Archive for January, 2010

Concert photography article at

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Epica 15 (aka the website I used to learn all about photography over a decade ago) just posted a very comprehensive guide to “Club Photography: Photographing Bands, Musicians, Performers in Low Light.” It’s pretty good; what I like about it is that, after discussing equipment and logistical questions, author Jeff Spirer focuses on compositional challenges before discussing technical ones, which is the opposite approach from most concert photography articles.

The article is mostly geared towards shooting in small venues, with few words dedicated to discussing the finer points of getting a photo pass, and nothing about the dynamics of shooting in a photo pit or under the three-song limit. As such it’s great advice for folks just starting out who generally won’t be granted photo access to bigger shows just yet. The only advice I disagree with is using aperture-priority mode rather than full manual. That’s never worked for me; I’ve found that concerts are one place where I’m almost always smarter than my camera is in terms of exposure.

My photos at

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Lady Gaga 44

Let’s just say this is not how I envisioned sharing photo space with James Nachtwey. Currently at the photo essays home page, the top essay is a series of Nachtwey photos documenting the devastation in Haiti. Directly underneath that is… a photo essay about Lady Gaga. The first two photos in this essay are mine. While I’d rather be doing what Nachtwey is doing instead of taking pictures of crazy Lady Gaga fans, I’m still pretty psyched that Time bought a couple of my pictures.

Above, another fan photo from that show (not one that Time used). Fun thing to take note of: both my shots in the photo essay were taken at ISO 6400. D700 for the win.

On Location Portrait: Epica

Thursday, January 28th, 2010


(Left to right: guest keyboardist Oliver Palotai, guitarist Isaac Delahaye, guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen, bassist Yves Huts, drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek, vocalist Simone Simons.)

On Tuesday, Dutch symphonic metal band Epica kicked off their U.S. tour at Jaxx. They were nice enough to do a quick portrait shoot with me despite the hectic schedule of the first day of the tour. Unfortunately, Jaxx has no backstage and literally no place inside where we could do a shoot, and so we had to do it outside, where it was really way too cold for this kind of nonsense.

I had scouted the venue a bit and only found one really interesting spot for a shoot: an awesomely beat-up back door covered in band stickers and such. Unfortunately, when the time came to do this portrait, one of the opening bands was in the middle of loading out through that door. So, lacking other options, I set up my lights in the middle of the parking lot: boring, but at least not a totally obvious cliche, like if I’d used the brick wall of the club.

When the time came to do the shoot it was so cold that I felt bad and just grabbed a couple frames and then let the band go do their thing. With limited time, six band members and no interesting environment to work with, inspiration was running low. All I managed was the above; the only interesting thing here is that Simone Simons, the lead singer of the group, is highlighted a bit with warmer light than the rest of the band.  It works well, I think: the color of her jacket and hair really stand out compared to the other five, who are rendered almost monochrome.

Key lighting was an SB-600 through an umbrella, camera left, at 1/16th power. The rim light is coming from camera left behind the band, a bare SB-600 also at 1/16th. This light serves not only to provide some definition to the band members, especially those on the left, but also gives that splash of light on the ground to give some context to the shot. Finally, I set up an SB-800, gelled with a full and quarter CTO, at camera right, with a 1/4″ grid, aimed at Simons on the end and fired at 1/32nd power. This is what gives her that splash of color that’s lacking from the rest of the shot.

There are all kinds of things I would have liked to have done better with this shot, but the simplest would have been an additional rim light on the right side. Also, a bit of wide-angle distortion is evident here as Simons is rendered a bit, er, wider than she is in real life. Taking a step back would have mitigated that issue.

I’ve hopefully got a few more on-location portrait shoots lined up with musicians coming to town soon. I think I’ll do better with them: the combination of the cold and a lack of a good background to work with really hamstrung me on this one.

Many thanks to the band for being willing to do this, and to their tour manager Vikki for coordinating. Also to one of Jaxx’s managers, Marie, who held my key light to keep it from blowing over in the wind. That’s an important job!

Another Nikon service experience

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Some time ago I sent my D300 in because of the autofocus flakiness I’ve described in previous posts. I sent it in on Thursday, January 7th, got an estimate for the repair work on Thursday, January 14th, and got the camera back on Wednesday, January 20th. So just under two weeks’ turnaround, including shipping times. Not bad at all.

The repair was classified B2 – “moderate repair, major parts replaced.” This is what was done, according to the paperwork I received:


Total came to just under $250. For that sum I have a D300 with theoretically fixed autofocus circuitry (nice), a brand-new lens mount (great), and a replacement for my well-worn rubber grip (cool, but I don’t care about cosmetics so whatever). Also, the camera came back safely and spiffily packaged, per the above. I haven’t actually had a chance to test it yet. But assuming all works well, this was a pretty good repair experience.


Friday, January 22nd, 2010

I hit up another meet & greet last weekend, spent most of my time hanging out and chatting with folks, but also managed to get a few shoots in. I need all the practice I can get to develop and hone a lighting style that I’m comfortable with and that’s creative and interesting. I’ve spent my last couple shoots honing a warm/cool kind of color contrast, using CTO and blue gels (or CTO gels and tungsten white balance) to offset a warmly lit model against a cool blue background. I really like this look but it may be time to move on and try some new colors.

The above shot is lit with two gelled strobes, no umbrellas or other diffusion – it’s all hard light. The key light is an SB-800 clamped to the railing below and to the right of the subject, gelled with a full CTO and a 1/4 CTO. Above and to the left is an SB-600 clamped to the left-side railing, gelled blue and aimed down so that some blue light is skipping off the stairs and a lot is washing onto the wall. This isn’t my favorite shot of the series but I like how much the CTO-gelled key really brought out the model’s reddish hair color.


The above was my favorite shot from the event. Two lights again, one high camera left with a CTO and a 1/4″ grid to create that dramatic fall-off, and one underneath the desk, gelled blue obviously. I like how the angles turned out in this composition (there’s hardly a right angle to be found, it’s all skewed in a neat way), as well as the spotlight effect of the gridded key light. Fun stuff.

Favorites from 2009: Part 4, October-December

Friday, January 22nd, 2010


Ra Ra Riot 05

The Faceless 3

Amira & Edwin

Dolly Sods October 2009

I Got Your Bokeh Right Here

Let’s start with the concerts this time around. The last quarter of the year was actually a bit slow for me in terms of shooting music, but October saw me shoot a stellar (for photography, but musically as well) Ra Ra Riot show at the 9:30 Club. The top shot above isn’t sharp, but I love it anyway because of the cellist’s facial expression and the implied motion. Below that one is a shot of The Faceless opening for In Flames, also at the 9:30; typically for a metal band, the lighting for this set was almost entirely backlight, but at least it was colorful backlight, which allowed for some neat shots like this one. Also the mic-eating action is second to none here, ha.

A pretty major event for me this month was an enormous meet & greet at Sly Horse Studios, in which I got a lot of practice with my off-camera lighting techniques in shooting portraits. My favorite is this one of Amira and Edwin – a bunch of the shots I took of them look like they could be band promo photos, this one included.

On a different tack, I also went on my first backpacking trip of the year, but it ended up just being a day hike because the weather was so miserable that my friends’ dog wasn’t quite up for it. But snow-covered landscapes make for easy, beautiful photos, and I’m really happy with a bunch of what I got that day. I like the above shot because of the sense of scale it provides, tiny (but colorful) hikers lost amidst a forest of white and green.

Finally, I got a couple new toys, namely a pair of X-ray lenses with apertures of f/0.75 and f/1.0. These lenses have a bizarre and wonderful way of rendering reality when they’re slapped onto a DSLR (definitely not what they were originally meant for). The above shot isn’t Photoshopped at all other than increased contrast; the color rendition and smoothness is all part of the charm of these lenses.

The rest of the year after the jump!


Carolina Chocolate Drops in the Washington Post

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Carolina Chocolate Drops

On Monday I shot my first show as a freelancer for the Washington Post, and one of the shots appears in the review in today’s Style section. This was a pretty great folk show at the Birchmere, where the lighting is plentiful but actually kind of difficult to deal with. It’s all very hard light, which creates lots of ugly hard shadows and blows out skin tones easily. In the print version of the review, the skin tones in the photo are completely blown out (in the original digital file they are OK, but the red channel is a bit hot), which is a good lesson learned: err on the side of preserving highlights when shooting for newsprint. I’ve got a couple more chances to get it right this week – tonight is a bit crazy as I have a double-header, shooting Pree in DC for the Post and then heading up to Baltimore to shoot Arch Enemy for the City Paper. Fun!

Favorites from 2009: Part 3, July-September

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010


Jucifer 14

Atheist fans @ Jaxx

Wilco 10

A bit slower this month, and once again not shooting much other than live music. The highlight was probably getting invited to shoot onstage with Jucifer, which produced a bunch of images like the top one above. Later, covering Atheist, I was again right in the middle of the action, this time without needing to be onstage, and got a bunch of fun shots of guitarist Chris Baker. But my favorite shot was this shot of the crowd at the very end of the show, taken from the back of the club with a simple 50/1.8.

Finally, shooting Wilco at Wolf Trap was a study in “do what you have to do to get the shot,” as I snuck in far closer to the stage than I was supposed to, studiously ignoring the usher looking my way, to grab this one shot of guitarist Nels Cline. It was the only worthwhile shot I got from the entire show.


Favorites from 2009: Part 2, April-June

Friday, January 15th, 2010


Katy Perry 01

The Agonist 04

More concerts! I wasn’t shooting much else at this point in the year, and I don’t have too much to show from this month. What I did shoot are a couple more dynamic female leads: Katy Perry was energetic, charismatic and slightly crazy; this was a shot that none of the other eight or so photogs in the pit managed to capture, as Perry came leaping in from the opposite side of the stage as her band. Too bad the mic stand is in the way, but it doesn’t bother me enough to discount this shot as one of my favorites!

Later in the month, I got this shot of The Agonist‘s Alissa White-Gluz, which has become my most-viewed image on Flickr, courtesy of Google. (A Google Image search of “The Agonist” or “Alissa White-Gluz” comes up with this image, or sometimes one of the others in the set, within the first few pages.)

Not much more to show off from April, but highlights from a very busy May and June are after the jump!


DCist Exposed 2010

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Samael @ Jaxx

For the third time in four tries I have a photo in the annual DCist Exposed photography show. Thanks, DCist judges (including fellow concert photog Kyle Gustafson)! The above shot of Samael performing at Jaxx back in the fall of 2008 made the cut. Funny, I don’t even really like this band, but they were great to shoot.

I also entered this shot of Arve Henriksen and this abstract that I highlighted a few posts earlier. I actually like both of those shots better than this one, but no complaining here. In any case, Erin Lassahn’s winning shot of All American Rejects completely blows away pretty much any concert photo I’ve ever taken, so there’s that.

The show runs March 6 to March 21 at Long View Gallery.