Photo Exploration: The Guitar. January 2013

Per­form­ers on stage are, by the nature of per­form­ing, pret­ty emo­tive peo­ple. Usu­al­ly cog­nizant of every look and motion, they are con­stant­ly build­ing up a pres­ence with their eyes and hands and lips and hair and clothes and so on and so on. That makes for engag­ing and excit­ing pho­tog­ra­phy — think of the time­less imagery of Jimi Hen­drix, Jim­my Page or James Brown (acci­den­tal allit­er­a­tion, what?). Even in the midst of organ­ic and spon­ta­neous activ­i­ty, there is a con­stant per­sona pre­sent­ed to the audience.

How­ev­er, with the right envi­ron­ment and patience, occa­sion­al­ly a pho­to­graph can be tak­en that catch­es a moment of qui­et dis­trac­tion. Such as the pho­to­graph below.


Tak­en at the French Broad Brew­ery, this pho­to was one of a series and you can see the rest of the show here. But this one image stood out to me for a num­ber of rea­sons — I get a sense of soli­tude, maybe of inter­nal rehearsal, and ulti­mate­ly a sense of calm. I’ll be hon­est — I real­ly like this image. I like the col­or, the com­po­si­tion, the sub­ject. I like that it feels a lit­tle bit behind-the-stage-cur­tain. I real­ly like that it does not look like a con­cert pho­to­graph I would nor­mal­ly take.

How to get such a pho­to, and how to repro­duce? The tech­ni­cal spec’s are 1600ISO, 1/60 @ f/2. Canon 5Dmk2, 50mm f/1.4 lens. Stage light­ing (of which I had no con­trol). So we know it’s going to be a mod­er­ate­ly grainy set­up, and we know the DOF is pret­ty going to be pret­ty shal­low. And since the light­ing is com­ing from the stage lights, we can assume that it’s going to be a mish­mash of some red, yel­low and green­ish tones.

And all of which plays well with this “cur­tain for a back­drop” type of stage. If it was­n’t a top-notch craft brew­ery, you could expect PBR cans or per­haps cracked tum­blers of Old Crow for refresh­ments. For­tu­nate­ly, the beer was deli­cious (ESB for me) and the glass­es solid. 

Any­way — the main thing you have to remem­ber with these sort of envi­ron­ments is to be alert. Dis­trac­tions between songs can lead to missed oppor­tun­ties. When the singer moves away from the mic, don’t go back to the beer. Fol­low her with your cam­era and watch what’s going on. Is she get­ting some­thing out of her gui­tar case? Is she talk­ing to some­one off-stage? Is she, as in this case, chang­ing instru­ments entire­ly? All of these open up the win­dow for a pho­to that’s a bit more involved, a bit more per­son­al than the pro­tect­ed and pro­ject­ed per­son­al­i­ty of the artist.

Thanks must also go out to Chelsea Labate of Ten Cent Poet­ry for gra­cious­ly allow­ing pho­tog­ra­phy at her events.

Ten Cent Poetry, French Broad Brewery

Chelsea Labate, per­form­ing as Ten Cent Poet­ry at the French Broad Brewery

Photo Exploration: Austin, Vocals. March 2011

I heard from a film pho­tog­ra­ph­er once that he would only shoot the first three songs of a con­cert. He said the ener­gy lev­el was high­est then and that at least one of the songs was going to be some­thing the crowd could get into. There was the prac­ti­cal real­i­ty that if you want­ed to get your pho­tos in the papers then you had bet­ter get back to the hotel and start devel­op­ing ASAP. If I had fol­lowed his advice I would have missed this photo.

Austin, Vocals

This was tak­en at the only live per­for­mance of a group of extreme­ly, extreme­ly tal­ent­ed musi­cians that went by the name The Arche­techs. I believe all were tak­en dur­ing the song Mr. Mul­ti-Mil­lion. The show was in a cramped room in down­town Asheville that was over­flow­ing with peo­ple. I’d been work­ing with the group to pro­vide imagery for their web­site, album mate­r­i­al, etc and was excit­ed to final­ly see them live. It was quite a mean­ing­ful experience.

There are some attrib­ut­es to a venue that help pho­tog­ra­phers. Great light­ing, easy to get around, awe­some stages — plen­ty of places have those fea­tures. The loca­tion of this show was not one of them. It was a com­plete­ly flat floor, pro­vid­ing for an inti­mate expe­ri­ence with the band but dif­fi­cult to get angles one nor­mal­ly can get at an event. The light­ing was atro­cious. Bare­ly any spe­cial light­ing for the band, and what there was were basi­cal­ly direc­tion­al 40watt bulbs. So, out comes the 50mm f/1.4 and we’re shoot­ing pret­ty much wide open and hop­ing for decent fram­ing. ISO at least 1600 on a 5D all night. Look­ing for any set­tings that will come out sharp and rea­son­ably exposed.

Even with the dif­fi­cul­ties there were a great num­ber of pho­tos that came out at least decent. Some good ener­gy shots, some nice inti­mate cap­tures, and espe­cial­ly a series of Austin singing this one song. I remem­ber very clear­ly tak­ing the pho­tos and hav­ing high expec­ta­tions for a sin­gle defin­i­tive shot. But the more I looked at that series — try­ing to pick out “the one” — the more I leaned towards a set. It was clear­er to me that a trip­tych con­veyed Austin’s emo­tions and con­vic­tions far more com­plete­ly than one soli­tary capture.

After mix­ing and match­ing the sets, I decid­ed on these three. I enjoy the sto­ry they tell, the self­less­ness of the artist mixed with the con­vic­tion of the cause in the lyrics. Even though the pho­tos are grainy, the con­trast is high­er than I pre­fer and the fram­ing isn’t per­fect, I can hear the song every time I see the pho­tos. Try­ing to accu­rate­ly doc­u­ment the pow­er of per­for­mance leads down many paths and most often the results aren’t what were expected. 

To close, I don’t know if Austin has sung the song in pub­lic since this show, but I’d like to think that every time there is this much ener­gy and soul in the performance.

Jack9 at Jack of the Wood

My favorites from a con­cert at Jack of the Wood. It is a chal­leng­ing place to shoot — dark, no great angles, low stage — but it can also afford a lit­tle inti­ma­cy with an unob­tru­sive cam­era. It was a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to test the new Fuji X100 — very good low-light capa­bil­i­ties and can be basi­cal­ly made as invis­i­ble as a film rangefind­er. It was a great expe­ri­ence both with the shoot­ing and the results!