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They stared back. Some stoned faced. Some with a half grimace. Some with sympathy.
No really. Smile. You look like you just lost your favorite puppy.
Some half grimaces became half-smiles.
And some half-smiles turned to absolute scorn.
Surprisingly, I hadn’t taken on an event photography gig before. It is a job you can get anywhere in the world really. Assuming you have camera skills, which is why I have probably always shied away from such jobs: I shake like a meth head in withdraw when I hold a camera. I blame coffee, or the camera, or my parents. Whatever abdicates responsibility to someone other than myself. You know the drill Gen Y, spread that blame around evenly.
But let me backtrack a bit to explain how I came to be in this perplexing situation of holding a camera in one hand, beer in the other, responsible for snapping photos all night long.
After spending 3 weeks throwing a fundraiser for children in the Philippines for Christmas (Operation Save Santa), I found myself jobless yet again. However, this time I was stuck in paradise – Boracay Island, one of the best places in the Philippines.
Out of luck and stranded in an exotic land full of friendly natives that spoke perfect English, who incessantly referred to me as “sir”, who could tweet/pin/hashtag faster than I could remember where the login button was, and most importantly, who could snap selfies faster than the NSA could download them (not as fast as the Koreans though – gold medalist those guys).
I needed a job and fast. But I was now stuck in a position where my job seeking competition was nicer, had more technological skills, and spoke better English than myself. All of my unique selling propositions (whoooa, business school terminology finally paying off – note, still not worth it) were no more. No longer able to rest on my actual feeble skill set for gainful employment, I did what any self-respecting white person would do to get the job: I lied my ass off.
Oh ya, ya. I have been a photographer for years…
And this brought me to my latest job taking photos of excited vacationers partaking in Boracay’s number 1 rated activity on Trip Advisor: Boracay Pub Crawl.
The name pub crawl usually conjures up imagery of boozing, hordes of backpackers looking to get wasted, shit-canned, pissed, hammered, Australianed etc., to the point that they are able to finally approach and speak to the other human beings without a wifi connection. However, this pub crawl, as I was to discover, was a bit different than most. The premise, as their motto states, is to: “Turn Strangers into Friends”. Which I found to be a refreshing new take on the common popular activity, as every other pub crawl I have ever partaken in resulted with either a drink in my face, the “what was his/her name?” the next morning, or more often, waking up with a raging hangover contemplating what I was doing in my life (you get this more as you approach 30).
So back to the snapping photos gig.
The night began with the usual meet and greet. Opening drinks, the obligatory questions people ask: Where are you from? What do you do? What’s your sign baby? Fortunately, the pub crawl in Boracay makes it a bit easier with forcing you to find out interesting facts about people or face a public shaming: namely, by drinking more. Which is not as much a punishment as it is an incentive.
The first twenty minutes went by, and my camera shakiness now became the least of my worries. Every snap I took, every angle I attempted, I was greeted with the legendary Russian-smile by the participants: the I am happy on the inside and show it with my angry death stare.
Perhaps I just wasn’t as likable as my mother led me to believe. Or maybe I was just shooting the wrong subjects at the wrong time. That must be it.
The night went on. From one bar to the next, but things were still not quite going as smoothly as I hoped. I felt like the unwanted guest at a party. The guy who shows up unannounced, and when he approaches others, they suddenly need to “go to the bathroom” (the comfort room in the Philippines). Feeling down, but not out, I contemplated what happened the last time I donned a camera in one hand, endowed with the task of making magical moments. I flashbacked to the time with the children during my Save Santa video shoot. The kids were smiling, playing and gleeful – until I shoved my DSLR camera in their face. Their smiles turned to frowns. Their gleefulness into suspicion. And their playing into posing as emotionless statues. What had I done then to change the game?
So I morphed into a ninja in the night. A pop up paparazzi. Sneaking up on unsuspecting victims to get that perfect shot of smiling in the moment before they could spot me.
The technique was working. Sort of. I got some great photos with people being a little more el natural on their pubcrawl. But I needed more. The angle of the shots from my sneakiness still wasn’t quite right. I needed to evoke honest to goodness willingness for people to actually want to capture the fun moment they were having. But what else could I do?
The secret to success, as I was to discovery, was to trick them. Yes. Photographers must learn to become stewards of patience for the perfect shot. They must become mentalists able to manipulate their subjects to their will. Or they simply just become an expert in bribery – my method of choice, but hey, path of least resistance is just how I roll baby.
What did I do with the kids to get them to smile? What do profession studio photographer use with children?
Toys, candy and props. Good thought – but adults aren’t really excited by toys and candy, not unless they are a virgin who lives in their parent’s basement.
Then the obvious came. What were to become my secret weapons in this holy war of emotional will: Alcohol and stage props. Alcohol, the social lubricant that turns introverts into extroverts, Turner from a dreadful bore of a conversationalist into a mildly boring conversationalist, was the key. And as for the hats, who doesn’t like a guy dressed up like Squanto?
The result: Jubilation.
The pub crawl goers lit up with excitement. I was no longer the creep trying to snap a photo of them. I was the mayor of good times. I doled out drinks to those who needed an extra boost of enthusiasm. I grabbed hats and whatever party gimmicks I could get my hands on from the other pubcrawl staff. And like any good studio photographer, I got my subjects to cheer up and sympathize for the poor bastard in front of them who had to do this day in day out for a living. I drank, I snapped shots, as I became one of them: a pubcrawler.
So what did I learn from my first attempt at as an event photographer on Boracay’s infamous pub crawl? Well – bribing people with booze can work wonders, but the art of a true event photographer to capture the perfect shot takes experience, it takes camera know how, it takes a zen-like prowess to be in the moment to know not when to take the shot, but when to become the shot.
The true magic and secret of being an event photographer, as it turned out, was right in front of me the whole time. It was hidden in the motto of the crawl itself: To help turn strangers into friends.
For the moment that I opened up with strangers and stopped taking their photo as creep stranger, was the moment I became a friend who was taking photos. A friend who bought drinks, wore ridiculous hats, and still didn’t know shit about using a camera. And who doesn’t like having an idiot friend to laugh at around? Makes you feel better about your own life. Success.