Seeing my shots from last year’s Bass Summit and comparing them to this year’s, I see a number of differences. So I think it’s time I mentioned some areas where I think I’ve grown. No photographic examples this time, hopefully they’re pretty easy to see in the other posts.
If I had to contrast my current shooting style against what it was a year ago, there’s a few things that are obvious to me:
1. I’m much more comfortable getting close which is where the best
images are. By getting close, it’s easier to fill the frame and add
dimension to the shots. In essence, where you put your lens is where
you’re putting the viewer’s eye, no matter what focal length you use.
If you want the viewer to feel like he’s in the front row, you have to
be in the front row. If you shoot with a telephoto lens from the back of the room. You might still fill the frame, but it will still have a detached, voyeuristic quality.
2. I’m not shooting so much at a purely horizontal or vertical
orientation. The eye is pretty forgiving, and can see which way is up,
even if the vertical lines are tilted 45 degrees. A strong composition
consists of diagonal lines and placing points of interest in the proper
place in the frame according to the rule of thirds, some pretty basic
Photo 101 stuff. By trying to highlight this and being flexible with
the angle, I can maximize the strength of the composition and the
diagonal lines just fall in place. A straight shot consists of a lot of
horizontal/vertical lines, by tilting the camera slightly to one side,
those lines suddenly become diagonals, ideally pointed at one of the
points of interest.
Since the diagonal of the frame is longer than the sides, it can
effectively function as a hidden wider angle lens, letting me fit more
of the action in. At the wide end, this gives me an effective 14.1mm
lens when using my zoom at it’s widest 17mm focal length. It might not
sound like a lot, but it’s 20% wider.
Just like in music, you don’t have to follow the rules of composition
every time. But you get better results if by sacrificing one rule, you
follow two others more closely. That can define a style all on its own.
3. I’m relying much less on post-processing to save a shot. I used to
add more split toning and other effects to add interest to a shot, but
I’m more brutal in the editing process now. If a shot doesn’t work for
a certain reason, I just delete it instead of trying to fix it in post.
This requires getting it right in camera a lot more and then using the
processing to highlight that shot’s strengths, not mask its weaknesses.
When I do add some color to a B&W shot, I use a much lighter touch
now. It should suggest a mood, not state it explicitly.
4. While music stands continue to be the bane of my existence, I like
adding foreground elements into a shot. They provide some depth to a
scene, just like keeping the background from going to pure black can do
the same. Any good landscape photo has layers- something happening in
the fore-, mid-, and background. Ideally, these different layers give
the eye places to rest and paths to follow though the photo. At rock
shows, I try to make the singer’s mic stand into a compositional
element, taking something close and making it point at the singer
further back. If I can get the background to work with the subject
instead of against it, so much the better.
5. A live show is not a portrait session. I’m not trying to achieve a
perfectly lit and posed image. I’m trying to capture how a performance
looks and sounds. I love capturing the expressions the performers make,
since they’re not going to make those same faces anywhere else. Well,
at least not in public…
I strive for a tonally balanced image every time, with information in
the highlights, midtones, and shadows, but it’s not always possible.
Some lighting setups are just too contrasty to be able to balance
without using flash, which I refuse to do at this point. In that case,
I’ll try to properly expose for the highlights and let the shadows fall
into total darkness. It’s better than trying to use too slow a shutter
speed for a better exposure, only to comprimise the sharpness of the
shot. Post processing can help with this too, as long as it’s used
6. Finally, I’m having a lot more fun shooting now than I was a year
ago. When I started, I was more self consious about being seen as the
with the camera. I don’t care so much how I’m seen now, since the
musicians themselves have given me a lot of positive encouragement. I
feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, and so there’s nothing to be
embarassed about. Another part of this is being more comfortable with
the camera. I can now adjust settings and change lenses without having
to look at what I’m doing, letting me simply enjoy myself while I’m
shooting. This is actually the most important point, I need to be able
to do the previous five points as automatically as possible so that I
don’t have to think about all this while I’m shooting. Just like in
music, you practice hard so that your hands know what to do by
themselves, then you can just concentrate on being creative.