Workshop @ WOMAD | Viv Phillips Photography




"Photography is the story I fail to put into words."

Destin Sparks


The World of Music, Arts, and Dance, also known as WOMAD, is a three-day festival held yearly in the coastal city of New Plymouth. WOMAD attracts people from all over the country and overseas, and this year’s event was even more special because, not only has WOMAD returned after a two-year hiatus due to Covid, it is also WOMAD’s 20th anniversary.

I was quite excited when PSNZ announced the WOMAD Workshop late last year. I knew it would be popular, so I really wasn’t surprised when I was told that it was already booked out. I felt bad about missing out but, since I was supposed to attend a payroll masterclass in Wellington that weekend, I looked forward to that instead.  However, when someone withdrew from the workshop AND my masterclass was cancelled (I was the only attendee), I thought “I’m meant to be in the workshop”.

I soon found myself huddled inside a makeshift media room at the TSB Stadium with 17 other PSNZ members - all listening to our speaker, Leanne Silver, as she imparted invaluable event photography tips, as we prepared to capture images of this remarkable weekend.

This workshop was unlike any other as we really didn’t have the luxury of time. Right from the start, we all had to hit the ground running. TAFT, the organisers of WOMAD, gave us a shoot list and we had to send 10-40 of our best images by a specific time the following day. We also had a schedule to follow. So, apart from the photography tips Leanne gave us during our morning briefings, everything was pretty much “learn as you go”.

On our first day, after the initial introductions by PSNZ Workshop Representative Jayne Parker, Leanne proceeded to talk about the ideal camera settings we would most likely use, as most images will be taken in low light. She reminded us that we are only allowed to capture images of the artists during the first three songs – so we had to use all our senses when taking photos. She suggested we:

  • listen to the beat of the music,
  • feel the rhythm,
  • enjoy the vibe, and
  • to not focus too much on the lead performer –

Once we understood these, we’d be able to anticipate when it’s time to take that picture. She reminded us of our shoot list, we all went on our way.

WOMAD had eight stages set up across the sprawling grounds of the Bowl of Brooklands and Brooklands Park. To cover this massive area, we were grouped into pairs. We had different rosters and had to cover different events at different times. So armed with our handy shoot list, we went about photographing festival attendees, adults and children in costume, the WOMAD sign, WOMAD flags, people dancing, eating, laughing, singing. We photographed food stalls and vendors, cooking demonstrations, poetry reading sessions. We looked for sponsor logos and people using WOMAD merchandise. Leanne and Jayne, however, made sure that we were all rostered to photograph a performing artist – at least once.

We did this for three days. We’d photograph what’s on our list then rush to a stage, then after three songs we’d head off to where we were assigned next. We’d start shooting in the late morning and close each day shooting late at night. On Sunday evening, we were absolutely shattered. However, I’m sure I can speak for everyone and say we all learned a lot, and we all had fun.

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we didn’t have the chance to look at and evaluate all our images as a group. Some have shared their favourite images in a private Facebook page but I’m hoping that one day soon, we can all meet via Zoom and perhaps, Leanne can give us constructive comments about our work.

So, what have I taken away from this workshop? LOTS but the most important ones include:

  • to get it right in camera the first time, which comes in handy when you have deadlines and not much time to edit,
  • to cull my own images and pick only the best ones, and
  • to adjust camera settings on the fly and to work with what you’ve got.

A big thank you to Jayne, for being a mother hen to us all. And huge thank you to Leanne, for sharing your time and your expertise. Thank you also to PSNZ for organising this amazing workshop.