TIFF 2010 Survival Guide: Shooting Stars
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TIFF 2010 Survival Guide: Shooting Stars

The Toronto International Film Festival is pretty much a huge deal, whether or not you bother going to the movies. In the days running up to the fest, we’ll try to help you survive it.

Illustration by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist.

Photographers on the red carpet and paparazzi in the streets are often equipped with some of the most expensive and advanced camera equipment currently available to catch the magic and misdeeds of TIFF. Precision (read: expensive) lenses, high-powered flashes, and fast memory cards aren’t the only requirements—a solid understanding of the equipment in their hands, a dose of serendipity, and good timing are often more important than the fancy equipment. And for those of us on a budget, sometimes all it takes is the tools you already own. So, how to catch the glitter and glam instead of cursing and blaming your camera for missing the moment?

Stock Up

As seasoned Los Angeles–based celeb shooter Frazer Harrison tells Torontoist, “While you may not be using the most expensive high-tech gear on the market, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be getting the same results; nothing will be achieved if the gear you are using doesn’t work or lets you down.”
Harrison, and any veteran shooter, will tell you the same thing—always charge your batteries (cellphone too!) before you head out. Carry spares of everything, especially memory cards. If you don’t have spares, buy ’em.
If you’re in the market for something new, don’t buy the hype that you need more megapixels than there are lightbulbs on the marquee. Do you really need a twenty-five-megapixel camera when you’re only posting your shots online, or printing a 4″ x 6″ image? Ten megapixels is more than enough for online sharing and basic printing. And in many cases, a budget friendly camera from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, or Panasonic will do the job you need it to.

Shoot Faster

Point-and-shoot and cellphone cameras often have a delay from the shutter trigger to the moment the shot is actually captured. Some, though, have a feature called “burst,” which allows you to bang off a string of shots just by holding down the shutter. Combine that with a fast memory card and you might find your camera shooting three to ten frames in a second, enabling you to catch not only your favourite actor walking past, but quite possibly a fun look that you’d never otherwise grab in one snap.

Find the Right White Balance

More often than not, you probably use the your camera’s automatic white balance mode because it does all the complicated picture-taking stuff for you. Sometimes you get a really great shot—and sometimes a crappy-looking, discoloured one. That can be because the computer inside your camera can’t figure out what kind of light it’s looking at. Look at the lights around you—are they incandescent or are they fluorescent? Or are you outside? With bright sun, or with cloud overhead? Changing the camera’s white balance to match the environment around you will yield pleasing results. Are you using your flash? Switch the white balance to the lightning bolt. Take some test photos—you’ve got shots to spare—and adjust accordingly.

The Amazing Flash

The flash can be your friend—or nemesis. If the celebrity you’re shooting is too close and your camera can’t figure that out, you’ll be left with a big, washed-out picture. The pop-up flash on your DSLR or the little flash on the side of your point-and-shoot does nothing more than blast light at an acceptable angle and power level—usually leaving some very harsh shadows. Learn some flash control: most cameras allow you to actually turn down the flash’s output, which will also save some battery power. Camera stores also sell diffusers that you can clip onto your camera—they can soften the blow of the flash considerably. Or try a radical concept: no flash. More modern point-and-shoot digital cameras allow you to ratchet up their ability to catch light, at only a small sacrifice to image quality. Experiment with higher ISO numbers—try 800 or more and you might never go back.

Keep It Together

If you’re toting a small point-and-shoot, then a small case or a strap around your wrist is all you need. If you’re lugging a DSLR, take a small bag with only the lenses you need. Don’t overdo it with a bunch of different lenses—stick to just a few and keep them handy in a sling case, like the Lowe 200 AW. Borrow one from a friend if you can.
Want to step it up a notch? DSLR shooters might consider having a good, long, fast lens (like a 70–200mm f/2.8) for waist-to-top shots, and a medium telephoto (24–70mm f/2.8) for full body shots—they’ll work remarkably well in low-light situations. You can rent these for a day or a week to try out at Vistek or FilmPlus.

Edit It

In case you find that your shots aren’t just the way you want them, free programs such as Google’s Picasa will allow you to correct and tweak the white balance, get rid of red-eye, and make some exposure adjustments—as well as some artful tricks such as blur or converting to black and white. (It won’t correct out-of-focus or horribly overexposed shots, though.)

Stake Out Your Spot

When you arrive at the red carpet destination of choice—say Roy Thomson Hall or the Elgin—run a few test shots from your vantage point so you know in advance what you’ll get. That way, you can make adjustments before the celebs start arriving. Packing along a small step stool will get you above the crowd as well—especially if you didn’t get there early enough to score a prime position along the guardrail. Oh, and one last tip: most celebs exit from the back door of the theatre. (Hunting at the Elgin? Try Victoria Avenue.)

If you want even more tips, check out this Lifehacker posting on how to the get the best out of your digital point-and-shoot. Read it once. Read it five times. Basically, learn to break away from automatic modes. Grab the manual. Read and experiment over the next few days, learning burst, metering, ISO, white balance, and flash control, depending on what features you have. Even your mobile phone has features that you can enable to take better shots. Experiment!
And last but not least, during this year’s TIFF, send us what you shoot.

Want more TIFF 2010? Torontoist’s complete coverage of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is all right here.