Rev Billy Triumphs

One of the performances of the year was surely the exorcism of BP in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall by the Reverend Billy and his Church of Earthalujah, and I was pleased to be able to photograph and write about it.

There was quite a lot of light inside the Turbine Hall, and I could have chosen to use a higher shutter speed, but as usual I wanted to work a little on the edge, and most of the pictures were taken at 1/30 to 1/60 despite there being considerable movement. Combining flash with ambient meant that there was a reasonable chance of people closest to the camera getting a sharp flash image, and I used an aperture  around f8 to give me reasonable depth of field.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

This image of Rev Billy advancing on the BP sponsorship logo  is a good example, taken with a very wide angle and tightly framed (it is more or less uncropped)  was one that worked, although as always there were plenty that were just too blurred because of the slow shutter speed. But although it was the image that I selected for the ‘front page’ of my piece on Demotix it was the picture two frames earlier that I actually like most, and is on the front page for Rev Billy’s Tate BP Exorcism on My London Diary. The hands are not quite as good, but I like the radial blur in the background.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Again this is more or less uncropped, and the only thing I’ve done in post-processing is a certain amount of burning in, mainly on the hands and windows, and I think a little ‘dodging’ on those white trousers. The rest of the effect was in camera, where the 16-35mm has a zoom ring that can be conveniently spun during exposure, with not entirely predictable results.  The flash exposure is short, so hardly if at all affected by the zoom.

They are more or less uncropped, but quite a few of the images I took I did crop, because there was another camera which often moved into my frame, and I didn’t want it.  You can see it in quite a few of the rather too many images from this event I’ve put on line.  Usually video cameras don’t come with very wide lenses, but this was someone using a still camera with a very wide lens and shooting video.  I’ve seen a clip of the film that he shot, which also includes some footage from a second camera on the balcony, and it is really very good and I feature rather prominently in it.

The problem with using wide-angles for video is that you need to get really close to the action and to stay there, and that means you are likely to get in the way not just of photographers, but also of the performers and the audience. Ultra-wides are much less of a problem with still photography as you move in, take a few frames and then move out.  Even with just one guy doing it, I felt he was too obtrusive, and if others take it up then we are in danger of never actually seeing an event again except on film. Everything will get to look like those walls of players lining up in front of the guy taking the free kick.

I’d had problems with the D300 taking pictures of swans earlier in the day, and hadn’t sorted out what was going wrong, so I’d left it at home and was working with only one camera, and very much feeling the limitations. Changing lenses is really too slow, and there were points when I would have loved to have had a second camera with the 10.5 fisheye, and others where I just didn’t have time to change to something longer than the 16-35mm.  Here’s an example:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I think it’s a good picture but I found myself reaching down for the D300 which wasn’t there. If it had been I would have made another picture as well, something like this:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Reproduced small it has a big advantage in letting you clearly read the banner on the balcony. Of course you can crop, but I’d much rather have taken what I wanted in camera.

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