concert: Sad Lovers & Giants

sometimes crazy things are done, and one of them is to coordinate European trips to attend concerts. I had never been to Berlin, and the chance came up to visit the city with a friend (from another city) and see Sad Lovers & Giants for the first time. I brought the massive gear, after all, some clubs are (practically) candle lit.

a big surprise was how much I came to like Berlin (over just four days), and that the concert photographic experience was to be so defining.

by then, I had a few ways to approach concert photography:

  1.  don't take too many photos.
  2.  need to photograph over the entire concert.
  3.  stand in one place, and stay put: concert attendance first, photography second.
  4.  look for the performer's "decompression moment" [ link ]
  5.  in low light, just fixed-focus on the microphone and let all else be as it will be.
  6.  think that a portrait is much better than kerrang! moments.

the downside for this concert was to have close-enough and unobstructed view only for Garçe and Tony, so they dominated the photos. luckily, the photos gathered the attention of Garçe, and I was able to secure a better vantage point later in the year when they played London. (did I mention how sometimes crazy things are done?)


selected photos posted to the Concert Portfolio [ link ]

Loop live: the Soundheads

one of the curses of following a certain type of British, and European, bands is that they never make it to the USA for tours. and, some of them just come over sporadically — looking at you Tindersticks.

I am still holding out hope for the reunited Slowdive to make it to the USA, but I never thought that the reunited Loop would come to San Francisco. despite a bout with the cold/flu/crap-feel, it was a concert to attend. that it was three bands (+ Carlton Melton and White Fence), and it would start at 9pm was the worst to expect when sick, but hey...

Rob Hampson (Loop) at the Great American Music Hall (San Francisco)

Rob Hampson (Loop) at the Great American Music Hall (San Francisco)

an unusual situation was that there were no other people with cameras up front. there were more headbanging people, and that was great. so I was the only one with a non-phone camera up front, and another person with access taking some photos here and there from the side of the stage.

the concert was grand, and lived to all the desired experiences of seeing live music that was some 23 years since it was first heard, when I stumbled upon the release of Fade Out. then came Arc-Lite, which is actually the album I play the most, and the band disbanded soon after.

photographically, this was the first time that I would have brought out the Canon with all the fast lenses for the proper capturing of a favorite band live. however, I opted to use the since-the-last-time expanded suite of lenses that go with the Fuji X-Pro. also, while I have a 24mm lens with the Canon, for the Fuji I have a 12mm (18mm equivalent) Zeiss lens — I am not too wild about wide-angle lenses. the drawback, compared to the Canon system, is a ƒ2.8 vs ƒ1.4, but the ISO performance of the Fuji could make up for it, and I hoped that Loop was not a we-run-on-stage band. so the Fuji arsenal is a nice range: (Zeiss) 12mm ƒ2.8, 23mm ƒ1.4, 35mm ƒ1.4, 53mm ƒ1.2, and (Zeiss M-mount) 85mm ƒ4. this was the first time trying out the 53mm (x1.5 crop factor), and it is excellent.

I was also glad that I am dwindling down on the number of photos I take. certainly just getting a couple of shots that, because of the fast lenses being at full aperture, it is to get the microphone in focus and see what happens. this is a peculiar way to approach the composition and focus, which was forced as a solution to very poorly lit concerts, but now I do it regardless of the lighting condition.

this was the second time I caught Carlton Melton, and I have to see them more often, and get some of their music. rare is the opening act that makes me take notice — and I wish it was quite different to that common outcome.  they had opened for Wood Shijps in late January, and I forgot the name or to do something about it. this time, it will be more proactive... and a great opening band for Loop.

• liminal eye on concerts and my photography [ link ]
• Loop [ link ]
• Carlton Melton [ link ]
• post on facebook (open to comments) [ link ]

concert photography & the "decompressing" moment

there are many changes that digital photography is bringing to photography genres, and a very noticeable one is concert photography. the high ISO performance of modern sensor, the compactness of cameras, and the aspiration of many to get "the shot" at a concert has drastically changed the experience to those attending concerts — with, or without, cameras.

I never took concert photos with film, so I am in that group of people polluting the concert venues, and definitely started looking for "the shot" — whatever that means. the first self-inflicted disturbance of my concert-going experience was the idea of audio recording. after a while, getting annoyed at the "talkers" really impacted my enjoyment of the concert experience. however, taking photos seem to be much less intrusive.

Judge Smith, London, 2005 by Kodiak Xyza

in having an allergy towards big venues, then it also became a challenge of how to take photos (starting in about 2005, at a Judge Smith concert in London) in such dimly lit clubs. this technical challenge, plus the increase in "concert photographers" disturbing others, began to inform my approach. at the time, I was not taking portraits of any note — still avoiding people in my photos, actually. 

Bill Callahan, San Francisco, Oct 2007 by Kodiak Xyza

Matt Berninger (The National) at The Troubadour, Los Angeles, 2006 Oct by Kodiak Xyza

by 2007, things started to come together. a set of aesthetics, and "principles" began to develop, and the first pleasing result came at a Bill Callahan (Smog) concert. in October of that year, he played The Independent in San Francisco, and there was a clear "callahan" moment. although taken before the Bill Callahan photo, at a concert at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, there were similar moments by Matt Berninger of The National that I could not recognize at the time, but did in revisiting the photos years after. in both instances, there was something about a pause between songs, and at times, a pause within the song. in some ways, these moments were more like a portrait, rather than what I call a Kerrrang! moment.

there were "problems" if I wanted to promote the concert photos: I took my time to process the photos — namely a delay before I looked at them — and the photos that I liked were not like what I saw elsewhere in style. the style being developed by the use of digital cameras was that of overly bright, overly saturated, long depth of field, and overly sharpened wide-angle crotch/face shots. 

perhaps the missing link between what I saw in online concert photos, and what was happening with my camera, is the photo by Pennie Smith of Paul Simonon that made the cover of the The Clash's seminal London Calling. a definite Kerrrang! moment, coupled to all the effects transmitted by a performer which belies an impression of the music being played. it is with some humour that, like much of the commentary in today's comments about photos, she considered the photo not to be good enough for the album cover because it was out of focus.

Paul Simonon  by  Pennie Smith  at the New York Palladium in 1979

Paul Simonon by Pennie Smith at the New York Palladium in 1979

Winfred E. Eye at El Rio, San Francisco 2009 by Kodiak Xyza

in the ensuing years, I was able to attend a few concerts by Oakland's Winfred E. Eye. they played at small venues in San Francisco, and the lighting situation was rather poor. the lens had to be used wide open (ƒ1.4, or ƒ1.2), the shutter speed struggled to be above 1/30s, and I had to be close to the stage due wider-than-usual lenses to be used. the aesthetics got further changed because I began to notice that I could not track the focus with the performer. the solution? focus on the microphone that was stationary, since the bands' singers also played the guitar.

in 2011, I was fortunate enough to attend a rare reunion concert by Sad Lovers and Giants. during some correspondence with singer Garçe Allard about the photos I took, there was a question about what I sought with my concert photos. for me, even to this day, the best concert photo I have taken was of Garçe, at some swanky small Berlin venue. I finally managed to express what was it that I sought in a concert photograph in a mail to him:

« this photograph is what I strive for in concert photography, and I am so glad to have caught it. while I enjoy the "energetic" concert photo as anyone else, I like that "decompression" moment of a performer, which happens ever so rarely, and few performers can express it as well as the moment of energy. wonderful that you wear your emotions while performing in such a full range.  »

Garçe Allard (Sad Lovers and Giants), Berlin, 2011 by Kodiak Xyza

while it is hardly rot work, concert photography is the search for the Decompression Moment, and to keep the camera focused on the microphone. the good thing is that, when it actually happens, it is typically in-between songs, and that is when it least disturbs the audience to wield out the camera. 

another element in my concert photography is to pick a spot and stay put. beyond the use of flash, and all the arms raised throughout a concert, the worst thing is to keep moving through the concert, and on the front row, to make way for "the concert photographer". 

• [ linkSad Lovers and Giants: they are featured in a retrospective on The Big Takeover issues #73 and #74. the photo above may be included.