Lesson learned: be wary of LARP events with ominous titles.
"Cold Ash is in ruins the and the town's inhabitants are dead or scattered thanks to Slavers, Rats and then the Left Hand throwing everything they'd got at the town. It is time for the survivors to look for a place of safety. Cold Ash, as they found, was not the safe haven that the radio message declared it do be. However another settlement has let its name be known over the radio waves and around fires. Larger and better built... Dustbowl. So to Dustbowl people trudge; some with vehicles thrash the engines in the hopes of reaching safety before the winter kicks in. Winter is not the time to be on the roads. Too many eyes watch for those who fall behind."
Last November Russ and Cazz ran The World Went Dark. A post-apocalyptic wasteland fantasy LARP that outdid everyones expectations. I always had faith it would be good (you have to when it's your friends, right?), but I didn't quite know how well the whole thing would pull together.
The pictures were a real milestone to me. I really felt like I had finally got a handle on both LARP photography and my artistic style. It was all falling into place. You can see the images from Event 1 here or you can scroll through them below.
The World Went Dark - Event 1: The Signal
So with that in mind I jumped at the chance to photograph Event 2. Aptly titled Out of the Frying Pan.
The planned venue would be gorgeous. A desolate quarry that extended further than the players could easily walk. Gas guzzling vehicles as props to help with the Mad Max vibes. August sun (and the sun was due to shine all weekend) and blue skies. Perfect. These would be some of my best photographs yet.
But it was not to be. Twenty four hours before we were due to enter Valhalla word came that the venue had been changed. We were relocating 90 minutes away to Portsmouth. And we were going underground.
Yeah, that's right. Underground. A World War II tunnel complex in fact.
Dark. Damp. No sunlight. In fact, no real lights.
Yeah, no lights.
You know that heavy, sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach that is quickly followed by the kind of nausea that sees you wanting to lie down in a dark room for a month? That. That's how I felt.
"We have to be there for Cazz and Russ" was the gist of the conversation that happened Thursday night and first thing Friday morning. You see I might just take photos, but Adam (my partner, for those who don't know) is the kind of person who at LARP events just picks up the jobs that fall between the cracks of the event team. And with a 24 hour notice site move to a completely different style of property, there were bound to be cracks opening up everywhere.
It was Friday morning I gave real thought to what I was going to do about photography this weekend. You see, I hate low light photography with a real passion. In the evenings at LARP I generally kick back and spend time with my friends rather than getting frustrated at my inability to shoot in the dark.
It's a bit of a combination of not really having the right gear to produce the kind of results I'd like, and just not having enough experience. I've never really had much patience to spend lots of time practicing shooting in low light so as a result I'm just kind of a bit rubbish at it. And of course because I don't do it, I've never built my lens collection to cope with those kind of conditions.
But here it was, foisted upon me. I had no choice. It was too late to turn back - and I couldn't let friends down at the last minute. Photographs are the life-blood of event promotion for LARP. Showing people scenes that they want to be a part of is easier than trying to describe them.
Twenty minutes of frantically searching my studio produced the lens I was hoping to find. When I first picked up a camera about ten years ago I had been told by a friend to purchase a £50 lens. Actually it was £40 on eBay from China. Bargain. For those who are interested in such things, it was the Canon 50mm f/1.8 MkII. It's a cheap-ass piece of shit. Made completely of plastic. The auto-focus is utterly terrible and doesn't work in low-light 90% of the time. I've not used it for about four or five years. That's how much I hate using this lens. But it has two saving graces: the first is that the quality of the glass is surprisingly good, and the second is that it lets an awful lot of light into the camera.
Light. That's what I needed. As much light as possible. So I threw the lens into the bag and guessed that I'd figure the rest out on the way. I was going to live or die by this shitty piece of plastic over the weekend and the sinking feeling didn't go away the whole time we were driving to site.
A brave face and some serious expectation management was the key to bluffing my way through the event. I have always found with photography that if you exude confidence in what you do then everything will more or less be fine. Or at least you can deal with the failure after the job is over when you're a decent distance away from the client...
I won't lie. Saturday night after a few drinks I sat on the edge of my bed and had a bit of a cry. I had no idea if the photographs were working. I had no laptop to examine my technique and see if I needed to change anything on the fly. It's stressful feeling like you might let good friends down. Especially when there's a fair bit riding on it. This event had to be a success. That means everything from the players having a great time, to the photos living up to my exactly standards.
Turns out that actually everything was ok.
Sure, I didn't get a few hundred great pictures of the event. In fact I got about 100. But I only shot 500 so that feels like a bit of a win to me.
90% of the images were shot in a pool of light in the middle of the marketplace that was about five meters in diameter. Considering that - I'm feeling pretty smug.
I have a plan for the future. I need to invest in lenses so that I'm more prepared for every eventuality. I would have rented if I'd been given more notice, but I called round three different rental companies and the three lenses I was interested in were not available for this weekend.
I'm also going to try and get a new camera body. The camera I'm currently using was released in 2008 - so I've had mine for about six years now. We've shared some good times but I think it's time to move with the time and get some new technology. Something that can handle photographing in low light better than what I have now. Perhaps that'll be next year though - because the options on the table are likely to be around the £3500 mark.
I suspect that I need to be kinder on myself in the future. I'm a good photographer and really quite competent. I might not do anything fancy, but I know my way around a camera.
The words "You've got this" on Saturday morning stayed in my head all day.
And that person was right. I had it. And I fucking rocked it. With a cheap plastic lens on a camera released eight years ago.
And you know what? I love these photos. This genuinely marks a turning point in my work. And from now on, I'll say "I've got this" with a little more confidence.
You can see the images here. Or scroll through them below.
The World Went Dark - Event 2: Out of the Frying Pan