Photographing Festivals, an Existential Dilemma

June 25th, 2014

If there was a World Cup for beer festivals then the SOBA Winter Ales Festival would have won. Great beers, great venue, plenty of old friends to catch up with, and a great atmosphere to make some new ones. Just like the real World Cup only with much, much better beer and less chance of the English going home early. Congratulations to David Waugh and the rest of the SOBA team who made it such a special day.

I didn’t take a photo of David Waugh but if you squint hard enough you might spot him in this one.

I was very thankful that it was such a great day because photographing beer festivals is becoming increasingly difficult for me. Relaxing with friends and beers makes the stress of coping with this much easier to bear. But why am I having trouble? First up, I am rather shy and reserved. This is a problem easily solved with a few beers, which are thankfully plentiful at a beer festival. Drinking helped me immensely when I photographed my first ever beer festival back in 2009 and the success of those photos indirectly led to the creation of the Beer Project. Looking back at them now, I don’t think I’ve managed to match the variety and decisive momentness of that set since.

Which leads on nicely to perfection paralysis: how can I make photos better than those ones, or even a photo I took last week? A little secret: I have no idea how to take a good photo, but, here’s the funny thing, it has gotten easier over time. The trick is ignoring the fear of failure and just taking photos anyway. Again beer is a great enabler (you’re probably beginning to understand why The Beer Project is the perfect project for me). I am constantly surprised and delighted at the photos I end up with when I just start shooting.

Next, I hate repeating myself. I’d get rather bored (and I‘m sure you would too) if I pumped out the same old shit every time. Of course this is the point where some of you will say that I’m always pumping out the same shit and it’s time for me to move on to photographing something new, say craft toast culture or people who milk hedgehogs. Screw you guys. I like beer.

But my biggest struggle, when photographing festivals, is that I am at my best photographing people working hard doing what they love. Usually this is brewers brewing. When I see passionate people I tend to feed on that and get passionate myself (I can even get passionate about the overuse of the word passionate but that can wait for another post). Fanatics and lunatics, both make for great photographic subjects. So who are the passionate people at a beer festival? Why the beer drinkers of course. But wait, I’ve already photographed beer drinkers before… how am I going to make it look different? By this stage I’ve had enough beer that I don’t care any more, so I give to you Beer Drinkers of the SOBA Winter Ales Festival.

Jules and friends.

James and (possibly, my memory is a little vague) Nina.

The wonderful crowd.

A shady deal, I’m sure.

Paul Wicksteed showing off his great t-shirt

Scott taking notes for his blog Buzz and Hum.

Jerseys and ParrotDog shirts, featuring Lester Dunn.

Jerseys, ParrotDog shirts, and funny faces, featuring Lester Dunn.

Sean Murrie wearing one of the awesome Tuatara Delicious Neck t-shirts.

Sam Whitney, The Apprentice at Panhead Brewery.

Pete and Nick.

A happy man caught being piggy-backed.


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