Archive for January, 2011
Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
I’ll interrupt the best-of-2010 posts for one quick “new work” post - I’m almost done processing all those photos from Iceland I never got around to, so the retrospective will resume shortly.
On Monday I did a quick promotional shoot with Lindy Gabriel, leader of local hard-rock band Gabriel and the Apocalypse, in which I busted out my brand-new (used) Nikon 85mm f/1.4D for the first time in a controlled studio environment. The above was probably my favorite shot from the session, a very simple headshot that the super shallow depth of field really makes pop; Lindy’s eyes and lips are in focus, and that’s about it. In terms of lighting, it doesn’t get much simpler. I used a single White Lightning X1600 monolight for this one; it’s set up with a large softbox at camera left, and it’s cranked all the way down to 1/128 power to enable me to shoot wide open at f/1.4.
Monday, January 17th, 2011
July was a winding-down month: I moved out of DC, I got married; my photographic activity for the month was limited to one concert and three model shoots. The concert was the Nels Cline Singers, who tore it up at an absolutely packed Black Cat backstage. My favorite photo of the night wasn’t a shot of the band, but rather this mood shot of the objects at bassist Devin Hoff’s feet. It doesn’t exactly scream “rock & roll” like so many photos of Nels Cline do; but it’s a nice peek into the world of Cline’s experimental music, so much lesser known now than his role as Wilco guitarist.
Best shoot of the month may have been this one with Josie, at an abandoned auto service station somewhere in Maryland. (I forgot to post about this one and may do so later.) It was oppressively hot that day - topping 100 degrees inside the abandoned building - but Josie was a trooper despite a professed hatred of the summer heat. This was the last look we did, inside the pitch-dark interior of the building; I had a three-light setup going on that I’m quite proud of. Obviously, there’s a flash at the end of the hall - that’s an SB-600 clamped to some kind of electrical box on the wall. At high camera right is another SB-600, clamped to some ceiling pipes and shot through a latticed door. Finally, camera left is an SB-800 on a stand, providing just a touch of fill light and Josie’s shadow on the wall. All the flashes were unmodified. Hard light can be great light!
Then I did a shoot with April at another great location, an old textile mill between DC and Baltimore. I posted about this shoot recently so won’t say much here. This was a simple one-light shot, a single strobe camera left with a shoot-through umbrella. I like how the simplicity of the lighting contrasts with the much more complicated setup for the shot of Josie, above - for me, knowing when to get fancy and when to keep things basic was a big part of my self-education this year about controlled lighting.
Here’s another basic lighting shot: a one-light setup with Brittany at Carroll Park in Baltimore. It’s just a single tightly gridded speedlight on a stand cranked as high as it would go and aimed down at Brittany, creating a pool-of-light effect that stands out in the dusky light. Despite how it looks, I didn’t underexpose the background much here - the sun was setting rapidly at this point in the day. In fact, I wish we’d shot this about 15 minutes earlier; just a bit more light on the side of the train might have made this a better shot.
Less than a week before my own wedding, I second-shot a wedding in rural northern Virginia, and put to good use the lighting skills I’d honed in all those model shoots. I actually had my White Lightning X1600 and softbox set up for a while and did some spontaneous posed shots with the bride and a few guests, but my favorite shot of the night was of this guest and her child on the dance floor. I was shooting with a handheld strobe on an off-camera cable, but also had a strobe on a stand behind the subjects, which I was using to either backlight or crosslight various subjects as they and I moved around the dance floor. I definitely need some practice getting consistently cool shots with this technique, but I was happy with more than a few of the resulting photos I got.
And finally, there was my own wedding. I didn’t shoot it, of course (though many jokes were made); I was too busy living the best day of my life. But I did steal a camera from the photographer at the reception and took a few terrible photos just for fun. Many thanks to James and Jenny at Visio Photography for an awesome job and for just being great fun to have at our wedding. (The photo above is their copyright 2010.)
Next up: August and honeymoon pictures from Iceland! But, I have to finish processing them first. Oops.
Monday, January 17th, 2011
I had a break in the concert shooting routine in June, which was shooting the wedding of two friends of mine at a beautiful old house (now a museum and event spot) north of Baltimore. I was happy with my work from this day, and more importantly, so were the bride and groom. And while formals aren’t really my strong suit, I did get this nice shot of the bride and bridesmaids - a classic “walk towards me and laugh” kind of setup, which actually worked.
Back to concerts: the clear highlight of the month was a big Taylor Swift show, the first of two sold-out nights at the Verizon Center. It was hardly a great show - for all the slick production values of her music and live show, Swift is a strangely unpolished performer and left extended breaks between songs that killed the flow of the concert - but visually it was one of the best shows I shot all year, between Swift’s sparkly guitar, her fast-moving stage presence, and a constantly shifting background of electronic screens.
After I shot a few songs of Swift’s show and stuck around for a few more, I hopped on the metro to the Black Cat for the second show of my double-header: Jucifer. The contrast was more than a little jarring, to say nothing of the fact that there were probably 20,000 fans at the Verizon Center and maybe 20 at the Black Cat. Still, Jucifer put on a predictably intense show and, as always, were great to shoot - as long as I was willing to bust out the flash. Which I did, and was rewarded with this shot of Amber Valentine in mid-headbang.
The other concert highlight was the WMZQfest Country Throwdown, about which I posted earlier. As I mentioned in that post, Eric Church was among the most photogenic of the performers; this photo taken just as he was taking the stage made it into the print edition of the Washington Post.
Metal shows were in short supply in 2010 compared to 2009, but one of my final metal shows in the DC area was a particularly memorable one. Isis have been a favorite of mine since their 2004 masterpiece Panopticon, and the summer of 2010 saw them embark on a final, “farewell” tour before they called it quits for good. They put on a tremendous set, drawing from lots of my favorite material from their older albums; photographically they were better than I expected too. One might think a band like this - which has as much in common with, say, Mogwai than with other metal bands - would just stand around lethargically, but one would be wrong. That said, my favorite shot of the night wasn’t a traditional “action” shot, but rather the above, which I got by crouching low in the pit and shooting up between two monitors directly into a backlight.
Finally, in a bit of a departure for me, I got an assignment from TBD.com to do some food photography at restaurants in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood in DC. I didn’t bother bringing lights to any of the shoots, but in almost all cases I was able to get some nice window light to set up my shots. I was particularly happy with this shot of a stuffed pepper at Tonic on Mt. Pleasant Street.
Tuesday, January 11th, 2011
I kept busy in May by shooting tons of concerts (of course) and a wedding: my first wedding as a second shooter, which turned out to be an absolute blast. It didn’t hurt that this was definitely a portfolio wedding: a beautiful couple, a ceremony in a cavernous cathedral, and a reception in a high-end Georgetown hotel. The above shot is my favorite of many very good shots I managed from the day: a classic exit shot, with the bubbles and the warm light of the cathedral giving some nice color to the composition.
On to the concerts: the big event of the month was the Bamboozle Roadshow, an outdoor event filled with the kind of music that makes me feel like a grumpy old man. (”What is this crap the kids are listening to these days?”) Music aside, the festival was packed with high-energy bands who feed off of their fans’ endless enthusiasm, so naturally it was pretty easy to get some nice photos. I did get kind of sick of the overly-cramped pits after a while, and ended up spending much of my time taking photos of fans, but the above shot of Forever the Sickest Kids is a nice one I got before I turned around to face the barricade.
The other big concert event was Brad Paisley’s tour, a mini-festival in and of itself. Named the “H2O Tour,” this was particularly apt for the DC date, since it was pouring rain for much of the day. That made for fun photos of fans who looked like this and this, but it also made for a slightly cold and uncomfortable day. As for the bands, well, it was a big country show, so of course the shooting was good. Above is Justin Moore rocking out early in the day on the main stage.
Back in the dark confines of the little DC rock clubs, I got another chance to see and shoot Holly Miranda, whose opening set I had enjoyed so much back in February. This time around, she was playing at the much smaller Black Cat backstage, where the lighting is never really going to make for stunning photos. So my favorite photo from this night was a portrait I did with Holly before her set, using folding tables left over from the DC Record Fair as a background. I was particularly happy with the lighting/background scheme I set up for this shoot, and described it in detail in a previous post.
Two hard-rock bands at the 9:30 Club were the highlights of the latter part of the month. I shot Flyleaf for the City Paper and, while I expected the lion’s share of the good shots to be of singer Lacey Mosley, my two favorites were actually jump shots courtesy of the band’s bassist. Neither are particularly dramatic jumps since he didn’t really kick his legs up, but I’m still pretty happy with them especially given the incredibly challenging lighting for this show. The second shot is of Coheed and Cambria, who I covered for the Post. Claudio Sanchez was banging his head at regular points in the song, so I crouched down directly beneath him with my 14-24 racked out to full wide angle, waited for him to do it again, and got this as a payoff.
Maryland Deathfest was the final concert event of the month. I was only able to go to one of the three days of the festival, unfortunately; however, I did get to do a fun shoot with a regular festgoer, Cara, before the music started on Friday. We tried a few shots near the abandoned train at Baltimore’s Carroll Park, but the best thing we tried was juxtaposing her next to some gnarly trees. I got some awesome, dramatic shots there, which I described in a separate post; the one above is a simpler but still edgy shot from the same shoot.
MDF itself was a bit of a letdown after the 2009 incarnation of the festival, probably because Friday is really just a warm-up for the main weekend event. Still, I managed some decent shots, like this one of Japan’s Coffins that I shot from backstage. I discussed MDF 2010 in a bit more detail in this post.
Thursday, January 6th, 2011
In an indication that I probably didn’t do enough spur-of-the-moment photography in 2010, my favorite photo from this month was a completely spontaneous shot that I took after covering a nice concert by Vijay Iyer at the Mansion at Strathmore. The parking garage above is just outside the Grosvenor-Strathmore metro stop, and the contrast between its incandescent lighting and the deep blue twilight sky was irresistible. Needless to say, I’m glad I took a few seconds to take all my gear out of my bag and shoot this scene.
In the middle of the month I did a hired shoot for a new Baltimore-area metal band, Sometimes They Come Back, who had an intriguing tech-death sound that I liked quite a bit. They were missing a band member at this show but I did a really quick portrait with them anyway, which turned out really nicely - again because of the deep blue sky, which I emphasized by using tungsten white balance and CTO gels.
I did a model shoot with Jamie in Fredericksburg, out of which a few good shots came, including this one, which is a really simple shot using a single White Lightning X1600 through a large softbox. I really enjoy using this studio light when appropriate, but I usually find myself more creatively inspired when using the more flexible speedlights; I was happy to come away from this shoot with some good creative photos using the monolight. And there’s apparently a theme this month: yet again, the deep blue twilight sky is a huge part of this shot.
The big concert event of the month was the big Earth Day Climate Rally, which gave me the opportunity to shoot various speakers, bands and celebrities. I’ve already posted about this one, so I won’t go into more detail, but this quirky photo of the frontman of indie-rockers Passion Pit is a particular favorite.
The opportunity to shoot one of my longtime favorite bands, the Cowboy Junkies, in a venue with usually great lighting (the State Theater in northern Virginia), was too good to pass up despite it coming at an incredibly busy time. Although the band was, predictably, pretty static on stage and not the most exciting visually, the bouquet of flowers in front of vocalist Margo Timmins made for a nice element in some of my photos of her, and the lighting didn’t disappoint.
Finally, here’s one shot that’s appeared on the blog before, but it was one of the only great shots I got out of my trusty f/0.75 lens this year. I took this one at Prince William Forest Park in Virginia - a simple leaf, backlit by the sun with some nice shadows adding a touch of complexity to the composition. A small white balance tweak brought out some more orange in the background sunlight.
Probably will be a little while before my next “best of 2010″ update, as I’m traveling a bit. But in any case, still lots more to come!
Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
On the first day of March, I left an evening engagement early to drive all the way out to George Mason University and shoot Muse for the Post. It was worth the trip: we had to shoot from the back of the venue at floor level, but this turned out to be a close to ideal spot given the scale of Muse’s stage show. The above shot headlined the Post’s online review of the show, and it kind of tells the story: Muse went BIG, both visually and musically. I would shoot them in Minneapolis a few months later and be sorely disappointed that they, for some reason, dropped the lasers from their visual production.
Another neat concert highlight was getting to see/shoot Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, who performed at National Geographic with two avant-jazz musicians, guitarist G.E. Stinson (Shadowfax, various Cryptogramophone-label projects) and drummer Scott Amendola (Nels Cline Singers, much more). Tagaq had some incredibly powerful moments that more than made up for her rather banal attempts at improvised spoken word poetry, and she was an emotional firecracker onstage, which of course made for some great photos like the above.
It was the non-concert stuff that proved to be the highlights from March, though. I did a promo shoot with Hotspur in Georgetown that was a lot of fun; the above shot was my favorite and was really simple to do: a single speedlight on-axis with a shoot-through umbrella, with the frame exposed for the ceiling lights. Neato.
Also in March - and I suppose this is concert photography of a sort - I covered the annual Shamrock Fest at RFK Stadium, a ridiculous drunk-fest in which young white people (I’m merely making a demographic statement here, nothing more or less) go get really drunk and act really stupid. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy and cold, which seemed to prevent people from acting really dumb, but it was still kind of fun to wander around and see how people would react to having someone point a camera at them. (Hint: the above photo is pretty mild.) There was also some music to be photographed, most of it really bad cover bands (and Train) but with some good stuff mixed in, most notably The Roots.
Since it opened, the U Street Music Hall has been a favorite new venue in DC for dance/electronic music aficionados, with a legendary sound system and a comfortable space in the heart of the U Street area. The Washington City Paper sent me to cover its opening night, but after learning that the venue was permanently closed to all photography during events, I settled for a portrait of the two owners, DJs Will Eastman (left) and Jesse Tittsworth (right). As I explained in a previous post, I lit these guys with a single bare speedlight at high camera right, giving me some nice defined shadows on the floor with the venue’s logo lit up in the background. I took this shot from on top of a tall stepladder that was conveniently sitting in the middle of the floor. The availability of the stepladder was huge: this photo would have been pretty mediocre shot at ground level.
The first and only time I shot Ultimate Frisbee in 2010 was the YHB Invite in March, in Northern Virginia. I just shot one day of the tournament and didn’t come away with any images I’d count as among my best Ultimate photographs, but still had a good time. I also managed to get myself taken out on the sideline, cameras flying everywhere: Kevin Leclaire, my fellow photographer who has really turned his passion for shooting Ultimate into a business, awesomely caught the whole episode on camera. (Yes, the cameras and all humans involved were OK!)
Finally, as the weather started turning nice, I did a great shoot with Crystal, a model in central Virginia, outdoors in a small-town environment. The local train station had some neat features that we used to offset and/or complement Crystal’s strikingly colorful hair, and I put my 35/1.8 DX lens to good use. I love how this lens is so sharp in the middle, and how the sharpness falls off towards the edges not only because of the limited depth of field at f/1.8 but also because of the fact that I’m using the lens on a full-frame camera, and the image circle (and area of optimal image quality) doesn’t extend all the way to the edges.
Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
The story of February in DC was snow, snow and more snow. I had at least five potential assignments canceled because of the multiple feet of snow that got dumped on DC over the course of two major storms in one week. The first snowstorm was pleasant - tons of fluffy snow but not windy or bitterly cold. I stayed up until 3 in the morning the night of that first snow, shooting nighttime scenes in the city, and then got up the next morning to do an all-day outdoor shoot with Margot MacDonald. While there were some unique challenges with shooting in this weather, lighting was not one of them: the entire outdoor world was aglow in beautiful, soft white sunlight, and taking advantage of it was the formula for success. I did get a bit more creative as the sun went down, but my favorite shots were simple, natural light ones, like the one above. Also: Margot was apparently immune to cold while a camera was pointed at her. Impressive to say the least.
A few days after that first snowstorm, the big one hit. This one was accompanied by massive wind gusts and frigid temperatures, and unlike the first storm the conditions outside were exceedingly uncomfortable. (Even Margot probably would have looked cold if we’d tried doing our photoshoot in the middle of this storm.) Despite the National Weather Service’s warnings about “life-threatening blizzard conditions,” I ventured out to take a few photos in the whiteout. I spent an hour or two outside walking around, and got no photos as entertaining as the above.
Aside from the snow shoots, February was still a successful concert photography month. One of my favorite shows was a set by Holly Miranda, opening for Tegan and Sara; her atmospheric music, combined with the gorgeous light at the Warner Theater, really captured my imagination. The photo above is of her guitarist bathed in that fantastic lighting treatment. Some more February highlights are below: a fantastic performance from Hotspur, who later hired me to do some promo shots for them, at the 9:30 Club; a terrible show by the Black Eyed Peas at the Verizon Center that was nevertheless a visual feast; and yet another great show by St. Vincent (her fifth show in the DC area in less than two years) at the 9:30 Club.
More to come…
Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
Last year I did a four-part retrospective on some of my favorite shots from this year, breaking the year up into quarters. This time around, I’m going to go through the year month-by-month, which is probably complete overkill, but gives me a chance to highlight some images that I haven’t necessarily talked about on the blog before. So we’ll start with January - the big news at the beginning of the year is that I started shooting for the Washington Post, covering concerts for them that their main freelancer, the excellent Kyle Gustafson, wasn’t able to work. I did three shows for the Post in one week in January; my first was Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Birchmere, a fun show from which I got some decent shots like the one above.
For the first half of the year, I had a near-ideal arrangement in which I shot concerts for the Post on assignment, and was still able to cover other shows I wanted to do on an at-will basis for the Washington City Paper. Sometimes, I did both in one night: for instance, I shot Pree at a 6pm Kennedy Center Millennium Stage performance for the Post one evening, and then hopped in my car and drove to Baltimore to catch Arch Enemy and Exodus at the Recher Theater later that same night. My favorite shot from the night is above - Exodus hamming it up.
One of my favorite photos of all time came from an Epica show in 2008, in which lead singer Simone Simons was ill and was temporarily replaced by Amanda Somerville. Somerville was a great performer and gave me this shot, but I’ve been really wanting to shoot Simons ever since, as she is a tremendous frontwoman and her bright red hair makes for great photos. I got my wish in January, and while I wasn’t totally satisfied with the shots I got thanks to the dubious lighting at Jaxx, the shot above is a nice flash-aided capture that I’m pretty happy with.
Also in January, I got to revisit dance photography, which I’d attempted early in 2008 just as I was starting to take photography seriously again. Aided by a camera several generations better, not to mention the professional lenses to go with it, my work improved tremendously and I had a great deal of fun. I have too many favorite shots to count from my evening shooting the DCypher hip-hop dance ensemble; the above is just one of many.
I got some great practice with my lighting skills at a meet-and-greet in western Virginia in mid-January, in which I had the opportunity to shoot with half a dozen models using all kinds of crazy lighting setups, including some borrowed big studio strobes. My most creative shoot, though, was with Rhiannon, above; I juxtaposed her nearly six-foot frame and goth outfit with a cramped corner space and harsh directional lighting and got this shot, which I like for its drama. (It’s a strong contrast to the shot of her I already posted here, the action coming from the stark shadows in a light canvas rather than an overall dark, shadowy feel.)
Finally, this shot has been discussed on the blog before, but it’s significant in that it was a first: the first good portrait I did with a touring band before their show. Sure, I did a quick portrait shoot with Epica before their set at Jaxx, but the results from that one were nothing to be proud of. This one wasn’t exactly groundbreaking either, but it was a better start, and working with Those Darlins was a pleasure.Needless to say, January was a good month!