Dream Theater, Opeth, Between the Buried and Me, and 3 - four prog-rock/prog-metal bands descend on DC’s DAR Constitution Hall. For a writeup of the show from a musical standpoint, check my blog at Ground & Sky.
I’ve never photographed a show at DAR before, so I spent a few minutes wandering around figuring out what to do after arriving a little before 7pm. I picked up my photo pass and then got conflicting instructions from staff about where to go from there. I ended up going through some backstage door and getting led to the stage area by a friendly member of BTBAM (I was too distracted by wondering where the hell I was going to engage him in much conversation, but did find out that he’s one of the members from my hometown, Winston-Salem). He actually led me to the stage itself — and I found myself at the very back of the stage just as 3 were beginning their set. Uh, not exactly what I had planned, but ok. I made my way around the wings and got down to the audience area where I was supposed to be. DAR has no photo pit, but I was told I could shoot from the aisles, and found out later (during Opeth’s set) that I could also shoot from the front row of seats right up against the stage, which were unoccupied.
The rules were 15 minutes of shooting per band, in lieu of a three-song rule, since three songs for these groups could mean half an hour or more. I was not told not to use flash, but I didn’t anyway. Interestingly - given how the Progressive Nation tour actively encourages fans to share photos through a Flickr group - there were signs posted everywhere saying “no cameras by request of the artists.” This was definitely not a rule that was enforced as there were flashes going off from people’s point-and-shoots throughout the show.
For 3 and BTBAM, the first two bands, the lighting was surprisingly bad. I was shooting with a rented Nikon 17-55/2.8 and my 80-200/2.8 AF-S, wide open at ISO 3200, and still not getting enough light. I should have pulled out the 50/1.8 but I forgot that I had it in my bag. Oops. As a result, I barely got anything usable from either of these bands, between lacking light and trying to find my bearings inside the venue. There was also one further complication: as I was shooting BTBAM at the very beginning of their set, I got kicked out by a security guard, who saw something he didn’t like on my photo pass - 3 and BTBAM were blacked out on the pass for some reason.
Argh. I went back to the box office, showed the very friendly folks there my confirmation e-mail saying that I was “confirmed to shoot all bands,” waited impatiently, and was told that I had the all-clear and the mix-up had been resolved. Which was much appreciated (seriously, it was - these people were just amazingly helpful), but by that time the 15-minute shooting window had just about closed. So I wandered back into the arena to stand in the wings and enjoy the show without worrying about taking pictures. But then the same security guard who had booted me earlier actually came and got me and told me to shoot the rest of the set, even though the 15 minutes were up. So I did.
I was still a little off my game, and I’m not really psyched about my photos from BTBAM’s set, but at least I got to take them. And I definitely appreciate the professionalism of the box office, tour and venue staff in working out that mix-up quickly and effectively.
When Opeth came on, the lighting got better; more dramatic and varied and a little brighter. I was getting a little more comfortable moving around and finding good spots. It was also during this set that a security guard informed me that I could use the (empty) front row of seats to shoot from. So I managed to get some better stuff here; I was able to dial down the ISO a bit from 3200, though I was still underexposing a bit. Got some fun shots that just aren’t possible in smaller venues without the big lighting rigs:
And some more typical ones:
But Dream Theater was the real treat. Not only was the lighting by far the best - colorful, ever-changing and extremely bright - but they are also consummate showmen. Also, by this point I was finally comfortable in the venue (I need to work on getting situated way faster) and spent my entire 15 minutes moving to and fro in the front row instead crouching in the aisles, which made all the difference. So, by far my best shots come from this set. In fact, the lighting was so good that I had ratcheted down to ISO 800, was shooting at 1/500 at times and was still overexposing by as much as a full stop sometimes! Which is why I shoot in RAW for concerts… with the changing light you never know when you might catch the exact right moment but with a slightly wrong exposure. Especially when you shoot exclusively in manual as I have taken to doing.
In any case, that’s guitarist John Petrucci at the top of this post; he was probably my favorite subject but here are a few others. Vocalist James LaBrie:
Ridiculous keytar/guitar duel (yes, folks, this is prog):
Drummer Mike Portnoy, who kept throwing sticks into the audience:
And we’ll leave off with bassist John Myung (who is an awesome musician but too often in Dream Theater’s mixes, both live and studio, gets left off in a different sense):
Overall, my exposures ranged wildly, from ISO 3200 and 1/60 for the early sets and ISO 800 and 1/400 for Dream Theater. The constantly changing lighting for the last two sets made for a fun challenge. I shot about equally with my 17-55 and 80-200, though with only one body there were times I wished I had the other lens on. On my DX body, the 80-200 was just a little too long as I was right up against the stage; a 50-150 might have served my purposes a little better. Most of my favorite shots were taken with the 17-55 and me literally leaning up and over the edge of the stage. All in all it was a pretty awesome experience, despite my lack of real success until the final set.