Adventures in: renting camera equipment

Fujifilm XT1 with battery grip and 23mm f1.4 lens

For the first time, I decide to rent some gear for a shoot. In the past, I’d always managed to borrow what I needed or get by with what I had. But there’s only so long you can live off of the generosity of others. Conventional wisdom says you don’t buy the gear you’re only going to use occasionally, it’s better to rent what you need. If you find you’re using it a lot, then you buy.

I used to be a Project Manager, where you quickly learn, that if your plans can go wrong they generally will.

So I contact a local ‘professional’ dealer who’s handily about a mile from the venue. I was going to be a bit pushed for time the week of the gig so I arrange to pick up on the way there, allowing me to drop it back a couple of days later. I need a Fuji camera body and a lens (an XT1 and a 16-55mm f2.8, if you’re interested). I assume they probably won’t hold as much Fuji stock as the more popular Canon or Nikon, so I book nice and early. I’m all set, quite excited by this new way of working.

I used to be a Project Manager, where you quickly learn, that if your plans can go wrong they generally will. With this in mind, I make a note to call a month before the date.
“Hi, I’m just checking on my booking.”
“OK, let me just look for you ….., oh, sorry Sir, we’ve got it down for the wrong date,” they say.
“But don’t worry, I’ll change that for you now. There all done, see you on the 21st.”

My Project Manager cautiousness steps up a gear. I schedule another call for a week before the date.
“Hi, I’m sure it’s all fine (patently not true, or I wouldn’t be calling), I’m just checking on my booking for the 21st?”
“21st, let me see here. XT1 body…” (drawn out pause).
“What date was it Sir?”
“The 21st, I phoned”, (twice as it happens) “and you said it was all ok?”
I then launch into this slightly out-of-control stuttering repetition of my name and the date like some down-market DJ. “Rumsey, on the 21st, 21st, Rumsey, 21st…”
“That’s strange Sir, we don’t seem to have a record of it, but don’t worry I’ll book it for you now.”
I’m just on the verge of pointing out that I’ve already booked it when he says..
“Oh, I’m afraid that body’s already booked for the 21st”.
Yes, by me! Twice!

I can hear myself sounding like a dick.

I do my best to explain that I booked it first before the other booking, that should be my name on the list, not theirs. But I can hear myself sounding like a dick. After all, it’s not the other guy’s fault and it’s obvious my arguments aren’t going to cut any ice anyway.
“I can do you the XT-10, but it’s a little more expensive.”
At this point I’m resigned to my fate, I don’t even ask how renting a cheaper camera can be more expensive. My options have run out, I need a camera. No, I need this camera.
“Yes,” I say, “that’ll be fine.”

The logic behind renting the same camera as you already use is a sound one, all the buttons are in the same place, it’s just muscle memory. So much for that plan. However, the shoot goes fine, I don’t use the rented body that much anyway.

My question dear reader, is what do you do? Have I just been unlucky? Does renting gear need to be this difficult? How many times do you need to use a piece of gear to make it worth buying – at the moment, for me, that number is two.

Lux Lisbon at the Scala, London

Lux Lisbon on stage at the Scala, London

It’s great to get to shoot a high energy live gig, but even better when it’s a band you like, so I was more than a little chuffed to get to shoot Lux Lisbon’s largest gig to date at the Scala, in London.

Michael Kilbey on stage at the Scala, London

Michael Kilbey

There were two support acts starting with singer-songwriter Michael Kilby. I’d not shoot at the Scala before so it gave me a good chance to get a feel for the venue – singer-songwriters don’t generally move around too much and I’m pleased to say Michael followed in that honourable tradition. Michael has a great following, the ‘Sea Queens’, as they’re known, really enjoyed themselves!

Orlando Seale & the Swell on stage at the Scala, London

Orlando Seale & the Swell

Next up were Orlando Seale and the Swell. In addition to a guitarist, Orlando was playing with two great violinists and a very lively group of backing singers. It’s easy to tell when a group are enjoying themselves on stage and they were really enjoying themselves. I had the pleasure of meeting Orlando, he’s such a nice guy and was happy to chat to the audience in the bar after the gig.

Lux Lisbon have no management or record company – everything is completely DIY. I later found out they’re the first self-managed band to sell-out the Scala, a great achievement. I admire them for doing it that way, it’s really hard work, all the band were on stage before the set doing what would normally be roadie duties.

Lead singer Stu from Lux Lisbon on stage at the Scala, London

Stu from Lux Lisbon

Lux Lisbon are one of those bands that really come into their own in a live setting. I’m no music journalist so I’m not going to attempt to describe the references that inform their work – happily there’s a free 10-track EP you can download and do that for yourself.

It’s a fairly easy journey home from the Scala never-the-less it was still after midnight when I started editing. I was shooting RAW + small jpeg. I’ve written before about how great the Fuji jpegs are, it’s a massive time-saver to be able to grab jpegs straight from the camera, give them a quick tweak and email them off. The band wanted a few shots for their twitter and facebook feeds so they didn’t need to be huge files, the jpegs were ideal.

Charlotte from Lux Lisbon on stage at the Scala, London

Charlotte from Lux Lisbon

I’ve been playing with using the built-in wifi on the Fuji XT-1 to download files to an iPad. Snapseed and Lightroom Mobile are so intuitive on the iPad, in some ways I enjoy editing with them more than with full-blown Lightroom. Doing it that way would allow me to get some shots out even quicker, but I’m still not at the point where I feel I could rely on it to work without a hitch.

I spent the following morning editing the RAW files, uploading the final images to dropbox by the end of the day. You can see some more shots on my website. I hope you enjoy them and thanks to Lux Lisbon for the opportunity.

Full Gas Track Cycling: take two

commissaire watching track racing

I had the opportunity to return to the Lee Valley velodrome for the last meet of the Full Gas Winter Track Series. The previous meet had to be abandoned following a serious accident, so it was good to see a full evening of racing.

I’d been so inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s iconic shots at the Vélodrome D’Hiver, Paris in the 1950’s I decided to have a go at shooting film once I had some digital shots in the can.

An official rings the last lap bell in track cycle race.

A cyclist warming up at Lee Valley velodrome.A manual focus 35mm lens isn’t the obvious choice for high-speed sports photography, however the good thing about track cycling is that, within a few inches, you can predict what line the leaders are going to take. I pre-focused on my chosen spot and tried to hold my nerve.

I’ve only a few rolls of Neopan 1600 remaining, sadly like so many great films it’s no longer manufactured, so I limited myself to one roll – 36 shots.

track racing at Lee Valley velodrome

I pre-focused on my chosen spot and tried to hold my nerve.

A track cyclist waiting to enter the track.The images here are a mix of film and digital but on balance I think I prefer the feel of the film. They’re not up to Cartier-Bresson standards but in my defence there aren’t many photographers who are.

Members of the Velociposse womens team waiting to race.

Track cycling at the Olympic Velodrome

a track cyclist warming up at the Olympic velodrome London

A couple of weeks ago I got the opportunity to shoot one of the Full Gas Winter Track Series events that take place at what was the London Olympic velodrome, now the Lee Valley velopark. It’s impossible to stand in the centre of the beautiful wooden track without imagining the atmosphere, in the heat of the 2012 summer, as the home crowd cheer Laura Trott, Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton et al on to Gold Medal winning victory.

Track cycle racing at the London Olympic velodrome.

However, it’s a very different place on this cold, damp Tuesday evening in February. There are far more people in the centre of the track than outside, except for the odd supporting spouse and parent, the stands are all but empty.

The times these competitors are putting in maybe slower and many are certainly older than their Olympic counterparts, but the passion is no less real. It takes a lot of commitment to drive to this rather bleak, incredibly busy, corner of North London after a day at work only to don a lycra bodysuit and push yourself to the edge of exhaustion.

A track cyclist waiting to race at the London Olympic velodrome.

What you don’t realise, as the casual observer, is quite how dangerous it can be. I spent most of the first race doing my best to get my photographic eye in and realising quite how fast these group ‘C’ amateurs were travelling.

The group ‘B’ warm up gave me a second chance to get some shots of the racing when, after only a few laps and a touch of wheels, there were suddenly a number of riders on the ground.

Two track cyclists after being involved in a crash.

At first it seemed like the opportunity to get another perspective on the racing. It soon became obvious that two riders received more than scrapes and bruises. One received a nasty cut to his head, another landed on the wrong side of the barrier amongst the, luckily absent, spectator’s seats and was more seriously injured.

An injured track cyclist being attended on the track.

After some time the rider with bleed was taken away by ambulance and the more seriously injured rider by air ambulance. I understand both have now been released from hospital to hopefully ride again.

The prizes may not be the same as those awarded to the Olympians but the dangers are just as real.

An injured track cyclist with a bandaged leg.

I’ve had the opportunity to return and fortunately see more racing and no accidents, I’ll post some shots as soon as I’ve had a chance to edit them.

Event photography: Multi-story orchestra

Christopher Stark: conducting the Multi-story Orchestra in Peckham, London

The concept of an orchestra basing itself on the seventh floor of disused multi-story car park in Peckham, South London, is not one that immediately jumps to mind. But it works, really well. I had a great time shooting the Multi-Story Orchestra before their concert last Saturday and the concert itself was superb. The event is one of many, in the car park, organised by Bold Tendencies.

Viola solist with the Multi-story Orchestra in Peckham.

Being a disused car park the ceiling is low and the floors are open on all sides, so on a cold, windy, day it would have been pretty unpleasant. However, it was one of those warm clear days that can, sometimes, be a little hard to come by in London. I was lucky with the lighting, the ‘stage’ was lit well with a lot of small spotlights all around. So as the sun dropped the lighting worked really well picking the musicians and their sheet music out really nicely.

2nd violin with the Multi-story Orchestra in PeckhamThe multi-story orchestra are performing twice more this season, Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, on the 12th & 13th September. I’d recommend it if you get the chance to get along.

Double-basse player with the Multi-story Orchestra