Thursday 26 December 2013

Assignment 5 Rochester Christmas Festival December 2013

Finally I got there!!

The Event

The Rochester Christmas Festival 2013 included several events beginning with a Dickensian Costume sale on the 9 November followed by a parade and the switching on of the Christmas Lights on 16 November, a Christmas Market set up in the Castle grounds running every weekend from Saturday, 30 November to Sunday, 15 December with the Dickensian Christmas Festival happening on Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 December. It was my intention to capture the atmosphere, entertainment and events of the whole lead up to the Dickensian Christmas Festival to hopefully showcase the fun that the vendors and organisers have bringing this event to life as much as the spectators have watching and participating in it. Whilst capturing this event I had to be mindful of the shot list: key moments, preparations, behind the scenes, wide establishing shots, telephoto, close-up detail and spectator reaction shots. The shoot had to be conducted in a professional manner with the intention of possibly offering the final images for possible publication for example to the local newspaper - the online edition offers images for view and sale to the general public - and Medway council who use images to promote the events both online and in the physical publication of leaflets and brochures.

Having been to the Only in England exhibition showing photographs from Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones and looking through Parr's book The Non-Conformists showed me how English at leisure and attending special occasions could be photographed. Most of Parr's and Ray-Jones' subjects were captured unaware and often each person was looking in a different direction. Both photographers filled the frame as much as possible leaving very little or no negative space. I hoped to take inspiration from these photographers to complete my final assignment. I loved the notes on Tony Ray-Jones' approach and adopted it like a mantra

  • Be more assertive
  • Get more involved
  • Stay with the subject matter
  • Take simpler pictures
  • See if everything in the background relates to the subject matter
  • Vary compositions or angles more
  • Don't take boring pictures
  • Get in closer
  • Watch camera shake
  • Don't shoot too much
  • Not all eye level
  • No middle distance

Sounds easy (she laughs) in total I took over 600 shots (so much for don't shoot much!) uploaded using Adobe Bridge and a metadata template. Quite a few were easily rejected due to poor framing, poor focus or not being of anything interesting. I completed 3 rounds of selection and whittled them down to just over 60.

After further editing and close examination I finally had my first select images, between 12-20 plus a further 20+ second select images. I followed the following workflow:

Uploaded with Adobe Bridge - applied metadata template
Discarded obvious rejects
Named/Dated images
Archived to hard-drive and portable disc drive
Chose first and second selects using star rating system
Caption/add information as required embedded in the IPTC data
Processed selects in Raw adjusting exposure, dust spots, clarity, chromatic aberration, white balance if necessary
Processed in Adobe Photoshop, cropping, cloning out small distractions using an adjustment layer, any further tweaks using curve layer 
Prepare marketable package - as I had not approached a publication prior to the shoot I did not have a remit to follow, however research has shown publishers/editors like to receive Hi-Res jpegs either by email or on a disc. Some are happy to use downloads from specific sites as long as the images are Hi-Res and speaking to Simon Wakeman who deals with the marketing for Medway Council these were the methods he said they preferred. Some prefer images sent to not be sharpened so images for display would be sharpened whilst images to be sent would not be.

First-select Images

Rochester High Street Christmas Lights

A peaceful Rochester High Street, after the crowds have dispersed, with colourful lights and adorned shop fronts.
The first weekend of festivities kicked of this year with a small Dickensian Parade, street dancing and stage entertainment compared by Heart FM's Neil Kefford, culminating in the switching on of  the Rochester High Street Lights.

20mm f8 ISO100 2.5 secs tripod and shutter cable release - Wide angle establishing shot taken from a low perspective this image captures the colours and atmosphere of Rochester High Street at this festive time of year, The street lights form an implied triangle whilst the diagonally festooned Christmas lights lead the eye across and into the picture. A busy image, there is interest in every area of the frame. f8 has allowed for a good depth of field and sharp detail.

All the Fun of the Fair

Evening entertainment as a traditional fun fair is set up in Rochester Castle Grounds
Various market stalls under canvas marquees offered visitors a wide a selection of gifts, souvenirs and novelty stocking fillers, a traditional family fun fair and refreshment stalls complimented the festive atmosphere.

20mm f14 ISO100 1.6 secs-  Wide angle establishing shot taken from a low perspective and a slow shutter speed to capture the movement of the Ferris wheel the absence of the crowds at this point build the anticipation of the fun to be had in the coming weeks. The direction of the horses lead the eye into the centre of the frame. There is very little negative space and the dark sky offers a contrast to the bright lights of the carousel. f14 has given a good depth of field and sharp detail.

The Seven Poor Travellers’ Procession

Shirley Goodhew, organiser of the Seven Poor Travellers' Procession  carves Christmas dinner for the deserving poor of Rochester

The parades and processions began with The Seven Poor Travellers’ Procession at 11am which set off from outside the Guildhall Museum along the high street to the Six Poor Travellers’ House. The turkey was carved and a selection of vegetables, Christmas pudding and mince pies were offered to the "deserving poor" of Rochester.

55mm f2.8 ISO400 1/320 - close up detail, shot from low perspective, f2.8 gives shallow depth of field giving attention to the action of carving the turkey, the knife provides a diagonal leading the eye to the centre of the frame, the holly adds the detail indicating Christmas. Everything in the background relates to the subject.

Enjoying Mince Pies

Tucking into mince pies from the Seven Poor Travellers Christmas Dinner
The tradition of this procession is based upon a writing by Charles Dickens which can be found online as part of the Gutenburg Project

30mm f2.8 ISO400 1/60 - spectator shot, close up of a young girl enjoying her free mince pie, her vibrant red coat making her stand out from the crowd, her bent arm leads the eye down the frame to her younger sibling also tucking into a Christmas treat. Background emphasises the crowds.

Fun in the Snow

 Fun and photo opportunities for all the generations thanks to The Snowboy Snow truck.
The organisers of the Rochester Festival do their utmost to create a wonderful, wintry, Christmas atmosphere and therefore arrange fake snow in selected areas of the High Street. The main system used is a SnowStorm snow truck from Snowboy,, which you can see in operation in this YouTube video.

52mm f2.8 ISO400 1/200 - spectator and wide establishing shot, fake snow adding to the fun, vibrant red hoodie catches the eye, the child's outstretched arm leading your eye into the centre of the frame where you then notice the camera and eye contact between the subjects which takes your eye around the frame. The snow adds movement and interest to the photograph and helps narrate the event. The Christmas balloons in soft focus in the background echo the colour of the hoodie and relate to the narrative of the set. A busy image with no negative space the crowds in the distance show how hectic it was.

Street Entertainment - City of Rochester Pipe Band

Anne Reed from the City of Rochester Pipe Band resting her swinging drum sticks, with crochet covers, on her tenor drum
The City of Rochester Pipe Band was originally formed in 1978 as the Maidstone Pipe Band and changed to its current name in 1995. The Pipe Band, wearing MacDougall tartan, led the Main Parade both days as well as playing a few sets along the High Street.

55mm f2.8 ISO400 1/250 - street entertainment preparation, close detail, showing a different viewpoint from the usual wide angle shot of the band marching, shot from low perspective. Taken while the band were preparing for a set in the High Street before the main parade. Diagonal lines of the drum and sticks lead the eye across the frame the shallow depth of field suggesting the other members of the band.

Street Entertainment - Bishop Gundulf Morris Men Novice Side

Outside Rochester Cathedral, Kay Foreman leads the Bishop Gundulf Morris men Novices to entertain the crowds 

Bishop Gundulf' Morris Men have a Novice team of dancers. The Novices side has both boys and girls as members, with ages ranging from 3-16 years old. They dance all styles of Morris dances and country dances.The novices foreman is Kay Anderson, and practices are held every Thursday during term time.

17mm f2.8 ISO400 1/800 - key moment, street entertainment. A dull overcast day provided soft diffused light but meant without using flash I had to opt for a higher ISO in order to have a fast enough shutter speed to avoid motion blur. Taken from a low perspective meant I was at the same height as the children as they ducked under the raised arms of the others. The raised linked arms give different levels of interest and create movement around the frame, the girl glancing back on the left also takes your eye back into the frame. The circle of children frame the spectators. The background relates to the subject matter implying the location and setting of the event.

Street Entertainment - Seven Dials Rapscallions

The Mistletoe seller offering kisses didn't get many takers with his set of stained, crooked teeth
The Seven Dials Rapscallions are a theatre group which portrays characters living the side of Victorian life that is invariably overlooked. the 'down and dirty'. They go to extraordinary lengths to achieve a high standard of authenticity which makes them stand out against other Victorian portrayals bringing these people and their lives to the fore through a passionate interest in historical interpretation and interaction with the public.

20mm f2.8 ISO800 1/25 - portrait and establishing shot. A substantial part of the Dickensian weekend revolves around the Dickensian characters who set up stalls, provide entertainment and wander amongst the crowds, their attention to detail with costumes and props add to the authenticity of the event. The shallow depth of field makes you concentrate on the main subject but the background detail of antique street lighting and Christmas stalls aid with the narrative.

Ali King from Seven Dials Rapscallions, portrays Victorian married life as her alter ego Mrs Grimes
The Seven Dials Rapscallions are a theatre group which portrays characters living the side of Victorian life that is invariably overlooked. the 'down and dirty'. They go to 'extraordinary lengths to achieve a high standard of authenticity' which makes them stand out against other Victorian portrayals bringing these people and their lives to the fore through a 'passionate interest in historical interpretation and interaction with the public.' Seven Dials was originally laid out by Thomas Neale, MP in the early 1690's. Unfortunately, the area failed to establish itself as Neale hoped and deteriorated into a slum, renowned for its gin shops. Dickens, in "Sketches by Boz" wrote "The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time..."

31mm f2.8 ISO400 1/160  - portrait and establishing shot. A substantial part of the Dickensian weekend revolves around the Dickensian characters who set up stalls, provide entertainment and wander amongst the crowds, their attention to detail with props and costumes add to the authenticity of the event. The chosen background with subdued colours makes sure you concentrate on the main subject and the Victorian building is in keeping with the era. A fairly static image the characters facial expression, costume and make-up show how life was hard for the family lifestyle the actor was portraying.

Street Entertainment - Rich Nairn

Caricaturist Rich Nairn offers to sketch you "as were" or in an imaginary Victorian costume if you so wish 
Rich Nairn AKA The Artful Doodler is available for hire for events and private functions. For street events he works in black and white but for longer sittings he works in colour. A link to his webpage is here. On the day he was charging £5 a portrait.

55mm f4 ISO400 1/640 - close detail of entertainment/service provided for the spectator, large aperture subtly blurring the background so the viewer concentrates on the portrait detail. Taken from a low perspective. The background relates to the subject matter, hinting at the children he was sketching.

Street Entertainment - Rochester Lamplighter

Keith Beckford climbs his ladder, adopts his alter ego, William Tompkins Lamplighter, to sing about "Getting a bit Tonight!
Keith Beckford joined the ranks of Right Royal Revels, The Fabulous Fezheads, Dizzy O'Dare's stiltwalkers and Hobo Christmas Carollers, Skinner Rats, Seven Dials Rapscallions, Allcock and Brown plus many more for the delectation and delight of the spectators at the weekend festival. He had the crowd laughing and joining the chorus.

45mm f2.8 ISO400 1/250 - street entertainment- another Dickensian character capturing the Victorian era and the event. This portrait shot capture the attention to detail and mannerisms of the Lamplighter. Background details indicates that the subject is on a ladder on a level with the shop frontage.

The Crowds - Carol Singing

Taking a break from  offering the King's shilling, in the form of chocolate coins, a young soldier exhorts the crowd to join MidKent College Performing Arts students in singing Carols.
55mm f2.8 ISO800 1/200 - spectator shot, wide establishing shot - taken from a high vantage point which enables the viewer to take in the way the characters mingle with the crowd and realise how busy the festival is. The background has many small details which, after the initial observation of the main subject, the viewer begins to pick out, the smiling faces, the small girl framed between the Dickensian characters, the spectator just out of shot filming or photographing the entertainment and the way the red and yellow carrier bag echoes the red and yellow of the soldiers uniform whilst on the right hand side of the frame the incidental colour seems to be predominantly burgundy.

The Crowds - enjoying the street vendors wares

Hungry spectators take advantage as restaurants and shops are licensed to set up food stalls outside
40mm f4 ISO400 1/250 - wide establishing shot showing an example of the food stall set up outside, the green items of clothing, table cloth and other background items provided a limited colour palette, the outstretched arms suggest movement and lead your eye across the frame, all the people appear to be focusing on the food, the steam rising and the shallow depth of field emphasise the main focal point of the hot noodles.

The Crowds - loving the entertainment

Outside Rochester Library Chloe, from South Croydon, gets into Robert Styles' Punch & Judy Show.

55mm f2.8 ISO400 1/250 - spectator reaction - zoom lens allowed for close up reaction to a young spectator enjoying the Punch & Judy show. Taken from a low perspective, the green jacket in the background is similar in tone to the grass which helps frame the main subject while the child's gloves and coat behind echo the colours of the main focal point.

Candlelit Parade

Darcey and John collect their lamp and wait by the Christmas Tree for the Candlelit Parade which ends in a Carol Concert outside Rochester Castle
24mm f2.8 ISO800 speedlight used 1/25 - key moment - the Candlelit parade. Using the Christmas tree as a backdrop the fairy lights frame the subjects, a Speedlite was employed with flash exposure compensation used and the bounce card which resulted in a more natural light.

Conclusion of first select images

I worked very hard to make sure that I adopted the approach written down by Tony Ray-Jones. As with any photographic shoot some you win, some you lose, progressing throughout the project I did find myself becoming more assertive, speaking to people, asking them to pose in certain areas, with the unaware shots I was less apprehensive about holding my camera up and shooting, which was made a lot easier by the nature of this event, many people were taking photographs and had larger cameras so I blended in. Compositions were varied with different levels and viewpoints, with backgrounds relating to the subject matter. The final 15 images chosen capture the various characters and key events happening throughout the festival. When shooting parades and street events you have to be very quick in spotting the action or following the crowds to where you think the action might be. It is very easy to miss a shot which cannot be recreated, this was quite frustrating. Covering several events allowed me to used different lighting techniques which I have enjoyed exploring and intend to continue to work on my use of flash and long exposure. Although my preference is for using ambient light this is not always possible or practical. Selecting and editing from such a large pool was also a challenge and thinking beyond personal preference and having to consider a photo-story or newspaper article gave a different perspective on which images to choose. This is why it is important to be able to offer a publisher/editor a high quality set of first selects which can be cropped to fit a set layout and a set of second selects which could tell the narrative to fit their publication. The majority of my first selects could be cropped square or changed from landscape to portrait etc whilst retaining enough of the subject matter. If aiming for publication in a local newspaper the speed at which you deliver your images is of the utmost importance and this may impact upon the selection, if some photographs need more post production it is likely they will not make the first select. After shooting the final weekend I came down with the flu bug doing the rounds which hampered the speed of my editing; looking at pictures with a splitting headache and aching eyes does not work and I was in bed for 4 days! As a professional I would have had to carry on regardless and I do not envy professional photojournalists working to tight deadlines. In conclusion I think the final selected images capture the feel of the event, are informative, work together as a body of work with a coherent narrative and reflect the inspiration of Tony Ray-Jones.

Examples of alternative crops:

Second-select Images

Neil Kefford ,drivetime DJ for Heart FM compares the stage events

The Worshipful Mayor of Medway, Cllr Josie Iles heads the main parade behind the City of Rochester Pipe Band

The Fabulous Fezheads show more than Christmas spirit as they parade down the High Street

Alan Lonsdale attends several Christmas events throughout Essex and Kent spreading Christmas cheer with his colourful display of Christmas Cards

Hobo Christmas Carollers Kristian Hart and Niall Costigan of Dizzy O'Dares serenade passersby

Various Dickens characters mingle with and pose for delighted onlookers
Street Theatre group Seven Dials Rapscallions re-enacted Victorian "down and dirty" living conditions outside Eastgate House, setting for Dickens novel Edwin Drood
Street Theatre group Seven Dials Rapscallions re-enacted Victorian "down and dirty" living conditions outside Eastgate House, setting for Dickens novel Edwin Drood

Street Theatre group Seven Dials Rapscallions re-enacted Victorian "down and dirty" living conditions outside Eastgate House, setting for Dickens novel Edwin Drood

John, part of a Dickensian Society poses in St Mary's Meadow, Rochester Cathedral

John and Mary Allchin, part of a Dickensian Society pose in St Mary's Meadow Rochester Cathedral

Getting costumes perfect before the main parade

Malcolm Hearne as the Ghost of Christmas Past

Charles Dickens raises as toast after reading the tale of The Seven Poor Travellers

Robert Styles' Punch & Judy never fails to capture the attention of the younger spectators

Old and young loving the fake snow in Rochester High Street

The snow may not be real but it is important to stay warm

Food stalls tempt Christmas shoppers with their fare against an impressive backdrop of Rochester Castle
Parade participants take great care over the smallest of details

Detailing on uniforms are as authentic as possible


My overall conclusion is that working as a photojournalist to professional standards is quite tricky. Not only do you have to think about taking the photographs but all the background information that goes with it. The research of the events, marketing etc. Unlike a more formal setting events happen very quickly and for the most part are out of your control. You have to take into consideration quite a few contingency plans whilst also travelling light and be prepared to follow the action and be flexible in your approach. Images are not being shot for personal tastes but aimed at a specific market and shot lists must be adhered to. It is of vital importance to make sure there is a market out there for your work or secure a client beforehand. Selection and editing must be completed in a short time frame and to tight deadlines with first and second selects chosen and delivered to an agreed method and standard.

I feel my first selects meet the remit of the assignment of covering an event and my own personal targets of using different lighting techniques, perspectives and composition whilst taking inspiration from Tony Ray-Jones. The second selects either show more examples of subject matter already covered in the first set i.e. different character portraits, spectator reaction shots, close details, or different aspects such as the celebrities, stalls set up near the castle and from the parade itself therefore offer an editor choices. Choosing the second selects was possibly harder than the first.

Many of my shots taken with flash did not work well at all and I found I was experimenting as I went along. Fortunately a few did come out but it has highlighted the need for more exploration into using flash both during the day and at night if I intend to cover events needing artificial lighting. On a personal note I prefer my shots to be as uncluttered as possible and feel this probably influenced shot selection, however on looking at some of the professional online news articles, images with random heads and body parts in are used as are shots with harsh lighting and high contrast. These are still published though as they tell a narrative and it would appear that this is sometimes more important than the technical aspects/composition of the images.

My confidence has grown but I still don't know if I'd actually be happy to approach someone to ask them to pay me upfront!

*update feedback Here
*update reworking - as the event was a one off I could not reshoot to rework any of the images. I had a closer look at some of the images I had dismissed but still felt that I had chosen the best ones available at the time. Being a large public event the choice of background was not always ideal and it was difficult to ask people to move. This is something I will bear in mind for future events. I took on board Keith's invaluable comments about the importance of background and used them to inform my reworking of assignment one, ensuring that the backgrounds added context to the main subject.

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