Playing the Cards I Was Dealt at the Ojai Storytelling Festival

In a visually cluttered environment, I sought ways to simplify.

In a visually cluttered environment, I sought ways to simplify each frame.

I’ve attended sixteen Ojai Storytelling Festivals, and I’ve photographed at least twelve of them. Every year there are new challenges. Oh, he’s going to juggle flaming torches? Okay. Oh, she’s going to spin and twirl all over the stage? Okay. Oh, they’re going to wear black clothes and bright white makeup? Okay. I attend nearly every event over the weekend, so if at first I don’t get the shot, I usually get another chance.

This stage was really challenging, with bright gels everywhere I turned, and a harsh spot that produced "raccoon eyes" unless tellers looked in very specific directions.

This stage was really challenging, with bright gels everywhere I turned, and a highly placed spotlight that produced “raccoon eyes” unless tellers looked in very specific directions.

This year threw some unknown unknowns my way.  The past two years, I’d gotten quite used to taking up a position behind or up against giant speakers at stage-right, which allowed me to get close to the performers without distracting the audience. But those speakers weren’t used this year. Nor was there seating in the “orchestra pit” area, so any attempt to get close to the stage put me out in the open, between performer and audience.

Sometimes I could find an angle and minimal depth of field to obscure the busy backgrounds, but not often.

Sometimes I could find an angle and minimal depth of field to obscure the busy backgrounds, but not often.

I found a relatively unobtrusive spot stage-left, where I faced a busy background and obstacles (music and microphone stands) in the foreground. Unsightly backgrounds and cluttered foregrounds became a bit of a theme because most of the daytime performances previously held in Libby Bowl were staged this year at the Ojai Center for the Arts. On a makeshift stage, under a canopy. A small canopy.

Eventually, I moved closer, went monochrome, and got all portrait-y.

Eventually, I moved closer, went monochrome, and got all portrait-y.

Storytelling Festival-2174-Edit Regi Carpenter-3359

But wait, there’s more! Two of the tellers were accompanied by musicians. So I’ve got busy backgrounds, cluttered foregrounds, and I’m looking for compositions that accommodate a standing teller and a seated musician.

Eventually I pulled off some nice shots of Minton Sparks and John Jackson, it took some gymnastics to find the angles.

Eventually I pulled off some nice shots of Minton Sparks and John Jackson, but it took some gymnastics and yoga moves to find the angles.

Storytelling Festival-3614

On top of all this, I faced the ever-present gels of doom – purple and green and maroon and blue; not the most flattering replacements for skin tones.

But you know what? I told myself the same thing I told a visiting German photographer who didn’t like the light in Monument Valley last month: I play the cards I’m dealt. And I found two techniques that mitigated most of my challenges: tighten the frame, and narrow the color palette.

It only has to work a few times to deliver what the tellers and the promoter need. And I think it did.

Storytelling Festival-3492

Storytelling Festival-3430 Storytelling Festival-3447 Storytelling Festival-2316

Storytelling Festival-2358 Storytelling Festival-3396

Next week I return to shooting dance. I wonder what cards I will draw…

1 Comment

Filed under Dance and Theater, Low Light

One response to “Playing the Cards I Was Dealt at the Ojai Storytelling Festival

  1. kaarina

    You got some beauties, Dean! The one of Donald Davis is one of my favorites, as is the b & w of Minton and Jackson..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s