Saturday the 27th of April 2013 brought an onslaught of power and muscle to the Ulster Hall in the heart of Belfast, and I was fortunate enough to have been invited along by the team over at Irish Muscle to cover photographic duties at the event. Having only ever occupied this role once before at WABBA Derry in late 2012, I was keen to get involved one more time and try my hand at free shooting a live event.
Arriving at the venue it's impossible to get a perspective for the scale of the theatre from outside, and the lobby alludes to nothing of the volume of the hall. The floor opens up to three wide banked and perfectly regulated aisles with a nine seat center aisle which I was to occupy for the duration. This is crowned by an open terrace one story up in this vaulted ceiling theatre running the circumference of the seating area which gives great perspective to all in attendance. The lighting array and stage layout was clean and clear and the 5ft raised stage makes for a perfect viewing platform from all avenues of the seating area.
The morning and evening shows ran without a hitch with the usual amount of mishaps to the soundtracks of the athletes and their routines. This seems to be par for the course with the bodybuilding shows I've attended, I feel nothing but sympathy for the athletes and fear for the health of the DJ. While most athletes carried on regardless of the wrong audio it's sure to be very off putting for those who have rehearsed and perfected their routines with specific music to accompany the performance they worked tirelessly to bring to the show.
There's many things I enjoy about these shows but none so much as a solid and well rehearsed routine that's engaging and exciting, as this is the 'show element' of the event and one that can really lift the spirits of the fans and family who've come to show their support. The competitors of the NABBA N.I 2013 have clearly taken the performance aspect of bodybuilding shows very seriously with some outstanding and refreshing routines with fitting music and stylish execution. It's a good idea to remember that there are "best presentation" awards for those who go the extra mile in putting on a great display!
In terms of camera stuff, I struggled in places to settle on an exposure combination that would balance the comparison shots of the classes in groups during the prejudging. My shutter speed was pretty fast so I could avoid motion blur for the hasty movers and I balanced my ISO between 1k-2k to avoid or in some cases increase noise and grain in photos. I love printed media and film grain so I don't always seek ultra sharp digital finishes as it's not my style.
The lighting setup is basically a very dark hall shadowing the crowd with bright warm stage lighting to illuminate the competitors. A major variable is that your shooting onto shiny glistening and often deep skin tones from an elevated height, so heavy shadows and bright glaring highlights are rampant. Also I had to shoot in jpeg which basically means the post process balancing of highlights and shadows is very limited and the majority of the work has to happen on the camera. Auto focus wasn't much of an issue but being in a half sit position made framing a little tricky here and there. Other than that it's very much like shooting fish in a barrel and is actually a lot of fun. The athletes look amazing, the stage is lit up for me and I pretty much just have to sit back, point, and shoot. I suppose the skill is in the anticipation of the competitors hitting the regular poses and making sure you shoot at the pinch of the flex to get the detail accurate.
Here's a few out-take shots from the day using a post style I liken to muscle mag prints of the 70's, power metal album covers through the ages and of course Golden Axe!
I learned a lot and know where I need to improve both in position elevation, camera skill and general knowledge of the process.
I'd like to extend my biggest thanks to the ever growing Irish Muscle team ith particular focus on the founders Dawid Geler and Kamil Kosakowski. Without their invitations to participate in work like this I would never have the access and organization to get the job done. They work very very hard with little to no reward for the community they are helping to document. It's going to give everyone a great deal of content with photographs and videos to look back on as the years roll by. I know first hand that they appreciate any and all good will and support thrown their way so thanks a lot guys.