Photographing a celebrant conference

I spent last weekend photographing the annual conference of celebrants – the Humanists who perform non-religious weddings, funerals and naming days – and I had a fine time. I was photographing everybody there, and after meeting so many people I have learnt that celebrants a) are incredibly nice b) have truly excellent anecdotes – I spent most of my free time just sitting around, listening. One memorable story told of a biker funeral at which 500 people turned up in leathers, with the coffin in a sidecar hearse. I admit to being slightly skeptical about the latter, but google quickly turned up this. That’s pretty cool – as much as anything at a funeral is ‘cool’, anyway – and is nicely fitting.

A few people asked if I was interesting in training as a celebrant, and while it definitely appeals I figure I’m too young. The average person there was probably ~50, with the youngest (hopefully I’m not offending anyone here) in their late 30s. I said so, and was independently told this wasn’t true – in fact, youth could well be a positive thing. I wondered whether a funeral might require a certain gravitas that can only come with age, but the celebrants I spoke to thought people who wanted a humanist funeral wouldn’t be bothered by something like that. Interesting. It’s certainly an incredibly positive, fulfilling thing to do, and I’d like to help. Maybe when uni’s over.

Photographically, it was a big job, so I hired a few toys useful bits of equipment, which were great fun very useful on the day. My friend Young Jim helped me test it all on the Friday, then came along to help at the weekend. Jim is just completing his PhD in physics at Oxford, so I used him as a voice-activated light stand. He was invaluable – enduring endless lighting test shots, managing queues of people, holding reflectors, spotting people walking off with my pen; it would have been far more difficult without him, and I owe him many thanks.

We went for a high-key look, with a completely white background and a bright subject, and I was very pleased with the results. This was especially pleasing as they came from a very lightweight Strobist setup of one umbrella, two flashes and a sheet. Our lighting setup covered quick-fire individual shots of all the attendees, and was pleasingly adaptable to a few couple-shots.

The only problem we had was a group shot of ~75 people, which we cleverly decided was best slotted in just before dinner. Note: do not ever try to slot in anything just before dinner. We had maybe two minutes to arrange everyone into something vaguely neat, and Jim handled this while I quickly became aware my wide-angle wasn’t going to be wide enough without standing on chairs, moving tables and backing off halfway across the room, all while 75 people looked hungrily at the bread rolls. The shot came out ok, although not great, and we’ll certainly know to do things differently next time.

Overall, it was great. I learnt a lot and met some fine people. I could get used to this.