Archive for April, 2009

DX lens (Nikon 17-55) on an FX body (D700)

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

D700 + 17-55/2.8 test @ 17mm

How well does it work? The above is shot at 17mm on my D700 using my Nikon 17-55/2.8 DX lens. Obviously, the image circle doesn’t cover the FX frame. No surprises there. I’ve been told that the Nikon 17-55 is usable on FX bodies (D3x, D3, D700) at 28mm onwards. I did a few very quick and unscientific test shots to see for myself. Results after the jump. You can click through to each photo on Flickr to view the full-size 12 megapixel image, if you really want to.

No lens hood and no filter mounted on the lens (using the hood results in much more severe vignetting). Settings: manual exposure at ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/40 sec. Manual white balance at 4,917 Kelvins. D2XMODE3 picture control. None of this stuff changed from shot to shot, the only thing I changed was the focal length. But, I didn’t use a tripod, and note that at f/5.6 the darkening in the corners will be slightly milder than if I had shot wide open at f/2.8. So take this all with a grain of salt.


Make it look real, or make it look good?

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

My post-processing routine for concert photos involves cropping, curves, noise reduction, and sharpening. Sometimes, if the lights make skin tones go green or some subtle but sickly shade, I’ll correct for that. But I don’t generally go beyond that. Recently, though, I shot a show at Jaxx where the lighting consisted of nothing other than deeply saturated reds and blues. When the band members were lit with all red, I didn’t have many options either at the time or in post-processing, but when they were lit with blue, some serious color balancing was possible after the fact.

Roll your mouse over each image – above, Sweden’s The Haunted, and below, Canada’s The Agonist – to see what they looked like before color correction in Capture NX. (If you’re viewing this in an RSS feed reader, you’ll probably actually have to visit the blog to get this to work.)

I don’t normally like for my concert photos to be so unrepresentative of what I was actually seeing, but those deeply blue images are so unattractive that I’m willing to make exceptions in this case. By bringing down the blue channel and pumping up the red – which, of course, comes with a definite penalty in higher noise levels – I can make skin tones look reasonably decent while also making the background (if it happens to be red fog) much more dramatic. It’s a win-win as long as the original exposure is good enough that the image can handle all this manipulation without become a blizzard of noise.

Lots more photos from that show here, the majority of which were manipulated in this manner to get more pleasing colors.

Back in the world of 24x36mm

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Happy birthday Amy

That’s right, I got myself a D700. Wide is wide again! Normal is normal again! Long is… uh, not quite as long again!

And, of course, the high ISO technology is cutting-edge. The above photo was shot at ISO 3200, underexposed, brought up about two-thirds of a stop in post (so effective ISO 5000), with high ISO noise reduction set to “low” and no other noise reduction done after the fact. The noise is definitely there, but the it’s mostly luminance noise, not a whole lot of chroma noise, and the pattern is actually pretty appealing, closer to film grain than any other digital noise signature I’ve seen. It looks a lot better in larger sizes – available at Flickr – than at the compressed, small version above.

Back in my pre-DSLR (and therefore pre-DX crop) days, my favorite lens was a Nikkor 24/2.0 AI-S. I absolutely loved the 24mm field of view, and the lens was fast, reasonably sharp, and built like a tank. After I got my first DSLR, if Nikon had made a 16mm DX prime I would have snapped it up in a second. After getting the D700, I slapped the trusty ol’ 24/2.0 on it and used it for my first real shots tonight. Felt like an old friend. On the other hand, a true 50mm is now something I’m a bit uncomfortable with; I don’t like it on DX, but on FX it now seems like this weird in-between to me, which is funny because for a long time all I had was an old 50/1.8 Series E lens handed down from my brother, and I loved it.

More to come, of course!

Music as a Weapon IV

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Disturbed 11

Hard rock/metal arena show in Baltimore. Pit was a fucking zoo, between the dozen photogs and the line of burly security guys keeping the crowdsurfers from bashing their heads into the floor. (You can see how full it was in this video, or this one.) Some of the photographers seemed incredibly unprofessional, but then I have this weird idea about standards of behavior in the photo pit. Basically, I don’t think it’s appropriate to act like a fan in the photo pit. Is that just totally silly? I don’t know. I feel like, it you’re in the pit, you have a job to do, and you’re supposed to be taking the photos, not getting in them. A little headbanging, ok, but fist-bumping a band member seems like it crosses some kind of line. I dunno. At venues with no pit I don’t have the same ideas; in fact, when I shoot at a place like Jaxx I feel out of place if I don’t act like a fan as well as a photog.

Also, a pet peeve: if a show is supposed to be a no-flash show, please please please turn off your autofocus assist lamp. That thing can be as annoying as a flash, since it comes on every time the camera tries to refocus. And for god’s sake turn off the automatic LCD preview (to be fair, I haven’t seen any concert photos in the pit with that on).

Disturbed 10

The gig itself wasn’t the greatest to shoot. Except for Disturbed (who had an awesome stage setup, as above), the lighting tended to be monochromatic, deep color washes, that annoying kind of light where proper exposure gives you ugly, deep shadows and overexposure completely blows out individual channels. Ugh. The biggest problem, though, was the height of the stage. The stage floor was at about neck-height on me, which meant that the monitors were above my head. So most of my shots are unflattering up-angled crap. It threw me off a little more than it should have, I think; my instinctive compositional tricks just don’t really work as well when I’m pointing my camera at a 45 degree angle upwards.

A lot of concert photogs just have a single subject in the frame for most of their shots, keeping things as simple as possible. My style is pretty different: I like to have at least two things going on in my shots. That could be two or more performers, but it doesn’t have to be – it could be a performer and some interesting background lighting, or a performer and the crowd, or a performer and some kind of prop. A lot of the times I achieve this effect by shooting wide, keeping the primary subject on one side of the frame with something else going on elsewhere in the shot. Turns out, with a super high stage, this is a hell of a lot harder to pull off.

Killswitch Engage 09

Also, random minor disappointment: Killswitch Engage has a tall, goofy-looking guitarist (on the right in the photo above) who just goes crazy while performing, literally running back and forth from one side of the stage to the other for the whole set. During the second song something went wrong with his guitar and he left the stage. Then, while the band bantered a bit before the third song, he leaned into the mic and said, “So we’re Killswitch Engage from Massachusetts. And you must be Baltimore. So this funny thing happened – my guitar won’t work. So instead of playing, I’m just going to rage. I’m gonna rage.”

I think he kept muttering “I’m gonna rage” several more times, too, at which point I was planning on doing nothing but following this crazy mofo around with my camera for the third song. But then, the damn techs seemed to get his guitar fixed, and instead of “raging,” he just played. Running back and forth and pretending to kiss his bandmate and doing other crazy stuff, but I was still disappointed. I wanted him to rage.

Lacuna Coil 05

Finally, before shooting the show, I interviewed Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil (above), and the transcript can be read at the City Paper.

More photos here.

Katy Perry, or, why shooting in RAW rocks

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Katy Perry 01

I figured a Katy Perry show would be pretty entertaining and fun to shoot, so last Friday I went to the 9:30 Club to put in my two songs’ worth of work. Despite an overly packed photo pit (seven photographers plus three security guards) in which none of us were really able to move around at all, I had a blast and got some good shots. Ms. Perry is a dynamic performer, but what also helped was the lighting: a bright white spotlight shining from the back of the venue tracked her every move for the whole set. If only rock bands would do this!

Katy Perry 18

So I was at ISO 800, f/2.8, shutter speeds 1/250th and higher. The headline photo, though, is a concise answer to the question “Why shoot concerts in RAW?” Before Perry made her leaping grand entrance, the stage was pretty dark and I was locked in at ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/125 – my default settings when I don’t know what to expect. When she came running onstage I had absolutely no time for anything other than raising the camera to my face and firing away. The resulting photos were 1-2 stops overexposed, because as she came onstage, that spotlight came on and lit her up big-time. I was able to drop the exposure in post and get usable shots that preserved detail in the highlights, something that would have been impossible if I’d been shooting JPEG. (This photo was even more blown out, but still salvageable.)

It’s still not a great photo because of the angle and that damn mic stand, but I’m happy I caught the moment. I’m not sure anyone else there did, it was such a sudden and largely unexpected entrance (she hit the stage from the opposite side from where her band came on). I hope one of the 3-4 photogs on the other side of the mic stand, who had a totally perfect view of this happening, caught it, but I haven’t seen anything yet. The other problem is that catching it would have required a relatively wide lens and I think I saw some fast 50s on that side of the pit, which, as close as we were to the action, would have made a good shot of this almost impossible.

Katy Perry 08

Anyway, after that entrance, the rest of the two songs were relatively pedestrian, especially the second song, when Perry played a guitar, which limited her freedom to bounce around the stage. Still, the lighting was so great that I got some wonderful shots. White light on the performer + colored washes in the background + a touch of fog = perfect lighting as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s the full set.

My best crowd shot ever

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009


So I have a lot to catch up on in terms of things I want to post about here, and I really need to go to bed, but I just wanted to say that the above is my favorite crowd shot ever. I’ve become really fond of turning around in the photo pit and taking photos of the die-hard fans in the front row. But none of my crowd shots have had quite as much personality as this one: the dude going crazy, and the girl next to him looking skeptical. This photo just makes me laugh.

It was taken during Lacuna Coil‘s set at the Music as a Weapon IV tour in Baltimore. I have more to say about this one, later. (Namely: highest stage I’ve ever had to shoot, and boy did that suck.)

“Are you paparazzi??”

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Fans 1

That’s the question that innumerable young Britney Spears fans asked as they passed through the holding room where eight or so credentialed photogs, myself included, sat cradling enormous telephoto lenses and waiting for Spears’ set to begin. You could tell no one in the room was particularly used to being accused of being paparazzi (I mean, this is freakin’ DC after all), but as one of them said, “I guess if you’re here tonight, that’s kind of what you are.”

Note #1: this post is theoretically about a pop concert, but I talk about a bunch of things here, so don’t automatically tune out:

  • Club vs arena shows, and the photogs that do each
  • The logistics of soundboard shoots
  • Weird photo contracts
  • That goddamn three-song rule

Note #2: you will not find any actual photos of Britney Spears here, thanks to the aforementioned weird photo contract. For those, you’ll have to go to my post at the Washington City Paper. Scattered through this post are photos of fans and of the Pussycat Dolls, who opened.

Anyway, so I played paparazzi for a night, shooting three songs worth of Miss Spears (she is a “Miss” and not a “Mrs.” right now, right? I don’t exactly keep track of these things) from the top of the Verizon Center’s lower level of seating. Before the show began, I wandered around the outside of the venue, taking photos of eager fans, most of which seemed to be either teenage girls or gay men. Some were casually dressed, some were dressed like schoolgirls a la Britney circa “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” and some had custom-made I Heart Britney t-shirts with lyric snippets on the back:

Fans 5

More after the jump.