Mosaiculture – Photography in Large Public Venues

Many of us visit and take images in large, public venues such as gardens and exhibitions which can be challenging from a photographic perspective. I thought it may be interesting to share some images I took at the Mosaiculture exhibit in Montreal in 2013 and some of the approaches I used at the event.

(NOTE: click on images to enlarge them)

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Many municipal gardens often feature examples of mosaiculture – sculptures made with flowers and plants – and they can be great opportunities to capture some unique images. I visited the International Mosaiculture exhibit during a trip to Montreal in the fall of 2013. It featured a number of incredible works of plant art that were created for that event only. The size and scope of many of the pieces was simply mind-boggling. Over 4 million plants were used to create the various exhibits.

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Photographing exhibits of this nature can be quite a challenge as the lighting conditions during your visit can vary dramatically throughout the day. The exhibits themselves can also vary significantly in size and shape. And, quite often other visitors are very inconsiderate in terms of stepping in front of you, or jostling you at the moment you are trying to press the shutter.

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Exhibits like this draw huge crowds so the framing and timing of your images is critical to try and avoid having people in them. I had a number of instances where I had to wait for the precise moment when someone was walking down a pathway and would be hidden behind a tree or some other element for just a split second in order to get my shot.

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On the Saturday that I visited the Mosaicultures Exhibit in Montreal there were tens of thousands of other people at the Montreal Botanical Gardens viewing the various plant exhibits. At some of the more spectacular ones there were hundreds of people crammed three and four deep around them trying to get photographs. At these jam-packed exhibits I would try to assess its overall structure as I approached it from a distance and pick a few perspectives that I thought would yield the most interesting images…then line up in those general areas and gradually work myself into the best shooting positions possible.

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Anticipating the shooting conditions is important when trying to make the most of these kinds of large, public exhibits and venues. While many photographers favor the sharpness of prime lenses, events like these are best suited to zoom lenses as you will have limited vantage points from which to take your images and you’ll appreciate the framing flexibility zooms provide. I often take three zoom lenses with me for these kinds of events: a wide angle (16-35), a mid-zoom (24-85) and a telephoto (70-200 or 70-300). Many of the images in this article were taken at focal lengths under 24mm.

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Smaller, mirrorless cameras can also be great to use at these kinds of events and venues as you add flexibility by stuffing a few lenses in jacket pockets… and having a lightweight camera is much less tiring. While the majority of my images in this article were taken with a D800, I did take a number of good, usable images with my Nikon 1 V2 during my visit to the event.

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Trying to use a tripod will likely be a frustrating experience at best, and many large public exhibits/venues like this will often ban the use of tripods altogether so it is wise to check in advance.

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It is worth the time to really ‘work the scene’ for some of the more spectacular exhibits as moving around it to capture different perspectives can yield a good variety of interesting images. Remember to change your body position as crouching down low can often yield unique vantage points and also help to get interesting foreground elements into your images.

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If you would like to see more images taken at Mosaiculture, follow this YouTube link.

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A version of this article was published with permission by Photography Life.

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