I emailed the leader of the group, and he got back with me quickly about upcoming opportunities. I don't have a fancy flash on my basic DSLR, so I didn't want to do anything indoors- I hate the way my pictures with flash turn out. The one event that sounded like something I could help with was an upcoming girls' middle school retreat, which happened last Saturday. They specifically needed a female photographer to go on this trip, and I (amazingly!) had the weekend free, so it seemed like a good fit.
The retreat was two days- from Saturday morning to Sunday late afternoon- but I was only expected to be there during the day Saturday. The weather wasn't supposed to be too hot, the directions to the camp were straightforward, my SD card was cleared, and my camera battery was charged. Easy, right? Um, I left off the part about being 6 months pregnant, but I figured I could handle it.
Kids showed up at the church at 8am Saturday. The 4 busloads of girls rolled out around 9:30, and arrived at the camp around 11. In the rain. The somewhat-chilly rain. My camera started getting steamy, and I decided I had taken enough pictures outside, until it dried out. Also, junior high girls move pretty fast, and aren't always interested in having their picture taken (or are too interested in it, and make silly faces) I did my best to stay in the background and be un-distracting while they played and learned. This was my first all-day photo assignment, probably akin to a wedding in duration, and I learned a lot too- about both photography, middle school girls, and myself:
- It's hard to make pictures interesting sometimes. With a portrait session, you can direct the subjects to be interesting. With events where everyone's facing the same direction (like a worship service) there's only so much you can do, and still be out of the way and unobtrusive.
- I always have regrets. I looked back at my hundreds of pictures from the day, and wished I had gotten a different angle, or framed a shot differently. I see so much more I could have done. I know this is part of the learning process, but I feel bad missing shots when someone is counting on me.
- I can't keep up with middle school girls while six months pregnant. The day started fine, and I was proud of myself for my stamina. Around 2 or 2:30, the whole group went to the ropes course, and I wanted to capture all the activities and stations they were trying- a huge climbing wall, a tall zipline, a highwire, team building activities... and hurrying through the woods between all the groups wore me out. I pushed myself more than I should have. By the 4:00 free time, I was totally beat, but I knew that some of the best memories were made during this unstructured time, so I had to keep moving. And I did- but I regretted it Sunday!
- I was reminded how much I hated middle school. Being in 3 schools in 3 states in 3 years didn't help matters, but sixth through 8th grade was such a hard time for me, and the memories are still fairly vivid. Also, I was reminded how much I dreaded going on all-girl retreats as a high schooler. During free time, when I was physically exhausted this time around, I was reminded how, when I was a camper, this would be the point in the weekend I would be mentally & socially exhausted, and go hide in the cabin to recharge. Didn't have that luxury this weekend.
- I realized what an awkward age this was. I mean, during the middle school years, everyone feels awkward, but, observing these kids- on one hand, they were discussing spending lots of money shopping at the trendy stores at the mall, and on the other, they were playing on the playground and making up stories they would all play along with. Sandwiched between 'make-up' and 'make-believe'. They're kids, as much as they tried to be trendy teenagers. I still don't think I could ever do youth ministry, but seeing a glimpse of who these girls are was kinda neat.
I got home late Saturday and collapsed. I made it to church Sunday, and spend the rest of the day doing pretty much nothing. I didn't drink enough water Saturday, and that took its toll- I needed a wholesale water filter to keep up with my thirst! I was still sore from walking so much on Monday. Today, I'm just tired, but mostly recovered. I look forward to being able to help with the photographers' group again- but, next time, with a shorter assignment!
I haven't shared any of my pictures because I don't have permission from the girls' parents, but there was one I snapped before I left I thought was funny and can't help but share. The check-in tables for the boys and girls' retreat were set up inside the door of the church, clearly labeled, but someone didn't notice where the labels landed...