A Photographer Walks Into a Bar, Part 1

When Lenny Kerley opened the show, afternoon sunlight still provided a wash of ambient light through the large window behind him. Even so, this is ISO 2000, f2, at 1/160 of a second.

As I prepared to photograph the first performer at OjaiAid: From The Valley of the Moon to the Land of the Rising Sun, fellow volunteer Marcus Lopez asked how long I’d been a photographer. The answer surprised both of us: forty years.

It surprised him because he’s not yet forty. It surprised me because I feel like I’m just starting to understand the tiniest bit about photography.

For the seven hours following Marcus’s question, I had to scrape my brain for every low-light photography tip and trick those forty years could provide.

It was a day of great music and high emotion (for those capable of feelings –  it turns out my prized emotional detachment is a real liability in the editing process, as I’ll explain later in the week).

It was also the new Toughest Shoot Ever. As I described in a previous post, the venue was a bar and restaurant where the little candle on your table is a significant source of light. But that was not the only challenge. Here’s a summary:

  1. Downward angled, multi-colored stage lighting
  2. Moving performers (literally and figuratively)
  3. Small stage
  4. Numerous video and live feed cameras limiting access to front of stage
  5. BIG crowd
  6. Numerous musicians performing short sets in rapid succession
  7. Dare I say it? HATS

The venue, from the back of the building. This is a jpeg straight from the camera. ISO 3200, f2.8, 1/125 of a second.

Okay, so we’ve got a limited choice of shooting angles, high ISO (causing increased image noise with decreased dynamic range), constrained mobility, and direction of light guaranteeing raccoon eyes on the performers. Common stuff for a theater and dance photographer like myself, except for one important difference: when I photograph a dance performance or theater rehearsal, I usually have the option to study the first set of images and then go shoot another performance or rehearsal to improve the results. OjaiAid was a one-time deal, so I had to get it right the first time. And I really wanted to. These people brought very big hearts to the day, and I wanted to honor their gifts.

Did I succeed? That’s for part three of this series. In part two, I’ll explain the gear and settings I chose – and the real-time adaptations required as new challenges arose.

Jackie Lomax was the first artist signed to Apple Records by the Beatles, but that is irrelevant. What matters is that he is a soulful, skillful, entertaining musician. And he plays in my little town regularly! ISO 3200, f2, 1/160 of a second.

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Filed under Camera Gear, Camera Settings, Lighting, Post Processing

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