Photographing Eckhart / by Rennie Brown

Eckhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle

In April of 2016 I was invited to photograph Eckhart Tolle during his speaking engagement at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver. Naturally I accepted! Just prior to the event Tolle's assistant mentioned that this was the first time they had allowed this type of photography to be done during the event. They had done video before, but not photos. They didn't want the distraction of a photographer moving about to impact the audience's experience. Obviously flash was out of the question. Available light only and as quiet and unobtrusive as possible was the order of the day. I was going to need to limit my movement so as not to be a distraction, but at least I would have a front row seat. 

When I arrived early and received my all-access pass I was able to check out the stage and lighting set up prior to the doors being opened to guests. The light was actually in good supply and the quality OK. There was going to be more shadow under the eyes, nose and chin than I would like, but there wasn't anything to do about it. The light would remain constant and unchanged for the duration, so that was good. With limited control over my position in the theatre and no control over the lighting, I decided that the best approach would be to find a good angle and then work to capture as well as possible Eckhart's expressions and gestures. 

For An Evening with Eckhart Tolle I took with me a Fuji X100T, a Fuji X-T1 with battery grip and an XF 50-140mm lens. Extra batteries and cards. No tripod. The kit worked perfectly. Both cameras have super quiet shutters and can shoot several frames per second in continuous (burst) mode. With the 50-140 on the X-T1 I could get almost but not quite a close up from my seat in front at the 140 end of the range and if I wanted to get wider than 50, I could pull out the X100T with it's 23mm. With all the darkness surrounding the brightly lit subject, the meter wanted to overexpose. Having the EVF in both cameras was perfect, allowing me to quickly dial in a manual aperture and shutter speed, using the image in EVF as a guide. 

Shooting with two cameras in continuous mode fills cards up! I made about 900 exposures that night. When all was said and done and my favourite images had been processed in Lightroom and delivered to the client, the photograph of Eckhart what I was most pleased with was the one that's with this blog post and it was taken with the X100T. The 23mm provided a wide enough angle that one of the spotlights high up and to my right was included in the frame. I find that the appearance of the light, like a start in a night sky, in combination with Eckhart's hand gesture in the direction of the "star" makes a striking image and is an excellent metaphor for Eckhart's teachings. He appears to be pointing in the direction of a guiding light of some sort. 

Eckhart said during his talk that evening that he doesn't know everything and doesn't have all the answers.

"I just help point the way," he said.