The Ren Fair
My brother-in-law introduced me to the State Fair and that, in turn, introduced me to turkey legs. After a year of lockdowns, the seasonal reflex of summer events started to kick up again and I began jonesing for a turkey leg.
I had a day off and I'd heard the Colorado Renaissance Festival was a fun summer destination. I honestly didn't know what to expect. I figured it'd be some nerds in costumes and maybe a few booths with some touristy crap for sale. What mattered is that there would be turkey legs.
My introverted side can often over-prepare for social events (in nerd parlance, we call this "shields up!"), so I took my camera because it could provide a good barrier between me and whatever awkward situation awaited me in this unknown environment.
Nothing would prepare me for what I actually found.
The sheer valume of people descending into the small town of Larkspur backed traffic up all the way to Castle Rock. It took four hours to drive the 25 miles to the festival.
Once inside, seven official stages hosted a staggering number of shows.
I started shooting what I always shot in public settings: candid, distant photos that tried to tell a story and also capture a honest, unposed expression.
But standing in that crowd, I knew I'd never get the images I wanted from twenty feet away.
I'd seen videos about doing street portraits (Jessica has done several and Mike Browne just owns it). I'd wanted to try it, but I'd been too chicken. I mean, I was too chicken to ask people I knew, let alone total strangers.
But if I wanted the shots, I had to do something different. And it was now or never.
I cautiously approached a guy looking at a map and tried the line I'd heard on YouTube. "Hey, you look really cool! Can I take your picture?"
He was flattered and tried to suppress a smile while hitting his "candid" pose.
It wasn't a good photo. But that tiny start snowballed out of control. A sort of madness overtook me. I ran around with a,"Hey, you look really cool; can I take your photo?"
And everyone said yes.
At this point, I should admit that I had dressed for a Colorado summer day in kakis and a white button down (though it ended up being delightfully overcast). And I've come to realize that I've adopted a lot of the physical, shooting mannerism of my photography and videography friends. So, in retrospect, I think there's a very real chance most people mistook me for the official event photographer.
That probably helped.
I tore through 552 frames in four hours, a personal "best" (if we should call it that). As I sat on my couch and reviewed the day's work, I fought tears.
It felt like, for the first time, I had taken real pictures. And I loved them.
More importantly, I had now experienced what it took to find my confidence, to dissipate the cloud of embarrassment or self-conciousness that always followed me around. And that defined how I approached the craft.
That cloudy day, surrounded by fellow nerds just doing their thing, was my photographic coming-of-age.
Though I never did get a turkey leg.
Of the hundreds of shots I took at the Ren Fair, two stood out as necessary next steps.
The first, was of The Craic Show front man Daniel O’Ryan:
I loved the colors and textures and instruments and his positioning, but I wanted the drama and stretch I knew from the the wide-angle lens of my phone.
The problem was, I was on a crop sensor so getting the 13mm equivalent of the iPhone would mean finding an extreme fish eye. That was task #1.
The second came from the parade.
I was particularly proud of this image. The drummer’s face was in focus (a rarity for me) and yet the shutter speed was slow enough to catch the moment of the sticks and mallet.
I wish I could say this was intentional, but honestly, I accidentally left my shutter speed low, so everything was a blurry and hitting focus was complete luck.
Reviewing these photos, I fell in love with the motion blur. I'd bought a manual camera to freeze movement, but the drama in the movement enthralled me.
And it was a small girl running through the parade route who converted me entirely.
I loved this shot. Her expression, the flighty movement of her fairy dress, the "Norman Rockwell" couple in the background, the stranger looking on like a side-character in "Where's Waldo?". It convinced me I had to unlock the secret of shutter speed.
I picked up a used 8mm lens for $100, and I tried my favorite overpass hoping to take a long exposure of the cars passing by.
That didn't work (Nathanael: "You need an ND filter." Me: "What's that?").
But eventually I'd get some shots of the lightrail.
With experimentation, I realized I needed to shoot after dark to get the exposure lengths I wanted. So I set out to the overpass, angling for that classic "cars passing at night" photo.
I reviewed the images with Nathaniel who smiled proudly, "Look at you; you're like a real photographer."
That's how I felt. I had a camera and real lenses and we were getting the shots I wanted.
Walking back across the pedestrian bridge, cars still streaking under me. I looked up and saw two kids walking towards me. They were working a rolled up cigarette of some kind and clearly thought they were the shit.
I knew what to do.
"Hey, you guys look really cool; can I take your picture?"
Their "tough guy" demeanor vanished into beaming smiles. They knew exactly what to do. And so did I.