Archive for June, 2009

One from Nordic Jazz Week

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Arve Henriksen @ House of Sweden

I was initially disappointed that the last night of Nordic Jazz Week 09 was moved inside from its original location on the picturesque roof of the House of Sweden. But as it turns out, the inside of this marvelous building is equally picturesque, and further, I didn’t really need a beautiful environment to get some good shots. My favorite of the evening was this tight shot of trumpeter/vocalist/electronics wizard Arve Henriksen. (Note: ISO 3200, no noise reduction of any kind.)

Thanks to Arild Strømmen at the Norwegian embassy.

The First Lady

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Michelle Obama @ Business & Nonprofit Philanthropy Summit

I had the wonderful opportunity to have (almost) unfettered access to shoot First Lady Michelle Obama yesterday as she gave a short luncheon speech to attendees of Greater DC Cares’ Business and Nonprofit Philanthropy Summit and Awards event. At this event, the press were stuck all the way in the back of the room, with photographers allowed to approach the buffer for “four clicks only.” Makes the three-song rule look absolutely luxurious in comparison. Inside the buffer were four Secret Service agents, White House photographer Samantha Appleton, and… me (after several rounds of security clearance). So that was fun.

Michelle Obama @ Business & Nonprofit Philanthropy Summit

I don’t envy working photojournalists covering events like this. It’s pretty tough to take consistently interesting (much less creative) photos of people speechifying, especially when you’re stuck at the back of a room shooting with a mega-telephoto lens. Luckily I was able to move around and find some different angles, and I had some decent elements to work with, including some gorgeous blue lighting on the curtains behind the podium. There were many other shots I would have liked to have tried, but I figured those Secret Service agents would probably take a dim view of my standing directly behind the First Lady during her speech. So I played it pretty safe.

Michelle Obama @ Business & Nonprofit Philanthropy Summit

After her speech, Mrs. Obama worked the ropeline, greeting the attendees, who were overflowing with enthusiasm. Really, this was a lot like taking crowd shots at big concerts, except with older subjects, more cameras, more handshakes, more Secret Service agents, and fewer devil’s horns. My favorite shot is this one, though, taken with a long lens and the benefit of some catchflash from someone else’s camera. This was a seriously lucky shot – that catchflash makes the First Lady stand out in a sea of tungsten-lit haze. I don’t need no radio-triggered remote strobes when I can just use other people’s perfectly aimed flashes!

Michelle Obama @ Business & Nonprofit Philanthropy Summit

All told, this went pretty well other than a time or two that I got too close and was either shouldered aside by Secret Service agents or pulled back by Samantha. Oops. “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” is always near the front of my brain, but this time around it probably shouldn’t have been.

After the jump, a few more photos from the event. There’s a small gallery here; I’ll be turning over a full set to Greater DC Cares within a few days. (They’re already using one of my shots – the second one above – as their main homepage image.) I documented the entire summit, not just the luncheon, but obviously the keynote speech was the big draw.


A pleasant evening with the Dillinger Escape Plan

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Dillinger Escape Plan 24

There is nothing quite like taking thousands of dollars of camera gear into the front row of a Dillinger Escape Plan show, at a venue with no photo pit. I did this a few months ago at the Ottobar in Baltimore; last week I did it again, at a much smaller venue, the Rock & Roll Hotel in DC. Even though the show was overall much tamer than the Ottobar, for me personally it was the opposite. The Ottobar has this weird niche carved out of the stage where I strategically placed myself and was largely sheltered from the madness in front of the stage. Rock & Roll Hotel has no such convenient niche and so I was definitely right in the middle of the madness this time around.

Dillinger Escape Plan 30

In February, Ben Weinman kicked me in the head once. Last week, I can’t remember how many times I got knocked around. The most potentially disastrous moment was at some point when vocalist Greg Puciato leapt over my head into the crowd (actually I think it was the moment at the 25 second mark in this video) and surfed back onto stage, tumbling head over heels and slamming my right arm, camera in hand, straight down into one of the stage monitors. Eh, no problem there. Towards the end of the set, somehow someone hit my flash really hard — I think it may have been guitarist Jeff Tuttle stage diving — and broke off a piece of the battery compartment door. The compartment door snapped off, the batteries went flying and the flash was out of commission for the rest of the show (which was really pretty much just half of one song, so no big deal).

But what was really amazing is how well my photos turned out despite my lens getting absolutely filthy. I was shooting with my 12-24/4 DX lens on my D700, which meant I couldn’t use a filter or lens hood or the vignetting would be much worse than it already is (as it is, the lens is usable at 18mm and up, but no wider). The front element of the lens definitely took some contact, mostly from water and sweaty shirts. I took a look at it after the show and it was all smudged to hell. Combined with the thick fog that hung in the air thanks to the band’s fog machine and the evaporating sweat that quickly turned the place into a sauna (Puciato apparently said afterwards that it was one of the top 10 hottest, temperature-wise, shows that he has ever played), I’m amazed that I was able to eke enough contrast out of any of my shots.

Dillinger Escape Plan 34

Anyway, flash was mandatory given not only the fast action but also the extensive backlighting that DEP set up, and the fact that much of the action was taking place offstage and in the crowd. Normally I like to get my flash off-camera, but I wanted to have one hand free so that I could brace myself against the crowd, so on-camera flash was the name of the game. I was surprised with how happy I was with the end results.

Anyway. DEP is probably the only band that I would try to shoot literally every single time they come around my neck of the woods. Every touring band has a formulaic live show to some extent, by necessity, but DEP is one of the few bands where you really, really don’t know what the fuck is going to happen on any given night. Case in point: their show at Bonnaroo yesterday, in which I was happy to hear they surprised the hell out of some innocents who had no idea what to expect. Good times!

Full set is here and full of awesome!

Recent concert shenanigans

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Andrew Bird 16

Last night I banged out some quality shots at the Decemberists and Andrew Bird sets at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The lighting was glorious. Decent amounts of white frontlighting and a beautifully colorful backdrop, all bright enough to get shutter speeds well over 1/160 at f/2.8, ISO 1600. Big venue and big stage, so I did the dual-body thing, with my D300 and 17-55/2.8 alongside my D700 and 80-200/2.8. Interestingly, the nature of the two bands meant that I used these two cameras in opposite amounts for each set. For Andrew Bird’s expressive but relatively compact stage presence, I liked framing tight on Bird himself (above is an extreme example), and used my D700 about twice as much as the D300. For the Decemberists, the epic lighting and grandiose rock-star flailing compelled me to go wide (as below), using the D300 twice as much as the D700. I found it interesting that I shifted compositional styles to fit the performances without even consciously thinking about it.

The Decemberists 25

A Merriweather staff member told me I could shoot three songs of each band, and when I asked if I could continue shooting from outside the pit after three, he said yes, “just don’t get in people’s way.” That was sweet. Except the rest of the staff didn’t get the same memo. I was questioned repeatedly, and although invoking the staffer I’d originally spoken with held off the first three security team members from kicking me out, eventually (after I’d gotten a couple shots of Shara Worden doing her thing) I left on my own volition to join my friends on the lawn. It remains unclear to me what the actual “correct” policy was.

Here’s the full Decemberists/Andrew Bird set.

Opeth 4

On the other hand, when I shot Opeth (above) and Enslaved at the 9:30 Club a couple weeks ago, the “correct” policy was very clear – and was not followed. I was supposed to get two songs for each band, which was reasonable because both these bands play quite long songs (especially Opeth). Unfortunately, the length of Opeth’s songs got the 9:30 Club security confused, or at least one of them, who told me after the first song, “Heir Apparent,” that my two songs were up and I had to exit the pit. There wasn’t really anything I could do but insist he was wrong but leave anyway. Bummer. I got some decent stuff during that one song, but would really have loved another because I was getting a lot of silhouettes and the frontlight ramped up during the second song. At least Enslaved was fun to shoot and the show itself was solid. And I just can’t get enough of these metal show crowd shots:


Here’s the full set.

A robot is guarding my photos

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009


Sorry, that’s me talking in marketing jargon. Above is a Drobo, which is sold as “the world’s first data storage robot” or some nonsense like that. It’s not a freaking robot. It’s a 4-bay hard drive enclosure that has a particularly clever RAID-like data striping/mirroring implementation built in. As far as I can tell it’s something like RAID 5, but it’s smart enough to be able to handle non-identical (in size, spec or brand) hard drives and changes its strategy based on the number and size of the drives it has to work with. Right now I have two 1.5 terabyte Western Digital Caviar Green drives installed in my Drobo, so basically all it’s doing (as far as I can tell) is a simple RAID 1 mirroring strategy. If I were to add a third or fourth drive, its strategy would change to something more sophisticated. The real amazing thing is that drives are hot-swappable while you work – as long as you have more than one drive installed, you can literally pull one out and still be able to access all your data with no interruption.

Installing and uninstalling drives is a snap, too – no cables to play with, just take a 3.5″ SATA hard drive and slide it into a slot. Bingo. The ease of use of this thing is amazing, and it’s nice to know that my photos are backed up on a secure device that can withstand the failure of a hard drive (but not two at once). I was running out of space for all my photos, and this seemed like a much easier, and ultimately cheaper, solution than building a file server or an external RAID array. What’s more, it’s easily expandable, as I still have two open bays and I can always swap out older, smaller drives with newer, larger ones. But I should be good to go for a year or so.

This thing is apparently very, very, very, very, very, very popular among photographers.