I’ve been on the Beakerhead Photocrew, giving me some great insight into how to photograph the event (which is a photographer’s playground). Here are some of my tips for photographing the Beakerhead experience, no matter your skill level.
A Photographer’s Guide to Beakerhead
A Photographer’s Guide to Beakerhead
How to plan your time at Beakerhead
Check out the Beakerhead program guide to get an idea on where and when the events are taking place. This is extremely beneficial because different things are taking place across much of the city, some of which will be at the same time. By doing this, you'll also see what each event or installation is and be able to pick and choose what you want to capture. The last thing you want is to be going to one event and then all the sudden have the realization that there is something else going on that would have been a bit more up your alley. Make a plan before heading out by taking a look at a map on your phone or the map that is provided in the program guide. You may find yourself going to a scheduled event just to find out after the fact that there was a really cool art installation less than a block away.
What you should know about your camera
The fun part about photographing such an amazing experience is the interesting things you learn along the way. Because you're going to be taking photos in different types of lighting and weather conditions you'll definitely need to get to know your camera a bit better. There is absolutely no shame here in using the auto mode on your DSLR or point and shoot camera, but you may want to check the "scene" settings and change it accordingly to the lighting and weather. If you want to take it up a notch, one thing you should definitely learn a bit about prior to coming to Beakerhead is low light photography. Though most of the events are during the day and the art installations are usually well lit, some of the coolest stuff happens at night and you're not going to want to miss a thing. With some Googling of technique and practicing with your photographer friends, you'll be ready to take on the low light world in no time. My personal tips would be to use your lowest aperture. Don't be afraid to turn up the ISO bit and try to bring extra memory cards and batteries.
How to prepare for the weather at Beakerhead
Since it is September, you're going to want to prepare for anything. Calgary and southern Alberta are well known for extreme temperature swings. Within a few hours, the city can go from bright and sunny to overcast and rainy, and you definitely don't want to be caught unprepared for it. Bring some rain resistant gear and a sweater and you should be fine most of the time. Unfavourable weather can make for some of the best compositions! Remember to bring a cover for your camera bag and maybe even a rain sleeve for the camera itself if you plan on doing an extended amount of photography. Lastly, you definitely don't want to forget the umbrella!
Why you will want to photograph Beakerhead every year
Here's where I'm going to get a little real with you. During five days on the Beakerhead Photocrew, I can do nine different scheduled shoots while attending two I am not scheduled for and taking in any other Beacon I can along the way. Every night I stay up until the wee hours of the morning processing the number of photos taken each day, and then wake up early to do it all over again the next day.
Some years, the weather is not on our side and it can rain or be overcast most days. By the end of the festival, I am often sore, tired, cold, and somehow sunburned. Almost all of my clothes are dirty by the end of the festival, but the crazy thing is that I never regret a single thing about my time photographing Beakerhead.
The entire experience is something I will never forget as I have so much fun and meet the most interesting people. The entire show is put on by a majority of volunteers and you can tell how passionate everyone is by the energy in the air. With grinning faces everywhere and so much to take in, it's something that really needs to be seen to be believed.