Thursday, April 25, 2013

Taking A Stab At Concert Photography

Before I say anything else, please allow me to start with a disclaimer - I am not a concert photographer, I have never been a concert photographer, and as you will see from the images I'm posting, I will never be a concert photographer. That doesn't mean, though, that I can't have fun trying something new to broaden my horizons in photography by taking on the challenge of shooting something way out of my comfort zone.

A week at Photoshop World was my opportunity to try new things and I couldn't wait for Wednesday night's After Party bash at BB King's Blues Bar which featured +Scott Kelby's band Big Electric Cat. Here was a chance to snap away at a live band performing on stage, which is something us old farts never get to do because bands usually don't start their shows until long after our bed times.

After chowing down on some seriously good BBQ and fixings that were part of the evening's festivities, I took a page from my sports photography background and wandered around in front of the stage before the band went on to take some "art" shots of the instruments, amplifiers, and anything else that caught my eye. To say the least, the lighting was a challenge because the club used both LED and conventional light cans to light the stage and if you've ever shot with colored LED's in the mix you can relate to what challenging light is produced. Not to be denied, I grabbed my 80-200mm f2.8 lens, slapped it on a D3S body, jacked up the ISO to 1600 and managed to get a shutter speed of 1/30th second which I can hand hold steady enough to avoid blur.

Soon thereafter, BEC took the stage and it was game on. One of my goals was to do my best to get some shots of Scott's better half, the lovely +Kalebra Kelby, who unbeknownst to me is the band's front (wo)man and lead vocalist. Yowsa can the lady sing. As she was belting out some of my favorite tunes, it was hard not to shake my booty to the beat as +Brad Moore and +Pete Collins took turns making fun of me. Undaunted, I snapped away with both my D3S/80-200mm and with a second D3S and a15mm f2-8 fisheye attached as I continued to get down with my bad self.

ISO was pushed to 2500 to up the shutter speed and sometimes even 3200 as I wanted to get up to 1/125th  second or faster. Depending on what I was shooting and the lighting for that particular subject matter, I was flipping from one ISO to the other and one shutter speed to the other all night long.

As far as Kalebra goes, it seems that once I started shooting, my brain flipped into sports photography mode and I was shooting tight...I mean like in-her-nostrils tight. Other than some fisheye shots, every shot I initially got with the 80-200mm was zoomed in to the max. I didn't realize that I was doing this until much later and finally got some wider shots of her. I'm not sure what veteran, accomplished concert photographers like +Alan Hess or +Scott Diussa would say about shooting tight but I couldn't help myself. When I'm in my photography comfort zone and drift off into autopilot, I'm shooting as tight as my longest lens will get me and that's the mode into which I apparently defaulted.

It was no different with any of the other members of Scott's band until well into the band's set. I was in tight most of the night, damned the torpedoes. Oh, I got the occasional fisheye shot but it wasn't until well into the gig that I thought to zoom out (a little) for some shots.

Fortunately I had the good sense to vary my vantage point instead of staying in one place and got some different looks. I shot from directly in front of the stage, right in the middle, for a good bit of the evening but also made my way over to one side and eventually ended up all the way over to stage right. I also went up into the balcony to get some shots from a higher vantage point that overlooked the stage.

From stage right I was able to lock in Scott while he was playing the keys. One of the strangest shots I got was of Scott's hands as he was playing. Right as I fired the shutter, a bank of green lights came on flooding his hands with a green wash that made it look like the Incredible Hulk was playing the keyboards.

If there's one thing I learned about concert photography it's that no matter what the lighting looks like one moment, it will likely look completely different a spilt second later. And I thought shooting indoor sports in an arena was tough in terms of white balance issues. At least the white balance during a basketball game is constant instead of changing every second.

When I finally stopped to think that maybe I should zoom out for a few shots, I managed to get something other than nostrils. Here's a few of those images.

And then came +Scott Diussa. Scott is a Manager with Nikon Professional Services and a gifted photographer but his secret superpower is shredding on the guitar. Scott sat in with the band for one number and midway through the song, he and Antonio (BEC's lead guitarist), traded lead solo's for several minutes. Dude can flat play, kids.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and gained much appreciation for the work of guys like Alan and Scott who are in the pits on a regular basis. And for one night, I was shooting and rocking out to great music. That's hard to beat.

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