Shooting an event for the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

The Historisches Kaufhaus.  On the background is the Münster.
The Historisches Kaufhaus. On the background is the Münster.

Next to the towering Münster in the Münsterplatz, the Historisches Kaufhaus is probably the next building to stand out. Who can miss the deep red structure and its pillars that form into archs? This color extends all the way to the yard beyond the view of prying tourist eyes. I’ve been inside the building once, a few weeks after I arrived here in Freiburg in fact. There we were whisked to the opening ceremony of our German language course- the programme consisted of speeches and musical performances. One that I can remember was an alternating recital of funny Badisch poems (No, I didn’t understand it, but some of the audience were laughing) and music. Later we helped ourself savor glasses of Badisch red and white wine. The place is apparently the unofficial welcoming venue for visitors of Freiburg, akin to the function of the Altes Rathaus in Bonn.

Again I had the privilege to get inside the buildinga couple of Fridays ago- not to be welcomed from my holiday in Berlin- but to take photos of the renewable energy forum organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). My classmate, Peter, who’s a scholar of FES, tipped me of this photography gig. I said yes to this opportunity to hone my photography skills.

What kept me preoccupied was botching the batch of photos after taking hundreds of them. You see, this is not just any random forum in Freiburg. The powerhouse speakers included the State Secretary of Bade-Wuerttemberg for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety and bigwigs of Fraunhofer Institut for Solar Energy System, Badenova, among others. The discussion was moderated by the former mayor of Freiburg.

I browsed through the internet for endless hours about events and flash photography. Should I use bounce, diffuse, or direct flash? I imagined the walls and ceiling of the room was red as well, just like the color of its exterior shell. I already assumed it has a high ceiling because it is typical for old buildings in Germany. Bounce flash won’t work there, I learned from not just one photography website. Regie told me to be wary of the colors in the room should I use bounce flash, as this might add a cast on the photo if the ceiling is other than white. So I sneaked in the venue an hour before the event started to survey my working area. It was the only way I could prepare. My memory card wasn’t even empty and my camera battery indicated three quarters of charged.

I let out a sigh of relief after reaching the venue. I was right in assuming it had a high ceiling, but at least it was white. After meeting the organizers and taking test shots of Peter, I was ready to ‘bounce-flash’ and shoot away. I felt privileged to walk around, stand, and stay where I pleased as the official photographer, while the event rolled by. I probably took 300 photos, and in the end sent a hundred of them.

One press officer approached me during the event, asking for a couple of photos of his boss. I told her I still have to ask my own boss for that job, FES. She got in touch with them the next working day, Monday. I sent her a first batch of photos, a second, and a third. She was looking for a solo pic where her boss didn’t look skeptic. I resorted to cropping one of only two photos where he was smiling. In his other photos, indeed, he seemed to be pondering on what the others were saying. I didn’t get the chance to pay attention to the discussion in German (yes, it still requires effort!) as I was busy zooming in and out, composing shots, and shooting the event. Did the discussions ruffle the feathers of skeptic boss? I’m not sure.

What I can only speak of are my learning for that night. As I reviewed my photos, my bias for street photography showed. I saw that most of the shots I tried to capture and obviously liked are the candid ones- arms and hands of the speaker extending as he emphasizes his point, the faces of the panel simultaneously smiling during a light-hearted moment, and probably that skeptic look. I needed to be conscious to take the perfunctory shots: the portraits, the audience, and the group hug after the forum. They say that when a writer is asked what his writing forte is, he shouldn’t answer the question. A good writer should be versatile to take on all writing assignments. Does the same answer apply in photography?

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