Archive for July, 2009
Friday, July 31st, 2009
I’m headed to Vancouver for a few days for a family function. I went last year too, and was blessed with amazing weather (as above). Hopefully it’ll be just as good this year. Of course, I’ll be bringing a camera. I expect to take lots of photos of my 2-month-old nephew with my 50/1.4.
Friday, July 31st, 2009
As I’ve completely given up on posting things here in a timely manner, here is something about the youth Ultimate tournament I shot, oh, two and a half months ago.
Ultimate photography is really fun. High school ultimate photography can be really, really fun. Even though the level of play is naturally lower than at the club or college levels, emotions are high - especially at a state championship tournament. Sidelines are jumping up and down, parents are yelling their support, and there’s just generally no shortage of great plays, awesome facial expressions and meaningful team rituals to capture. All that goes to explain how I managed to shoot over 4,000 frames of action at this year’s Virginia high school state championships a couple months ago (yes, this post is very late).
First, a random camera nerd note: the headline photo at the top of this point was taken with a Nikkor 24/2.0 AIS lens on my D700. The 24/2.0 is legendary for not being a great lens, but I loved it when I used it on my old film cameras. Now that I’m used to pro-level modern zooms (just got a lightly used 24-70/2.8!), it’s clear to me that the 24/2.0 is indeed not a technically great performer. The color rendition is particular is kind of weird, but as the photo above shows, it cleans up nicely with a bit of effort in post-processing. Seeing as how I love the 24mm field of view and tons of my photography requires large apertures (either because I shoot in low light or because I tend to like very shallow depth of field), I still think I’ll be getting some use out of this lens. Plus, I really like the heavy, all-metal feel of the old manual focus lenses.
Anyway, the headline photo notwithstanding, for most of the tournament my weapon of choice was the D300, since it gives me a longer reach than the D700. I shot JPEG Large/Fine instead of RAW, since exposure and white balance were both reasonably straightforward and I knew I would have to process a huge number of photos in a very short amount of time. I did run into some minor exposure challenges, though: sometimes when the background was a dark wooded area, the camera would compensate a bit too much and overexpose the shot. As a result, I found myself manually locking down the exposure in circumstances when the light was relatively constant (overcast). Normally I shoot aperture priority for this kind of thing, but switching to manual saved my ass on several occasions.
Like last year, I had the task of trying to cover each of 14 teams on two separate field sites. Manageable, but tiring. Another familiar challenge was the weather, as it rained a bit both days, particularly Sunday. It was enough for me to rig up a plastic bag on my D300 on Sunday, securing it to the camera by pinching it with the eyecup on one end and my lens hood on the other. Hardly the most professional-looking setup, but it worked and stayed out of my way. Rain does look a little weird in action shots using a fast shutter speed though - specks all over the frame:
One thing I learned from one of the “photographers’ tips” features at the ESPN website (it’s a series of videos where ESPN photographers talk about their tricks of the trade) was getting down on one knee to shoot. Rather than shooting field sports from a standing position, getting a lower angle results in more dramatic shots. I spent most of my time shooting down on one knee, at least for action that was relatively close to me. It’s generally a pretty subtle effect, like below. But overall, comparing this year’s shots to last year’s, it definitely makes a difference; everything seems a bit more imposing and in-your-face.
For the girls’ and boys’ finals, I worked much harder than for most of the other games. During most games I positioned myself about two-thirds of the way down the field closer to the team receiving the pull. For the finals, I was running up and down the sidelines to follow the action. Running that much with two heavy cameras is not something I could have done all day for two days, but for one game a day it was more than doable and netted me a lot more great shots than I would have gotten otherwise. Next time, though, I might rent a long longs (300/2.8 or 400/2.8) and use it on one camera body, with my 80-200/2.8 on the other, to save my legs a bit of work.
I liked my action shots but some of my favorites were the sideline emotions. Here’s one of a Woodside player walking back to the line after YHB, the opposing team, scored in the semifinals. At this point in the game YHB was building an insurmountable lead and it had begun to dawn on Woodside’s players that they were not going to successfully defend their title.
And here’s one of Woodside’s coach comforting one of his players after their semifinal loss:
Monday, July 20th, 2009
I did my last shift at Artomatic last Friday night. I’d already done 3 shifts as a gallery manager but came in to close so that the indefatigable Jeanan Oxley could actually go home early and have almost 20 hours away from the Artomatic building. I wish I could have helped out more than I did, but this summer has just been wildly busy and I definitely made it down to AOM a lot less than I would have liked, both as a visitor and as a volunteer/gallery manager.
I had a good experience this year, with one exception: some asshole decided it would be fun to steal my guestbook. Hey, thanks, whoever you are. That’s very cool. I hadn’t been able to check it since a week or so before the show closed, so there are a few comments I’m sure I missed. If you left one of them and you’re reading this now, drop me a line or post a comment here and it would be much appreciated!
Anyway, I sold this piece and this piece and had a couple other nibbles. And I had a great time, met some great folks, saw some fun concerts, browsed a ton of art, and seemingly ran into every one of my friends at the show at various points during the month of June. The location right next to the baseball stadium really did amazing things for foot traffic this year.
I didn’t take too many photos this year, and frankly I’m hard-pressed to remember specific exhibits that really blew me away. As is typical for me, I tended to gravitate to the relatively minimalistic stuff with bold patterns, shapes, or colors. Lots of clutter doesn’t do it for me so much, although I do remember one triptych that was extremely busy but so colorful and well-put-together that I was very impressed by it. Wish I could remember the artist’s name.
I only saw a couple concerts (Molly Hagen, hello, babies and The Verbas) and would have loved to have seen a lot more, especially the Sonic Circuits marathon that happened on the opening weekend. Too bad. Artomatic concert shots are never going to be the most exciting ever, but with those graffiti background and decent (if static) lighting, it’s a good place to get reliably usable stuff.
I thought the Peeps were amusing, although I was generally more impressed with last year’s batch. Frustratingly, I didn’t take a picture of my favorite one from this year, which depicted angry Metro commuters behind a clueless tourist standing on the left side of an escalator, but it can be seen on the right side of this photo:
So another year in the books, and I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year. Part of me wants to do a concert photography exhibit - where else would I be able to do something like that? The other part of me wants to stick to the artsy stuff, as I don’t get that much of a chance to share that kind of thing and the past couple years I’ve been able to sell some of it as well. (I don’t think concert photos would really sell at Artomatic.) Hmm… we’ll see.
My photos (not that many) from Artomatic 2008 and 2009 are in this Flickr set.
Friday, July 17th, 2009
I shot Jucifer at the Ottobar this week, and had the opportunity to get up close and personal onstage. I had stage access at Maryland Deathfest, but this was different. At MDF, stage access was granted for all photographers by the festival organizers, not the individual bands. None of us really knew how the bands felt about this, so we stayed back, mostly using the access to get crowd and drummer shots. This time around, I spoke with Jucifer’s guitarist/vocalist/amp queen Amber Valentine before the show and got the OK directly from her.
So I suppressed nightmares about stepping on a cable and pulling a mountain of amps down on my head, slapped a 12-24 ultrawide zoom onto my D300, charged up the flash (as I’ve discussed before, Jucifer uses a custom lighting scheme which looks awesome but is almost impossible to shoot well without flash), and took up residence in one corner of the stage for about half the show. Unfortunately the other side of the stage wasn’t really accessible, but I’m not complaining.
I like the shots I got - can’t decide between my favorite of the above two - but I do wish I’d tried a wider variety of angles, including some to get the crowd in the shots, and some standing up. Almost all the shots I took were crouched low both to not be totally conspicuous (a lost cause anyway, really, since I was using flash) and to be able to get dramatic angles of Amber as she was thrashing away on her knees. Thing is, those low-angle shots are precisely the kind of shots you can get from the crowd or the photo pit, so I wish I’d tried a few different things. Jucifer always play a pretty short set, so I had less time than I’d ideally like. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch them the next time they come around!
Oh, and also: whenever I use an ultrawide lens, I almost always wish I’d gotten closer. So yeah, that too: I wish I’d gotten closer. I was probably a foot and a half away from Amber at some points, but even closer would have been even better, especially for a shot like this:.
So that’s three shots that all kind of look alike. There’s another member of the band, of course. Edgar Livengood, the drummer, is as much a joy to shoot as Amber is, as he plays as emphatically as any drummer I’ve ever seen, eyes closed, with boundless energy that often brings him up onto his feet, arms raised high in the air. Sadly, I wasn’t really able to get onto his side of the stage, but I still managed a couple usable shots of him. Nothing as good as what I got last time though.
Finally, I also had my D700 with me, 50/1.4 mounted, and I got a few no-flash shots which, due to the nature of the lighting, are more “artsy” than they are documentary. Here’s my favorite of the bunch:
Many thanks to Amber & Edgar for being good sports and for being incredibly nice in general. Full photoset is here.
Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
A lot of my photography that doesn’t involve people tends to be fairly minimalistic, with either a single strong subject or a certain kind of bold geometry and color. This style is difficult to apply to concert photography. Stages - especially for electric bands - tend to be cluttered places, and lighting tends to wash over the whole stage, making it impossible to completely isolate a subject from the background. Sometimes, though, things work out. The above photo is old, but I recently rediscovered it and remembered how much I love it.
I cheated a bit though. I actually posted this photo in an earlier entry on this blog, but I went back and cloned out a few distracting bits. Nothing major, but still, a bit of a cheat. Oh well, I’m not sorry.
Monday, July 6th, 2009
I purchased a Nikon D70 with 18-70/3.5-4.5 kit lens back in July or August or 2004, a few months after it was released. By that time, it was clear that the D70 was the first affordable “prosumer” DSLR to hit the market, and I think a lot of people like me made the jump from film to digital with that camera.
Now that I have a great tandem of D700 and D300, the D70 was the odd camera out, and I recently gifted it, along with a 50/1.8 prime (I sold the 18-70 a few months ago). I felt a little nostalgic giving it away. That camera took some wonderful photos, including many of my most popular ones, and although it pales in comparison to more modern DSLRs, it was more than capable of making great images in challenging conditions.
As an example, the above photo was shot in a small theater; fast action, very little light. ISO 1600, the D70’s max, using a manual focus lens (an old Series E 50/1.8) and without the aid of a light meter since the D70 doesn’t meter with non-AF lenses. No noise reduction and I shot JPEG, not RAW - for all that the photo looks quite good. I wouldn’t want to push the D70 much above its base ISO for landscape shooting, but for this sort of thing, 1600 was perfectly passable. (There’s much more from that dance performance here at Flickr.)
My last extended usage of the D70 was a backpacking trip to Dolly Sods, WV in April 2008, literally days before my D300 arrived in the mail. This trip, like some of my others, was extremely damp, but the camera performed flawlessly. The worst thing that ever happened to it was condensation buildup inside the 18-70 lens (on a 2006 trip to Dolly Sods), which went away after a few hours without any permanent harm. I got some wonderful shots from that 2008 trip, such as the above, with many more in this earlier post.
Of course, technology marches on, and my current cameras make the D70 look like a small toy. The larger viewfinders, larger LCD screens, pro-level autofocus, faster fps, and vastly improved high-ISO performance made the D300 and, even moreso, the D700, very good upgrades for me. I am fond of the D70 but I won’t really miss it. Also, after gifting a 50/1.8 with the D70, I replaced it with a 50/1.4, and this combined with the high-ISO magic of the D700 enables me to handhold photos like this one:
D700, 50mm, f/1.4, 1/25, ISO 12800. I took some of my favorite photos with the ol’ D70, but I couldn’t have taken this one with it.
Thursday, July 2nd, 2009
I don’t work with controlled lighting all that much, so I rarely get to use the photographer’s trick of making dramatic portraits by lighting a subject with warm tones and setting white balance to tungsten, letting the sunlit background go to blue. Sometimes, though, I get the chance to do this by happenstance, as when a musician performs under incandescent lights outside or near a window while there’s still some daylight left. Above, Molly Hagen performs at Artomatic yesterday, a perfect opportunity to shift my white balance and turn the background to deep blues. Actually, the light on Molly was way beyond tungsten; it was a red-gelled incandescent can. I had my white balance at the minimum 2500 Kelvins and it was still too red - oh well.
Here’s another where there wasn’t quite enough sky visible to get quite as dramatic an effect. Also, the photo kind of sucks a bit. Whatever. This is Jan Bang, performing during Nordic Jazz Week with Arve Henriksen, who’s pictured in an earlier post:
I really want to do some portraits like this - next time I’m doing a portrait session outside I’m definitely bringing my CTO gels.
Thursday, July 2nd, 2009
I am pretty pleased with what I managed to get out of two days at Maryland Deathfest back in May. I saw and shot 32 bands (!!!), enjoyed most of them, tripped my shutter probably 4,000 times, ultimately posted 400+ keepers, got a few published in Decibel (see below), took advantage of awesome access to get some relatively unorthodox shots, and escaped it all without so much as a mild headache.
In looking through my favorite shots, it occurs to me than many of them are a bit non-standard. When one shoots 32 bands in a row, the usual live band shots start feeling pretty cookie-cutter and boring. Thankfully, the extremely liberal MDF rules for photographers allowed for a lot of experimentation: flash or no flash; photo pit or stage perspectives; a multitude of opportunities for great fan shots; etc. I tried to make sure I bagged a few “normal” shots of each band, but if I was feeling up for it, I spent some time looking for different things as well.
Sometimes, different things just happened, and it was easy, like the headline photo where Sigh’s Dr. Mikannibal spat fire at the audience to close out the festival. I stupidly didn’t realize what she was about to do even though I’ve seen videos of her doing it at previous shows, so I stayed in place right in front of her instead of moving to get a profile view. Oh well: a side view would have been more illustrative, but the head-on view is arguably more dramatic.
I’m not quite sure I got the hang of shooting from the stage or the side of the stage, especially without flash - balancing the exposure was tricky, especially indoors. But I got some neat things like the above. Outdoors, it was a bit easier, especially at the time of day when the fading sunlight on the crowd was roughly balanced with the lighting on the stage. Then, I could get some wonderful shots like this one, which was one of the ones to appear in Decibel:
That one was taken with a rented 10.5/2.8 fisheye, which brings me to the gear question. For the most part I used my D300 with fisheye attached alongside my D700 with rented 24-70/2.8 (amazing lens, by the way, and likely my next acquisition once I make enough money to pay for it). I got occasional use out of my 80-200/2.8 on both bodies, depending on my needs. On the inside stage I sometimes pulled out the SB-800 flash, and I actually wish I used it a bit more. Inside, when shooting available light I was generally at ISO 6400 on the D700, and I think I could have gotten some more consistently good stuff with more use of flash. Still, it’s way too easy for flash concert photos to all start looking the same after a while, so I’m not all that torn up about it.
Anyway, I won’t even try recapping my highlights here. For that, check this Flickr photoset, or if you’re really brave, go look at the full Saturday and Sunday sets - over 400 shots between them.
Below, my tearsheets from the August issue of Decibel.