A3 – process: notes of choir meetings

As part of the process for assignment 3, I am keeping a journal of my meetings with the Steeton MVC. I hope that when it comes to editing the final images, the journal will help support the selection process.

22.12.16 – The Airedale Heifer, Keighley

My first meeting with the choir, who were fund-raising for a local cancer charity – a group of 20 members were performing. Notes:

  • An entertaining and lively evening of Christmas songs and stories. The landlady and customers I spoke with all commented on how impressed they were by the choir.
  • Met my main contact, Ian McDonald, at the break. Very welcoming and we had a short chat about the choir and photography. Ian talked about some of the challenges of maintaining choir numbers in general and the struggle to survive that some other choirs were facing. Rehearsals proper would restart on 16.1.17.
  • Chatted to a couple of other members at the break (two of the 1st tenors – who I joked were like gold-dust in choirs); I explained that I’d be working with them on the photo project (they were aware of it and enthusiastic) and I asked them about the choir; mentioned that they were currently recruiting for a new MD (musical director), which is a significant event as there have only been a handful in the choir’s 100 year history.
  • Joined in with the choir when they asked for male volunteers from the pub – it was great to experience standing in the middle of them. Somehow reminded me of being part of a sports team. At the same time, a little nerve-racking for someone without a great voice.
  • Took some photos during the second half of the performance. It apparently wasn’t yet known by all members that I’d be working with them, as some were checking that I wasn’t from the Press and would just be using the photos for my own purposes. However, it was easily explained and I was welcomed as their ‘resident photographer’.
16.1.17 – Rehearsal at Steeton Methodist Hall

My first meeting with the full choir – I was introduced and made to feel welcome. Rehearsals last two hours, so there is plenty of time for photography!

I decided to shoot without flash light on the first meeting as I didn’t want to be too intrusive during the rehearsal and would bring up the question of using flash for the following week’s meeting.

The room was crowded with little space for moving among the seated choir and there were problems with the lighting in the hall – a couple of lights were out and one large fluorescent tube was flicking on and off. My intention was to shoot at a distance from choir members this week, using a Fujinon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 (with OIS). However, the lens struggled in the poor light so I swapped to an old Nikkor 135mm f/2.8, using it manually with my Fuji X-T1.

I spent as much time watching and listening to the choir as photographing.    The wall of sound created by around 100 well-trained voices was magnificent and the quiet songs moving. The emotions and concentration written on the faces of the men while they sang was captivating. This is what it means to be in a choir and why many have been members for over 20 years.

At the end of the session, I asked about using flash light the next week as a was concerned about it distracting from the rehearsal. However, the choir was not in the least concerned. And then, we visited the pub and I had the chance to talk a little more to some of the choir about what I was doing and about the choir.

23.1.17 – Rehearsal at Steeton Methodist Hall

This week, I was equipped with a single flash (with a diffuser), wireless transmitter and a light stand for the flash – there would be little room for much else in the crowded space and I wanted to be able easily to move around the choir along with the light. I wanted to focus mainly on portraits of individuals or small groups to capture the emotion of the choir in my photos. Therefore, I worked with a Fujinon 60mm f/2.4 and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4. I found the Fujinon to bright enough along with the flash, so ended up mostly using that with back-button focus combined with manual tweaking.

The lighting in the rehearsal hall had been fixed from the previous week – it was all together a brighter place. It would have made my flash-less photography in the previous week much easier!

Throughout the session, I moved between the different sections of the choir – using breaks between songs to move my light stand around and photograph different sections of the choir. There were practical constraints on fitting the light stand in gaps between seats and I had no intention of asking people to move around in the middle of their rehearsal (especially as the various voices are grouped)!

The flash was used manually throughout and set at a zoom level and brightness that worked at a distance of 2-3 meters from the subject. Any adjustments to light levels during the session were made by stopping down the lens’s aperture.

No visit to the pub this week as I had an early start for the airport the next morning.

Review of shots

Over the weekend of 28 January, I post-processed my photos and began the process of editing and seeking peer feedback. This is detailed in separate posts.

My feeling is that I have enough for the purposes of my OCA project, and it is time to move on towards the next assignment. However, I intend to continue photographing the choir as a personal project and to provide them with some images for their own publicity. It would be good to do some colour work when they are dressed smartly for a performance, rather than casually for rehearsal.