmed and the party music got louder. The once chill atmosphere quickly escalated into an energetic room of people who were getting wilder and excited with every passing second. This became a different experience for me in terms of being a photographer. I, too, had become more excited. I briefly thought of how to capture such energy from the wild party, but in the end, my Canon just took pictures of almost everything that was happening.
People, couples, or groups of friends would ask me for a photo. Most of the time I would be the one to ask them for a picture, as part of my “duty”. These partygoers responded earnestly, their brains immediately processing the possibility that I was Chronos’ event photographer, given my holding a dSLR. Sometimes, I myself would hold the camera the other way around and take a photo together with some of my friends. Majority danced to the loud, dynamic music, and I subsequently tried to take photos of their energetic merry-making. I took photos of the DJ with his turntable, the bartenders mixing drinks, groups having shots of Bacardi, etc. Occasionally there would be some cheers from different sides of the room, which indicated dance battles, or some friends “forcing” vodka down the throats of their colleagues as they held whole bottles of alcohol and counted down from 5 to 1. In these short, yet high-powered events, Casey and I would see each other again, as both of us would angle our way through the crowd to try and capture the moment.
Towards the end of the evening, people started to get heavily drunk. One could note this from the way they walked, their slurry speech, or their out of the ordinary behavior, such as sudden hugs, excessive dancing and laughing, etc. I observed Casey as she took photos of some these people, and I did the same, with the premise that the photos did not reveal too much or give the subject a too bad of a reputation, as she mentioned.
At around half past one, the party started to die down given the fact that most of the attendees were already too intoxicated. House lights started to brighten the room, and the DJ proceeded to play slower songs to transition towards the end of the party. Both Casey and I agreed to end our photography as well, since there were few interesting subjects left to cover.
I’ve always been intrigued at the jobs of event photographers, videographers, and the like. Whenever I attend parties or weddings, instead of purely focusing on the debutant, bride & groom, or emcee, I sometimes turn my attention to the tireless individuals who run around the venue with their heavy Canons and/or Nikons. To these craftsmen, these aren’t just cameras worth a hefty amount of money—these are “weapons” to be utilized in a “war” against the elements: wind effects, sunlight and indoor lighting, sound clarity, etc. Or they could be “treasure-hunting tools” used to find “pirate booty”—the perfect picture or the best frames. Sometimes, these “soldiers” are stationed at certain spots to cover a fixed area, otherwise, they go around circling the floor to get as much documentations to keep guests entertained with photo slideshows or SDE‘s (same day edited videos, usually a recap of the event).
These are merely observations. A set of deeper questions still lingered from these observations. What does it feel like to have to get the right shots? What is a perfect picture anyway? How similar or different is the experience to observe people through a camera’s lens? All this boils down to the actual act of PHOTOGRAPHY. Some say the “job’s easy—just point & shoot“, while other adults that I’ve asked believe it to be an exciting and comparatively more challenging task than taking simple, still-life portraits.
Being an amateur photographer who recently acquired my very own dSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera), I decided to take part in the “creative process” of event coverage. I wanted to find out how it would feel to be behind the lens, and take live photos of actions and emotions, and not just the beautifully decorated dishes that my dad prepares every Sunday lunch.
And so I decided to take my shiny new camera over to a college party. There were no weddings or debuts to attend yet; therefore I felt such an avenue would be fitting, both for the task of participant observation and my current photo skills.
The party, named Chronos, took place last February 22, 2013, at Ford Autohub in BGC. In quick summary and as supported by notes above, the event started out as generally chill and steady, and soon escalated into an all-out, dynamic rave where partygoers (even myself) went wild to the DJ’s beats, strobe lights, and of course, free-flowing beer and alcohol. Photos taken at each turn of the evening (from chill to intense partying) corresponded with the dynamic at each state—from simple, neutral energy to a wilder, livelier verve of enjoyment.
The event was undoubtedly crazy, of course, in a very positive manner. Bringing my camera along was a great idea…and this made observing the party even better. If I had not taken it with me, I would just be a common partygoer, having the same amount of fun as the rest, drinking alcohol, and getting pictures of me taken by others. In no way am I putting down the experience of being the photographer; there are pros and cons to being behind the lens versus being a common attendee. Actively participating in the event with such a role made me see and realize parties, or the act of partying, in a different perspective. Obviously, it would literally be in a different perspective in the sense that I saw the party through the camera’s lens. I would still be able to observe without a camera on me, but in terms of photography and the creative side behind event coverage, I wouldn’t be able to fully grasp the emotions associated with photography without actually taking the pictures. Since I have always wondered how it would be like to cover events, through participation as a photographer, I was able to experience and understand such a role more—the tendencies, feelings, processes and thoughts all felt by someone taking the picture, rather than having to smile and get their picture taken. For instance, I felt annoyance whenever I would get blurry photos, or those with bad lighting. On other occasions I would feel satisfied and proud with my skill if I produced a picture worthy of being someone’s next profile picture in Facebook. I would not have felt all of these states by just merely observing photographers from a distance. I could take note of their emotions by watching them, but I would have never actually understood their happiness, pressure or vexation without being a photographer myself.
Taking the opportunity to be part of the event’s documentations pool was more than just a job, rather it was a learning experience as well, especially with a key informant. Casey was a photographer too, thus making her an appropriate partner in my observations. There were a lot more things to consider while taking pictures, and having someone with more experience in the field aided in my understanding of the matter. Casey would sometimes direct me with camera settings, inform me of a picture-worthy happening, or tell me her methods when capturing photos, finding the light, getting the right angles, and etc. Having Casey as a key informant was not only for the purpose of having a “tour guide”, rather as someone whom one could share the same sentiments, emotions and understanding of photography with.
In line with these aspects, these emotions, the actual enjoyment of the activity, can only be experienced through participant observation. Without it, the study would not be complete and lose valuable insights, as compared to conducting interviews or handing out questionnaires regarding the event. One can only go so far as to imagining the event if being interviewed about it, as compared to actually being there and experiencing first-hand what partygoers felt. The energy being passed on around the room, the experienced thrill and excitement from chugging beers or watching people dance and enjoy would not have crossed over to the interviewer-interviewee state, where only one party would be able to fully understand what was going on, or what had he/she felt during the event. This highlights the value of participant observation where an individual can experience up close and personal a certain event or state, and not just infer and conclude from words and sayings.
However, it is also important to note that questionnaires and interviews are of equal importance, but for other situations or concentrations. There are more appropriate aspects of events where non-direct methods such as interviews are better suited to, such as breadth or population size or time constraints. In the case of Chronos, participant observation was also more effective in terms of the actual object to be observed. Participant observation was utilized because monitoring of the event as a whole was being made, as compared to more specific aspects. If, for example, one were to study the reactions of partygoers towards alcoholic drinks, whether in favor, neutral, or dislike for it, a questionnaire or survey would be more apt. One could ask more in-depth and follow-up questions to reveal more about a person’s views and reactions towards a subject, as compared to participant observation where the observer would only be limited to the surface observations, such as sights or sounds.
Overall, Chronos was not just some enjoyable, wild, and crazy event. Together with my informant and all the characteristics of the party, I was not only able to take pictures and exercise my photography skills, but also actively participate and experience what it meant to feel like being behind my Canon lens.
114079 || SA21-M