Archive for February, 2009

Me, in a gallery near you

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Day 87: Floating Worlds

Well, if you live in Washington, DC or Winston-Salem, NC, that is.

I had the above piece in an exhibit that ran here in DC over Valentine’s Day weekend, sponsored by Ten Miles Square. But I never got to see that show, unfortunately, since it only ran for the one weekend, and I was out of town.

Also, as mentioned before, I have a photo in the juried DCist Exposed show here in DC, currently running at Flashpoint Gallery on G Street near Chinatown. Apparently over 1,000 people showed up for the opening, which is insane because if you’ve ever seen Flashpoint, it can hold maybe a tenth of that number. I still haven’t seen the show yet – I missed the opening for a concert shoot, and the gallery hours are limited (12-6 Tuesday through Saturday I believe).

Day 52: Rear Window

I also have the above piece, which should look familiar if you’ve ever been to the home page of this website, in an exhibit at the gallery of Associated Artists of Winston-Salem, NC (who incidentally were my first-ever employers). It’s the biggest framed print I’ve ever made at 24″x16″ plus 3-4 inches of matting on each side. Sadly – are you sensing a theme yet? – I haven’t seen this show either, and won’t, because it closes before I can make it down there. Sheesh.

Promo shoot: Salome

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Salome Promo 07

Last week I did a promo session with Salome, the Virginia-based doom metal band whom I’ve now shot live three times. Pretty fun shoot, didn’t really pull off anything amazingly creative, but they built a mountain of amps, I stuck them in front, and I lit the amps with a red-gelled strobe. Bingo. Very simple but I think the effect looks pretty good. In the shot above the band members are lit by two more strobes, one on each side of the camera. In others I just triggered one of those two lights to create a more shadowy, mysterious look.

I stuck with hard light the whole time – I’d brought my umbrellas but never used them. The harsh shadows and noticeable falloff work better with their image than soft, diffuse light, I think. I did keep the flash-to-subject distance relatively short, though, mostly to save power, but this also had the effect of keeping the light from getting too hard.

Salome Promo 03

We also did a couple shots with no background, as below, and instead of using a background light I used my third strobe high camera left to add more light to the front and center band member. We tried several configurations with each band member taking a turn in front, but I think the ones with Kat up there, like the shot above, turned out the best compositionally by far (sorry, Kat).

After the full-band shots we banged out a few individual shots of each band member, which was a simple affair since we just used the same background and I didn’t even really change the lighting setup at all. Got a few different looks by using or not using the background light, and by using or not using the fill light. I like the sudden light falloff in this one – the lighting ratio is off though – it’s almost 1:1 main:fill. Oops. Also, I should have used my third strobe as a kicker/hair light to get some separation up there, oh well.

Salome Promo 15

A few more of these are here, and I’m sure some others will trickle out as the band uses them in various upcoming interviews and feature articles. Check out their music at Myspace.

UPDATE 2-26-09: Well, there’s the first usage of a photo from this shoot: an interview with Kat at BrooklynVegan.

Busy busy busy

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Between the day job (which has been spilling over into night recently) and the photography gigs (which are coming fast and furious), I’ve barely had time to blink for the past week or so. Got a lot of exciting and new things on tap. To wit:

  • Last night: shooting nightlife for a magazine assignment (more on this later)
  • Tonight: promo shoot for a great local band
  • Tomorrow night: shooting Meshuggah/Cynic/The Faceless in Baltimore for the City Paper
  • Tomorrow night: opening reception for DCist Exposed (PDF), which sadly I’ll miss because of the above
  • Saturday: location scouting/walkthrough of the wedding I am shooting in May
  • Saturday night: wrapup of magazine assignment shoot

Whew! Having a blast with all this though, and learning tons in the process. I’ll have details on all this stuff once the various projects are wrapped up. Above, a fun but completely unusable throwaway shot from my efforts last night.

Concerts portfolio updated

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Lenka 12

I’ve updated my live music photography portfolio. Comments are welcome. Is the flow really weird? Are there any images that just flat out don’t belong? Should I make all the images the same height regardless of orientation? Is the mix of genres too jolting? Is the inclusion of some black & white images in a primarily color portfolio jarring? Tell me!

(Above: Lenka, who put on a really fun show last week at which I got a ton of great photos.)

I love this shot

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Salome 01

I don’t really feel the need to blog about every concert I photograph, especially not ones that don’t pose any particularly novel shooting conditions or challenges. But in this case I’d just like to post one photo from a show I went to last Saturday. This was a throwaway shot I took just before Salome started their set at the 9:30 Club, lit by nothing but dim red light. It was just a quick test photo I took to check my settings (notice the EXIF data: ISO 3200, f/2.8, 1/125 – my default initial settings for dim shows, and I adjust from there), but it came out great. Very appropriate for their sound. If anything, the rest of that photoset is too colorful; black & white suits them better I think.

Hazardous duty pay

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Dillinger Escape Plan 12

In response to my submission of a review and photos of Watain‘s show last Halloween, my then-editor at the City Paper joked, “Damn – sorry I can’t get you extra hazard pay.” That comment would be even more appropriate for the Dillinger Escape Plan show I shot at the Ottobar in Baltimore last Friday. DEP live shows are pretty legendary for their intensity, and DEP shows at the Ottobar are particularly legendary.

The Ottobar is dim, a little dingy, and small, but I like it a lot. There’s no photo pit ever, but there is a little balcony which is cool to shoot from, and the crowds there always seem friendly. DEP transformed the place into one giant mosh pit, it seemed like, and not even the folks sitting in the balcony were safe from the mayhem. The band came onstage calmly enough, but the instant they slammed into “The Mullet Burden,” bodies started flying everywhere.

I would say that the band members pinballed around the stage constantly, but that’s not entirely true, as the stage was not sufficient to contain their energy. Guitarist Ben Weinman was jumping off every possible surface, stagediving into the crowd (as above), careening off the walls, etc etc, all while seeming to hit every single note spot-on. If you’re familiar with DEP’s music you’ll respect how unimaginable this is – their material is often mind-bendingly complex.

Dillinger Escape Plan 16

Meanwhile, one of the first things vocalist Greg Puciato was pick up the two monitors sitting front and center on the stage and toss them backwards so that he could lean in as close as possible to the crowd, or just jump right into it. (Eventually one of DEP’s crew members took them offstage entirely. They had a crew dedicated to, basically, fixing shit that the band members broke with all their kinetic energy.) Puciato was fond of getting into particularly enthusiastic fans’ faces and letting them sing along with him into the mic. He also had a penchant for climbing things, including the Ottobar balcony, which he did several times to share the love with the folks sitting up there watching the chaos. (See the photo below.)

All of which would have made for great photos, but there were a few problems. One, the lighting: DEP brought their own lighting, which was a definite upgrade over the standard Ottobar rig, but it was very tough for photography. Bright, colorful backlights, lots of fog, and two broken amps onstage with warm white light shining straight up from them. That was it, plus a couple dim Ottobar spots. The best light came from those floor lights, but that depended on the band members staying still for a second over them, which was a rare occurrence indeed (see above). I was at ISO 3200 all show in order to maintain fast enough shutter speeds, and if I’d had a D700 or something I probably would have been up at ISO 12,800 or something crazy like that.

Dillinger Escape Plan 06

Second problem, the crowd: despite the fact that I was right up against the stage, normally a relatively calm spot aside from the occasional crowd surfer going overhead, I was still essentially shooting from the middle of a mosh pit. I would have liked to have taken a lot more photos with flash, but I couldn’t use it off-camera (needed my off hand to brace/balance myself) and I was afraid of mounting it on-camera for fear of some stage diver’s stray body part snapping it off. All told it was somewhat miraculous my camera survived without taking a hit at all – although I did get kicked in the face by Weinman at one point.

Third: I was too close. My 17-55/2.8 wasn’t nearly wide enough at the wide end. If I had a fast 11-16 or something like that, it would have been ideal, and a 10mm fisheye would have gotten some awesome shots as well. As it was, I was up against the 17mm end of the zoom all night and it wasn’t enough. Not when things are this up close and personal.

All told though, this was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been to. DEP always brings it. I’d love to have another crack at a DEP show at the Ottobar with a wider lens and maybe a rented D700 or something so I can bump up to ISO 6400+.

Dillinger Escape Plan 05

More photos here.

Dancing about architecture

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Sarah Fridrich Promo Outtake 3

If “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” – a quote that, as a sometime music critic for the past 10 years, I’ve heard (and lived) over and over again – then what is, uh, portraiture about music? I don’t mean live music here; I mean, how do you capture what a musician is all about in a portrait or promotional photograph?

For lots of rock and metal bands it seems simple enough. Stick a few dudes in front of a brick wall, in a grungy alleyway, or in the midst of a wintry forest, and you’re good to go. Doesn’t seem like the standards for this kind of promo photography are all that high – or maybe it’s just that I hang around low-budget indie bands. (Yeah, it’s probably that.) Anyway, I did a promo shoot for Sarah Fridrich, who is a pianist, guitarist, singer/songwriter whose music tends to be a little brooding, a little quirky, a little jazzy. And we had a hard time figuring out what the right kind of image for her would be.

Divorced from these concerns, my favorite image from the shoot is this one, but it’s probably more appropriate for a musician whose material is more romantic and dreamy than Sarah’s is:

Sarah Fridrich Promo Outtake 4

Technique-wise, nothing fancy. The two above were shot with available light and a single SB-800 through a shoot-through umbrella, camera right, plus a touch of on-axis fill. I did some dodging to bring out detail in Sarah’s dark hair. The second shot went through some blur and tonal shifting as well. We did some more shots inside which required a bit more lighting: below, a shot in front of a red wall with a bare light through a houseplant to create a little interest on the background, camera left and a shoot-through umbrella’d light camera right. I’m using this shot as an example of mistakes galore – the background light is too close, creating that distracting glare; the main light should have been gobo’ed to prevent spillage on to the wall; and most of all there’s not enough separation between subject and background, which would have made the above two issues easier to fix.

Sarah Fridrich Promo Outtake 7

OK, and one more – we did a couple on a nicely textured wood stairwell. For the full-length shots like the one below, I needed two main lights, as one wasn’t sufficient to light the entire subject. Took a bit of experimenting to minimize the specular highlights on those wooden steps (and the shot might still benefit from a few seconds of work burning out what highlights are left there). Also, it was impossible to completely eliminate shadows on the back wall, but I think I controlled them enough that they’re not too distracting.

This photo was blurred and toned in the same way the second shot above was. Kind of a lazy, global retouching method, but in limited instances I do like the look.

Sarah Fridrich Promo Outtake 5

Obviously I have my nitpicks, and obviously I have a lot to learn here, but overall I’m pretty happy with the results. Only problem is, many of these shots aren’t quite what Sarah was looking for image-wise. The shot above with the red background, for instance, is probably way too happy and cutesy, even if it is a fun pic. So we’re still brainstorming.

A couple more of these are here in this Flickr set.

Who the hell designed that lighting?

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Lykke Li 8

Just a couple months after playing to a sold-out crowd at the Black Cat, Lykke Li returned to DC, this time to the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. While Sixth & I is a Live Nation venue and hosts concerts on a regular basis, it’s a working synagogue and thus doesn’t exactly have a superb lighting rig. However, it seems to be perfectly adequate, at least until performers get weird ideas into their heads.

Lykke Li’s lighting was… interesting… by which I mean terrible for photographers. For the first few songs, at least, the majority of the light came from two white spotlights on the floor of the middle of the stage, behind Lykke Li and pointed directly up at the back of her head. Frontlighting was nonexistent for the most part; when it came it cast hard shadows on her face, making an unobstructed shot very difficult. Yikes.

There was also an issue that I ran into when she played at the Black Cat: decked out all in black from neck to toe, it was very tough to get a shot of Lykke Li with any separation from the dark background of the stage. At the Black Cat, I resolved the issue by shooting almost exclusively head-and-shoulders shots, going in tight and sacrificing anything wide; I managed to get some decent stuff. I was resigned to not getting anything as good this time around, so I messed around with some wider shots, and sure enough they look awful, like a disembodied head and hands floating around, swallowed up in a detail-free blackness. Ugh.

I really like it when performers wear light-colored clothing, but it’s a bit of a rarity, especially given the kind of music I shoot.

Wildbirds & Peacedrums 3

Above, the best shot of the night, a fluky one of openers Wildbirds & Peacedrums (who put on a great show) in which I was machinegunning the shutter in hopes of getting something like this. Full set here, but don’t expect anything inspiring.