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Photo Assignment Discussion
Today I’m joined by my wife, Lee, to discuss how she approached a recent photo assignment. She was covering the first day of the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival for one of our other sites – Orlando Local.
We discuss how she prepared for the event with little notice, as well as her strategy for dealing with getting the shots she wanted during a crowded day with changing light.
Orlando Local – Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Review 2016
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PHOTO FLUNKY: Episode 15
I’m your host, William Beem. Welcome to the Photo Flunky Show, Episode Fifteen.
Today’s topic: We’re going to talk about a walkthrough of assignment photography.
Hi, thanks for joining the show. You can find the Photo Flunky Show at photoflunky.com. Show notes for this episode are going to be available at williambeem.com/episode15.
OK, before we get into our topic, I’m going to announce a little bit of a change of format and schedule. We’re going to be moving from three short episodes per week to once a week, but probably a little bit longer; about 20 minutes or so, and we’re going to start coming out on Wednesday. So this week you’re going to have a show on Monday, you’re going to have a show on Wednesday; there’ll be nothing on Friday and then following next week, Wednesdays from then on out.
Alright, today I’ve got a guest. Actually it’s my wife, Lee Beem. Lee recently had an article to do about the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. It’s an annual event at Walt Disney World and she was able to make it there for the first day, so she had an assignment to write for one of our other sites – it’s called orlandolocal.com, and we wanted to go and do a review for that. So basically I kind of wanted to do an interview with Lee over what she did to prepare for it and how she handled her assignment. So let’s start off with that.
William: What did you do to prepare? How did you get ready for doing this assignment?
Lee: Well this was a bit tricky for me in a way. It was a great adventure and a wonderful experience, but I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never done an assignment with any kind of formal structure to it so I really had to decide what I wanted from the article and work backwards from there as to what I was going to cover.
William: OK, so those are good points. This is your first time doing it and I’ve kind of thrown you into this as far as writing the articles and doing the photography for it.
You’ve been to Disney many times doing photography, so you’ve got your own style and you know what you like, but when you want to do it for this and it’s a review that other people are going to be coming back and reading, how does that kind of change how you get ready for it?
Lee: It was very different because I wasn’t planning to go and do and experience things in the same way. I needed to capture things visually and get the information about it and then be able to relay that to people in text and with photographs, so it’s quite different to just doing your own thing and planning what you want to kind of cover and experience for the day.
William: OK, so you walk in the park, you know you’re going to be covering this for a review, what’s going through your mind?
Well actually let me back up a step. The night before or the time before, you know that you’re going to be doing a review and there need to be photographs to go with it. What, if any, kind of planning did you do for that?
Lee: Well actually, I ended up going through with friends. I was invited through the night before so it was pretty short notice. So I had to decide what kind of gear I was going to take. I kept it very simple, I made sure that the camera equipment was packed and ready and that I had everything I needed. And then I just gave some thought to the review and how I was going to structure that and I had a list. I’d sort of set out categories. There were certain topics that I wanted to cover and those were my key points and I used them. It was kind of the structure that was going to be the review was also the structure that I used as the basis for planning the day and how I was going to work around it.
William: OK, what was the structure that you were looking at?
Lee: Well, I’ve been to the Flower and Garden Festival before. I’ve enjoyed looking at the topiaries. I’m not a gardening person, but it really is something quite spectacular. Topiaries were one thing because they get so much attention. Kids. I’ve been there; I’ve been going there since daughter was really little so I know how important it is to find things for kids to do and I wanted to cover that. The food booths were something else I wanted to cover because that’s the international side of it. I think Epcot’s tried to bring in a sort of culinary side to this, which in year prior – it hasn’t always been a feature there so I think it’s a nice addition. So those were really the three main things that I had. Oh, and merchandise. I beg your pardon – so there were four things.
William: OK, so you said that you’d packed your gear before. How did you decide what you were going to select? Was it informed by what you wanted to take with you, or the kind of photos you wanted to get or was it based on the story elements that you needed?
Lee: A little bit of both. I have an advantage in that I’ve been to Epcot so many times so I pretty much knew what to expect with the focal length and things. The 24-70mm is a perfect walk around lens. I also took my 70-300 mm (I shoot with a Nikon D7000, so it’s a crop sensor). That’s a nice little zoom lens to use if you want to get in close. I ended up not using that at all, but that was in the kit and then there was also a – I think it was a 35mm F1.4. I just wasn’t sure about indoor photos and lighting situations so that was there in case. It was another one I didn’t use, but those were the three lenses that went with me.
William: So you get there, you walk in the park and about what time did you get there?
Lee: It was around park opening. Maybe a couple of minutes after when I went through the gates.
William: So the park opens up, but the whole park doesn’t open up then.
Lee: No, it doesn’t.
William: And does that affect you? I mean it’s got to affect your plans somewhat about how you’re going to go about this.
Lee: Oh, absolutely. Because I think Epcot has got the displays and things in the front parts of the park. You know, you’ve got – is it Innoventions? – and Future World West and East. You have got things there. You’ve got the Butterflies on the Go and there’s the kids’ playgrounds in that part.
World Showcase opens at 11 am, but I also knew that if you head out to the right and you start with Canada, you can get as far as France before the park opens, because that’s where the International Gateway is and they also happen to serve breakfast from the bakery. Although nothing is open, I knew I could get a head start there to beat the crowds and maybe work with slightly better daylight for the photos on that side.
William: Well that actually brings up a couple of good points. One, you know the crowd is going to be getting heavier and you know the light is going to be changing through the day. So how did those factors influence what you were going to shoot and when you were going to shoot it?
Lee: Well obviously I couldn’t shoot things in the same order that they were going to appear in the article in the walk through and I think that’s the challenge. I accepted there was going to be a lot of backtracking. I wanted a quick start in the front of the park because the kids’ playground was there. I wanted to get photos of the kids’ playground, but I also wanted to be sensitive to the fact that people don’t want their kids photographed and put up on a website. I would want that for my little ones and I wasn’t going to do it to anybody else, so to be able to get there when it was quieter, I needed to get an early start. So that was, I think, my second stop after the Butterflies on the Go and then I headed around to the right and I did the first side of World Showcase for topiary photos, headed back and waited. I worked my way around the front of the park again until they opened up World Showcase at 11 am.
William: OK, so you mentioned the kids’ areas that they’ve got for them. Is that part of your audience that you did? Is it not necessarily the kids so much, but are you writing for people who were planning their trips? What exactly were you thinking that the people who are going to read this are going to be looking for and how are they going to use the information?
Lee: Well, Disney attracts all kinds of demographics. You know, you get adults, you get retired couples, you also get a lot of families and many of those families have young children. It is really important because whatever you do when you’ve got little kids is kind of dictated by how happy they are. It is important that they have somewhere to get out and stretch their legs, things to interest them and I think Epcot can be a bit of a tricky part when it comes to catering for kids in that it doesn’t provide many rides. It’s quite different to the other parks. So yes, I think to cover that, that was very important to me, having been there from the days of having a very young child. And I also wanted to look more at the adult’s experience because, you know, we’ve also enjoyed going there as an adult couple and that’s something quite different. So I think families – there’s a heavy emphasis on families because I think that is a very popular family destination. But I also didn’t want to exclude the couples like us. I don’t want to say older people!
William: Thank you for reminding me that I’m older!
It sounds like when you’re going out there though, you’re doing a number of different types of photography. You mentioned the food, so you’ve got food photography, you mentioned merchandise, so you’ve kind of got a little bit of product photography and of course then there’s the event with the flowers and the gardening information and stuff like that.
Let’s start with the food. The food, when you look at it out at Epcot, they’re serving it in these little cardboard boats. I mean it’s not exactly the greatest presentation in the world. So how do you take something like that and photograph it in a way that it looks interesting?
Lee: I actually, knowing that this was going to be the case because I’ve done the Food and Wine Festival many times before, I went around and sourced locations that had good backgrounds nearby to any food booths where I wanted to try something to eat. And then, once that food booth had opened, there was a bit of cloud that was rolling in; you know, dappled cloud over the sky, which was quite helpful through the day. So there were times when the cloud would roll over the sun and it would soften the light. So I was literally watching the cloud, finding somewhere where I could take a photo with a background (over a flower bed or a table that kind of looked out over the lagoon or something) and then going and ordering the food and rushing out there to get to my spot to take the photo while the light was good. So, yeah, there’s a bit of legwork involved and it’s kind of funny.
William: So when you’re finding these locations with a background, what are you looking for? What’s a good background for the food photography?
Lee: Well, I didn’t want the focus to be on the background. I wanted the focus to be on the food, so I was going to be opening up quite wide for that. I knew I was going to be shooting at F2.8 with the lens that I had, or something close to that.
William: So you wanted that blurry background.
Lee: So I wanted the blurry background because I wanted the focus to be on the food, but food – maybe not so much if you’re going for desserts or cocktails or things – but if you’re going for a real meal which has got meat and potatoes, the colors aren’t exactly vibrant. So for something like that I was looking for flowers or something with some bright color behind and that’s exactly what happened. I think when I went to The Smokehouse I got the hash with the brisket burnt ends and I found a colorful flower bed which I’d spotted before and I had to work my way around and wait for people to move before I could position the food over there and get my shots.
William: OK, so this is something else I’ve always wondered about, because I’ve not really gone off to an event to do food photography like that, but you’re got shots of more than one kind of food. So did you go out and buy all this stuff, or did you bother people to just take photos of their food?
Lee: Well, I was tempted to ask people if I could take photos of their food because everyone just seemed so friendly there that day, but no, I didn’t do that. I did buy the food that I was going to photograph. It would have been helpful to have had more people there to get more food shots, because you can eat so much in a day. And especially when you’re trying to time it between the later opening of these Outdoor Kitchens, as Epcot is calling them. You know, you’ve got the daylight that you’re working with and crowds and everything so it would have been great to have some more people.
William: Let’s move on to some of the merchandise. That was important to you because that was part of the article. You knew that people were going to be interested in that, so how did you kind of set those shots up.
Lee: Really it was just inside stores. Disney’s got a list of locations. It’s all on the map and on the passport, which kind of made it easier. I didn’t have the passport the night before. I didn’t really have time to go through any of that. But it was something that I had picked up first thing in the morning and made sure that I knew where these special locations were.
William: You mentioned the passport. So that’s telling you what is where?
Lee: The passport is – if you’re familiar with the Epcot World Showcase Passport – it’s something similar, but this one is free and it really gives you a neat little breakdown of everything that’s offered and the approximate locations. It’s all text. There are no pictures or graphics or anything in there and it’s a good companion to the map if you need to map to find your way around or to see where things are. But if you know the park you could probably skip the map and just use the passport.
William: OK so when you talked about shooting in the stores, they’ve got a few different ones. So some of them have got some window light that comes in and some of them are just really … like that big … what is it? Mousegear? Is that the big one?
William: So did you choose based upon what lighting they had or did you just kind of go where the products were?
Lee: No, I went where the products were, because I figured people want to see the products. I wanted to see the products; I was really genuinely interested to see what was out there. It’s been a while since I was at a Flower and Garden Festival. I wasn’t there last year and there have been some changes.
I went into Mousegear first; I had a quick walk around. The lighting as you say is very tricky in there. They didn’t have very much, if anything really, that was Flower and Garden Festival specific so I decided to skip it and focus on the places that were specializing in the event merchandise. Now Port of Entry is a fixed store. That is a standard feature there; it’s always there; it’s permanent; and they had some beautiful displays. There is some window light in there. You’re always going to have the challenge of using the light that’s available to you. I didn’t take a flash. I didn’t take any big bulky stuff to lug around with me and I just – sometimes you just have to roll with it.
William: Now, as far as the event itself, I mean there are displays. You mentioned the topiaries, there’s a large display of flowers on some of the banks. How did you go about looking at, what am I going to shoot that’s large scale – you know, big wide angle shots – versus getting down and narrow? I know of course that you love your detail shots.
Lee: I do!
William: So how did you come up with the balance of basically big to small?
Lee: Sometimes the situation dictated it. Sometimes I wanted to go big and I went smaller because I was trying to avoid people in the shot. And I’m not saying trying to avoid the appearance of crowds, but sometimes there’s could be one or two specific people standing right there and they are just in a bad spot. They’re up close to the lens and you just need to zoom in a little bit to move them. Sometimes you can move yourself and sometimes you just have to adjust your focus. I do like my detail shots and I think that’s something that I loved about the food photography and the merchandise shots. I like to get in really tight. Sometimes too tight for my own good!
I also realize that people need an overview because you need to have some perspective. So for the topiaries and things like that, or if I wanted to show sort of relative to where we were in the park, then I sort of zoomed out a little bit to give a bit of perspective.
William: OK, that actually kind of brings up an interesting point to me because one of the things we know just from our own experiences of going out there is like, you started out at 9 in the morning when the park opened and you were there until, what? About sunset or a little after?
Lee: Yeah, it was about 6.45 pm when we left.
William: So even though this was a week day, as the day goes on, the park gets more and more crowded and the light is shifting as the sun is traveling across the sky. How do you work with that crowd? How do you eliminate distractions and still work with the light under those changing conditions?
Lee: Well, this is where a bit of planning came in. I knew that merchandise photos were going to be available throughout the day. It’s much easier for those tight detail shots not to worry about the crowds. Your biggest concern is not being inconsiderate and standing in front and blocking access to somebody who wants to look at the same section where you’re trying to take photos. So what I did was, you know things like taking photos of the topiaries and playgrounds, I tried to get that done first thing in the morning, which is why I did a head start going through Canada first thing. There were people there, but it was by no means crowded and very easy to avoid people in the shots most of the time. There’s the odd person and that kind of doesn’t bother me. It’s a theme park. And then once World Showcase opened I went round the other side and started in Mexico and I breezed through there as quickly as I could to get in the topiaries before the crowds. And then I went around and dealt with the food, knowing that those were going to be detail shots and I’d be able to zoom in enough that it wouldn’t matter.
William: So you were there pretty much all day long, you’re moving around back and forth across the park because you’re dealing with a crowd, you’re dealing with the light changing and that kind of brings me to something that’s not really so much photography, but it’s kind of a hard day. You’re up and down, you’re moving around in and out of crowds and people. How do you prepare for that? How do you dress for that, just as far as comfortable shoes?
Lee: I had some running shoes on. I had the usual shoes that I use for working out which are very comfortable and cushioned so I did wear them that day. I tell you what, from bending down and squatting to take photos and getting the right angle without being a nuisance, I felt my legs! I could barely move the next day!
William: So after the next day and you’re feeling your muscles kind of sore, is there anything you wish that you had done differently?
Lee: No, you know what? Sometimes a little bit of pain and inconvenience is all part of getting what you want to get and it was a wonderful day. The crowds were not bad at all. I think there was a lot of media there, a lot of bloggers were there, people were trying to get the opening day. The atmosphere was absolutely wonderful and people were really friendly. They wanted to talk to each other; they wanted to stop and take time out and help and it was just a really pleasant day.
William: Did you have anybody ask you if your camera takes nice photos?
Lee: I did! Actually they didn’t ask so much if the camera took nice photos, but there were people who would look at my camera and say, “Nice camera! Did you get any nice shots?” There was a couple who actually asked if they could see what I got and they were quite fascinated rolling through it. I mean you know what it’s like. Sometimes you snap off twenty of the same thing before you get what you want. For non photographers it can be a bit of a difficult thing to explain. Maybe people who take selfies understand that because I believe there is a similar approach to selfies, but I don’t do that stuff!
William: So you had a whole day out there, you knew what your article was going to be ahead of time. By the time you got through with it, were you able to get everything that you wanted on your assignment? Or was there anything that you kind of said, I wish I’d done that?
Lee: There was stuff that I wished I’d done. But I also knew going in there that to get the shots that I wanted and to do them the way that I wanted them, there was going to be a trade off. There is always a trade off. So for example, there were two kids’ playgrounds. I was going to have time to photograph one. I picked the one that I thought was the most interesting because … I think I picked it because it opens from park opening until park closing and I thought it was a nice little option. So I missed the playground on the other side. There were a few things that I missed. There were some topiaries that I didn’t get around to, but you can’t do everything on every trip and I think if you accept that you can focus on the things that are important and do them well.
William: So basically you had your priorities and list of: These are the things that I must do. And then these were kind of like optional shots. I’d like to get to them, but if I don’t, I’ve already got my must-haves in place?
Lee: That’s exactly how it works. I mean it was the same thing with the food. There was a bit of a hitch late afternoon with the service. I’d only taken cash with me and their system went down and they could only take credit cards or I think it was the Dining Plan? And I don’t know how long this lasted, but I’d checked a few times and an hour later there was still an issue with it and I decided you know, these things happen and just left it. I would have liked to have got more food shots, but by that stage the light was starting to fade so getting a good photo of food after sunset is a little bit more difficult because you’ve lost the daylight that’s coming down which is so pretty.
William: So now this was your first, basically assignment, for an article going out to shoot and we’ve talked about doing more. Do you want to do anymore? Is it fulfilling and is it rewarding, or is it something you come back and say, is this my type of photography or maybe not so much?
Lee: Actually it was wonderful! I absolutely loved it! And yes, I’m looking forward to doing more.
I am a hobby photographer. I take photos because I love taking photos. To me, that’s the greatest reward. I see myself as a photographer because I have a camera and I take photos. I have no desire to put any labels on what I do other than to say that I do this for the love of it. And I think the great thing for me doing this is, because it was covering different types of photography it wasn’t limiting and it also gave me a chance to try out things that I might like. I’m quite enjoying the food photography. It’s shown me that I’ve got a lot to learn. And I like that because there’s a challenge. Will I go into food photography eventually? Who knows? Possibly not, but it’s something that’s fun and exciting and to me any challenge brings opportunities to learn and to grow and I love that.
William: That sounds great! Thank you so much!
Thank you for listening to the Photo Flunky Show. You can find show notes available at williambeem.com/episode15. Also there’s a transcript for free out there, and you just heard the voice of the nice lady who types those up for you.
You can go to subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher Radio. Just go to photoflunky.com and you’ll find the links right there. Don’t forget, we’re going to be moving from three episodes per week to a weekly show so this week: Monday and Wednesday and then following, it will be Wednesday only, but with a little bit more length. Probably about 20 minutes or so.
I’m William Beem. Thank you very much. We appreciate you listening and if you get a chance to go to iTunes, give us a rating and review. We’d love to have your feedback. Take care!