2014 Venice Chalk Festival – Venice, Florida

I admit that I’m not good with a pencil or paint brush, but using chalk and a road to make a masterpiece? Now that’s talent. I had heard rumblings that the chalk festival was going to be in Venice, Florida this year. I went to the one in Sarasota a couple of years ago, you can read about that adventure here: Sarasota Chalk Festival 2012 – Sarasota, Florida. This year I wanted to take the wife as she can actually draw, paint, sew, soap, candle, well you get the idea.

Since I had been to the one in Sarasota, I kind of knew the challenges. First, was light. The last time that I attended this event I had to fight the sun, this means big dark shadows on folks with big floppy hats. Second, one would want to get a variety of photos of the event. This means making what you do take count. Third, wall to wall people who don’t care anything about photography, all they care about is getting to the front of the artwork and not moving. To pack my “kit” for this adventure, and I know that there are going to be shadow issues, I need a flash, not my little pop up flash, but my external flash. The external flash does a couple of things, the biggest advantage is that it puts out much more light than the pop up. Also, I’m going to be competing with the sun. This always raises issues as you need a lot of horsepower to pull this off. The external flash will also allow me to either shoot the light over a wide area or narrow the beam if I need to go for distance. I use nickel metal hydride batteries that I get at Walmart Wally World. They are cheap, rechargeable and cycle faster than the regular batteries. What about lenses? I want a lens that will allow me to shoot an entire piece of artwork as well as zoom in on the artist’s face. Simple. This is going to require a zoom lens. The best lens that I have for this job is my trusty Nikon 18mm-200mm. This was my go to lens when I used to shoot for magazines since it was so versatile and I had no idea what I was getting into on locations sometimes. Granted, with the pros come the cons, this lens isn’t the sharpest one that I own so I know I’ll just have to let Nik (software) do some of the heavy lifting in post. I know this is going to be worse than going to Disney as it seems as if everyone in 100 square miles descend on this particular location, I would have liked to take a step stool. Granted I’m 6’4” but to shoot over everyone, this can really help out. I decided against this as this was supposed to be a “fun outing” for us and I didn’t want to turn it into a “J.O.B.”. Everything is packed and we were ready to go.

We got a good night sleep and we were off. We had checked the site for the festival the day before so we knew that they were going to have plenty of parking available….at the airport? I have been to this location before and I was wondering how they were going to draw on grass or were they going to shut down the airport? As we approached the Venice airport, we saw signs for the chalk festival. We followed, jammed in traffic, followed and jammed in traffic. You get the point. Finally we get to the point of entering the area and we had the luxury of “donating” $10 to park. I’m not cheap but why don’t we just say that there is going to be a $10 charge for this thing? Ugh. OK, now picture this, the wife is driving and the terrain is more uneven than a cow pasture, I have never seen my budda belly do such gyrations as we were trying to find a place to park the car. We finally found a spot, and we were presented with the beer tent. Hummm, OK, must be the people are drawing on the runway, got it. We made it through the folks that took the jingle “This Bud’s for you” literally and got to the other side. We saw this huge chalk drawing on the runway. Very nice, but where are all the artists? After asking a few people we found out that we were going to have to be bussed to downtown Venice. Asking a few more questions, they had hired a bus line that usually takes people to cruises to bus folks into downtown Venice, at least they should be comfortable. Then I asked, “Where is the end of the line?” Then the gentleman turned around and pointed half way down the runway. I looked at him and he simply said, “Good Luck”. The wife and I made it to the back of the line and we waited, then we waited some more. It took us almost an hour to get to the bus loading area. We were already up to our eyeballs in frustration and I was ready to pull the plug. However, this was our “fun outing” so I was willing to put up with it so my wonderful wife could see the artwork. We made it to the drop off point and I asked when is the last bus leaving to make sure we made it back in time. He looked at me and said, “I don’t know”. Wonderful.

Finally, we are now at the right place and its time to take a few photos, until we were hearded into another tent. Now they were holding up jugs that said “suggested donations” and were quite forceful about you pulling out your wallet. Again, I’m not cheap and don’t mind paying, especially for artists and I do photography which is a type of art so I get it. It was the way it was handled. They should have said it was $10 for parking and $5 a person. That would have jived well with me. We made it through the tent and now finally we were where the artists were working. I powered up the camera and flash and was ready to start shooting some photos.

Spencer Pullen photographed this artist at work at the 2014 Venice Chalk Festival in Venice, Florida.Working On The Pavement – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

This was my first subject of the day. I was able to get down low and get eye level with the artist. I like to do this anything that has eyes, such as birds, bugs, pets or people. The camera is set to manual and the flash is set to manual. The camera is set to ISO 200, f/5.6 at 1/250. This setting is pretty standard, the sync speed for the flash and camera is 1/250 (some are 1/200 or 1/160) and I wanted to help my flash out and I wanted to blur as much of the background as possible so that is why I chose f/5.6. The last adjustment is ISO. The native ISO for my camera is 200. I can go down to 100 but I find it more noisy than 200. This is a blog post in itself. Anyway, now that the camera was set, all I had to do was to set the flash. I like to start with 1/4 on my flash as this allows me to take four photos before it has to recharge. After the first photo, I soon realized that wasn’t going to get it. Not enough light, so I boosted it to 1/2. Also, I zoomed my flash head out to 105mm to throw the light across the road to the artist. There is no way a pop up flash would have made it.

Spencer Pullen photographed this happy artist at the 2014 Venice Chalk Festival in Venice, Florida.Happy Artist – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

This guy was really happy to talk with the folks going by. He was a hoot to talk to, some were involved in what they were doing so they weren’t talking too much and after the day we had, this guy was refreshing. I wanted to get a photo of him since he smiled a lot, I had the full sun coming down and naturally he was back lit, a photographer’s nightmare. I boosted the flash up to 1/1 or full power. I took a few and I was surprised that I had just enough horsepower to actually get some light on him. He is also wearing blue and white clothes, if he was wearing black, it would have been over.

Spencer Pullen photographed these artists laying down reference lines at the 2014 Venice Chalk Festival in Venice, Florida.Laying The Ground Work – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

As we were going by, I had never seen this before. I’m still not sure what is going on here, but it looks like they are checking lines or going to be creating some reference lines. This one was a little tricky. I have the gentleman in the left side of the frame wearing black. The paper is in full sun which is white. I wanted the ending photo so that we could see the artists and what was on the paper, simple right? The first photo I took, the artist in black looked fine, but I lost the paper as it was a white blob, no detail. After adjusting for a few seconds, I decided to expose for the paper and hope for the best with the artist. Since, I always shoot a RAW file, I know I have Camera RAW on my side. I adjusted the sliders for shadows and exposure in Camera RAW and it was perfect.

Spencer Pullen photographed this piece of art at the 2014 Venice Chalk Festival in Venice, FloridaLady Art – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

When the crowd moved, we snuck in and got a few photos of the actual art, what a concept. I waited until the least amount of people were on the other side and took a photo. Since I wasn’t worried about the shadows of the people since they weren’t on the artwork, I just exposed like I would for any other photo without flash. A couple of shots and it was in the can.

Spencer Pullen photographed this bird art at the 2014 Venice Chalk Festival in Venice, Florida.Bird Art – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

This was shot as the previous one, however since I’m at an angle with these I wondered what it would have looked like if I was in a prime spot. This is where I used Photoshop’s, “Lens Correction” filter. This allowed me to skew the photo up, down, left and right to make it look as if I was right on top of it. Also, I’m able to fix any pin cushion or bloat the lens might have added. Is this perfect? No. Is it passable? Sure. If you look closely in the upper left corner of the photo, you can see the smaller reference photo that the artist was using. Simply amazing.

After a fun filled day, we decided to get lunch at one of the local restaurants. Again, everyone else had the same idea and it took over an hour to get our food. Tired and wanted it over, we found the pick up spot and made our way back to the car and got out of there. I looked at her and I asked, “Did you have fun?” She said yes….but seeing it once was enough.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. I love what you did with the bird shot! Nice images.

  2. We also attended and had gone several times when the show was in Sarasota. Yes, the crowds are daunting. Trying to get photos was challenging!
    As always, I love your viewpoint and helpful information.

  3. Thanks for all the info on the new venue and what you went through to even get to see the art.
    Appreciate your sharing how you took the shot, “Laying The Ground Work”. Will keep that in mind next outdoor event. Photo is nice and crisp with good detail all the way around.
    Good post as usual.

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