When available light isn't enough

Photographing The Schzophonics, the most recent concert at GetHip Recordings, presented a severe dilemma, how to freeze the band's lead singer who never stopped moving. The frenetic energy he displayed, if harnessed, could have powered a small city for days. He twisted, turned, jumped, rolled, leaped off stage, and dashed back and forth non-stop for the entire performance.

Typically, I shoot concerts by available light. I prefer this so I can make many exposures and not bother the performers or the audience. Some venues insist on it. Luckily, for this concert, I was warned of the intensity I would face, so I knew shooting at 1/125 (my standard shutter speed) was never going to stop the action. Because of that, I brought a small flash, specifically, a Godox V350f. This tiny flash is a perfect fit for my Fujifilm XT-3 bodies.

Armed with a flash, I set my ISO to 3200, aperture to around f/4, and shutter speed at 1/125 or 1/60. These settings allowed me to stop the action with the flash, but still let in some available light. Because the singer was all over the stage, from a few inches in front of me and beyond, I settled on my 12mm Zeiss. I knew the quality of my Fuji files would be clean and tight at 3200 so I wasn't worried if I need to crop I could. I also knew the face recognition feature on the XT-3, plus continuous autofocus would keep the singer razor-sharp no matter where he was at any time. As long as I could keep him framed as he dashed back and forth, I would be fine.

One surprise that was very welcome was how well the small Godox V350f covered the 12mm without a diffuser. Most units I've used max out around 16mm (24mm in full frame speak) unless you put a wide-angle filter on the flash. The Godox spread the light right to the edges of my frame. Yes, there was some slight vignetting (maybe 1/2 stop), but nothing more than I would have commonly added myself in post-production.

Plus, because of the unusually high ISO my recycle time was almost instantaneous and the flash duration was extremely high. The upper limit of the V350f flash duration is 1/20,000 second. Whatever it was, it stopped every hair and bead of sweat that was flying, along with jumps, dives, and rolls about the stage.

While I often convert concert photos to black and white, I do so because that's how the pictures speak to me. These images screamed for color from the first frame to the last. Maybe it was the energy, or the directness of the flash, or the colors within the photos (lots of warm tones). Whatever it was I knew, these spoke to me the loudest in the full glory of color.

Just like music, you have to hear and feel the message the photo is telling you. Rock on!

20181111-TC-GetHip-Schzophonics-042.jpg
20181111-TC-GetHip-Schzophonics-025.jpg
20181111-TC-GetHip-Schzophonics-080.jpg

Feel the Music

One of the things I've always tried to do is shoot for the feeling. I want the viewer of my photographs to share my experience. I want them to see what I saw, and most importantly, feel what I felt. That means getting close, physically or optically.

Sometimes the only way to share the experience is to place yourself into the scene with a wide angle lens. Become one with your subject. Other times, it's impossible to get close enough without the assistance of a telephoto. If I'm photographing a concert and want to see the veins popping in a performer's face, or the sweat pouring from their forehead, the only way to get that close is to reach out with a lens. But, when I want to capture the energy onstage, the gyrations of the musicians, then I want a wide angle lens for the perspective it brings to the scene so I can become one with the band.

Of course, you can't always get that close. Back in the day, photographers often would sit on stage, out of the way, to document a concert. Nobody minded. And the "three song limit?" Pffft, what three song limit, nobody cared. It was a looser time. Corporations hadn't yet taken hold of rock and roll by its throat. It was about the music and the show. Good times.

All the more reasons why I love small venues. Most cases, nobody cares. Smaller places also attract talent that is either starting their career, local bands, musicians working on new music, or on tour. Good booking agents find great talent for their venues. Most of these musicians aren't doing it for the money, many barely cover expenses, but the passion they have comes through every time they set foot on stage. For me, capturing and sharing powerful images of fellow artists is rewarding and satisfying.

Because of mirrorless technology, I'm able to photograph a performance in total silence. Now I can capture the power of operatic solo just as I can a folk troubadour and their acoustic guitar with no one hearing even a faint click. Working with the Fuji X system, I'm also carrying smaller cameras and lenses making myself less obtrusive and more agile. Smaller is better when it comes to gear. I want to work with the least amount of stuff to get the job done right. Just because I own almost every lens Fuji makes, doesn't mean I need to carry it all on every assignment.

My kit for performance work is tight. I employ two bodies, TX-3, and XT-2 (soon to be two XT-3 bodies). For lenses, I pack a Zeiss 12mm f/2.8; Fujifilm 16mm f/1.4; 23mm f/2; 50mm f/2; and 50-140 f/2.8. I've taped two rear caps together to carry the 23 and 50 stacked. I bring six extra batteries. Rarely do I need six, but I'd rather have too many than too few. A Pixel Rocket SD card holder for additional SD cards. The only other accessories I bring is a microfiber lens cloth, a small flashlight on a lanyard with a red gel covering the lens, business cards, a pen, and a small moleskin notebook. My bag of choice is the same as it has been for many years, a Domke F-6, little bit smaller bag. This modest set up allows me the ultimate in flexibility while maintaining the smallest possible footprint.

Often I'm asked, why not use the 16-55 zoom and call it a day? The main reason, I don't like the zoom. I've never connected with it, to me it just a utilitarian tool, whereas, the 16, 23, and 50mm lenses are an extension of my vision. I know what they will do before I ever reach in my bag. I see as the lens sees and go. It's a personal choice. I do like the 50-140 zoom for the flexibility it allows. When shooting a tight photo of a musician's face, the zoom lets me fill the frame as needed even when they move from one side of the stage to the other.

Bottom line, the camera, and lenses you select must work for you. Keep working with them until they become an extension of your body, mind, and soul. Make them one, and let the music flow through you. Only then can you capture and share the sight, sound, and especially the feeling, of the experience.

  Icarus Witch

Icarus Witch

  Icarus Witch

Icarus Witch

  Black Sabbath Lives

Black Sabbath Lives

  The Plimsouls

The Plimsouls

 Royal Honey

Royal Honey

A night of punk rock

I love my job. I admit it. I've been doing this now for 43 years, and today I'm just as excited as I was on day one. Why? Because every day is a new adventure, I get to see something for the first time, meet people, and live richly. Rarely are two days the same. Last night it was hardcore punk rock, garage bands and today was opera. More about the opera another time.

Last Saturday I attended a concert a GetHip Recordings. The hardcore punk rock, garage band music was the kind of pounding music you feel inside of you. Three great bands performed, Fortune Teller, Baby Brains, and Nox Boys.

Of course, shooting bands will always put pressure on the photographer to get the images, no matter what. As many of my editors said, "Get me pictures, I can't print excuses!" Words I've lived by for a very long time. Because these bands were hard-driving and in constant motion, my normal 1/125 shutter speed wasn't always going to cut the mustard. Knowing there would be issues, I still jumped the speed to 1/250, and that wasn't enough all the time. Problems? Sure, the fluorescent flight didn't finish a full cycle, so there were some random color shifts, differences in density, and the biggest challenge, I needed an ISO in the stratosphere. To get 1/250, I needed 25,600 ISO. The "Break Glass In Case of Emergency" ISO. As always, the Fuji XT-3 produced files with a full range of tone, good density, and accurate auto white balance. The noise, while abundant, was not excessive. The pictures are more than usable, even at that mind-blowing speed. Once upon a time in the old days of film shooting this concert would have been impossible without blasting the performers with flash or cooking Kodak P3200 for at least a half hour, and much prayer.

In the end, I decided the photos best told the story in black and white. Not because of technical issues, but the hardcore punk sound made me think of the gritty places I shot in the 70's and 80's. The only thing different between then and now was my use of flash and Tri-X. Well, almost the only thing.

  J.J Young, on drums, and Giovanni Orsini rip it up as the band Fortune Teller

J.J Young, on drums, and Giovanni Orsini rip it up as the band Fortune Teller

  Giovanni Orsini of the band Fortune Teller

Giovanni Orsini of the band Fortune Teller

  Giovanni Orsini of the band Fortune Teller

Giovanni Orsini of the band Fortune Teller

  Giovanni Orsini of the band Fortune Teller

Giovanni Orsini of the band Fortune Teller

  The band Baby Brains from York, PA

The band Baby Brains from York, PA

  The Nox Boys

The Nox Boys

  Zack Keim, lead singer of the Nox Boys

Zack Keim, lead singer of the Nox Boys

Fuji XT-3 and Lightroom, my perfect match

Hooray! Adobe finally caught up with the XT-3! I know for all you Adobe haters out there you're probably saying, pffft, C-1 did that a couple of weeks ago. Yeah, I know, but the best is always worth the wait. And again, haters just gonna hate.

I tried C-1 for Fuji. Sorry, but I didn't like it at all. The interface I could probably learn to accept, but it was the overall results I didn't care for one bit. Sharper, better clarity, color? If you say so, but I didn't find it to be true.

For me, Lightroom still works extremely well. Maybe it's because I know the program inside and out, I've been using it since it was in Beta. For my RAF files I know to reduce sharpening to 10 rather than the default 40. Huge difference, perhaps the hugest. Once that's set, I go on to tweak the file. For me, it's most often small tweaks. I rarely need to slam the sliders. The Fuji X cameras almost always nail it. Most often I make a slight curves adjustment, maybe a few points to the color balance and not much more. I like to work files in post production with a feather duster, not a potato masher.

Speaking of the XT-3, last night I shot a series of concerts at my favorite venue, GetHipRecordins. As always, I set the shutter speed to 1/125 and my aperture wide open. Using the 50 - 140mm zoom that was f/2.8. Because I added an LED flood light on the side, my auto ISO floated between 6400 and 8,000. No problem at all, Fuji handles high ISO better than most. The noise at that level is tight and organic looking. You could easily call it "grain" and get away with it.

The performers last night were folk artists, so their movement was pretty confined. Nailing focus with eye-track focusing to a particular eye was great. It was almost cheating! I set the camera to key in on the nearest eye and chose the continuous focus mode. Bang, bang, bang, one frame after the next in perfect sharpness. Because folk music is quite mellow, I set the camera to electronic shutter and turned off the sound. I was working somewhat close to the stage and didn't want the musicians distracted by the sound of my shutter. Another high five to mirrorless technology!

While the color versions of the images were just fine, I decided to convert them to black and white for something different. Monochrome just spoke to me with these folk artists given the soulfulness of their music.

  Eliza Edens

Eliza Edens

  Izzy Heltai

Izzy Heltai

How High?

How High is High Enough? Today, as high as you need to be to get to where you're going. Last night at GetHip Recordings on Pittsburgh's North Side, I pushed my ISO to a new record high. For the first time, I shot a project at 25,600 using my new Fujifilm XT-3. The Rockabilly Concert was going along just fine until the headliner, The Legendary Hucklebucks, asked for the lights to be turned lower.

I've never been that high. Never thought I would need that extreme. I've shot plenty of jobs between 6400 and 12,800 with great success, as I did throughout performances by the two earlier bands, The Marauders and Braddock Brothers, but 25,600? I always thought I would get nothing but a crumpled file of noise and ugliness. Well, I'm here to say, thank goodness I was wrong. With the new XT-3 that crazy ISO is usable!

Let's not get carried away. Believe me, using that ISO is still a "break glass in case of emergency" circumstance. It is noisy, and you will need some gentle massaging in post-processing to get the most out of the image. But, you can do it.

After my initial test Friday night I decided to change some JPEG settings. Don't get me wrong, the files were outstanding, but I noticed a few minor artifacts here and there when I pixel peeped. I knew Saturday night I would be pushing the ISO limits, so I decreased the noise reduction to -2 and the sharpening to -1. While Fuji's preset is in both cases 0, you have the option of going further. I strongly suggest you run experiments yourself to see where you like your JPEG files. That did the trick, and the JPEGS at the upper reaches of the ISO dial were much better straight out of the camera.

The bands I photographed are not kind to stand, strum, and sing into a mic. Rockabilly done right is raucous. And each group last night, did it right. But when the lead singer of the Legendary Hucklebucks requested the stage lights lowered, then proceeded to sing and vigorously interact with the fans from in front of the stage without even the minor benefit of the weakened stage light, I knew I was in trouble. It was time to break that emergency glass on ISO, 25,600.

Why so high? Because even at 1/125 of a second it was doubtful I could stop the action. Plus, to use that shutter speed I had to set the lens no higher than f/2. The next challenge was how to keep the singer in focus when he rarely slowed down and never stopped moving. I had no choice but to trust the face/eye tracking focus feature. I know it works fantastic for portraits, but could it keep someone continually moving back and forth in sharp focus in extremely dim conditions at f/2? The answer is a resounding YES! It can, and it did. I was blown away by the focus. Frame after frame after frame was dead-on sharp using my 16mm f/1.4.

Bottom line, this camera breaks barriers and delivers images that go beyond the imagination. Fuji rocks as hard as my rockabilly friends.

  Braddock Brothers @ISO 12,800

Braddock Brothers @ISO 12,800

  Braddock Brothers @ISO 12,800

Braddock Brothers @ISO 12,800

  Legendary Huckelbucks @ISO 10,000

Legendary Huckelbucks @ISO 10,000

  Legendary Huckelbucks @ISO 25,600

Legendary Huckelbucks @ISO 25,600

Fujifilm XT-3 first impressions

One use does not a full test make, but even still, first impressions are often lasting. And the first impression I got from the XT-3 can be summed up with one word: Wow.

I'm a RAW shooter but right now because Adobe needs to catch up all I can do is see JPEGS. Luckily Fuji's JPEGs are fantastic. The two pictures I'm showing here are straight out of the camera. You know, just like we use to shoot when using Kodachrome. I used auto-ISO in both cases. I love not having to think about everything when shooting on the street. I set a shutter speed or aperture, or both and go at it.

The first picture was captured just before sunset. People were moving back and forth through shadows while the lone figure was leaning against the restaurant wall. I loved all the lines and shadows in the picture, so I waited until the right character came into my frame. I set the XT-3 for 1/250 to stop the action and f/11 to provide adequate depth of field. My lens was the 18-55 f/2.8-4 "kit" lens set to about 33mm. The camera selected ISO 1000. The final file is totally noiseless. It looks as if I was once again shooting Kodachrome.

The second photo I made later in the evening in the street outside of the Benedum Center while waiting for the light show to begin. The two girls stopped for a quick selfie and were gone. This time I had my 56mm f/1.2 lens on the XT-3 set wide open. Auto ISO and auto shutter speed. I wanted to test how fast the camera could lock in focus in poorly lit conditions. It was instantaneous. No hunting whatsoever. The exposure was dead on the money, too.

Can't wait to test it more over the weekend. Further reports to come, but for now, the XT-3 is knocking it out of the park.

20180922-TC-PghStock-GalleryCrawl-002.jpg
20180922-TC-PghStock-GalleryCrawl-005.jpg

Influencers

. No, not the social media kind, the old school kind, the kind that influences the only thing that matters, your vision.

We have all them in our lives and careers. Some are mentors, people we have had intimate contact, talking late through the night over many caffeinated or adult beverages. Others are people who we have a special affinity for their work. We've never met face to face, but their photography influences through a spiritual connection.

I've spoken a few times about my mentors, and those who have influenced my vision. The later is what I would like to discuss today. As a young photojournalist, it was W. Eugene Smith. His brilliant black and white photo essays moved me deeply, as they still do today.

One of the things I've strived to do in my photography is to work in layers. Foreground, middle ground, and background all coming together for a deeper and more complex image. I'm sorry, but I quickly weary of life at f/1.2. It's hard to tell a multifaceted story when everything beyond a person's eyelash is wiped entirely out of focus. However, in total disclosure, there was a time when I, too, was on the bokeh bandwagon and existed without the depth of field to keep a gnat sharp. It was fun, for a short time, then it got boring when every shot looked the same.

But I digress. My favorite visual storytellers are Alex Webb, David Allan Harvey, Constantine Manos, William Eggleston, and Ernst Haas. These are not my only influencers, only my current top of the top, best of the best. My full list is tremendously long and includes people of almost every genre. There's always something to learn.

  Recess at St. Edmund’s Academy, Pittsburgh

Recess at St. Edmund’s Academy, Pittsburgh

Photographing Faith

It was an honor and privilege to work on this story for Public Source.

 “Absolutely and unabashedly welcoming”: How some Pittsburgh faith communities embrace LGBT worshippers.

By using the silent mode of my X-Pro2 and X-T2 (sound off, electronic shutter on), I was able to work during the service and not be disruptive. Prime lenses (18mm, 23mm and 50mm) kept my X-Pro2 kit small and light, while the 50-140 on the X-T2 allowed me to get in tight from a greater distance. 

For the portraits, the 10-24mm was perfect to achieve the desired perspective and coverage. Godox TTL flash provided the right illumination to balance with the ambient light.

Without the flip screen on the X-T2, the exterior photo with the rainbow flag would not have been possible. To make that photo, I leaned over a row of prickly plants and framed the shot at a very difficult angle.

As always, my X System worked flawlessly and produced amazing files that needed almost no adjustment in post. 

  Rev. Shanea Leonard, the pastor of Judah Fellowship Christian Church, sings along with the congregation during worship. Anita Levels directs the worshipers in song.

Rev. Shanea Leonard, the pastor of Judah Fellowship Christian Church, sings along with the congregation during worship. Anita Levels directs the worshipers in song.

  Rev. Shanea Leonard delivers the sermon during worship services.

Rev. Shanea Leonard delivers the sermon during worship services.

20180728-TC-PSource-Rev_Shanea_Leonard-024.jpg
  Rev. Shanea Leonard gives a hug to three-year-ol Vivian Grey during worship services.

Rev. Shanea Leonard gives a hug to three-year-ol Vivian Grey during worship services.

  The Rev. Vincent Kolb is pastor at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill.

The Rev. Vincent Kolb is pastor at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill.

  Yvonne Hudson and Lynette Asson in the sanctuary at Calvary United Methodist Church.

Yvonne Hudson and Lynette Asson in the sanctuary at Calvary United Methodist Church.

  A rainbow flag outside of Calvary United Methodist Church on Pittsburgh’s Northside.

A rainbow flag outside of Calvary United Methodist Church on Pittsburgh’s Northside.

It's all about the light

Sometimes you find the light, and sometimes the light finds you. Be ready. 

During an eight-day shoot in Italy, we stopped one afternoon in Siena. My knees were hurting, the mid-day light was bright and contrasty, and so I wasn't feeling it, but after a bit of mumbling and grumbling I trecked on. And wow, I'm happy I did! 

Walking through the narrow streets of this ancient city I discovered one visual surprise after another. The light bounced and reflected off surfaces as I had never seen before. Shadows cast with sharp definition and contrast formed complex compositions. Because of the orange tones of the buildings, all light in the open shade tunnel of the streets were void of the usual blue cast. It was bright, warm and soft light all at the same time.

Just when I thought it couldn't get better, serendipity stepped in for a grand surprise. We saw two women coming down the street, and my traveling companion recognized one of them as his cousin! What were the chances? Add to that the women stopped to greet us right in front of this fantastic reflection of light. Sometimes, the light finds you. Chiao!

20081011-TC-Italy-045.jpg

Silence is golden

Silence is not just golden but sometimes required.

Last week I photographed the opening night of the opera Arabella for the Pittsburgh Festival Opera. Usually, photography occurs during the dress rehearsal but due to an unforeseen circumstance that was not possible. The only option was to silently capture the opera as it happened from the control booth. 

Enter the Fuji X system!

Switching to the electronic shutter, and turning off all shutter sounds, made my X-T2 and X-Pro2 cameras entirely silent. No noise at all. Mission accomplished. Before the show, I asked the crew to listen for my shutter. Smiling, they confirmed there was nothing they could hear.

Because of the distance from the control booth to the stage, I decided to use my Fujifilm 50-140 f/2.8 lens on the X-Pro2 and a Nikon 300mm f/2.8 on the X-T2 via an adapter. The 300mm converts to a 450mm f/2.8 on the Fuji making it perfect for close-up portraits of the singers.  I locked my shutter speed at 1/125 and set auto ISO for 640 to 3200 to compensate for any light changes. The aperture on both lenses was 2.8. Both cameras were on tripods. I set the X-T2 and 300mm on a Manfrotto video tripod with fluid head and the X-Pro2 with 50-140mm on my Induro carbon fiber with a large ball head. Throughout the performance, I oscillated back and forth between cameras to capture the action on stage. 

At the end of the night, I had exposed hundreds of frames but made not a single sound. Mission accomplished!

20180720-TC-PFO-Arabella-114.jpg
20180720-TC-PFO-Arabella-064bw.jpg
20180720-TC-PFO-Arabella-232.jpg
20180720-TC-PFO-Arabella-048bw.jpg