Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photographing a choral festival: It’s in the details November 20, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:00 AM
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MY VOLUNTEER ASSIGNMENT was to photograph the mass choir comprised of 250 singers from 11 churches.

Choir members from 11 churches sing four songs in closing the choral festival.

That shot came near the end of a 1 ½ hour Festival of Choirs event Sunday afternoon at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault. Choir members from churches in Eagan, Faribault, Inver Grove Heights, Janesville, Morristown, Northfield, North Morristown, South St. Paul, Stewartville and Waseca performed separately before joining in singing four songs of praise, thanksgiving and hallelujahs.

Congregation and mass choir, a side view.

Now, when I cover an event like this, I do not simply stand at the back of the church aiming my camera lens forward. Oh, no. I rove, searching for photo ops and angles that will tell a story. That is the photojournalist, and artist, in me emerging.

A piano’s player’s hands.

That same piano player and the choir she accompanied.

And, of course, the piano player’s feet working the pedals.

My pastor promised that if anyone got upset about me ranging here and there taking photos, they could speak to him. With that pastoral blessing, I set to work, moving from side-to-side of the sanctuary, tucking myself behind pillars, crouching beside pews, scooting along pews, crawling, squatting and, finally, for that mega choir group shot, climbing onto a chair.

Proof that even kids need someone to lean on while standing on a pew. This is not technically a perfect image. But look at that little girl’s face. Pure joy as she and, I assume, grandma, clap to the music.

At one point, I even slipped off my shoes and stepped onto a back pew, leaning on a stranger’s shoulder for balance. A spongy pew cushion does not make for a stable perch.

Because I shoot without flash, I knew I had to hold my camera perfectly still with each shot. I also knew that would not happen. But that is the beauty of shooting digital. Overshoot and you’re bound to have enough “good” photos.

I watched this boy, a member of the Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, choir, for awhile before capturing this moment.

I was also acutely aware that simply photographing choirs performing at the front of the church would not make for particularly interesting shots. So I watched for the personal moments, the snippets that comprise the whole.

My favorite photo of the day came quite unexpectedly as I was walking through the narthex. These brothers, brothers to the boy in the above image, were hanging out in the narthex with their mom, one watching the concert, the other not.

That takes patience and observation—consciously choosing to notice individuals and details—and often a bit of luck.

I wanted to show all perspectives of the concert, including that of the pianists.

I happened to be on the floor, saw the men from Peace Lutheran walking toward the steps and took one quick shot.

And then I raced to the opposite side of the sanctuary to get this photo of the Peace, Faribault, choir singing.

The director of the Trinity Lutheran Church, Northfield, choir exhibited such enthusiasm that I simply had to catch her in motion.

Remember that little girl from earlier? There she is again, watching. She makes me smile.

I set my camera on a front pew and aimed up for this perspective.

The mass choir can quickly become that, simply a mass, unless you focus. I chose to see the individuals, specifically the little boy in the front row who had lost his place in the music.

While noticing the details is vital to a photo essay, so is the broader view.

The light of late afternoon made the western stained glass window glow in golden tones. Here’s a snippet, Christ’s face.

I placed my camera on the floor and shot this mass choir and congregation image, the angle drawing your eye to the cross.

The mass choir disbands and the concert ends.

TO THE ORGANIZERS OF and participants in the choral festival, thank you for blessing us with your musical talents. I cannot read a single note and thus so appreciate those of you who do and who share your gifts.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


21 Responses to “Photographing a choral festival: It’s in the details”

  1. Jackie Says:

    I could almost hear the piano and harmonizing voices through your photos, Audrey ! I bet you were in your glory, were you singing or humming along as you went from spot to spot? My favorite is the 2nd from the last (from the floor angle). The angle itself was very cool, but the lighting and color made it stand out.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That second to last image is also one of my favorites. I love trying different angles like this and seeing what I capture.

      No, I wasn’t singing or humming. When I’m shooting, I tend to block out sound (unfortunately in this situation) and concentrate on the visuals. However, there were many moments when I was just standing there listening. You should have heard these choirs, especially that mass group. Glorious.

  2. Bernie Says:

    Those are lovely pictures! My favorite shots are the ones of the kids. They all look so happy and so unaware of you snapping away. Its the snippets of this event that really speak volumes!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Dear, dear Bernie, it is so good to have you back. Welcome.

      I love photographing kids. They just do their thing and don’t get all uptight when a camera appears. In fact, I try to be stealthy so they don’t notice me or they will either ham it up or shy away. Right after I snapped photos of the two boys, the older one noticed me and he, thinking he was in my way, left his observation spot on the chair. But by then I’d already taken about five frames and gotten my sweet shot. As for the little girl, I had to wait out my time to get shots of her.

  3. cecilia Says:

    What a stunning collection, I did not read all your text as i was carried away with the shots but can you print these and make a display in the church foyer?.. People would love that. the one I loved the most was the image of the pianists hands, with her simple rings.. I do like that one.. have a lovely day audrey.. c

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks, C. It’s interesting how different readers are intrigued by different photos.

      The tech person at my church is likely going to link to this post on our church website and may put some of the images on the big screen during worship services. But thank you for the suggestion.

      • cecilia Says:

        Big screen is even better, make sure the resolutions are as high as possible.. c

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Yeah, that’s the thing that worries me because pix do not look all that great when enlarged. All of the ones I post on my blog are downsized so as not to use so much space and make for faster downloading or uploading, whatever you call it.

      • cecilia Says:

        I do that too, but your originals hopefully will be big enough.. c

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I just sent the originals to our tech person at church and, hopefully, she can work her tech magic. Because I was shooting with available light at a slow shutter speed, I know the images are not crystal sharp. But what do you do? I detest flash and flash gets lost anyway in a huge space like a sanctuary.

  4. I love your perspective and the photos look great – thanks for sharing:) Happy Tuesday!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you. I knew I had to be creative to make this photo assignment interesting. I believe I pulled it off.

  5. treadlemusic Says:

    Awesome!! Would have loved to have been there. DH was given a special b’day gift yesterday from #2 son/DIL…a Nikon SLR digital camera! Wow! Hope he gets it figured out quickly so I can try it out!! Your photos are terrific! Hugs, D

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      The concert was incredible.

      How exciting to have a new camera in the family. You are going to have so much fun with it, even if it isn’t yours. I didn’t know DH also enjoyed photography. A belated happy birthday to him!

  6. I’m not very good at people pictures. I hope to get better…

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It is sort of intimidating to photograph people, especially strangers, if you’ve never done it. But the more you do, the easier it becomes.

  7. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    Just surfed into this, what a glorious day. I’m sure everyone treasures these pictures to continue f-e-e-l-i-n-g the music and community. I know our “community” sure miss each other now and “traditional” Easter…..

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