As a musician for over 25 years, music was a large part of my life as I started dabbling in photography. To a certain extent, photography pushed music aside as my form of artistic expression. It was a bit odd, going from late nights in dark, loud, drunken rock clubs, to early mornings in serene, completely silent, peaceful landscapes. When I first started shooting, I was really into the idea of shooting shows. That presented quite a challenge for me with smaller clubs being very dark and difficult to shoot in, and me not liking the attention of walking in front of the crowd to snap the bands photo. So I played with it a little bit, but not too much. I have however always been a huge fan of high production light shows, and those who know me know my strong taste in very emotional dramatic music.
Since my daughter was born my travels into the wild have been few and far between. I spend hours looking at landscape photos on instagram, but it actually started to impact my desire to go out. Seeing 3,000 photos of the same scene, and many times the ones getting most of the attention were far from what I consider good work (not that my opinion matters). Even when I had occasional opportunities to go out, I didn’t find I had the desire.
In the middle of this, I treated myself to a performance of one of my favorite bands, Russian Circles. They put on a tremendous live show, and it got my artistic blood flowing a little, thinking about shooting them. I had developed an online friendship with a local photographer who had been shooting a lot of bands, and he gave me some tips on getting in. So I started researching. And about a month later I saw Russian Circles were coming back. So I said screw it and reached out to their publicist. She checked out my work, I assured her I wasn’t expecting free entry and had a ticket, and she agreed to put me on the photo list for their upcoming show. I was thrilled! Until the day of the show.
I found myself incredibly nervous. I wasn’t being paid, so I knew her expectations weren’t incredibly high, but thats a huge part of the reason I haven’t done much portrait work. People expect things. I would be in the photo pit right in front of the band. I had done hours of research on my cameras settings. But there was no way to practice, as the lighting in a larger venue is significantly different than a small one. And the band would be moving, as would the lights. Fog. Lots of fog. I didn’t know what to expect, and I’m somewhat of a worry wart, so it had me going. I didn’t even want to do it anymore. But I sucked it up, packed my gear, and headed to the Crystal Ballroom here in Portland.
I was way early, so I wandered around the beautiful club shooting some test shots. As time got near I made my way to the photo pit and chatted with the security a bit. The rule of thumb is you only get three songs. So I had a lens planned for each song. And I was saving the best for last. I knew these guys would do a short intro, and their songs tend to be in the eight minute range, so I made sure to ask whether the intro counts. I was told it did not.
Before I knew it the house lights went down. Security came and grabbed myself and the other couple photographers and led us in to the pit. The intro passed in what seemed like a few seconds and I frantically started shooting. I was half crouched, scurrying around the other photographers, with my legs literally shaking. After what I thought was a minute or two, the first song was over. And I knew their songs, so I was surprised how little attention I was able to pay to the music. Change lenses. Here we go again. Same thing, before I knew it, it was done. I looked over and saw I was the only one left in the pit. Sweet! I pulled out the lens I was saving for last, just as security came up and said “Time to go man!”. What?! “That was only two” I said back. “Those are long ass songs, time to go”. So off I went.
I spent the next hour walking throughout the club taking distant shots. My longest zoom lens isn’t great for low light being an f4, so my expectations for these shots were pretty low. I looked down at one point and noticed I had taken 1150 photos so far. Damn. One band, 1150 photos. There had to be some keepers in here! After the last song, and seeing I had totaled over 1200 photos, it was time to go.
Despite my early rise for work the next day I had to start digging in to the shots right when I got home. I went through about 200 that night, being happy with around 180. I was pretty surprised with the results. Understand that I would have 20 or so shots of the same scene, using burst mode on my camera. That would give me a lot of options, but also make editing and sorting take a really long time.
All my free time in the next couple days went to narrowing the shots down to 85 I would send to their publicist. At the end of the experience, I found myself incredibly fulfilled. A few weeks later would be my first landscape trip in a while, and I suddenly found my excitement for that had drastically shrunk. This had been a completely different animal. High speed, intense, and just a new experience. It was great. I feel like I need to start doing more of it, but most places won’t permit you unless you are shooting for a blog or publication. So the search begins!
Im writing this a few days after the shoot. My stomach is already starting to turn as in an hour I will be leaving to go back to the Crystal Ballroom to shoot my friends band All Souls opening for The Jesus Lizard. We’ll see if I feel the same about it tomorrow…..