Concert photography

I've said many times before; I haven't had an assignment yet that my Fuji cameras could not perform exceedingly well and produce top professional results. Monday night was a prime example. 

Photographing live music of any kind poses many unique challenges. Lighting variables, movement of the performers, color balance and access limitations can turn what sounds like a fun job into a nightmare. Monday evening I had the pleasure to photograph country star Kelsey Waldon at Club Cafe. It was a laid-back performance in an equally laid-back venue. Of course, that doesn't mean there weren't unique obstacles to overcome, primarily, lighting, or rather, lack of it. The spotlights were not set to illuminate the entire band. One spot was on Kelsey, and the others seemed to be where ever they happened to be, mostly aimed at the floor. Oh, and the main spotlight was very weak, too. 

Many would have shuttered at the conditions, but I knew my X-Pro2 could handle the situation without a blink. First, I always shoot in RAW no matter what the job. After that, I selected my auto ISO #3 setting which gave me a range of 3200 to 12,800. I wanted to keep my shutter speed at 1/125 as much as possible, so I set that manually. The light color varies tremendously I set the camera to auto white balance, expecting to custom white balance in post. Knowing my prime lenses are razor sharp it was with great confidence I set them at f/2. Because it was a concert, I wanted my camera to be nearly silent. No problem, select electronic shutter (es), then go into the sound set-up menu and change the audible levels of the shutter. I could have set the camera so there was absolutely no sound whatsoever, but I like a very faint click to help me in timing. Also, so my presence was minimalized, I selected EVF only on view mode and turned off the image review. Now my LCD screed would remain dark and therefore, less obtrusive. With everything set, I was now free to make pictures at will. 

I knew I would be able to photograph the entire concert, so I packed prime lenses for the job. I always prefer primes whenever possible. My selection included the following: Zeiss 12mm f/2.8; Fujifilm 18mm f/2; Fujifilm 23mm f/2; Fujifilm 35mm f/2; Fujifilm 50mm f/2 and Fujifilm 90mm f/2. If this had been a typical concert where you can photograph the first three songs, I would have instead carried zooms, so I didn't have to take the time to change lenses. Thankfully I didn't have that restriction. 

In the end, my shutter speed varied from 1/125 down to 1/15 depending on who in the band I was photographing and where they were standing. My ISO ranged between 3200 and 12,800, the latter being most predominant. 

I could stop right here, but that's not the end of the story. Once back at the office I uploaded my images into Lightroom CC. Yes, I use LR for my Fuji processing. There are a couple of methods I've learned that have eliminated the crazy wormy grain effect seen from LR in the past. First, LR CC is not the same LR from before. They have improved the program significantly. But, in the last update, the "default" sharpening setting is now at 40. That is much too high for Fuji RAF files. So the first thing I do after editing my selects is to adjust the sharpening from 40 to 10. An ISO of 12,800 is going to be slightly noisy. So when shooting at this extreme, I apply a LR noise reduction setting of 22 to 27. I batch the entire shoot with these two corrections right away. The noise reduction is just enough to take the edge off the noise but not significantly soften the image. From here I proceed as usual and color correct, adjust tone, contrast, exposure, and shadows. Most of the time very little needs to be done. Fuji is like that, almost dead on, right out of the box. 

 ISO 12800 | 12mm Zeiss Touit

ISO 12800 | 12mm Zeiss Touit

 ISO 12800 | Fujifilm 23mm f/2

ISO 12800 | Fujifilm 23mm f/2

 ISO 6400 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

ISO 6400 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

 IS0 8000 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

IS0 8000 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

Another profile change

Sometimes you have to have to admit you made a mistake. All you can do is fix it and move on. 

According to a lot of people who wrote, my mistake was changing my profile picture from happy me, to a more introspective portrait. "Not all change is good," as someone said. Or another, "The other picture is you!" 

Why bother to write about it? Just change it and go on. But a couple of things occurred to me this morning.

First, sometimes we tend to second guess ourselves too much. Is this right? Is it wrong? Should I change it? Next, we all aspire to make pictures that reveal the personality of our subject. When we nail it, be happy. This picture, or as I call it, my big smiling, belly laughing, hat tipping, happy snap, is me through and through. So, I guess I have to deal with it. I'm very serious about my work, but otherwise, I prefer to laugh. 

Always remember, smile big, laugh hard and make people happy.

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The Little Wonder Lens, the Fujifilm 55-200mm

As a committed Fuji X photographer, who is never shy about spreading the word about this gear, I hear a lot of nonsense how some people think it cannot deliver pro-level quality images. Hogwash! This system nails it. The lenses are sharp, contrasty and sturdy. The bodies, the same. The sensor provides excellent color and images with depth. Not depth of field, that's different, I'm talking about that special extra sauce once reserved for that particular German camera maker. Yeah, you know the one. Think red dot.  

Last night in Pittsburgh we had some crazy beautiful light just after sunset. The afterglow was an insane, super orange. I don't know the physics behind it, but dang, was it amazing. I only know this because about this time I had to go out on an emergency ink run for my Epson. So off to Staples I went, trying to get in just before their closing time. As I snaked around the back way, I saw two deer in a field less than 300 yards from my destination. I had a choice, take pictures, or get ink. Pictures won. Always. As I've said many times before if you always carry your camera you never have to go out looking for pictures. You react. That's what I did. 

I slowly pulled over to the side of the road and carefully opened my door to not disturb the pair from their evening dinner. I pulled my camera, an X-Pro2 and attached the 55-200 zoom. I call this my walkabout telephoto. It's small, sharp, crisp, incredibly lightweight for its range, and has image stabilization. What's not to love?

The light was fading fast. Remember, this was the afterglow of sunset. I quickly changed my auto-ISO setting to #3, which for me gives a range from 640 to 12,800. Not surprising, the camera set to 12,800 to give me a shutter speed of 1/125 wide open. 

A lot of people go a bit crazy and tell me you can't work at that high of an ISO with Fuji. Why not? Is it a bit noisy? Sure it is, of course. But trust me, it's a LOT less noisy than what we had with color film pushed from 800 to 3200, and back then nobody cared one bit. It was all about getting the image. Period. Oh sure, you'd have the occasional grain peeper, but they were nothing like the pixel peepers of today.  Now, this was a personal photograph. Would I ever shoot at 12,800 on a paid job? The answer is yes, I would, and I have. Did the client care? Not. One. Bit. I captured an important moment, one that otherwise would not live. 

I followed the two young bucks with 55-200 fully extended for as long as they allowed. Finally, I either made a noise, or they decided they no longer wanted to be watched. The pair took off gracefully up and over the hill. It didn't matter, I had my shots, and besides, it was getting dark. Even at 12,800, my shutter speed had dropped to 1/40th. I panned the camera as the deer bounced away. 

I must also mention, the X-Pro2 kept the animals in sharp focus with the 55-200 lens while I shot their portraits and their departure. Professional grade? Absolutely. 

  Peek-a-boo Buck

Peek-a-boo Buck

  Time to go!

Time to go!

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day, Pop. Love you and miss you. Glad we got to talk so long this morning. 

My Dad worked hard all his life. While growing up, he did three jobs to make sure we never went without. For 30 years he toiled on a General Motors assembly line. He taught me to work hard, keep my head down and keep going. It was a small life lesson he gave by example. 

When I moved to Pittsburgh, he came out to help turn the building I bought into a studio. He built walls, painted and assembled an Ikea kitchen unit. The later was the only time he got frustrated. But, doesn't everybody get that way with Ikea? 

For those few weeks, we bonded like never before. Christmas day came, and we realized the kitchen wasn't ready, and we had no food. Nothing was open in the small town of Ambridge except one bar. We went in and were the only customers. Telling the bartender our plight he offered to make us the only thing he had, spaghetti, so that became our Christmas dinner. 

The weeks I spent with him during the buildout will always be one of my favorite memories of my father.

 

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President Gerald Ford at the University of Michigan

I started out young. Very young. My first newspaper assignment came about when I was just 15 years old. Two years later, I was on staff and eager to prove myself. When word about President Gerald Ford coming back to his home state to speak at the University of Michigan, I convinced my editor we should cover the event. A few phone calls, a letter to the Secret Service and it was game on. 

On the day of the event, I arrived extra early to get my credentials and go through the bag check line. Once approved, all the press photographers were herded into a holding room to wait for the time we could enter the hall and take our positions on the photographer platform. 

The room was very crowded. We were elbow to elbow. Seemed like every newspaper in the state, no matter the size sent a photographer, and of course, the most prominent papers sent more than one. And here I was, a teenager with a press pass and my bosses Leicas around my neck. My eyes must have been as wide as saucers with excitement. 

Eventually, an older, veteran news photographer loaded with multiple Nikon cameras and long lenses came up beside me. He stared me up and down, smirking at the limited gear I had. Finally, he snarled, "Kinda young, aren't you?" Naive doesn't even come close to what happened next. In response to the old photographer's question, I beamed, "Yes! This is the first time I've ever shot a President!" 

Oops. OMG, what did I say!

I can imagine what the parting of the Red Sea looked like based on the mass of news photographers in that room who, upon hearing my response, immediately stepped back, leaving me alone in the center of the space. Well, not entirely alone, there was one other person, an enormous person, dressed in a dark suit and talking into his sleeve. He looked down at me, now shaking in my shoes, and said very sternly, "Son, we don't use that kind of jargon around the President of the United States." Gulp. I'm not sure at that moment if I turned snow white or beet red, but I know some color change occurred and time seemed to stand still as the immense Secret Service agent stared into my almost weeping eyes. Then, almost as if on cue, muffled laughter circled the room. The rest of the press corps thought it was quite amusing how far the new kid stuck his foot down his throat. With that, the agent gave me a slight wink and walked away. Lesson learned. And while this was my first time photographing a President, it wouldn't be my last.

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The Beauty is in the Details

If you always carry a camera you never have to go out to take pictures. 

Coming back from YM Camera in Boardman, OH yesterday, my friend Marc and I spotted this beauty, just waiting for our attention. The old Dodge was a pallet of aging layers of paint with a patina only a photographer could fancy. Small details are my love letter to this vintage vehicle, a splendor of Detroit's auto industry, once upon a time.

I could imagine being on the open road, cruising down Route 66, AM radio blasting Buddy Holly, while the hula girl was dancing on the dash. Oh, the memories that must be in this graceful Detroit chariot. 

From a technical standpoint, I had my standard kit with me, the one I call my "Walkabout." The one I bring on most daily trips here and there, is a Fujifilm X-Pro2 body, 18mm f/2, 23mm f/2, 50mm f/2 and one of my favorite lenses, the 55-200mm. I pack the kit in a Domke 805 bag. It was the 55-200mm lens I used on all of these images. 

  The circle of life – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

The circle of life – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

 Hula girl, dancing on the dashboard – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

Hula girl, dancing on the dashboard– Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

 The Ram  – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

The Ram – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

 A badge of honor  – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

A badge of honor – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

Diagraming a photograph

Taking pictures is easy! Just point and push the button. 

Yeah, right.

The diagram below shows what goes through the mind of a photographer a nano-second before the shutter is released. With time, it becomes so second nature you forget you're doing it. You see it all without looking. It becomes a feeling. Or, as my mentor Joseph Costa once told me what his mentor told him, "you look through the viewfinder until that voice in your head kicks you in the ass and says, NOW!"

Breaking it down, line by line.

RED LINE: The first thing I saw was the spiral that starts at the wheel above the mechanics head, travels down at an angle to the wheel on the shelf and rotates around his hands and lands on the tire on the car in the background. I call this a 'modified Fibonacci spiral' (my term, not official).

GREEN LINE: Next comes the balance between different forms within the frame. The two wheels and the can and poster. While the sign itself is a different shape, the balance is still there. 

BLUE LINE: Speaking of balance, the negative space occupied by the refrigerator on the left and the concrete floor on the right are areas that balance each other within the photo. 

YELLOW LINE: The picture gains power with a strong diagonal line from the tire above center, through the angle of the mechanic's eyes and out the other side through the wheel on the right. The photo has a near perfect division between left and right sides with the subject's head almost dead center. Left and right side of the picture is balanced. Finally, if you draw a line through the space separating the refrigerator door from the freezer above and on through the top of the shelf in the background, it too divides the picture just right. The three lines also form a triangle, which further enhances the strength of the frame. 

Of course, all the graphics in the world can't make a weak image strong. The concentration on the mechanic's face as he works on the part in hands enhances the photo, as does the angle of the light streaming into the garage from the right. Put all the individual elements, lines, and graphics together, and the picture works. 

It's that simple, and that difficult. All done in the mind and heart of the photographer in a fraction of a moment, every day, on every assignment. 

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Black and White or Color?

Coke or Pepsi? Fritos or Doritos? If the answer was only that simple. But in some ways, it is. Personal preference plays into the decision. More importantly, how do you see the scene, how do you interpret the image, does color enhance or detract from the message you want to convey? These questions will help you decide, and only you can determine the outcome. Crowdsourcing for answers means you don't know, and if you don't, how can anyone else, it's your photograph.

Learn to see in both color and black and white. Learn to understand the difference between color harmony and visual harmony. How do you learn? Practice, practice and more practice. And study. Lot's of study.

Analyze the color masters and how they work, how they see. People like Joel Meyerowitz, Sam Able, Jay Maisel, William Albert Allard, and Alex Webb. Look deep at the black and white photographers; Matt Black, Ralph Gibson, Jacob Aue Sobol, Bill Brandt, Michael Kenna, and of course, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Compare and contrast their styles and vision. See how they compose, how they use tone, light, and shadow. 

I came upon this scene at a traffic light. As always, my camera was at the ready in the center console. All I need to do was frame the photo and wait for the moment to develop. What I wanted to capture was already clearly formed in my mind's eye, and thankfully it occurred before my light turned green. 

From the instant I spotted the scene I knew it would be a black and white photo. I saw the shadows and highlights and colors dancing in shades of black, white and greys. The yellow-greenish tint to the building and the red bus both turned neutral in my vision of a monochrome image. Color, in this case, would be distracting, confusing even, pulling attention away from the subject, and the story. Is the scene as a color photograph terrible? No. But in my vision, the black and white image is stronger. The monochrome tones and design elements graphically harmonize while in color they are confusing to the eye.

Defining your vision and style is a journey of many steps, and only you can walk the path.  

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