Back To The Pit (and loving it!)

In March 2004, I took my son and my brand new Nikon D70 to see the band Sway at The Loft in Ventura, CA. Until John could drive himself, we enjoyed many local concerts together and I REALLY enjoyed photographing the shows.

Sway at The Loft. March 27, 2004. The D70 was an impressive low-light performer.

After John left for college and the local “all-ages” music scene died, I stopped photographing rock concerts.  I really enjoyed the all-ages concerts of his boyhood because I like live music, but I do not like to hang out in bars. This weekend, fate smiled on me. My son was visiting, and several of our favorite bands were performing at an all-ages event (FREE!) in Ventura.

B. Willing James of Shades of Day performs at Spencer McKenzie's End of Summer Block Party in Ventura, CA. The even lighting makes a nice, yet undramatic, photo. That's okay with me, and probably with his mom, too.

Photographically, much has changed since that first show at The Loft, which I shot with the D70 and my 85mm f1.8 lens. For this weekend’s show, I was armed with a Nikon D300 and the legendary 70-200 f2.8 VR lens. It was a daytime show, and the stage was covered and surrounded on three sides by white tenting – it was like a giant version of my mini-studio!

As it turns out, all that diffuse, reflected light provided beautiful portrait lighting, but pretty boring rock-and-roll lighting.

I kept an eye open for more interesting light. The always manic Chris Jay from the always manic Army of Freshman leaned out into the sunshine a lot.

The biggest lesson of the day, however, had nothing to do with light or cameras or lenses. Getting back into the pit for a couple of hours reminded me why I always used to carry high quality Etymotic ear plugs in my camera bag. Those earplugs were in the top drawer of my desk when I really needed them this weekend. Shooting from the sides of the stage, I often stood right in front of the PA speaker stacks. Very painful, even if you love the music.

Why do I usually shoot individuals rather than whole bands on stage? Because if I step back and zoom out, I'll mostly get pictures of people obscured by microphone stands.

I don't mind an occasional microphone/stand, especially when it's colorful. It provides some context. But if I'm careless about my shooting angle, the microphone gets in the way.

My advice for capturing drummers? Get in tight and fire off a lot of frames, because drumsticks will be in front of the face on 2/3 of the shots! Sometimes that's great, but it's hard to time.

With a dark background, some smoke and gelled spotlights, this would be a pretty classic rock and roll image, eh?

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Filed under Camera Gear, Dance and Theater, Lighting, Portraiture

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