I was asked to be the house photographer during the visit of His Majesty King Philippe of Belgium in the Arrow Value Recovery facility in Mechelen, organised by the non-profit organisation, Close the Gap. The occasion was to celebrate the refurbishment of the 500,000th donated computer at the facility. Close the Gap coordinates getting refurbished computers to those parts of the world, where they are most needed, particularly in developing countries . They also install them and provide on-site training. Arrow Value Recovery facility in Mechelen is where those computers are tested, any remaining data is securely removed from the hard drives and the equipments are prepared for transport.
Originally, I only had to take photos of the actual royal visit itself on February 18th, but I always meet up my Client way before an event to discuss details and get familiar with the location to choose my gear. I prefer covering an event inside out, meaning I try to document the different phases and tell the entire story. I like looking behind the curtains and discover how people are linked. While it’s always an honour to be asked to photograph a king, the people who are involved in the process to make such a royal visit happen is just as interesting.
The Previous Day – arrival of Arrow representatives, opening the Digi-Truck and finalising meetings
It was a sunny day, good vibes in the air, even though Mark Majeske, president of Global Reverse Logistics and Joe Verrengia, global director of Corporate Social Responsibility from Arrow were flying in from the US and they must have had a terrible jetlag. They did not seem to bother, the entire team, Alain Braeckmans and Koen Janssens, general managers of Arrow Value Recovery Belgium bvba, Barbara Toorens, director of External & Partner Relations Director and Isabelle Servant, Communications Coordinator from Close the Gap/WorldLoop were concentrating on the next day’s visit, having no breaks or showing the slightest sign of tiredness.
Ending a long day in the blue hour
Close the Gap has a great initiative, the so called Digi-Truck, which is a mobile, multi-functional IT lab fit in a 40’ container on wheels to aim for the most rural parts of the world. It’s equipped with solar panels on top, so it can be used without electricity. I wanted to display it with a colourful background, so I was patiently waiting for the blue hour which proved to be a good decision.
The big day: His Majesty King Philippe of Belgium’s visit
He was expected by 10am, but the facility was already alive at 7am. I also started that time to go around once more, this time seeing the final set up. Guests started arriving around 9am already.
A short briefing by the Royal Palace about security and the route, where press is allowed, where to stand and where not to stand to take pictures of the king. Luckily, there were not too many reporters and those I met were all friendly. All respect to them, doing this type of photography/videography on a daily base, as it’s not just a proper workout, running from one place to another, but stressful as well. There is a minimal time frame to take that one photo which will make it to the daily news within hours.
His Majesty King Phillipe of Belgium, arrives
The day was successful, so all the workers were happily chatting outside giving me a great opportunity to take their photo in the Digi-Truck.
Nothing else left than selecting those few photos that would make it to the press and wrapping up. You can find the articles written of the event below:
For photographers: a few words about the gear and working under pressure
As a photographer, my main concern was the low light inside the facility and the restricted angles to take photos. Press was also invited, so I was not sure how much space or “freedom” I would have to take natural photos during the visit. I only took three lenses, knowing I’ll have no time to switch often. I took an ultra wide angle 12-24mm 1:4.5-5.6 II DG HSM Sigma, which doesn’t perform extremely well in low light, but it’s perfect to take stunning architecture images or landscapes in the blue hour, using a tripod. The other two lenses are my best purchases so far, they are both Nikkors and perfect for event photography as they cover the range 24-200mm, a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR and a 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. VR became handy as all the photos were taken handheld and even pushing up the ISO could have resulted in blurry images. I used mainly the 24-70mm them with my full frame Nikon DSLR D800 camera. All photos were shot in RAW and minimal adjustments were made in Lightroom 5. Most of the time I pushed up the ISO (800-2000), when I didn’t use flash and when I did use it and had time, I put on a Gary Fong diffuser, as it softens the shadows and diffuses the strong flash light more evenly on the subjects. I rarely had time to put it on, though, which is a pity, as I ended up with some nasty sticky shadows when the background was light. The main lesson I learnt during the photo shoot is how the content overwrites the image quality when they are used for press. Only an hour after the event was finished, I had to provide a couple of images for press release, so there was no time tip toeing around sticky shadows or fixing flares.
There was a great pressure during the event, but having the right gear decreased that pressure which allowed me to concentrate on the composition itself, rather than worrying if the images will meet any quality standards. If you shoot events, I do recommend using the 24-70mm Nikkor with a D800 as that camera handles high ISO very well. I would also recommend having a second camera mounted with a prime ultra wide angle lens, but if you don’t have it, it’s possible to work around it. You’ll need to get prepared both mentally and physically – my gear having the flash on is easily adds up to 3-4 kgs. Invest in a good bag, I used a ThinkTank Speed Freak V20 which has a built in belt to relieve your shoulder and put the weight around your hips.
As for the mental part, do not stress or panic. Use your energy to focus on the subject and the job itself. Just ask yourself the question: if you freak out, will it change anything? If your answer is no, don’t freak out.