Sunday, 19 June 2011

Extreme photography

I have not lived a sheltered life . . . . I have bungie jumped. I have snorkelled in deep, known-to-be-frequented-by-shark waters off the shores of otherwise beautiful Rottnest Island. Many times, I have driven a car in Denpasar, Bali. Several times I have crossed a 72-laned Vietnamese highway . . . on foot. And I have, many years ago, worn a "Ban Uranium Mining" t-shirt in my mining-is-sacred home town of Kalgoorlie.

All these activities are sweat-inducing, nerve-wracking tests of resolve and arcane skills.

Photographically, the only thing I've done in the past that compares is photographing weddings and bikie fights. Bikie fights I simply do not recommend. Whereas weddings . . . well, come to think of it, leave them alone too . . . . I learned my lessons early enough to run away still in one piece from both of these pursuits.

Back to the point . . . . last night, I reacquainted myself with the photographic equivalent of bungie-jumping, shark-wrangling, bikie-fighting, bride-complaining, traffic-defying mining-magnate dodging: I photographed a Cheerleading display. From the stands ("from the bleachers" to our North American friends).

Now,  it's not that pointing a camera at the stage area and shooting off thousands of shots is particularly difficult. In fact, that approach is dead easy. BUT (you knew that was coming didn't you?) . . . . once you are known as the bloke who takes photos at the cheer events and then sells prints via his website, a certain expectation settles like a hungry vulture on your shoulders . . . .okay, in this part of the world, vultures are rare. Sort of . . . non-existant. We do have budgerigars (affectionally known hereabouts as Melopsittacus undulatus), but if you've ever seen a budgerigar you'll know the metaphor suffers badly. Let's stick with vultures. Back to the story . . . .

You see, everyone wants, quite rightly, a photo of their daughter (or son, the boys are slowly infiltrating this sport). A good photo of their daughter. Not only as part of the group, but in isloation, doing something really spectacular, with grace and skill and a beaming smile. Not a problem I hear you say . . . just photograph everyone. . . . .

Have you ever watched a cheerleading routine? I don't mean the rah rah rahdy rah stuff you sometimes see at the local basketball. I mean the competitive sport version. It's non-stop, it's fast, and with anything up to around 30 girls and the occasional boy on stage, it's definitely not designed for giving everyone a little cameo with a clear line of sight to the photographer stuck up in the back stalls.

But I some time ago decided to give this a go, to try to shoo the budgie-cum-vulture away by trying to do just that . . . shooting everyone . . . and each in a "nice" pose, doing something at least reflective of the sport. Open eyes are nice, smiles are optional. It means a lot of pics, it means a seriously overworked auto-focus, and it means a minute or two spent on almost every pic, cropping to create at least some semblance of balance and isolation of each person photographed. It also means lots of late nights editing . . . and some of the more satisfying results of the little fling I have going with my camera.

An old mentor said to me a long time ago, "losing a good reputation is worse than not having one in the first place". In other words, once you commit to building a reputation, you commit to the even harder task of protecting it. I think she was right.

May all your vultures be budgerigars . . . . roll on the next Cheer competition.

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