I recently found out that this is my 25th year involved with the WAVM Beacon Santa Telethon (I had earlier guessed it was 23 years).  Back when I first became involved the telethons had raised just over $84K for the Beacon Santa fund.  This year the students of WAVM were looking to cross the $1 million mark.  (tl;dr: they did it).  One of the things I do for the telethon is document it in photographs.  Partially as a historical record, but also so people who only see it on television can get a small sense of what goes on behind the scenes.

I take a lot of photos (see technical details below if you are interested).  Last year I edited the weekend-long event into a 100-image gallery which is a bit long-winded, so I thought it might be interesting to distill it down further: my favorite 18 images.

First a bit of context setting. Here’s a quick group portrait of the telethon hosts right after the opening.  They were in a good mood (and not yet sleep-deprived).


The telethon brings in a lot of local bands.  The new high school has a nice stage with flat-black backgrounds and pretty good basic lighting.  This works well for properly exposed images.


Saturday morning brings in Mister Vic who teaches music to young children.  Here is one of his students…

The Maynard Community Band

On Saturday afternoon a band named “The Other Side” had their debut performance and they knocked it out of the park.  Lead by singer/songwriter Sophia Ward, trust me – you will be hearing more about them in the future.  Enjoy these first performance photographs of this new musical talent…


Catching the moments when musicians are communicating with each other with just a glance during a performance is extremely intimate and brings you into their world, even just a little bit.
Perfectly clean backgrounds in the middle of a live performance are hard to come by, but when they do… oh boy..

I also hunt for those candid moments that capture the best of the telethon experience for the students.  A student taking an auction bid on the phone (the telethon is being projected on the wall behind her).

WAVM alum Tom Manning came back with his band for a quick set.

Chris Renner is a member of a number of local bands (and is a great videographer too).  Here he is performing on slide guitar with the Keith Jacques Experience.
Oh, and here’s Keith…

This is one of the telethon hosts, Caitlin Fields, on camera as an “elf” during an auction.

On Sunday morning they organized a reunion of 20 telethon hosts spanning the past 34 years… cleverly titled “The Hosts of Christmas Past”.  (2 points for the great pun kids)

There are two dance exhibitions during the telethon.  This was a group from the AB dance studio who happened to fall into the right light at the right time.

A moment of pure joy and pride seconds after the near $40K telethon total was revealed smashing through the $1M mark 34 years in the making..

And a panorama of the team that made it happen…

If you’d like to see more images (a lot more) visit the 2015 Gallery on the WAVM Telethon website.

Thanks for visiting.

Technical Stuff:

I used the same setup as last year, but I’m much more familiar with it now and have fine-tuned my shooting technique and camera configuration.  I was always carrying 2 cameras.  The Fuji XS100 was great for semi-wide shots and quick and unobtrusive candids.  The Fuji X-T1 was armed with the 50-140mm f/2.8 lens for all but the very end of the day when I used the 10-24mm wide-angle for group portraits in the studio.  If you read my article from last year’s event you would know that I was not fond of the Fuji 55-200mm telephoto’s performance in demanding situations.  I obtained the 50-140 f/2 this year and I’m thoroughly in love with everything about the lens: it’s rugged, tack sharp, well-stabilized, and focuses almost as good as my Canon gear did.  Both cameras were set to ISO 1600 for the entire event. (I’d still like to have 2 X-T1s, but I’ve learned to switch between the cameras pretty naturally now.)   Right now my only complaint with the Fuji system is a common one: the frickin’ battery gauge is useless.  They might as well not waste viewfinder real estate with it.  Only got caught off guard by it twice, which considering I was pretty sleep-deprived myself wasn’t too bad.  The XS100 is kept in single-shot autofocus mode and generally does a great job in all lighting conditions.  I keep the X-T1 in manual focus nearly 100% of the time (I switch to continuous mode for the dancers).  This is the closest mode I can find to how I shot with my Canon gear and it works pretty darn well (I have the AE-L button reprogrammed to turn on autofocus.  If anyone wonders why I shoot verticals the way I do (my right arm goes up instead of down), it’s because of the ergonomics of needing to hit that button…)

The editing process: I shot a tick over 2,700 frames between the two cameras.  The bulk was with the X-T1 (2379 frames) which was in high-speed burst at all times.  Of those, 700 frames were discarded completely and I would guess another few hundred could have the same fate.

After using Adobe Lightroom CC 2015’s lightning quick import (cough) I would create galleries twice a day with a target of about 100 images.  I chose the 18 above from those 672 selects. Develop presets for the studio and auditorium provide a (generally) consistent look for all of the photographs.  The panorama above was shot, handheld, with the XS100 (5 frames) and stitched with Lightroom.  You can find the artifacts if you look hard, but overall… wow!

My other laptop was managing the auction site and I photographed (nearly) all of the items entered into the auction.  The 437 images were shot on a Canon 7D with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens with primary illumination from a F&V ring light in a portable F&V soft box.  A workflow inside of Lightroom provided a straightforward way of processing the images and getting them online as quickly and easily as possible.  (The bulk of that work was done in the week prior to the telethon, but we receive quite a few items on Friday and Saturday, keeping us all busy in the back room.)

(This article was updated on 14-Dec to fix some incoherent sentences (I wrote the original article when I was far too tired on Sunday evening.  Added some additional details on behind the scenes workflow and technique. -dg)

3 replies
  1. Jamie Wilkins
    Jamie Wilkins says:

    Thank you Dave for all of the great telethon photos over the years. I’ve enjoyed being able to see pictures of my kids involved in different aspects of the telethon as well as those photos that show them laughing and just having fun with their friends.

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