Celebrating Pride marches as a photographer

I am privileged in my line of work to meet and know quite a few photographers, from all walks of life and just about every genre of photography you can think of. Many have become very good friends of mine.

One of them is Suzanne Balding, she is an amazing photographer who adores event photography. I managed to catch her between events to ask her about her experience with shooting events in particular Midsumma, which is our version of Pride Month here in Melbourne, Australia.

Suzanne Balding

Meet Suzanne Balding

Suzanne Balding is a Melbourne event photographer, a passionate and instinctive photographer with a passion for life and for people. Suzanne’s photography journey began in high school, back in the days of shooting with film and processing in a darkroom. She had a brilliant teacher and school setup — a darkroom and everything. As life happened, she then drifted away from photography for years while the digital era began.

Suzanne rediscovered her passion for photography during an overseas holiday. She had taken an excellent point and shoot camera, but felt frustrated the entire time thinking that she could be creating more of the images she could see’ in her mind if she only had a ‘real’ camera. That’s when she bought her first DSLR.

Feeling like a complete amateur, she completed a short beginner’s photography course. Things simply grew from there. Meeting other fellow amateur togs led her to explore many exciting styles of photography and meet many incredible, kind and giving photographers.

This all led her to organize a photography excursion to view and take photos of the Pride March in St. Louis. Kilda. She enjoyed it so much she then went year after year. Eventually, she sent some images she’d taken to the Midsumma organization. Midsumma liked what they saw, and she’s been photographing for them ever since.

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Make it Count. Photo by Suzanne Balding.

What is Midsumma?

The Midsumma Festival has been active since 1988. Its importance and commitment to the LGBTQI+ community does not wane. The battle for acceptance did not end with marriage equality.

The Pride March is just a small part of a much larger festival that runs for 22 days. This inclusive festival showcases the arts in many forms; dance, cabaret, comedy, theater, family events, art exhibitions and the famous and hilarious Carnival dog show. In 2022, after two horrendous years of COVID lockdowns, there were 153 scheduled events!

This year the festival began with Carnival, which is an enormous family event at the Alexandra Gardens. Then there was the Pride March two weekends later, and the festival finished with Melbourne Pride which commemorated/celebrated the decriminalization of homosexuality only 40 years ago. It is truly nonstop and awesome.

Where will you find Midsumma?

The Pride March is just a small part of a much larger festival that runs for 22 days in January and February, held in Melbourne, Australia. There are Pride marches happening all over the world. It’s currently Pride Month in the States, so WHAT makes Melbourne’s Midsumma festival unique? The answer is simple… Melbourne loves a party!

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Carnival. Photo by Suzanne Balding.

How do you prepare yourself for an event like this?

How do you prepare yourself, mentally and physically? This festival runs for three weeks; a lot of work is involved, even though I am sure it’s a lot of fun.

“I just take a deep breath and dive in. LOL!!!

“You can’t ever prepare for something as big as Midsumma, other than to ensure your calendar is filled in correctly with all your gigs times and addresses, your camera gear is in good working order and you make sure to eat and sleep properly. And one MUST hydrate. It’s hot in Melbourne during Midsumma. Dehydration is your enemy.

“I am fortunate that I’m advised of the events Midsumma needs coverage of and then I get to add on any extra that I choose. And, I’ll admit, I’m a glutton for punishment. I suffer terribly from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) during the festival and want to see as much as I can. And I don’t take a break from my day job either. Madness, I know, but the adrenaline keeps me going.”

Suzanne Balding

What about camera gear?

Suzanne recommends keeping things. She carries a Nikon D750 and her workhorse lens, the Tamron 24-70mm. The Nikon has two SD card slots so she has plenty of memory space. Of course, always carries a spare battery and lens cloth.

Suzanne has been taking a speedlight and diffuser along as well, because the big daytime events can be terrible for casting shadows on faces, so she likes to counteract that with some fill flash.

What’s your why?

We all have our ‘whys.’ It’s what gets us out of bed and shooting, I asked Suzanne about hers.

“I adore shooting people and performances. Midsumma is all that and more. Being able to capture an expression in a participant, the emotion of a reunion, and a quintessential moment in a performance that you feel in your gut is important, it’s what photography is all about for me.

“There are instances when I take a photo and just know in my marrow that I have got ‘it.’ Or times when something happens and I’m inwardly praying to the photography deities that my settings were correct and I have captured what I have just witnessed.

“Shooting for Midsumma is an honor. The Midsumma community is so special and brave. Midsumma Festival is the LGBTQI+ community’s time to break free of the shackles of everyday conformity and be their true selves in a space that is accepting and non-judgemental. To be a photographer in that space requires respect. It is a privilege. I’m often in awe of what I witness.”

Suzanne Balding

Things to consider when shooting events

Suzanne offered some insights into capturing events, and a few tips to help anyone just starting out:

  • Be mindful of your space. Be aware of where you are and whether you are invading someone’s space or view. It’s important to be respectful of barriers, both physical and implied.
  • Be polite! This can’t be stressed enough. Introduce yourself. Ask permission. Say thank you (even if a photo is refused).
  • Be friendly!!! Unless you’re shooting a memorial or a funeral, be friendly. And even then, kindness and a friendly face go a long way.
  • If you decide to shoot an LGBTQI+ event be mindful of being gender-neutral in your conversations. Using the terms darling, sweetheart and gorgeousness when asking for a photo will make things so much easier.
  • One more thing Suzanne offers — make your image count. Don’t just take a photo for the sake of taking a photo. Give it context. Make sure your focus is on the ‘thing’ you want someone to look at immediately. Be selective. Be sure there is a story in your photo that’s clear for all to understand.

Who or what has really made an impact on you?

“I could not say if there was one individual I have photographed who has stood out for me. Every single person I encounter and photograph touches a part of my soul and helps me grow as a person. Every photo carries a memory, a story.

“Sometimes the story grows long after the photo is taken. I have had the honor of photographing some of the biggest names in the Australian LGBTQI+ entertainment industry as well as the quiet, unassuming woman who has recently recovered from transition surgery and the gay couple who can hold hands in the street without fear of arrest.

“Every single individual is memorable to me. Every single photo evokes a visceral reaction in me of a moment I felt the need to shoot.”

Suzanne Balding

Photo by Suzanne Balding

No photography interview seems to be complete without the “If you could visit anywhere in the world” question. So I asked Suzanne if she could travel and capture a Pride March, where would it be and why?

“You know what … I don’t need to go overseas to capture a Pride March. I’d be happy to head to Sydney for the Mardi Gras. But if you were flying me business class or first class … take me to San Francisco. Let me loose on the oldest Pride March in America!!!”

Suzanne Balding

Thank you Suzanne for sharing some insights into shooting such a huge celebratory event like the Pride marches. You can see more of Suzanne’s work on her website — shotbysuzanne.com.au. Of course, also on Facebook (Shot by Suzanne — Balding) and Instagram (shotbysuzanne67).

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