On Friday May 12 I had the pleasure of fulfilling the role of photographer for the inaugural 2017 Cardiff-By-The-Sea TEDx event (http://tedxcardiffbythesea.com). Like other TEDx events, this year’s meeting stressed great minds, great hearts, and great connection among the participants. The theme was on Community: “We’re All In This Together“.

TED sets a high standard for its speakers and their topics, and universally, every single one of them delivered a powerful talk with rave receptions from the sold-out audience. As the event photographer, my objective was to shoot photographs that would come as close as possible to matching the high caliber of their talks.

I faced a number of challenges in my efforts to achieve this goal. Since all tickets were sold, the room was packed. There were two aisles for moving to the front and back, but these were only about one foot wide, and many of the people with aisle seats liked to stretch out into the aisles. There were three video cameras in the back of the room taping the talks, and I had to avoid blocking their view. When the speakers were presenting, the room was dark and the speakers were lit with spotlights, making for a high-contrast situation.

I wanted to close-up photos of each speaker from the front of the room, and from the back of the room to show context. To minimize disturbance to the audience, I tried to limit my aisle traversals to once each talk.

Since the staff was almost all volunteer (me too), I also wanted to present them in a favorable light so they will have encouragement to return next year – while volunteers donate their time, they still like to be recognized and remembered for their contribution. And there’s a bit of a promotional desire too: people may say, “Why should I pay to attend this event when I can just watch it on youtube when it comes out?” So I also wanted to show some of the benefits of attending TEDx rather than just watching it on a computer screen.

Shooting the speakers were the first priority since without speakers, there’s no point in shooting anyone else. Fortunately, the lighting was consistent, so after the finding suitable settings for the first speaker, the rest could use the same formula:

Claire Wineland’s exuberant speech belies her near-fatal disease: cystic fibrosis. She’s outlived doctors’ expectations many times, perhaps buoyed by her irrepressible spirit so evident in this photo. (Canon 6D 70/2.8 1/250 ISO 1600)

The speaker photos benefited from post-processing to tame the high-contrast: the illuminated sign was far too bright for the camera’s JPG, but the reducing its exposure in the RAW image yielded reasonable color. The TEDx sign was important because it gives context to the photo.

Brandon Hawk no doubt made his parents justly proud delivering his talk “Heart Over Hustle”. But they may not have expected him to insist that the join him on the stage for the applause. (Canon 6D 70/2.8 1/80 ISO1600)

The event flowed flawlessly because of the able handling of the audio and lights, again by volunteers. When these people do their job well, no one notices. But when there’s a mishap, everyone notices – it’s almost a no-win situation. So here’s a photo to show them at work (it’s in near darkness, so sorry for the grainy image:

Mayli and Andrew controlled the lights and sound to perfection. (Canon 6D 67/2.8 1/40 ISO 3200)

The venue for this event was right next to a railroad crossing. The speaker schedule was choreographed so that no talk would be interrupted by train horns. So the people at the front control panel had a detail copy of the train schedule, and they also controlled the countdown clock seen by the speakers:

The speaker’s clock is controlled by a laptop. (Canon 6D 70/2.8 1/15 ISO 3200)

Lunchtime gave the audience a chance to chat with the speakers, an opportunity not available to youtube watchers. And the speakers were happy to meet their appreciative audience:

Brooking Gatewood gave a scintillating speech that made her poetry come alive. (Canon 6D 42/2.8 1/125 ISO 1600, Speedlite)

Shooting the TEDx event took the whole day, from 8 AM to 5 PM, but there was never a dull moment. Besides the powerful talks themselves, the energy of the speakers, the audience, and the volunteers was invigorating. Of course I could not meet all the people, but every single one of those I did meet were cheerful and “amped” over the experience.

After we had done most of the packing up, the remaining volunteers got together for a group portrait:

Some of the TEDx volunteers at the end of the day. There were many other volunteers who came on different days or in the morning. It was definitely a team effort, and it was a pleasure working with these people. (Canon 6D 24/2.8 1/60 ISO1600 with Speedlite)

Would I volunteer to be photographer again? Most certainly!