Archive for March, 2010


Friday, March 26th, 2010


It was 75 degrees and sunny, with just a little breeze, on Wednesday – perfect conditions for an outdoor portrait shoot. I spent a few hours shooting with Crystal in central Virginia, starting out in mid-afternoon, when we found some great open-shade spots and I shot purely with available light; and going on into early evening, when we went to a nearby park and I did some balanced flash/ambient work. Four outfits, four hours, and seven or eight locations later, we came away with a varied set of shots that I think we’re both very happy with.

The headline shot above was done with a 35/1.8 DX lens on my full-frame camera. I’m really loving this lens mismatched onto my D700. The slight vignetting gives a nice feel in certain situations, and the quality of the bokeh is remarkable for such a cheap, plastic-fantastic lens. Here’s another one with that lens, also available light only; in this one I actually exaggerated the vignetting a bit in post:


For these available-light shots I was really looking for color. When we started, I wanted to find a great background color that would contrast with both Crystal’s blond hair and her pink shirt, and it occurred to me that green grass might work great. (This shot shows the color contrast better.) Later, we were near an Amtrak station with colorful walls and doors, and even though I wasn’t sure the background color in the shot above was going to work with her hair color and skin tone, we shot it anyway – and I’m glad we did. The colors complement each other and the photo still pops, rather than it all looking washed-out and monochrome.

Moving into the late afternoon and evening, the sun went behind some clouds and we got some great, soft natural light as we shifted location to a nearby park. We found a dome-shaped jungle gym and I set up my White Lightning monolight with a large softbox, and got some great stuff. First a simple portrait:


Quality of light from the softbox is great. Balancing the exposure was a bit tricky: I needed to use a low power so that I could shoot wide-open and blur the background, but I also needed enough power to underexpose the ambient at least by a little bit. I ended up at about 1/32nd power, shooting at f/2.8 and 1/500 sec, a full stop above the max sync speed. There’s a darker band in the lower part of the frame that I’m pretty sure was caused by shooting above the sync speed. From that dark band (which I admittedly lightened up a bit in post) you can see that the strobe wasn’t adding that much to the exposure, but definitely enough to make the colors pop and put those all-important catchlights in the eyes. I certainly could have shot this with just ambient light, but it wouldn’t have been as good a shot.

Then, we got a little more adventurous and ended up with one of my favorite shots of the day:


Again, a mix of ambient and flash, with the flash serving mostly to add a bit of pop to the photo, especially in terms of detail in Crystal’s hair. The X1600 was at camera right, with the softbox positioned such that the light was feathered off Crystal’s lower body a bit – because her face was further from the light than her legs, I had to do this to make sure the light falling on her from the flash was relatively even. This was the second-to-last shot I took at this location; I looked at it in the LCD and knew that I’d gotten what I wanted.

On to the final location: the lake! This was a beautiful lake with the sun setting in a perfect spot for us to take advantage of it. It wasn’t a spectacular sunset by any means, but the orange tones reflecting off the water still gave us some great stuff to work with:


What really makes this shot, of course, aside from Crystal herself, are the ripples. The water was so amazingly calm that any time Crystal moved it caused perfect concentric circles to radiate out from her. That’s what made me shoot this with such a wide angle: Crystal is obviously the main subject, but the ripples themselves are a secondary one, with the sunset a distant third.

This shot was lit with my SB-800 through a quarter cut of CTO and a shoot-through umbrella. I had the light mounted on a stand but it was too far away from Crystal to get enough light onto her (I’d left the X1600 and Vagabond in the car because I thought it would have been too much of a pain to lug it down to the lake – I probably should have sucked it up). So what I ended up having to do is actually hold the lightstand with my left hand, such that the flash was positioned at high camera left and aimed down onto Crystal and the water in front of her, while shooting with my right hand. This was pretty tiring, but I wasn’t complaining because, after all, I wasn’t the one getting wet! Anyway, using this contortionism I managed to get satisfactory exposures at quarter power on my SB-800, though in retrospect I should have bumped that up by about a stop.


And one more; Crystal dunked herself almost all the way into the water and we shot a few more frames with her coming up out of it, splashing water around a bit, etc. None of these worked quite as well as I had hoped, mostly because I needed more flash power. We actually should have waited about half an hour before working with the sunset, as I needed there to be a bit less ambient light to pull off what I was going for using just a speedlight. Oh well – still definitely made some photos I’m happy with!

U Street Music Hall opening

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

U Street Music Hall Opening

Last week I was sent by the Washington City Paper to cover the opening night of the brand-new U Street Music Hall. However, the owners of the club are not allowing any photography during their events, which made my task a bit more challenging. Instead of shooting the actual opening night, I showed up before doors to do a quick portrait of the owners, local DJs Will Eastman and Jesse Tittsworth. I had an idea of using a gridded light on them in the middle of the dance floor, with a logo or light show in the background.

When I got there it was clear that this was going to work nicely: there was indeed a lit logo I could use as a background; even better, there was a large stepladder sitting in the middle of the floor that I could use to get a nice high angle on the two DJs and the shadows that they would cast from my light. I didn’t actually grid it, just zoomed it a bit; and after a bit of deliberation I also added two SB-600s to the exposure. Even before it opened, U Street Music Hall was becoming known for an incredible sound system, and I highlighted this a bit by using my SB-600s to paint a little light on the two speakers at the base of the stage. In the above shot they’re not fully visible, but a horizontal version of the photo ran in the City Paper, and without that additional light the sides of the photos would have gone totally dark and boring.

Joanna Newsom – tough shoot, great show

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Joanna Newsom 01

Joanna Newsom at Sixth & I Synagogue was one of the more challenging concert shoots I’ve done for a while. For once this wasn’t because of the lightning, which was plentiful and gorgeous: bright white on Newsom and deep colors on the background. The problems were twofold: first, I got two songs, or about 10 minutes, but about 80% of that time was very quiet, mostly just Newsom singing and playing harp. My D700 has a very loud shutter sound; the synagogue has very good acoustics. Result: I shot very few frames, and most of them concentrated around swells in the music or the moments after each song ended when the audience was applauding.

Joanna Newsom 04

Second problem was even worse: between Newsom’s harp, which she always kept to the right of her face, and her mic, which was boomed out directly in front of her from a stand to her left, it was almost impossible to get a clean shooting angle of her face. (See wide shot above for reference.) The only satisfactory angle I found was to crouch down low and cram my long lens against a hole in the lattice/fence thing lining the stage. From here I managed to get the boomed mic above Newsom’s face and get a good shot of her face, hands and harp. I had actually been discouraged from getting too close to the stage to avoid distracting the audience, but I literally could find no other way to get the shot I needed (and my friends in the front row said I was totally unobtrusive, so mission accomplished I guess).

Anyway, this was the only good angle I found, so all my best photos look pretty much the same – luckily, when I shoot for the Post, I’m usually more focused on finding one really great shot instead of going for a wider variety of decent ones.

More of these are on Flickr and at the Washington Post‘s Click Track blog. The headline shot above also ran in the March 24 print edition of the Post.

YHB Invite 2010

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

YHB Invite 2010

For the first time since Regionals last year, I shot an Ultimate tournament last weekend, or at least one day of it (thanks to Kevin Leclaire for tipping me off that this was happening, I’ve been out of the loop). Yorktown-HB Woodlawn’s program hosted a tournament in Arlington, with teams from Virginia, Maryland and further afar (Pennsylvania and New England) attending. The men’s finals were a familiar story though, with YHB matched up against Woodside, a show I’ve seen before but one that’s always exciting. In the end, YHB prevailed because while Woodside has an incredibly talented and athletic team, they currently have no idea how to play good zone offense, with absolutely no downfield movement. If Woodside wants to contend this year they’re going to need to learn how to pop.

Photo-wise, it was a fine day, a little too sunny for my tastes (harsh shadows etc), but the weather was gorgeous and the action was good. I continued to have autofocus problems with both of my cameras, which is troubling especially after having sent my D300 in for service some time ago. The problem may be in the two (very old, well-used) telephoto lenses I’m using… wonder if I’ll get a chance to send them in for service anytime soon.

Tons more photos are up and available for purchase at Kevin Leclaire’s site, Ultiphotos. I also put up a small preview set at Flickr.

On Location Portrait: Zevious

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010


On the way to Orion Sound Studios to shoot avant-rock trio Zevious, I put together my vision for a portrait of them before the show. Orion is seemingly in the midst of industrial Baltimore, and there are tons of great grungy backgrounds to be found, but I opted for a simple loading dock doorway. I wanted to light the trio from underneath, but use a couple fill lights to avoid the really harsh, demonic shadows that usually result from that kind of uplighting. The above is what I came up with. In retrospect, my fill lights were turned way too low, but I’m still happy with the shot.

The lighting scheme was a White Lightning X1600 at half power popped off from (obviously) below the camera and on-axis, plus two speedlights in umbrellas at camera left and right. Those speedlights were set to 1/16th power, and despite being literally just outside the frame are contributing very little to the frame. That makes the shadows on the door nice and hard, but it also means that the shadows on the faces are a bit harsher than I wanted. Still, I think it works – not a look I would want to try for, you know, a singer-songwriter or an indie-pop band, but for these guys (or for any metal band really) it seems appropriate.

I also shot the show, but Orion’s light is dim, static and red, so they’re nothing special. I converted to black & white because of the monochrome reds. Here’s the set.

I want YOU to follow me on Twitter

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Shamrock Fest 2010

Yeah, you read that right. I’m on Twitter – @bwuphoto, offering thoughts, news and commentary on photography, music and anything else that comes to mind while I’m standing at the front of the house for 2 hours waiting for a show to start. Pic (mostly) unrelated, from Shamrock Fest which I shot last weekend (and tweeted a lot from). I may have a post or two up about shooting there. It was a blast, if you like taking pictures of drunk people at least.

On location portrait: Red Molly

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Red Molly Portrait

I first saw and heard folk trio Red Molly when they opened up at the Carolina Chocolate Drops show I was covering for the Post. I’d never heard either group before and was suitably impressed by both, so when I heard that Red Molly were playing in the area again at a great venue (for attending concerts, not for photographing them), it wasn’t a hard choice to go. As is my wont, I contacted the band beforehand and set up a quick portrait shoot with them before their set.

The venue, Jammin’ Java, has a very colorful if rather cramped dressing room that we used for the shoot. I probably could have just stuck these three musicians on a couch in front of those brilliant red walls and gotten a perfectly usable shot, but I was hoping for something a bit different (three women on a dressing room couch: already done). So I had them stand in one of the doorways, lit them with an umbrella’d SB-800, and lit the background room just a bit with an SB-600 pointed straight at the ceiling. The key light is soft if a bit uneven, and I like that the background light creates some crazy shadows back there. It’s a bit of a chaotic shot, but I actually like all the clutter in this case.

Red Molly 02

And then I shot the show itself. Jammin’ Java has absurdly dim lighting. There’s a bank of nice incandescent frontlights that, for this show, were pointed directly in front of the performers and not actually on them. So the light was feathered off of them in such a way that their legs were way brighter than their faces. Not ideal. In the background there was a bank of those awful LED cans that look nice in person but translate horribly to film because they just create incredibly deep colors that blow out channels like nothing else. Thankfully, the band was set up far enough in front of the LEDs that they weren’t too much of a factor.

I shot the show using a custom white balance at 2300 Kelvins (with incandescent light that dim, this was necessary to keep skin tones looking reasonably natural), and at ISO 6400 the whole time, mostly using my 80-200/2.8 zoom at shutter speeds of 1/50 or even below. This is a non-stabilized lens, so I braced myself and shot several frames at a time to ensure I got some decently sharp photos. Considering these conditions – not to mention the fact that the three mic stands were constantly in the way – I’m very happy with how these shots turned out.

Here’s the full set.

Promo shoot with Hotspur

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Hotspur Promo

Back in February, I shot a Hotspur show at the 9:30 Club, and they liked my shots enough that they booked me to do an afternoon promo shoot with them. I chose a couple spots in Georgetown as our location: a pedestrian alleyway lit up by rows of incandescent lights, and a spot in the canal that was (mostly) dry with things like fallen trees littering the way.

We started in the alley, and I used a single unmodified SB-800, zoomed all the way to 105mm, to light a few band shots with them sitting on a little staircase. The strobe was way up above my head but basically on-axis. I had to be careful not to put it too high, to avoid getting some serious shadows in the eyes (in many cases I wasn’t quite careful enough). These worked pretty well thanks to those rows of incandescent lights, and the setup was a snap.

I also did some quick individual shots here, again just using one light. This time, I stuck my SB-800 into a shoot-through umbrella and positioned it camera left just out of the frame. I also used a ton of gaffer tape to block off the top half of the umbrella to prevent the light from spilling onto the ceiling.

Hotspur Promo

After these, we moved into the canal. I needed a bit more power here, so switched to using a White Lightning X1600 monolight. The first shots we tried were just basic shots of the band standing in the middle of the canal, with me shooting lengthwise down the canal. I used my light – gridded to control the spill – to overpower the sun and underexpose the background a bit. These were all simple, one-light treatments; nothing fancy done or needed.

Hotspur Promo

For one final look, I finally brought in a couple more lights to do something a bit more involved than a one-light treatment. Two umbrella’d speedlights were used for this last shot, with the White Lightning splashed onto the background (I think I was still using a 40-degree grid here though, to control where the light was going) to give a bit of context. I triggered these all with RadioPoppers – the first time I’d used the RadioPopper PX system to trigger a mixture of speedlights and monolights – and it worked like a charm. I love that I can remotely adjust the power of my monolight using the PX transmitter, especially since the light was 13 feet in the air for several of our shots.

Overall, I’m happiest with the shots in the alley. It’s tough to do anything really creative when you’re shooting a group of five people, so the backgrounds really matter, and I think we found some good ones. It helped that the guys were a pleasure to work with and invested in helping make some good photos.

Jay-Z: lots of mic-eating

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Jay-Z 07

Wow, I wrote this over a week ago and just forgot to post it. Here goes, and more concert photo posts to come soon.

Don’t have too much to say about shooting Jay-Z at the Verizon Center a couple weeks ago. It’s nice to shoot a performance where there’s really just one person you have to worry about shooting. I love shooting full bands, obviously, but the simplicity of just figuring out how to get good shots of a single subject is almost relaxing. Jay-Z proved a bit difficult, though, since like almost all rappers he tends to hold the mic really close to his face at almost all times. Shooting from the side with a long lens was the only way to get clean shots of his face while he was actually rapping.

Jay-Z 17

During the third song, despite the high stage, I decided to bust out the ultrawide to hopefully get a slightly different look than the rest of the photographers were getting. I was reasonably successful, but ran into one problem: Jay-Z was using an enormous amount of really bright backlighting, and the wider the lens I used, the more of those backlights I got shining right into my frame and lowering contrast (yup, even with Nikon’s nanocoating). Still, well worth it for getting a bit of a varied look in my photoset.

Here’s the full gallery. I don’t think this show was my best work.

Muse: bring a stool

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Muse 1

Muse has one of the more elaborate stage shows I’ve witnessed to date, so of course they were a blast to shoot. But some words of warning: this is a soundboard shoot, and photographers haven’t gotten the word about that it seems. The soundboard is at floor level, so you’ll be on tiptoes trying to shoot above upraised arms and the like (or, if you’re short like me, above people’s heads, to say nothing of upraised arms). Luckily, the stage is really high and the band starts out on these enormous raised platforms anyway, so at least it’s possible to get unobstructed shots for a couple songs. Once they descend to floor level, it’s tougher. So, things to bring: a step-stool, and a long lens (I’d say at least a 300mm on a crop body, preferably a 400mm).

But don’t neglect a wider lens either – the stage show is so elaborate and heavy on the lasers that you’d be missing a lot if you didn’t get some good shots of the whole setup.

Muse 9

Muse 7

Here are a few more of my shots.