01 January 2021

Into The Great Wide Open

 How great was the year we've just closed out? With achievements in science, in technology, in music, in coming together as one world, it's possible that 2020 may go down as one of the most historically great years in mankind.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of problems. A lot of them are of our own making. But you can find those stories all around. There's a good chance you've dealt with, or continue to deal with, some of those problems yourself.

But what about the other side? 

2020 saw the eradication of a devastating virus when, in August, the World Health Organization declared that the African continent was free from the grip of the wild poliovirus. It wasn't an easy battle, with regional conflicts among other obstacles that had to be overcome, but it's a fight that was finally won.

With businesses forced to adapt to the changing landscape of employee safety, people around the world have discovered that there are ways to stay both safe and productive. With the support of technology through software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, work carried on, if not "business as usual," then as least with less disruption. It will take some time to see the end result, but the changes that were forced on the business world may just prove that there is a better way forward in the elusive work-life balance.

The entertainment industry has struggled as a whole this year, with the venues to showcase everything from movies to live concerts to sporting events being closed to public access. But when was the last time, for example, a super-star like Taylor Swift released two albums in the same year? And she wasn't alone. Artists from every genre of music spent their down-time creating new sounds for our consumption. Part of this is because of the negative - no touring means more time for writing and recording. But what a treasure trove we've had, from all corners of the music world. 

In filmed entertainment, the landscape has been moving steadily away from motion pictures and more into the "choose your own adventure" realm of home streaming. That move was accelerated this year, without any doubt. While I hope and believe we'll never fully lose the theatrical experience, giving creators another form of outlet just means more options for the consuming public. Want to watch a two hour film? We have those! Would you rather see a story told over in a longer, serialized format? You can have all you want!

While I don't think it's any stretch to say we would all be happier if we hadn't needed it, medicine saw a radical advancement in the development of vaccinations. The rest of the world has discovered what scientist have known for decades, or longer: Apply the resources, reduce the bureaucracy while still demanding adherence to safety, and the needed work can get done in 10 months instead of 10 years. 

On another science front, even in the middle of a pandemic that's testing every facet of society, a public/private collaboration returned humans to space from the Florida coast. The combined efforts for NASA and SpaceX launched two astronauts to the International Space Station in May and saw them return safely in August to prove the system worked. Four more astronauts took that ride in November, and that first Crew Dragon - named Endeavour - is scheduled to fly four more in March.

These are a handful of the highlights that have come out of this challenging year. It's not always easy to see the bigger picture when you're on the ground, in the trenches in a fight that's being waged everywhere. Maybe I'm naïve or just idealistic, but with all the dreary headlines, I think we can all use a new look with fresh eyes and see that humanity is still pushing forward. We can still bring light into the darkest times, if we simply try.

02 November 2020

“Daughters Of Darkness” Shines The Light On the Beauty Of Black Metal And Doom Music

Massachusetts-based music and art photographer Jeremy Saffer is well known for his incredible work, particularly in the realm of black metal and doom metal music. Now, in a partnership with Rare Bird Books, Saffer is releasing a massive collection of his photo work. Entitled “Daughters of Darkness,” the collection encompasses more than a decade of Saffer’s work, images of stunning, powerful women wearing nothing but the “corpse paint” that’s so familiar to the genres of music Saffer specializes in. 

Most of the photos are shot in start contrasts of deep, midnight-black backgrounds and warm skin tones blended with the ghoulish visages of these painted demonesses. The models range from professionals in front of the camera to professionals on-stage at the microphone. While there are some that have chosen to remain anonymous, there are others like Ash Costello of New Years Day who are very open about their participation. There’s no judgment from me on those deciding either way, as everyone has their own privacy and brands to think about. Even anonymously, participation in this project is a wonderful way of sharing power and energy with others. 

That energy is amplified by Saffer’s eye behind the lens. The lighting, the angles, the poses, they all build to a crescendo of power in the final works. More than 250 images are collected in the book, bringing it to over five pounds in heft, so make sure your coffee table is ready for its arrival. A deluxe box-set version contains more than 50 additional images and adds another pound to the weight, so you may also want to consider a kind word to whomever has to bring it to your front door.

As noted, the only raiment to adorn the women in this book is the corpse make-up and their own ink they’ve had etched into their skin. As such, it should be noted that – although these are art images – discretion of the viewer and/or purchaser should be advised. But once you get past the misapplied “naughty” label that many would want to slap on such a collection, you’re opening yourself up to a new world of blending rage, anger, aggression, and energy of the models with the style and creativity of the photographer, coming together to showcase the passions of both.

Saffer was inspired by the promotional artwork, album covers, and merchandising of the various black metal genre bands, going back into the 90s and through the modern era. In a foreword written by Dani Filth, vocalist for the band Cradle of Filth – one of Saffer’s inspirations – you’ll find the mindset behind some of the imagery: “[...]the donning of ghoulish makeup has often been likened to a transformative state of mind […].” D. Randall Blythe, frontman for the metal outfit Lamb of God, says in his intorduction: “[…] the nude female body has a beauty and gracefulness of form that the masculine physique cannot ever hope to attain. Add corpse paint, and that idealized version of feminine beauty is brutally disrupted.” It would take a better writer than myself to come up with a better way to characterize this collection than the words of these two.

The book itself comes in several different formats, ranging in price from $60 to (of course!) $666. The higher-tier versions will also include a compilation album licensed from Season of Mist and including tracks from Abbath, Carpathian Forest, Angren, and Watain, to name a few, all curated by Jeremy Saffer and presented to you in a double-gatefold vinyl set.

The saddest comment I’ll put in this review is that this collection isn’t for everyone. It should be, but I know that’s a level of openmindedness that’s simply not realistic in the world we live in. But for those who are interested, the book will be available to the world at large on October 30th, and you can get yours reserved and on order though https://rarebirdlit.com/rare-bird-presents whenever you’re ready.

Just make sure you’re ready.

17 May 2020

Another Version of the Truth

A few years back now, a friend of mine committed to paper, and then to film a phrase that has stuck with me: “Photographs don’t tell true stories any more.”

I love the sentiment behind this, especially in the context of the film, but I find it both heartbreakingly true and – perhaps naïvely – too narrow-focused to be anything but false. When I shoot photos, I’m trying to capture a moment, a space in time that wasn’t there before, won’t be there again, but was there for that instant. Whether it’s someone on a stage, a crowd at an event, or someone posing for my lens, there is truth in that image. I know that’s not the same for everyone, since there are photographers out there doing creative editing and compositing, but there are just as many that are like myself – just wanting to catch the moments.

It’s not as easy in the current state of the world we’re in, because there aren’t the same kind of events happening. There are no concerts, no large gatherings, not even groups of friends getting together for evenings of drinks and stories and laughs. I’ve discovered there are other forms of truth though. Truth that’s less about fact and more about spirit.

As I’m certain many people are doing, I’ve spent a lot of time watching videos online. One of my go-to sources of relaxing entertainment has been Adam Savage’s “Tested” channel on YouTube. Savage, of Mythbusters fame, has continued working in his shop, though on his own instead of with a crew, filming himself working on projects and once a week doing live streams that include answering questions from fans. From that came inspiration for my latest photo concept. During his Q&A session recorded on April 28th (and posted on May 5th), Savage was asked about a fictional character he felt connected to. You can watch at the link above as he discusses how he feels about Raymond Chandler’s detective hero Philip Marlowe. While discussing an essay that Chandler wrote in 1944 and published late that year or early 1945, Savage quotes Chandler in describing his character thusly:

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”

When I heard this quote, it was like the ringing of a bell to me. While Chandler was describing the character of Marlowe, the first line of this quote resonated with me as a description of my friend, writer and director Chris Kelley. We’ve had discussions about the characters and stories he writes, to a degree exorcising pieces of himself through fiction that would never come out in reality. A person exacting revenge for the transgression of talking on a phone in a movie theatre, or a scheming business mogul whose only reaction to shooting a man in the head is fascination and amusement at the way his hat flies off.

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean.”

Chris writes these realistic depictions without a real-life point of reference to them, and he does it incredibly well. And I decided I wanted to share this with him. I thought about simply sending him the quote, or making an amusing meme-image and posting that for him to see. But then my brain started turning. Why make a digital facsimile of something rather than make it for real? With the seeds of an idea taking root, I started searching eBay and came a wonderful prop: a 1925 mechanical (of course!) typewriter for an absurdly low price. On an impulse, I hit the purchase button and I was off and running.

I knew I didn’t want to just put a sheet of paper with the quote printed on it into the machine for an image. The first thing I did was find a font that looked like it would come from a very old-school typewriter. Once I was happy with that look, I took the printed sheets and started testing weathering and aging techniques. I wanted to make it look like a sheet of paper that looked like it could have been in that machine for the entire 75-year period since Chandler first committed the words to page.

As these things were happening, the idea for the image was crystallizing in my head, and more objects to fill the frame were becoming clearer. I drove three hours round-trip for a bargain on a classic green-shaded banker’s lamp. Once I got it home, I stripped it apart and rebuilt it to add a classic pull-chain to it instead of the push-switch socket it had. I also reached out to Chris himself who – along with his wife, producer, and partner in all things, Victoria – are true connoisseurs of fine libation to get an empty whiskey bottle.

Once all the pieces were in place, I set up the technical side. The banker’s lamp would add a splash of practical lighting, but I had the chance to use the new Lume Cube lights, with one to accent the page in the typewriter and the second to fill in through the bottle and glass.

This was a lot of set-up for a photo, and it’s not something I’m used to doing. If you’re still reading this, I appreciate that! I wanted to show a little bit of my process, not just in the physical set-up of the shot, but in the mental behind-the-scenes, too. Below is the final image I created, with editing done in Corel’s Aftershot Pro and Paint Shop Pro (I think I’m the last guy left who does NOT use Adobe’s photo editing software). If all goes to plan, I will have this in a large format print in a week or so that I plan to give to Chris as a gift. I would like to think he may use it as a motivational reminder in his office, but it may end up as kindling in his next gathering of friends! I don’t know (though I doubt the last would come to pass), but I do know it’s been a wonderful exercise in moving from idea to concept to execution to completion.

Thanks for coming along with me.

16 September 2019

Love Story

It’s been a week now since a package arrived for me from the good folks at HP computers. The story starts a little earlier than that, though. I reached out to the company to find out what their policies and requirements are for partnerships, sponsorships, that sort of thing. It was a shot-in-the-dark email, because I’m not one of the “big guns” in the concert photography business. I haven’t amassed a giant following on social media sites, I don’t pay for sponsored content or promote my posts. I’m out there doing something I enjoy, and I’m fortunate at that: I get to go to concerts, lots of concerts, stand a few feet away from giants in every genre of music, and in exchange I throw a few words and some photos out there for the world to consume.

Aside from the concerts, I do some occasional passion projects. I’ve recently worked to try and document the closing elementary schools here in Quincy, as they were being replaced by the new, state-of-the-art facilities. I do some work with a few charitable groups I have connections with or feel strongly about. And I sometimes do a little work with some of the first responders in the area, because they should have a public image that matches the work they give to the community.

All of this, added together in one big bundle, caught some attention when I sent my request to HP. I’m not going to share the conversations, for obvious reasons, but within twenty-four hours, I was told that I would be expecting a package from the company. This wasn’t a true sponsorship, because there were no strings attached – no review requirements, no minimum number of mentions of the company, no “spontaneous” shout-outs to the company. This was given freely as a one-off helping hand to give me the chance to keep doing what I’ve grown to love.

It’s not the first time I’ve been given things that have advanced my work. I wouldn’t have half the successful results I’ve had if it wasn’t for the generosity of friends that have put various equipment into my hands. This is, however, the first time it was someone that didn’t know me personally, who had no personal stake or interest or even reason for being willing to help me. But they did anyway. I’m not ashamed to admit I was on the verge of tears when I got their initial message, and that feeling hasn’t gone away.

I’ve used HP computers for pretty much most of my adult life. My first notebook computer was a different brand (back about a million years ago), but since then, it’s been all HP. The last one I got was in 2011 or 2012, and it’s been on its last legs for a while. It’s not been portable for some time – a risk of a portable computer and living with felines is their tendency to jump on things, and a few years ago, it got knocked to the floor and hinges on the screen broke. It still worked (and still works) because the wires were intact, but I have to make a frame to hold the screen up. It was, to put it bluntly, incredibly redneck. But it’s been a workhorse for me. The new system is like moving from a bi-plane to a rocket ship. The photos here show you a bit about it: a powerful workstation in a portable body, convertible to a presentation system or a big tablet, touchscreen, fast solid-state drive, and everything just fast and shiny and did I mention fast? The photos I take are still dependent on the space between my ears, but the equipment that translates what I see in my head to what’s seen on screens everywhere now has taken a drastic leap forward.

There’s no reason a multi-billion-dollar company would even need to open an email from a freelance photographer and writer like me, and if they do, there’s certainly no reason for it to go any further than the recycle bin on their own computer. For whatever reason (yes, I was given reasons in my communications; again, I’m not going to share private conversations) they have, I’m an incredibly fortunate, and I am well aware of that. Companies like this, they have to get thousands of messages like this every week, if not more, and more frequently. Mine landed in the right place on the right day, and – for those who know me, you know this isn’t a phrase I use lightly – I know I’m blessed to have had it happen. Even this post, I hesitated because I don’t want to be responsible for the company getting flooded with messages. But there was no way I could go further without sharing this. I won’t take it for granted and I will never be able to say “thank you” enough to fully express exactly what this means to me. I can tell you this much: This system is incredible, and even if it wasn’t for the circumstances that led to it arriving on my doorstep, I’d tell anyone that would listen to put this high on their list if they’re looking for a workhorse to do the sorts of things that I do. As for me? I can’t imagine ever owning a system other than HP ever again. For so many reasons.

24 April 2019

Of Wolf And Man

A few weeks ago, I was down in St. Louis, covering Wizard World’s annual visit to the Gateway City. It’s a massive gathering of geeks and gamers and cosplayers of every breed under the Dome and in the shadow of the Arch, so without any hesitation, I can say there was one question I was asked the most:

“Is that a reference to ‘Doctor Who’?”

If you’re not sure what “that” is referring to in the question, you’re likely in the wrong place, or you’re definitely not a ‘Doctor Who’ fan. In this case, the question refers to my chosen moniker emblazoned on my shirt that I wear for self-promotion: Bad Wolf Media.

See, back in 2005, those wily Brits did what you do with Doctor Who – they regenerated him after a long break. In this case, the supporting cast included Rose Tyler, a character played amazingly by the charming and stunning Billie Piper. Through the course of the first series of this new incarnation, the phrase “Bad Wolf” would be found, scrawled in graffiti or emblazoned on the walls of the TARDIS itself. To make a long story somewhat less long, The Rose character gets infused with time-twisting powers and it was her all along, going back and leaving this warning message throughout time for the heroes to find.

Rose has gone on to become one of the most popular characters in the reborn series and, therefore, is well known among the denizens of gatherings like Wizard World.

Now let’s go even further back in time. I’m going to guess a little here, but I would say sometime around 1999 or 2000, I was working with my buddy Adam at an internet service provider down in middle Georgia (does everyone remember ISPs? No? Well…moving on…). We would often talk about widely varied subjects, and one day we were talking about pirates and the traditional “jolly roger” flag. As it turns out (yes, education! Sorry, just stick with it!), there really isn’t such a thing as a standard pirate flag. The “skull and crossbones” that everyone thinks of was used by a few scoundrels of the seas, but we learned that pirate captains generally designed their own standards to fly so everyone knew who was sending them to the bottom. Edward Teach – Blackbeard, if you please – often flew just a solid black flag. Bartholomew Roberts had an image of himself and a representation of Death, each with a hand on an hourglass.

With this background in hand, we started talking about what we would use as our own, personal jolly roger if we were to have need of one. I found a great line-art rendering of a snarling wolf, which I modified, taking off the lower jaw and put it over the traditional crossbones to make what you see even now, on this very page. Over the course of nearly two decades, I’ve keep that image with me, from computer to computer to tablets to smartphones. It’s been a part of my digital fingerprint for that long. (Unfortunately, I’ve lost the original art and haven’t been able to find the original artist of the wolf, but I’ll keep looking!)

Okay, everyone sticking with me so far? Now we’re going to leap forward to early 2014. I started to get a little more serious about my photo work, and I needed a name and logo to use. I thought of and scrapped a few dozen ideas along the way before realizing the imagery was staring me in the face the whole time. I had my ‘jolly roger’ that was already so prevalent, I only needed a fitting name to go with it. The name wasn’t born from my love of ‘Doctor Who,’ however. I am a huge fan of the show, but in this case, the name came from the image and the idea behind it – the thought of , 400 years ago, that flag flying over a ship in the warm Caribbean waters. What name would be given? Black Wolf seemed like it would work, but then another thought hit me: I didn’t want to use “productions” in my name because of the company name of a friend, so I opted for “media.” And then visual landed there – three letters, four letters, five letters, Bad Wolf Media. And it was like that light hitting Jake in the Triple Rock Baptist Church, all those years ago (had to get one more iconic reference in there, right?).

I’m happy that it’s a name that it seems people are going to remember, for whatever reason. I’ll continue to explain that, no, it’s not taken from the good Doctor’s companion, but I have the utmost respect for the show, the writers, and the actors that put it all together.

And I’ll tip my ivy cap to Rose Tyler, for spreading the word about me, back before I even seriously picked up a camera!*

*this is a joke, Doctor Who people! Please don’t sue me!

11 April 2019

Shock Me

Well, my new year’s resolution to do better on keeping this blog updated has gone right to hell, hasn’t it? If you follow my photo page on Facebook, hopefully you’ll forgive me when you see I’ve had a pretty fair start to the year already.

I was talking with a fellow photog today (via electronic communications, as talking in person is so passé!) about a tough shoot she had. It was with a band in a smaller venue, and the lighting was a challenge. She was looking for some input on her shots because she felt they weren’t up to par. First of all, I’m not sure how I became someone to give advice to anyone else. That’s kind of overwhelming, and also – to me – a touch absurd. You can’t give advice until you figure out what you’re doing, right?

The conversation got me thinking about last year. Starting the year off, I’d shot a handful of shows in a row that were amazing artists, but they were shot from the soundboard, with artists that weren’t all that energetic on stage. Still great performers, but from a photography point of view, it was just leaving me feeling deflated. The shots I was getting felt flat, felt forced, felt…similar. It becomes frustrating from a creative side, and left me wondering where the joy had gone.

Then April rolled around. I got word that I was approved to cover the gods of metal themselves, Judas Priest, in Bloomington, IL. That alone was enough to stir the 15-year-old fan boy in me, because this was Rob F’n Halford and crew, the guys I’ve listened to forever. But then, getting to the venue, we were led down to the pit. Oh, the glorious pit, my haven from the world. When Priest hit the stage, it was like an electric current coursing through me. My camera had a mind of its own, shooting, swinging left, right, center, capturing moments happening in blinding light and letting the screaming guitars and thundering drums overwhelm me.

It was exactly what I needed.

I’m a rock/metal guy as far as my preferences, but I listen to a little bit of everything. When I’m working, with camera in hand, it doesn’t matter. Pop, country, dance, R&B, punk, alt, it makes no difference at all. If they’ll invite me in, I’ll be there. But even setting aside my musical preferences, from a creative side, I can’t imagine anything better than a rock/metal show, from the pit, to just energize me, to make me feel like, yes, I do still want to be there and keep doing this, because those shots are just THERE, they’re leaping off the screen or the paper and making you part of the action as a viewer.

Judas Priest is still on the same tour this year. I’m hoping to have the chance to cover them again. If I don’t, that’s okay. I’ll have the thoughts from last year. But whoever is there, with eyes pressed to viewfinders, I hope they’re ready. Because that jolt of energy is breathtaking, and it will run right through that lens and into your soul as a photographer.

20 December 2018

Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)

We’ve got a little more than a week before the year actually ends, but for concert photography, the “no, thanks!” message I got for the last show on my calendar meant I’m done in that particular department for the year. As with so many other outlets, I find myself inclined to putting this particular bow on my year as both a reflection and for looking ahead.
Kelly Hansen and Mick Jones of Foreigner - 7/18/18
For 2018, I covered some truly legendary names in the music business, and a number of them are on the road to say good-bye to the road. Having missed some artists I’ve been a true fan of before they called it a day, I’m thrilled at the list I’ve accounted for this year. Sir Elton John has started his farewell tour, as has metal icons Slayer, and southern rock heavyweights Lynyrd Skynyrd. I didn’t make it to Bob Segar’s final bow in St. Louis, which is probably one that will nag at me going forward, but things happen. I also had to take a pass on the Eagles’ stop in the Gateway City, but whether they’ll be back again is anyone’s guess.

Next year, both KISS and Ozzy Osborne will be dropping by, both on their own planned curtain-call runs. I’ve seen the former in concert many times, never the latter, but I hope for the chance to stand in front of both with my cameras before they call it a day.
Cyndi Lauper - 8/19/18
Aside from farewells, there were some other pretty banner names that I was fortunate enough to add to my roster of shows covered. From Taylor Swift and Foo Fighters (twice this year!) to Sir Rod Stewart and Judas Priest. How’s that for an eclectic mix? Foreigner and Styx fall into the iconic-acts category, while Imagine Dragons and Avenged Sevenfold help carry the ball for current artists.

People always want to discuss “best” this and “greatest” that. I can’t pick anything as a favorite over the others. I’m all over the place in my tastes in music, and the shows I covered reflect that. Along with the Foos, I covered Ghost twice, Lindsey Stirling at a pair of shows, Breaking Benjamin twice, Halestorm got a twofer, and The Struts – oh, The Struts, my newest musical infatuation and the band my friends are almost certainly tired of hearing me talk about already! – let me in to cover them a whopping four times.
Lindsey Stirling and friends - 12/7/18
There were shows that were just pure, unadulterated fun. How else can you describe a show with Vanilla Ice, Tone Loc, and Naughty By Nature, to name just a few, all on one stage (at the same time, for the finale!)? And I would tell you all about the Steel Panther show, but as you’ll learn shortly in my review, there’s not a lot I can say about it that will keep this writing at a PG-13 level. But “fun” definitely fits!

Back to the eclectic thing, in one week this summer, I stood in front of Rob Zombie, Amy Lee and Evanescense with a full orchestra behind them, Grace VanderWaal, and K.Flay. Marilyn Manson and Walk The Moon were part of that same week, along with Joan Jett, who opted not to have her photos taken, but still put on one helluva show. But I also stood in an arena filled with the score of HBO’s hit series “Game of Thrones” as composer Ramin Djawadi showed that an orchestra can certainly deliver a rock concert, too!
Alice Cooper and Nita Strauss of Alice Cooper - 10/20/18
Names that I grew up with were in front of my lenses, and even now I have to remind myself that it wasn’t just a dream. U2 and Alice Cooper, ZZ Top and Faster Pussycat, Poison, Tesla, Cheap Trick, these are just a few of the acts I was lucky enough to cover. On the country side of the house, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert played just the same venue with just a brief gap between them, but everything was civil. Sugarland and Little Big Town dropped in to SLU for a couple of shows, bringing some of the meteoric names in country along with them, like 2019-Grammy nominee Kacey Musgraves and actress/singer Clare Bowen.

In a first for me, I covered two different single-day festivals, both from The Point in St. Louis – Pointfest in May, and Wayback Pointfest in September. These shows had tons of talent, from local artists like Guerrilla Theory and The Skagbyrds to names everyone knows, or should know, like Candlebox, Buckcherry, POD, and Alien Ant Farm. With Shinedown, The Offspring, 311, and Alice in Chains at the “big names” on the posters, there was no way I wanted to miss these shows!
Alien Ant Farm - 9/3/18
Along with Slayer’s adieu, I got to round out my collection of the “Big 4” with Anthrax, and one of my favorite new acts, Bad Wolves (yeah, I’m a bit partial, sue me!) took the stage for a killer set. I watched a 6’8” clown bring an audience to laughter and tears when Puddles Pity Party performed everything from Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to Adele’s “Hello.” And I got to be in the room for The Smashing Pumpkins’ return to the stage in St. Louis.

There are so many great acts and great shows that I’ve seen this year, I’m not going to list more of them. I’ll leave some out and then I’ll feel bad. I’ve put up a “year in review” photo album that can be found and you can see who I’ve seen. But the experiences are beyond words anyway. I don’t know if next year will be able to top this year as far as pure numbers. But with acts like Disturbed, Panic! at the Disco, John Mellencamp, Metallica, Shinedown, Michael Buble, Garth Brooks, and Cher joining the aforementioned Ozzy and KISS tours in my area, I can tell you there’s no shortage of legends standing under spotlights to be found, no matter what kind of music you like. And if those names are enough for you, how the return of the Rolling Stones to the US for a thirteen-city tour, including Chicago? And, just as big for me, the return of The Raven Age opening up shows for Iron Maiden again, which brings me right back to where this all started.
Sir Elton John - 10/30/18
See ya in the pits!

02 December 2018

Hit The Lights!

I’m going to start with a little bit about the way I shoot photos, all photos, but concerts in particular. After having many (many!) discussions with other photographers, I know I over-shoot. I let my cameras do their thing, shooting as much as ten shots a second in bursts. I do this because when there are performers on stage, lights are changing, people move, they blink, all kinds of things happen. Depending on where I’m located, how many people are on stage, etc, I can shoot anywhere from 3-400 to nearly 1,000 shots during a three-song photo set. Like I said, I know this is a lot, probably too many, but I want as much as possible to whittle down later.

And whittle I do. On average, I’ll end up with between 2-5% of what I shoot as “keepers”, stuff I edit and post for public consumption. To save you the math, that means if I shoot 500 photos, I will end up with between 10-25 shots that I’m happy enough to share. Sure, sometimes there’s more, sometime even less, but that’s about normal. And, honestly, that’s really enough. I used to post more, but they would get redundant, and who really wants to sort through three or four dozen nearly-identical repetitive shots?

Now, with all that groundwork being laid, with the scene being set for what’s normal, what’s typical, and what I can usually expect when I walk into a show, here’s the meat of my tale today: At the show I was shooting last night (I’m not naming names here!), the opening act had nearly non-existent lighting. I suppose it’s the aesthetic they wanted, but it was basically the type of lighting stage crews use to set up and tear down between scenes during productions when they don’t want the audience seeing anything under the curtain. Here’s a simple cellphone shot from the audience:
This isn’t a misrepresentation. Obviously the human eye can see more than a camera sensor, but this is what the whole set looked like. Going to back to where I started this, we were allowed to shoot the first three songs. So, even if I was shooting lightly, you’d expect 150, 200 shots, right?


I took exactly fourteen photos during those three songs. And one of those is this one here, which I took because someone on the side-stage was using a small pocket-type flashlight to look through a tour case. Look at how much more light there is over there than on the performers!
I’m not a production manager. I’m not a lighting designer. I’m certainly not a publicist. I’m a guy that slings a couple of Canon cameras around and has been incredibly fortunate to have gotten to shoot some of the biggest names in music in an incredibly short time doing concert work. But if you’re reading this and you’re in a band, or you help in any way – promoting them, setting up, friends with them, whatever – please, pass along a little bit of unsolicited advice: if you want promotion, if you want publicity for your shows and you’re going to have photographers come in, please, turn on some lights! At least for the first three songs, or whatever you allow to be shot. It makes for better shots if they’re not all completely coloured lights, too – reds and blues shoot terribly, and you’ll end up with a lot of black and white photos – but even if that’s what you want, at least turn them on.

That’s my little miniature rant/story for the day. Thanks for tuning in!

11 November 2018

Fade to Black

Last night I ran into a situation that I’ve worried about for a while. A few weeks ago, I got a confirmation from a publicist to go and shoot a show in St. Louis. It’s pretty routine stuff, and I’ve gotten pretty good at making that run. I got to the venue early because there was another big show happening next door, and I didn’t want to worry about fighting for parking.

When I got the original e-mail, there was a contact for the tour, but not for the venue’s marketing office, who usually handles the on-site coordination. No big deal, though, because I’ve worked with the place – and the people there – plenty of times. I just fired off a quick text to one of the contacts there to find out if she was handling the show. And that’s when things went awry.

I was told I wasn’t on the list for press approval. That was unusual, but not unheard of. Sometimes people forget to pass messages on everywhere they need to be. It happens in all walks of life, all kinds of business, and this one is no exception. So I pulled up the e-mail confirmation I had, having learned some time ago to keep these messages close at hand until my foot was in the door. I had plenty of time, so I sent off an e-mail to the tour contact I had looking to get things straightened out. Since I know not everyone checks their phone every thirty seconds, especially when they’re working on setting up a rock concert, I followed up shortly thereafter with a call. I left a voice mail, then waited.

When my phone rang, maybe ten or fifteen minutes later, I figured I was about to have it all sorted out. But I was wrong.

It turns out the publicist that sent my approval forgot not only to tell the venue, but anyone else, either. The tour manager had heard nothing about it, and his allotment for media passes had already been used. He was incredibly apologetic, but there was nothing to be done. I hung around chatting with a fellow photographer that was covering the show, but then there was nothing left to do but point the car north and head back to the house, empty-handed.

Between the venue contact and my fellow photographer, I’ve been told a lot in the last 24 hours how bad people feel that I got shut out, got short shrift on the show last night. Of course I’m disappointed, but this was just a bump in the road, not the end of the line. There will be other shows – I have a few on the slate for later this week – and there will be other chance to capture this artist. It could be easy to point fingers, to pound on the table, to wail and gnash teeth and to yell and scream and rage. But even if I’d done all of that, I’d still have been in the car heading home. So what’s the point? It’s just one of those things. I’m out a little gas, a little parking money, and a little time I would have spent sitting on the couch instead. So, it’s just another story to tell, to laugh about with friends, and carry on.

I’m not naming anyone here, you might notice. I don’t want this to pop up in a few months or a few years and have people start talking about the folks involved. That’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing it more just because it’s a story, and I like telling stories. And to share that, yes, the curtain dropped early on me last night. But the show will go on, again, and again.

20 June 2018

Stranger In A Strange Land

The two-year anniversary of my first professional concert shoot has come and gone. You can read all about that over here if you want. In just a little over two years since I was handed that first photo pass, I’ve collected 59 more of them. While I’m sure some of my concert-photography peers are chuckling at the idea of only 60 passes – or the idea of keeping track of them – I’m still pretty happy with my growing collection.

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top - 2018

I’ve gotten to see some incredible shows, from the legendary – Iron Maiden, ZZ Top, Metallica, John Fogerty – to the newcomers – The Struts, Ghost, The Regrettes, Kelsea Ballerini – and everything in between. I’ve shot in clubs that hold a few hundred people to stadiums packed with tens of thousands behind my back. I’ve passed superstars in hallways, stood on arena floors while monstrous stage shows were happening, and was inches away from my childhood (and adult) icons playing songs I’ve known my whole life.

And yet…

Another friend – Bonnie Burton, an incredible author - wrote a great piece earlier this year talking about “Imposter Syndrome.” It’s nice to know others feel the same way, but that doesn’t really change the feeling. I’ve explained to others that, every time I step into pit or onto the floor for a concert I’m shooting, there’s a desperation in my head. There’s a part of me – a not-too-quiet part – that’s telling me to not screw it up, or they’re going to realize you scammed your way in here. My goal at every show is to get the shots that are going to show that I belong there, that get me in to the next show, and then the one after that.

Shania Twain - 2018

So, why am I writing this? Honestly, I have no idea. I have a ton of friends and family that always seem excited to see my shots and hear what adventures I’m off to. In online communities, I get compliments when I share my work, and that’s gratifying. So it’s definitely not me fishing for compliments. Besides all of that above, 1) I don’t think all that many folks read this stuff and 2) taking compliments is one of the hardest things I know how to do – or don’t know how to do, more accurately.

Really, I started writing this because I’ve not written anything for a while, and I realized the anniversary had passed. Then I started thinking and writing about some of the cool stuff I’ve gotten to do. And then I started feeling like I was being a braggart, which circled right back around to that Imposter Syndrome thing.

The Struts - 2018
I’ve been doing this for two years now, and going really strong for the last fourteen months or so. As of the time I’m writing this, there’s no signs of slowing down, so I guess I can say I’m doing pretty decently at it. Only a few denials have come my way, and I don’t think they’re personal (I’d be far more flattered if those artists knew me enough to turn me down personally!). Just part of the game. I hope any of you that are reading this are still enjoying seeing what I’ve been getting up to, and I hope you enjoy reading about it every now and then, too. That’s definitely something I need to do more of. I’ve not posted here since March, and that’s just about criminal!

Cardinal Copia of Ghost - 2018
Thanks for the support. Thanks for reading, thanks for rocking, and keep your fingers crossed that I keep adding to my collection!