Photographers with Benefits

No barriers access to 5 days of mesmerizing Beakerhead events is the primary reason I volunteer with the Beakerhead photo crew. A less obvious benefit is insider access – the chance to photograph places that are off limits to the general public, to preview events and to attend relevant photography workshops.

I took advantage of several such insider benefits in the run up to Beakerhead 2015. I hope sharing some highlights will help me cope with my ongoing Beakerhead withdrawal symptoms!

Night Photography Workshop

In early June the Beakerhead photo crew joined members of the graphics and social media crews at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory located about 30 minutes southwest of Calgary. The evening began with an AMA hosted by Dr. Phil Langill from the University of Calgary. We learned about diamond rain, snow on Mars, that the visual depiction of the black hole in the movie Interstellar is reasonable (at least from this side of the event horizon) and more. It’s a good thing we had the information session inside the classroom space at the RAO, because as soon as we headed outside for night sky viewing, members of the photo crew scattered everywhere and it was all about the images. One particularly special aspect about the evening was that each crew member was able to invite a guest, so for me it was a shared experience with our oldest son who was then recently back from his first year away at university.

Fabulist Preview

In late August, a large package containing the never-before-seen giant inflatable Fabulist arrived at Beakerhead HQ. I quickly put my hand up when Beakerhead asked for a couple of photo crew members to attend the trial set-up/inflation of the colourful robot. The creatives at Bee Kingdom Glass conceived a polite, intergalactic ambassador for Canada, inspired by northern wilderness animals. The light was nice and even, thanks to heavy smoke in the air. There was a giddy sense of excitement and delight as the Bee Kingdom Glass team coaxed the Fabulist from a prone, flat jumble of coloured fabric to what they’d envisioned when first approached about this project.

In addition to witnessing the delight over the successful test run, I appreciated having previously met the Bee Kingdom team when I went to St. Patrick’s Island in September for a photo session with a representative from one of Beakerhead’s sponsor organizations. It made the whole experience less stressful for me – a good thing, since it was my first such assignment!

Barron Building B-roll

Building owner Strategic Group provided Beakerhead with access to two floors of the historic Barron Building in Calgary for Beakerhead 2015. I was one of two members of the Beakerhead photo team who volunteered to go in early and photograph the empty space before it was transformed for The Gorgeous Molecule, The Gorgeous Libation and the Temporary Gallery of Lasting Impressions. We basically shot what I refer to (rightly or wrongly) as B-roll (i.e. background photographs that are not part of the main event but may be useful for promoting the event, sharing details that attendees may overlook or building a sense of anticipation). We had about an hour in the space. The late afternoon light was absolutely fantastic and I had a lot of fun on this shoot. My only regret is that I didn’t find the time to see the transformed space while Beakerhead was underway.

Inside Intrude

So this last one didn’t come about as a result of being a member of the photo crew. When I read about Amanda Parer’s Intrude installation and some of her ideas behind it (urban wildlife, nearby nature, etc.), I knew I wanted the opportunity to spend a bit of time with the project. So I volunteered my time and muscles with the Intrude set-up crew. We worked hard, hauling sandbags, taking care to keep mud off the while rabbits, setting up blowers and lights and whatever else Amanda needed us to do. Based on firsthand experience, I can tell you that it’s very hot inside those rabbits when it’s sunny outside! Overall, it was a really good opportunity to develop an appreciation for the hard work and many volunteer hours that go into making Beakerhead fantastic. And it gave the me the chance to get a couple of photos that are actually from inside one of the rabbits!

There are a lot of benefits associated with volunteering, including:

  • building new friendships and making new contacts;
  • honing your social and relationship skills;
  • deepening your self-confidence;
  • providing a greater sense of purpose;
  • combating depression; and
  • helping you stay physically active/healthy.

As a volunteer photographer, I’d like to add inside access and skills development to that list. Add all of those benefits up and I’m ready to re-up for Beakerhead 2016 right now!

I’d be happy to learn a bit about your volunteer contributions to society – what organization and why – so please leave a comment and share your experiences.

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