Archive for November, 2010
Sunday, November 28th, 2010
The great thing about shooting for bands as opposed to media outlets is that one gets relatively unfettered access. Hard-rock band Beautiful Trigger brought me out to one of their shows last Friday, and I was able to move around the stage at will for the entirety of their 50-minute set opening for the massively popular local 80s cover band Hairball. I think stage access is actually cooler in theory than in practice; after all, the band is facing the crowd, so shooting from the stage often just gets you photos of the musicians’ backs. Still, it can afford a few cool shots, something like this one:
The other fun thing about these sorts of hired shoots is that since the band knows you’re there and it’s in their best interest to get good photos, they often play to the camera.
Beautiful Trigger was a blast to shoot all around. One of their guitarists was basically a human pogo stick through the entire set, jumping around and constantly making priceless facial expressions. Carly, the frontwoman, was an impossibly energetic performer, engaging the crowd in a way that few opening bands are able to do. The lighting, unfortunately, was pretty tough; plenty bright in spots but very patchy, and with no light up front where Carly was most often playing to the crowd. I alternated between ISO 3200 and 6400 to get good enough shutter speeds to capture the fast action, and for a lot of shots had to bring the contrast way down (even resorting to pseudo-HDR techniques for a couple shots) to make them usable.
Here are a few more highlights from my photoset - the full set is here.
Friday, November 19th, 2010
This week I shot two consecutive nights of heavy music - Enslaved/Dimmu Borgir and Combichrist - at Minneapolis’ The Cabooze, a strange venue in my neighborhood that feels like a cross between a rock club and a dance club with the best attributes of neither. Nevertheless, the place has a reasonable if hard-to-navigate photo pit, and pretty decent sound, and an impressive lighting rig. But both those shows, being metal and industrial/electronic respectively, utilized a ton of colorful backlight and almost no frontlight, and as such were pretty challenging. Of all the bands I saw in these two days, Enslaved was who I was really excited about, and they delivered. Unfortunately, they delivered under basically no light, and I got very few good shots - the headline shot above is by far the best.
Below are a series of shots from Dimmu Borgir’s set, which illustrate pretty well the lighting situation. It was bright - so bright that I was at ISO 1600 as opposed to 6400 for Enslaved - but it was all colored backlight, and I had to overexpose and rely entirely on the backlight wrapping to get any detail in the performers. Kind of makes for fun, colorful, dramatic photos, but you can only look at so many silhouettes before you get sick of them. Nevertheless, their set was a blast to shoot and damn does this band make some catchy black metal. Not necessarily my thing, but pretty fun.
Combichrist the night before was the same situation but even more challenging. At this show the backlights were so bright that I essentially had to use flash to balance it out. There was also a pretty heavy reliance on strobes, which are always a challenge. The first shot below illustrates shooting conditions sans flash: too much backlight and too little contrast, although I do like this shot. The second shot shows what the situation looked like once I added a touch of flash.
One of Combichrist’s openers, iVardensphere, plays a kind of tribal-tinged heavy industrial electronic music which was definitely my favorite of the night. They employed a pair of Taiko drummers who were just awesome to watch and photograph (and I really enjoyed talking to one of them after their set - hi Greg). The other two dudes did what electronic musicians do: twiddle knobs. But they were still fun to shoot thanks to the lighting, which ironically might have been the best lighting I got out of both days.
Here are the full photo sets: Enslaved/Dimmu Borgir; and Combichrist/Aesthetic Perfection/iVardensphere.
Monday, November 15th, 2010
On Saturday night I ventured out to Station 4 in St. Paul despite the first snowstorm of the year (we reportedly got nine inches over the course of the day, although it didn’t seem like that much to me) to see five local metal bands. I haven’t figured out the local music scene at all, metal or otherwise, so it was a fun night. The headliners were Gabriel and the Apocalypse, a female-fronted hard rock/metal group playing their last show for a few months - they’re spending the winter working on a new album. Station 4’s lighting is challenging to say the least, but using either ISO 6400, fast primes, or both (or in the case of the headline shot above, some lucky catchflash), I got some good shots despite the fast action of the band’s performance. Both of the following shots were taken at f/1.4 and ISO 6400.
After their show, the band posed for a very quick portrait downstairs in Station 4’s horrible green room. My lighting setup wasn’t quite sufficient for a full five-member band, but with some adjustment layers I managed to salvage something I’m reasonably happy with given that this was done in less than five minutes:
The set that I didn’t really get to see was Cimmerian - I spent most of their set setting up and testing my lights for my portrait of GATA (more on the testing part later). From what I saw they were pretty competent tech-death, something that’s often right up my alley, so I’ll have to check them out further. Also, they had a guitarist who jumped around a lot, and after I figured that out I just camped out by his end of the stage, flash in hand, waiting for him to do it again. He only jumped once in the time I had, and it looked like this:
Before Cimmerian was Midria, a female-fronted melodic/gothic metal band with some nice growling vocals thrown in as well. This was a tough one because the lead singer often hung back on the stage out of the illumination of the main lights; the guitarist was on the side without any lighting, and there was a keyboardist whom I couldn’t get a single good angle on. Still, when the singer ventured to the front of the stage I got some reasonable shots.
And finally, the first band that I saw (I missed the actual first band, Bloodtrust) was a pretty awesome tech-death group by the name of Don’t Worry I’m a Doctor. To my ears it sounded like they’d fit in perfectly as an opening band for The Faceless or some band of that ilk. The vocalist had a crazed look in his eye for most of the show, which is always great for photos.
I got to do an unexpected bonus portrait shoot, as well - when setting up my lights for GATA, I was wishing for a test subject so I could experiment with the lights. As luck would have it, the show organizer/promoter, Danny, was hanging out in the downstairs room with his partner Heather. They needed basically zero prodding before they were in front of the lights posing for me. I did a few shots with both of them and then a few shots with just Heather after Danny had to run off and do his organizer duties.
In retrospect, the lighting setup worked OK for the two of them but really wasn’t sufficient for a full band. The lighting scheme was: an SB-800 acting as commander and providing a touch of on-camera fill at 1/128 power. An SB-600 high camera right aimed at subject through a 1/4″ grid, 1/4 power, and an SB-600 far camera right aimed at background through a blue gel and a chair, 1/4 power. I intentionally didn’t use any diffusion, going for a real hard-light, shadowy look, but I think I might have overdone it, particularly with the blue gelled flash spilling over on to the subjects and over-accentuating the shadows.
Full set from the show is here.
Thursday, November 11th, 2010
Done a few concerts/events since my last post. Last night I shot Marnie Stern, above, at 7th Street Entry; the lighting was pretty brutal and my shots reflect that. When I shot her two years ago at DC9, I resorted to flash; I didn’t this time, but maybe I should have.
I shot the Genitorturers and Mary Magdalan with local openers Mercy Kill (formerly Apocalypse Theater) last Friday at Station 4. I also did a quick portrait with the Genitorturers (and a couple solo portraits with bandleader Gen Vincent while we waited for the rest of the band to get ready) before their set, in Station 4’s hilariously terrible green room - basically a concrete box with an unplugged fridge, two disgusting couches, a couple mirrors, and literally nothing else. The grim setting was perfect for a portrait with a hard rock/metal band. Once the show got started, the band kindly let me shoot from onstage, but their lighting was a huge challenge (either very dim nothingness or full-blast strobes) and the angles I had available weren’t really much better than from the photo pit.
For the posed shots, the lighting scheme was simple - a gridded speedlight high camera right as a kind of main light, and another speedlight through a shoot-through umbrella camera left as fill. I let my shutter speed drop enough to draw in a bit of ambient fill as well.
Mary Magdalan’s set had some gorgeous backlight and absolutely zero frontlight, so I blasted away with my flash. I really disliked her music (some kind of hip-hop/metal crossover that… well, let’s just say I didn’t think it worked), but I loved the visuals. Fog, colorful backlight, the wacky color combinations between Magdalan’s hair and clothing (bright blue sweater and silver pants), and an incredibly active and expressive guitarist? Awesome.
Mercy Kill had their share of visuals too, including some dancers, someone wearing a giant bunny suit and brandishing a toy gun (no, really), and this:
A week or so before that, I shot the first two numbers of the So You Think You Can Dance tour at the Target Center. This was one of those shows that I really wish I could have shot the duration - dance shows are always so much fun, and they almost never come with such ridiculously high production values. The lighting was gorgeous, the backgrounds were elaborate, and the dancers were pretty awesome.
And finally, a few weeks ago I covered Lady Antebellum’s show at the Northrop Memorial Auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus. Soundboard shoot, so no particularly great photos, but they are certainly a fun group to shoot. I continue to believe that big-time country shows are some of the most fun concerts to cover.
Monday, November 8th, 2010
Last week, a show opened at Karma Salon and Gallery in Winston-Salem, NC (sorry, no website) featuring nine of my photographs and several watercolor pieces by my mother, Mona Wu. All of my work being shown are photos I took with my Rodenstock TV-Heligon 42mm f/0.75 lens - in other words, the artsier kind of stuff I’ve been doing recently. A lot of those shots have appeared on this blog every now and then; here are a couple that haven’t that are in the show.
The centerpiece of the exhibit, though, is this one below, which I had printed on a piece of 16″x24″ aluminum by the amazing folks at Image Wizards. The rest of the photos are all printed at 8″x12″ (by White House Custom Colour) and matted and framed traditionally.
I haven’t added to it recently, but you can see some more of my work with X-Ray lenses at this Flickr set.
The show at Karma runs until December 23; the gallery is a combination hair salon/art gallery located at 206 W 6th Street, Winston-Salem, NC, and is open Tuesday-Friday from 10am until 6pm. All this info is also contained in the show invitation (PDF).