© 2010 Lu Nelson

KC Improv Fest 2010

On the nights of September 17 and 18, I shot the Kansas City Improv Festival, an annual festival that takes place at Crown Center.  I’ve attended twice previously, but this is the first time I was there in an official capacity.  It was weird first going there, since I didn’t really know anyone else and didn’t have a backstage pass, but I found that just walking around with confidence worked fine.  It seems like if I act like you own the place, I can walk wherever I want.  It didn’t take long before I was set up with a backstage pass and given some instructions.

For a while I was going backstage trying to get some pictures of improv groups warming up, but it just wasn’t working out that well.  The lighting was really awful and I didn’t want to drag around a bunch of lighting and get in the way back there.  Halfway through the second night I abandoned going backstage at all.

The photography was challenging.  I knew it would be, but it ended up even harder than I’d thought.  I knew I’d have to shoot in fairly dark conditions with some fast moving people, but I didn’t know that I’d end up pinned to one spot because the organizers didn’t want anyone in the aisles.  This is somewhat understandable, although I would not have been in anyone’s line of sight.  One person associated with the theater told me the second night that I had to keep the aisle clear because of fire regulations.  Keep in mind that I only had my camera on me.  I’m flammable and I can walk.  I will not be blocking an exit from fire, trust me.

Luckily, I have had a decent amount of experience shooting improv groups, which I imagine to be pretty similar to most stage productions.  I knew to expect the colored lighting, wildly varying lighting intensity, and quick movement that conspire to make photography as hard as possible.  This is one instance where I think proper equipment is absolutely essential — I was locked wide open at f/2.8 with my 100L macro, and ISO 1600 or ISO 3200 on my camera, and still getting a little motion blur from time to time from the performers.  Without using flash (which was not allowed), I can think of no way I could have worked with lower ISO or a slower lens.  It did whet my appetite for a 70-200 f/2.8L or 135 f/2, or even a 1D body with its superior autofocus.  The zoom would be great because I couldn’t move — because I was stuck with a prime, my shots ended up a little same-ish.  The 135 prime would be good because a faster lens could have meant dropping my ISO down and getting my shots a bit cleaner.

Overall, it was a great experience, and I think the photos turned out quite well.  I got to meet a lot of awesome people, including Jason Sudeikis, and get closer to others who I already knew.  The improv group down there is a fun gang.  I’ll sign off with the only backstage shot that I really liked.