Same Photographer, Same Bar, Part 3

Previously on Camera Club Confidential:

“Stay at the hotel until it’s over.”

“No, I won’t be here when it’s over. You’re asking me to wait an hour to find out if I’m going to be a wife or a widow. I say it’s too long to wait! I won’t do it!”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

“Hold me. Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo.”

After I held her – precisely as I had by the lake on Naboo – I realized that the shoot was over and I was reviewing images from OjaiAid on the computer. Seeing the images on a big screen, I noticed that high ISO noise and motion blur were not the huge problems I expected them to be.

At a proper viewing distance, grain and sharpness matter far less than lighting, composition, contrast range, and expression. However, I wasn’t yet thinking about expression properly. Which brings me back to lighting direction, shooting angles, and, sigh, hats.

Four floodlights mounted to the ceiling in front of the stage provided the main light on performers. Regular readers know that small light sources at distance produce hard light. Hard light means harsh shadows. So be it. The direction of the light meant that performers’ eyes would only be lit if they looked up, but they were on a raised stage, usually looking down to the audience. A moot point for those wearing hats, and especially for Dan Grimm, who was wearing a Hemingwayesque long-billed ballcap. Even looking up, his eyes were shaded.

You know I love my hats. It's everyone else's I could do without. Here, Dan Grimm, apparently in the witness protection program, illustrates the effect of hard, downward-angled light. ISO 3200, 1/160, f2.0, with the 35mm lens.

I found two spots where I could shoot without blocking audience or video camera views: sitting on the floor in front of the stage, and standing by a portal opening onto the side of the stage. The floor provided the ubiquitous “up the nostril” shots we get from so many concerts. The portal position was really quite nice for profile shots of individuals, and actually allowed enough room to get an occasional three-quarter shot. My concern – borne out while reviewing the images – was that the photos would start to look too much alike, and would present a problem for a graphic designer if everybody in every image faced the same direction.

A view of Rueben Salinas from the portal at the side of the stage, including a bit of the portal. ISO 3200, 1/160, f2, 50mm lens

So I moved back and forth between the portal and the floor, changed lenses depending on how many people were on stage, and shot away while enjoying the music I was so privileged to hear.

At the end of the evening, a large number of musicians and volunteers took the stage to learn and perform a group song for the victims of Japan’s recent disasters. How glad I was to have stashed additional gear by the BBQ. I grabbed the 11-16 lens and got some of the best shots of the night, including a classic “Hail Mary” moment, when I hoisted the camera far over my head to shoot down into a huddle of musicians learning the new song. It’s the best image of the day, as far as I’m concerned.

And now it is time to repeat the essential question from Part One: Did I succeed? Which makes this the portion of the story that explains why everything I’ve already covered is pretty much irrelevant.

I spent the day after the event working on what I considered the best photos. I straightened, cropped, adjusted levels, color corrected or converted to black and white, etc. That evening, Village Jester owner and event organizer Nigel Chisholm came by the house to pick up a disc, and I showed him some of the images on my computer.

To my surprise, he reacted most positively to the images I considered marginal. Images I had included despite blur, excess contrast, noise, and what I considered unflattering expressions. Nigel left with the disc, and I showed the pictures to my wife, who reacted precisely as Nigel had.

Jared and Jessica rocking out. I was so out of practice shooting musicians that I set this aside because their eyes were closed. But if you don't use pictures of musicians with their eyes closed, you're tossing 99% of your pictures of musicians. ISO 3200, 1/160, f2, 35mm lens.

I brooded about this for a while, and then I emailed Nigel to tell him I’d have another disc for him the next day.

The biggest lesson of this whole experience is contained in a question posed by Jacques Barzun in his book, Simple and Direct – A Rhetoric for Writers: Does it suit? During post-processing, I had been looking at the photos from the wrong perspective. Most of my work is headshots for actors, so I’m accustomed to carefully controlled light and contrast ratios, and pleasing expressions. As a result, I was rejecting captures of intense passion and instead delivering something closer to high school yearbook pictures. But this event was ALL ABOUT PASSION, FROM START TO FINISH. My own emotional detachment prevented me from understanding which pictures suited the purpose.

Luis Narino, reminding me that a musician's greatest skill is listening, and a photographer's greatest skill is looking. ISO 3200, 1/125, F2.8, 55mm (17-55 zoom)

I went at it again the next day, reviewing all 1,000 images and choosing better moments, concentrating less on managing contrast and more on visceral excitement – gesture and expression. I think I succeeded, but if you want to know for sure, you should go to OjaiAid.org, make a donation, and see the images for yourself.

Nigel Chisholm, who brought OjaiAid together. Learn why at http://www.ojaiaid.org.

Prayer For You

1 Comment

Filed under Camera Gear, Camera Settings, Lighting, Low Light, Motivation, Post Processing

One response to “Same Photographer, Same Bar, Part 3

  1. On the first day you were an artist. On the second, a photojournalist (which is also a form of art but I digress).

    Nobody cares about grain, crappy depth of field, etc., if they connect with the image. You’re the only one who sees it.

    Take a few steps back and you’ll miss the imperfections, too.

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