When on vacation...

Ah, yes, I love to travel!  I'm also the type of person that likes to prepare my adventure as much as possible before I leave my home.  Don't get me wrong, I love to be spontaneous, and get caught up in moments, so there are always blocks of free time to be found in a jammed pack schedule.  But I have found, over the years, that when all reservations and itineraries have been prepared ahead of time, I can relax and truly enjoy the environment.

On my last vacation I decided to stay in the states.  There still are some I haven't visited.  While most people kick back and relax, and take in the sights, I'm on a non stop photo shoot.  After all, I don't know where I'll find my next great shot, that is, until I take it.

David Cook, Nashville, TN

David Cook, Nashville, TN

Ironically, I tend to pack light on clothing, but heavy on cameras and gear.  Besides my dslr camera, I brought my two Holga film cameras, an iPod, and a Canon point and shoot camera.  Now, the Canon point and shoot camera I've had for 10 years now, and it's been a classic love-hate relationship.  I don't use it often, so there's always the fumbling and trying to remember how it works.  Like any point and shoot, it wasn't designed for low light photography, but, it is advanced enough where I can manipulate the settings to a near manual mode, and does an adequate job when shooting concerts.

So as luck would have it, I found out that David Cook (American Idol winner) was performing in Nashville during my stay.  And this wasn't just another gig for him, this was the close of his tour, where energy was bound to be high.  I have a history with Mr. Cook, and could have walked in the venue with my dslr camera and shot the first three songs without the formal approval from management.  My dslr was in the car, and I was tempted.   But I was on vacation and decided to use the Canon.   There was no pit, and didn't want my camera jiggled and bumped by the excited fans.

I have to say, the one thing I love about point and shoot cameras is when you throw the zoom all the way out the image becomes grainy.  I like grainy because it looks like it could have been taken by a film camera, and to me, has this old, almost vintage feel to it..  On the other hand, the one feature I dislike the most about this camera is the continuous frame, mainly because it's slow, and no where as fast as I've grown accustomed to with my dslr.   When I use this cameras in concerts, I shoot single frame, which is always fun, and forces me to anticipate the shot even more.  It's a great exercise to do from time to time.

Music Photography 101

To say I work "in the pit" does not sound glamorous at all. An image of a deep hole in the ground comes to mind.  But to say I work in a photographers pit, adds a bit of nobility, and perhaps a touch of respect.  For me, it's  a fast paced 10-15 minutes workout of capturing great images, and that one image, unique, and so different from the rest that makes the whole night worthwhile.  Factor in high stress levels to achieve the correct camera settings within seconds, putting yourself in the right spot to get the shot, and trying to stay out of the way of a dozen (or more) other professional photographers.  It's one big adrenaline rush, is what it is, and I love it.

Oddly, my first shoot as a music photographer started in the pit. For most people, it doesn't work that way. I got lucky, and learned so much from the experience. In 2009, I didn't own a professional dslr, I borrowed one.  I shot in AP, and blessed with a late afternoon concert, because I knew nothing about low light photography at that point in the game.  Two years after that pit moment, I purchased my first dslr camera ready and motivated to do this right.

For anyone who ever dreamed of being a music photographer, I am happy to share the road I traveled,  To be successful in this genre of photography you must have: 1) a deep and passionate love for music, of any genre. 2) a dslr camera, and 3) a good working knowledge of portraiture photography definitely helps.

So how do we start? We practice and we learn.   The first thing you're going to need is your very own band. You will want a band who's music you like, because you're going to be hearing their songs over and over again. You will need the band to be gigging as often as your schedule will allow.   

Eddie, lead guitarist and co-founder of Kharma Train.  First shoot with this band at The Red Stallion, 2012.  Testing the waters with individual shots.

Eddie, lead guitarist and co-founder of Kharma Train.  First shoot with this band at The Red Stallion, 2012.  Testing the waters with individual shots.

Late in 2012, I started with a local cover band, Kharma Train.  I joined them for a year and half tour from their second show.  I wanted to support local music, make my contribution and  give back high quality images they can use for their branding, advertising, business cards, calendars, etc.  The majority of cover bands can't afford to have this work done professionally, and is vital in their survival.  As a photographer, the benefit  is that it gets your work out there, whether it be a newspaper ad, or photos used on social media.  

Whether you're searching a city to find the right band, or know someone in a band, the first thing that must be done is to ask permission.  Your needs must be genuine, to learn to take great shots, period.  If you approach a local band asking to be put on their payroll as their photographer, you will surely be dismissed.  Accept the fact that this is a non paying job.  On the other hand, over time, you may find that the band members reward you in other ways, such as their friendships, gifts, not having to pay a cover, and drinks. Your work will also gain exposure, and that may lead to paying jobs.  Also, you want to make sure you're the only photographer running around with your professional gear.  You want to be exclusive in this regard to build their trust and have total access with this band.  Sure, there will always be the band's family and friends with their iPhones and point and shoot cameras, and that's fine.

So now, you got your band, Great!  If you haven't switched over to shooting in manual mode, this is where the learning begins on low light photography and learning the camera settings. To be professional, no flash, please!   For me, it was easier to learn manual by shooting in low light first. Another necessity; study those who came before you.  Spend some time and study at the works of other music photographers, for they are your Rembrandts and Monets.  Look at their work and try to determine what it took to get that shot. Some of my favorites are:  Bob Gruen, Allan Tannanbaum, Rob Shanahan, Lynn Goldsmith, Henry Diltz, and Annie Leibovitz.

Next time we'll talk about providing the right shots for your band, and photographer's etiquette!


The Milk Jug Experiment

If you ask me how to operate the flash on my camera, I would have to whip out the manual. Seriously, I would miss the shot.  I've grown accustomed to shooting without it, so when I accepted a job to shoot a wedding reception, I knew I would face challenges. 

The lighting in reception halls tends to be a bit on the dark side, so without adding the expense of rental lighting, it seemed inevitable I would have to use the flash.  With reluctance, I got out the camera manual, and learned how to operate the flash.  But still, I needed a solution to flash skin tones and the infamous red eye.  

You can find soft boxes designed to fit over the flash to accomplish what I was after, but I didn't like the bulkiness as it snuggly fit around the entire front of my camera. Plus, room in my camera bag was limited so this was no longer an option.  Enter the milk jug experiment.


Step One:  1/2 gallon size works best, so drink up, or transfer milk to another container.

Step Two:  Cut the handle off from the container, and then cut down the center of the handle.

Step Three:  Measure the size of your pop up flash and cut the handle accordingly.  The handle should fit securely over your pop up flash.