Shooting the Show

March 15, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

MDHI press conference HE17 20170307 017o

Heli-Expo 2017 was marked by a sense of enthusiasm and optimism that has been building for a couple of years. There was plenty to see and plenty to shoot. I did both.

Above we see MD Helicopters' CEO, Lynn Tilton, addressing an open-to-the-public press conference at the company's booth. This image shows how the gathered crowd had ample room and almost no structures interrupting their view of the podium. I'm not here to report on the show, per se, but to note that this photo would help an exhibitor "see" their booth in a way they may not have — probably not in a computer-generated illustration, nor as it would appear when all set up but hosting no visitors. This photo, then, is better than some mere snapshot because it serves a purpose beyond "snapshot" and it does it better.

Questions, questions!
So, are there techniques for capturing better photos? And what would "better" mean? The answer to the second question will lead to answering the first. And you should start with a third question, and its answer, first! That third question is: what is the purpose of the photo(s)?

Do you want a photo to document how your exhibit was set up so it can be replicated at the next show? Or, how it was set up that caused a problem? Will the photos be shared with stakeholders or the press in some medium to declare "we were there"?

A good photo might even answer some unasked questions. Like, why is there an empty water bottle sitting front and center on the reception counter? Why are our briefcases and jackets in an unsightly pile? Why are my people not watching the passersby, engaging them, asking about their day or if they have any questions? My people are, instead, futzing with their phones or talking with each other! My neighbor's signage is overshadowing my more subdued graphics. Not his fault, maybe, but I don't like it.

Heli-Expo 2017 20170309 031o II
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First, if the purpose of the photos is in any way connected to showing the booth as it was, either as a reference or to say "we were there," at least one well-composed image should follow the rule of keeping the vertical elements truly vertical. What, you ask, does that mean?

This photo of the Indra booth shows the result of pointing the camera up to capture the height of the booth with no regard for keeping the vertical elements of the structure vertical in the image. (I apologize, Indra, for showing your booth in this way — I actually shot it properly but distorted it as an example.)

This photo of the Air Comm booth shows off the verticality of their exhibit structure. To accurately represent those verticals my camera was level in both pitch and roll. If I had pointed my camera somewhat "up" to capture all of the height of the booth and not bother with the carpet in the foreground, those vertical lines would have been converging; the ones on the left leaning right, toward the center of the image, and on the right they would be leaning left. It's a geometric distortion we commonly encounter in photography. When the booth is viewed by our eyeballs at the show, our brains ignore that convergence, but on the printed page or a computer monitor the distortion is unyielding and usually unwelcome.

Heli-Expo 2017 20170309 031o II 1800c
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I agree all that carpet is not doing much good in the image — sucking up pixels and inches without helping us evaluate or celebrate the booth. So I crop the image after it's taken and now we see the booth, no extra carpet and still distortion free. (Of course, if the camera were not level, in roll, the entire image would be tilted, an easier condition to note before you take the picture and to correct afterwards with a computer.)

In the MD Helicopters photo, the booth was crowded. The Air Comm booth had only the company people in it. What if you want to show the booth with some people in and around it, but not throngs? Position yourself then wait for the elements to align nicely, as I did of this Rolls-Royce exhibit. The verticals are vertical and there are people near, far, walking past, and visiting. Sure, you are somewhat at the mercy of the passersby, but patience will usually reward you with a fine array of signage and people. Keep your eye on the viewfinder and your finger on the button.

Heli-Expo 2017 20170307 388o II Must you always, always keep the verticals vertical? Of course not. Just be sure it's a choice and not poor technique. Here's an Airbus H145 shot from floor level looking up. What in reality are vertical structures are converging wildly, adding intentional energy to the composition. The rafters and rotor blades are zig-zagging across the top, the nose of the helo is thrust toward us, and the spotlight, FLIR, and others accessories are highlighted. Good stuff! Heli-Expo 2017 20170308 252x

This doesn't cover all the factors that figure into photography at a trade show, but it gives you a good start at coming back with images for which you don't have to make excuses, right? And if you're like me, you can also come back with an image that makes you smile. Here's one such image. Enjoy.

Heli-Expo 2017 20170307 067o


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Photography is a massive field. Aerospace photography less so. In these writings I share stories and tips.
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