That was the case as Pam and Alan Samson were busy taking photos at the ECMA Industry Awards on April 14.
Pam says it came as a complete shock to them, though at least one member of the family knew ahead of time.
Jennifer Campbell, communications director for the ECMA's, told the Samson's daughter Jennifer about the award the day before, to make sure her parents were both at the industry awards.
"In hindsight I know she was having a hard time not talking about it, but she did an awesome job keeping the secret," says Pam.
At the industry awards the Samson's were busy taking pictures when executive director Sue Hutchinson got up to speak about the next winner. Pam says Hutchinson was talking about all these good things someone has done, though she and Alan were more focused on their photography.
As Hutchinson was talking, she was busy taking pictures. Pam didn't think anything was amiss until Hutchinson's speech started sounding familiar.
"I'm listening to what Sue is saying, thinking 'who's she talking about? She's not talking about me.'"
Pam headed towards the stage, however Alan was still taking pictures on the floor. It took a moment, and a bit of prompting from Pam, for him realize they were the ones getting the award.
"He turned white. If he wasn't sitting on the floor he would have had to," she says.
The shock continued when they went on stage, and they were handed the award.
"You have to understand Alan doesn't talk. He basically only talks when he has to give directions. He's a very to the point person. Well, he started blabbering," says Pam.
Alan adds he didn't remember much of what he said.
Pam says they had a lot of thank you's to say when on stage, and adds it was great the ECMA's recognized them as a partnership.
"We really didn't ever expect anything, because there are so many people who do a lot."
The Samson's have volunteered as photographers for the ECMA's since 2005, and also as coordinators of the volunteer photography team. Most of the pre-award work involves deciding who will take pictures at each event, and takes two to three months to prepare.
Usually each photographer covers two stages, and extra events that pop up are fitted in as they can. Pam says she tries to find out what types of music the photographers like, and match them up with stages. She says they end up taking better pictures if it is of music they are interested in.
While at the ECMA's in addition to taking pictures the Samson's troubleshoot issues as they crop up. Pam says usually things go smoothly, however events can crop up on very short notice. At the 2011 ECMA's in Charlottetown, former NDP leader Jack Layton made a surprise visit to the event, and someone needed to take photos. They weren't the only ones looking for a photo though.
"There was probably 50 media people in the lobby of the Delta Hotel in Charlottetown," says Pam.
For the most part though, Pam says photographers work pretty independently.
What people may not realize is her focus is not on the performers. Their goal is to create an overall pictorial documentation of the event. The performers are part of that of course, but it also means getting pictures of the volunteers, staff and audience. That does raise a few eyebrows with her team.
"For them to enter an event and not focus on the performer is almost unheard of," she says.
Though unusual, and sometimes hard to get through to people, Pam says it works out in the end.
Things don't end once the festival is over though. In some respects digital has made things easier in that the photos can be sent out quickly. However without the limitation of a certain number of shots per roll, each photographer can take upwards of 10,000 shots during the five-day festival.
Pam and Alan sort through their own photos plus all of the ones the photographers submit, and whittle it down to 500 shots to give to the festival organizers. Pam says it takes a lot of time, but it is very rewarding.
Pam says she figures it will be June when she finally signs off on the ECMA photography. That doesn't mean putting the camera away for the year though. Stanfest returns at the end of June, and later this year she'll be taking pictures at Music Nova Scotia Week when it comes back to Liverpool.
Their mix of photography and love of music started out with the Stan Rogers festival, held annually in Canso. Pam and Alan were giving their photos to the organizers to use, along with a few other photographers. The festival committee decided to make it an official team, called the "Hot Shots."
It was their volunteering with Stanfest that eventually led to the ECMA's. In 2005, Stanfest coordinator Troy Greencorn was also working with the ECMA organizers, and asked the Samson's if they would coordinate the photography team for the ECMA's. Though Pam says she had never organized that many people before, she decided to give it a try. They've gone back every year since.
Outside of that their biggest involvement is with the Liverpool 545 Royal Air Cadet squadron. It sounds like a lot, but Pam says they enjoy the volunteer work they do.
"Volunteering in general is a life choice," she says.
As for the ECMA's she encourages anyone with an interest to volunteer for next year's ceremony. The ECMA's mark 25 years next year, and are coming back to Halifax. She says that's the one to volunteer for if you are a music lover or even just a casual fan.