Respect the performer

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy photographing musicians playing. There are other forms of performance, though, and these can be as much fun and as much of a challenge to photograph.

Something that might not be immediately thought of as ‘performance’ is delivering a talk or lecture. And yet, to do this well requires similar skills to any musical or acting performance.

I was recently privileged to attend a talk by the noted cartoonist Martin Rowson, in which he traced the history of the satirical cartoon through the ages and talked of the importance of satire in any well-functioning society. We were treated to a lively, funny and extremely irreverent couple of hours in the company of someone well-versed the art of public speaking as entertainment.

Photographing someone giving a talk involves many of the same techniques and poses many of the same problems as photographing a music concert. There is one additional consideration that the photographer has to take into account, though: a talk is much quieter than a music concert.

During a concert, you’re mainly concerned with being fairly unobtrusive visually, but when someone’s talking you need to be quiet as well. And it’s here that we say thank you to the inventor of the mirrorless camera. Most of the noise of a standard (D)SLR comes from the mirror flapping up and down, but mirrorless cameras don’t have a mirror (hence the name, I suppose). Since they also don’t have a shutter, they are almost completely silent in operation — a great boon in a quiet environment.

Still, you have to be careful, especially if the venue is quite small and intimate. Be considerate of the speaker and shoot little, infrequently and for a short time. Be content with a dozen or so shots taken unobtrusively over a space of several minutes, and then stop and enjoy the talk. Treat it as a test of your ability to shoot ‘the decisive moment’ without having to resort to scattergun tactics. Make every shot count.

Above all, respect the performer and the performance.