Ready, Set…

Slowly but surely, this site is coming together. I should have the
galleries working in the next week, I hope, and then I’ll start
actually telling people about it. For some reason, my email address at
the bottom doesn’t actually get to me, so if you want to get in touch
with me, click the Contact button at the top.

From Friday night, Seesaw Ensemble at Portugalia:

It’s incredibly dim there, so I had to embrace the motion blur. It works for this shot, I think.  

With 1/4s shutter speeds, there was no way I was going to get sharp
photos from my telephoto zoom lens, with a maximum aperture of f/4 at
this focal length. It gave me a chance to try some other stuff. I
practiced zooming the lens at the Followers show a while back and got
only 1 decent shot out of the bunch. It was the same thing this night.
I’m learning that the subject has to be in the center of the frame, and
then cropped into a better composition later.

Who says you need flash?

Michael

What I Do

A fellow RIT grad friend of mine in Rochester emailed me today:


Natalie Sinisgalli at a visit to Seaport Village last month.

Natalie found herself the recipient of an all access pass to photograph the Collective Soul concert tomorrow night, at a bigger venue than I usually shoot at. She borrowed a couple very nice lenses, the Canon 50/1.2 and Canon 70-200/2.8 lenses. But, as a concert photography newbie, she asked me if I had any tips to help her through her first attempt at it. We use the same camera, the Canon 40D, so we have the same starting point. What started out as a quick note turned into an email that I just couldn’t click send on. This was the first time anyone asked me to explain how I go about shooting a show, and I got a bit carried away with my answer which I have attached below,  in a bit more of a streamlined version, with some visual examples. I AM trying to make this a photo blog, although I’m doing a bad job of it with these first two posts. These are just my views on shooting shows after about 4 months with a DSLR, I might have some radically different ideas in another 4 months.

———

Hi Natalie,

Congrats! I still haven’t shot a BIG rock show, mine mostly happen in dive bars so I can get close and don’t have to deal with a lot of the hassles of a bigger venue, like press pass, security, and a 3 song limit.

Anyway, as far as shooting tips go, there’s a lot of stuff to consider.

At a bigger venue, they probably have a decent light setup. The 50/1.2 might be overkill, I find that my 50/1.8 and new 28/1.8 do fine, even in darker bars. But it’s still a super lens. The problem with a 1.2 is that you will have razor-thin depth-of-field (DOF) at that aperture, so you won’t have many keepers. I would stop it down to 1.8-2.8 if I could to get back some DOF and improve sharpness. The 70-200 will probably be great for individuals, and you’ll probably use that one more if you find yourself 20 feet or more away from the band.

For camera settings, shoot manual, especially if there is a constantly changing light show or the meter will always be confused. Some folks will tell you to spot meter off the face, but I’ve had a hard time getting that to work for me. I guess I need more practice. I don’t like ISO 3200 on the 40D, so 1600 is as fast as I’ll go, although If I can get away with a slower ISO, I will. Set the aperture to something like f/ 2.8 or f/4, and try to get the shutter speed to at least 1/20 second. If that doesn’t work, open up until you can get that shutter speed. I like a little bit of motion blur in my shots, so I’ll go down to 1/6 sec sometimes, but the 1/20 – 1/60 is where I do most of my shots.

1/20s adds a bit of action-blur.

If you can get away with some faster shutter speeds, you’ll be able to get some good stop-action stuff, try it with the drummer just before he hits the cymbals, or from a guitarist in mid-leap, or a singer holding a scream, that ‘s where good facial expressions happen.

Screaming reds in this photo, which had to be tamed in post processing.

Check the histogram for exposure, the meter will tell you there’s not enough light, but that’s just because you’ll have a lot of black in the background. I find that the 40D is really sensitive to reds (Si detectors being more sensitive to longer wavelengths and all, and most sensitive in the infrared spectrum), so if it’s a red-heavy light setup, it’s easy to overexpose the red channel.

 I use the multi-controller for manually setting the AF point. With a little practice, it’s much quicker and easier to put the point of focus on the face than to focus and recompose. Especially since that little bit of movement can cause the wide aperture to miss focus, due to moving the camera and also the performer might move out of the DOF range. As a far as focus/composition, with shots of individual band members, the singer is the only one who looks good with his face filling the frame. If you’re shooting a guitarist/bassist, try to get their hands in the shot, or they don’t look quite right, in my opinion. Given the choice, I’d rather have a shot of a guitarist with his eyes in focus than his hands in focus.

You can only get one thin vertical plane in focus at maximum aperture, make sure it’s on the eyes. Or where the eyes would be.

For shots with multiple people, it’s going to be tough getting everyone in focus with a wide aperture, so focus bracket a lot. Try not to get random arms in the corners of shots. This also applies to guitar pegheads, edges of cymbals, and people in the background. I guess I can’t get away from (our Photo I professor) Steve Diehl’s  “keep the edges clean” mentality.

For stationary musicians, one shot autofocus will do fine, but if they move around a lot, AI servo mode might work better so that the camera constantly adjusts focus to keep the subject sharp. I shoot in single shot drive but will press the button several times in a row. They’re not going to be moving that fast that you need to go to 6 frames per second or anything, unless they’re doing somersaults or something.

I don’t like to stand directly in front of a musician when I shoot them for a few reasons. Number one, in a small place, there’s not much of a stage, and I don’t want to obscure the audiences’ view any more than necessary. No one wants to stare at the photographer’s back while they stand 2 feet in front of the singer for any more than 10 or 15 seconds at a time. I think this might not be a problem for you since it’s probably a 4-5 foot high stage. Still, shooting right in front compresses the space and makes them look flat, unless you’re using a wide angle lens. With guitars, it’s not such a big deal since they’re pretty flat anyway, but horns just don’t look right, to me at least.

Horns look flat and unnatural when shot straight on, which can look work as an effect…


…but they look better from the side, more often than not.

I like standing at one side of the stage, it’s less distracting for the performers and audience, and it’s easier to get the whole band in the shot. I don’t think you have any UWA lenses, so this might be the only way to get the whole band in anyway. It also compresses the distance between guitarists, so where you stand determines how close the members appear to be to each other. It does make it tough to get all of them in focus since they’re at different distances.

Depending on where you stand, a band can look like they span the stage…


…or are in each others’ laps.

Make sure to move around so that you get a bunch of angles, and pay some attention to the drummer. That 70-200/2.8 should make it easy to get some decent shots of him, drummers are always the toughest to shoot because they sit in the back of the stage, obscured by the drum kit and the other performers.


Some drummers are more fun to shoot than others.

Try some different angles. Shoot while standing, on your knees, leaning over to one side or another if you can’t get far enough over, from behind if you have a chance. With the right light, you might be able to get some silhouettes or good rim lighting. Use the live view to your advantage. Set your widest lens to it’s shortest focal length, then hold the camera down by the performer’s feet, pointing up until you can see you have all of them in the frame. These can be dramatic shots, you just have to try and shoot several times, placing the focus at different places to hope that one looks good. In live view, the center focus is always selected, so you’ll have to focus and recompose. I would say try some shots by holding the camera over your head, but this might not work too well if they’re on a high stage, but maybe it will. Like I said, I don’t have much experience shooting at bigger venues…


Shot from around Cole’s ankles.

Don’t shoot everything in total vertical/horizontal. One trick I use is to get a guitarist/bassist in the frame, then rotate the camera so that his guitar neck is parallel to the bottom edge of the frame. Adds drama. Try this with a bunch of different shots, you’ll get a lower percentage of keepers, but you might get really lucky once or twice a night.

Shoot several frames of every setup you shoot, you can pick the good ones later. This means you’ll get a lot of duplicates, but that’s ok. I typically shoot 200-400 frames per set, and delete at least 80% of them at first glance on the computer later on. Oh, and I don’t ever use flash for a couple reasons, first and foremost, I like the ambient lighting best, and also, flash adds a whole new complication to keep track of and think about. There’s enough to think about as is, and I do all this while still trying to enjoy the music.

Did I mention that you should try to have fun?

First Real Post

This is my first blog post.

Back in college, I had a friend in my department named Tracy. She was incredibly smart, friendly, and about 3 years older than me. She and her boyfriend Doug were like the older brother and sister I never had. They taught me a lot about life, music, and beer. My 21st birthday party was a pretty small affair sine I didn’t have a lot of friends, and the ones I had were not yet of drinking age, so it consisted of Doug, Tracy, and another friend of mine who tried to get me hammered on the kinds of drinks you would only drink on your 21st birthday. Doug was a beer geek to the extreme, and he showed me there was more to beer than the fizzy yellow water I drank, but never really liked. He also played angular and exciting guitar, and I think of his playing whenever I listen to a certain dissonant guitar band.

One day, he pulled out some vinyl by a band I had never heard of before. In the space of the first minute or so of the A-side, it sounded like 4 different songs played in quick succession. There was no rhyme or reason  to the playing, it was not quite in tune, and had  this seasick, lurching quality to it. The tempo slowed down and sped up, individual guitar lines stopped and started. When the vocals kicked in after a couple minutes, it didn’t help to bring the song together at all, since there were two singers who weren’t altogether… all together.

I did not like it.

About 5 years later, I bought that album from a bargain bin just to see if it still sounded as weird as I remembered. Sure enough it did,  only it was intriguing this time. That CD lived in my car for the next several weeks.

The band was Polvo, and the album was Today’s Active Lifestyles. I got all the rest of their music any way I could, and they are one of my absolute favorite bands. Unfortunately, they broke up a few years before I got to know them.

Until just recently.

I will be in the front row, and we’ll see if I manage to take any time away from rocking out to snap some photos.

Oh, Doug and Tracy left Rochester, NY not long after that fateful day, lived in the Bay area for a short time, and then ended up in Chicago. I visited them once for a week, caught the Chicago Jazz Festival, and had a blast. Chicago has an incredible music scene, and it would be a great place to live except for the weather. A quick search turned up the microbrewery that Doug and Tracy opened, Metropolitan Brewing. I can only imagine that it is some of the tastiest beer ever.