Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blondie / Pat Benatar @ Dodge Theatre

This was set to be a pretty packed full show, the Donnas were supposed to open, but had to cancel due to a bout of laryngitis. That aside, this was a fun show to be at. The near capacity crowd was a pretty mixed bag of ages and sexes, all wanting a piece of some classic pop rock. Getting two female pop icons for the price of one, bargain!

Pat Benatar went on first. She opened very strong... and fairly surprisingly, (to me at least) her voice seemed essentially unchanged by time. I didn't notice any strain as she belted out the classics; "We belong", "Heartbreaker", "Hit me with your best shot", and of course "Love is a battlefield".

FOUR time Grammy winner Benatar played a great high energy set, and kept the night rolling. After our 3 song nugget of shooting time, we photogs were escorted to our holding area. At the Dodge, this means basically that we are just sitting in the hall outside of the main room... so the music was very clear as I sat there editing my photos. Editing Pat Benatar photos while Pat Benatar was performing a few hundred feet away was an interesting experience.

There is an hour and a half break between when we were escorted out for Pat Benatar and when Blondie took the stage. Funny enough, no one announced that she was starting... we just heard the opening lick from "Call me" start up. We all looked at each other and thought, 'is this a cd?' We grabbed our gear and ran for the stage.

Deborah "Blondie" Harry was clad in a sort of odd 80's tattered shirt held together with buttons and skirt sort of outfit with gold converses, RayBans, and a ball cap that said "Blondie NYC". This was an interesting look for a pop diva. :) During the middle chorus of "Call me" I thought I heard Harry straining a little to hit the notes. As I kept listening, it sounded more like she had trouble hearing the monitor monitor issue rather than a performance issue. She actually rocked the house pretty solid.

Of course I didn't get to watch the whole show, but I can imagine she played all the big hits. While I was there however, Harry and the rest of Blonie seemed very "on". I could have maybe asked for a little more production on both Blondie and Benatar's side. It sort of felt like they just showed up and used what was here. Blondie did at least have a large banner at the rear of the stage with "Blondie" tagged on it. We weren't allowed to shoot Blondie from the center, so it was hard to make the photos any sort of interesting by including some of the banner in the rear of the shots.

Camera/photog wise... the lights weren't great. They were ON, but that was about it. A spot at the front and center of the stage... basically to drown everything else out. The colored lights just weren't bright enough to compete, just not enough of them... and no smoke or anything for them to reflect on. I primarily stuck to my 5D MkII for most of the night. I kept the ISO around 3200 - 4000 and was able to have a little play with the shutter speed. Since there was no barricade at this show, we were about 10 rows back from the stage, so the 100-400mm just stayed on the MkII. It performed very well.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Aerosmith / ZZ Top @ Cricket Pavilion

Pretty much any show at Cricket Pavilion is a big deal... but last night was a pretty special classic rock show. Aerosmith and ZZ Top. I'm not a particularly huge fan of either, but I'll rock out to some Aerosmith when its on the radio! And who didn't own their "Get A Grip" album? Come on!

ZZ Top opened the show with their many classic songs to an appreciative, if tame, crowd... still building in numbers as they played. Billy Gibbons, vocals and guitar, appeared to be having a great time on stage... he would occasionally pose and smile real big at the crowd.

The three-man band really created a nice full sound. I was actually surprised how big it sounded at times. But maybe having large beards and chrome semi-truck exhaust pipes for mic stands make up for a lot of the possible emptiness. The "show" CAN fill in the gaps. I had a good time watching them.

After our allotted 3 song partition of ZZ Top, we photographers are escorted back to a very warm trailer. Myself and another photog chose not to hang out in there. There's something odd about a room full of photographers... they start to complain uncontrollably. You'd think this beats a desk job? But soon, the hour break between ZZ Top and Aerosmith was up, and it was time to walk down to shoot again.

So, there was 11 photogs present at this show. Large numbers always makes it interesting, but at this show in particular our shooting position inside the barricade was very small. Let me tell you this, photographers can be cutthroat, especially when their already in a bad mood... because of their job, where they are a photographer. But we all finally picked our spots, this time limited to one side of the stage of the other, no shifting. Aerosmith started their set behind a large black curtain with a blisteringly loud rendition of "Eat the Rich". The crowd went nuts.

Seeing Steven Tyler prance around on stage in person was something interesting to behold. These guys who become icons of their field and even parodies of themselves sometimes get overlooked for how good they really are. There's not a single singer out today who can match his level of camp and exuberance. There's something to be said for really just putting it all out there and giving the people a show. Whether that means starting the show in a gigantic ladies hat or not. :)

I had a great time shooting Aerosmith, but I will say this: this show was a lot of work. The lights were changing a lot, and Tyler and Joe Perry tended to hang out on the opposite side of the stage... plus, there were photographers and videographers everywhere. But it was a great game of shooting what you can manage. Camera settings were constantly changing on the fly. I had my 20D and my 5D MkII... which was pretty at home around ISO3200 for this shoot.

I'm very happy with what I got from the whole show. I absolutely love what I got of Steven Tyler, I only wish I could have got a few nice shots of Joe Perry. But a great time all around... save for the ridiculous heat maybe.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tool @ US Airways Center

I was very excited to shoot Tool. I just knew it would be an awesome show, and I was bummed because I wouldn't be able to actually watch and enjoy it. But the other thing I knew was that Maynard doesn't like to be photographed live. I really don't know what the deal is. Maybe he just wants his privacy? Doesn't want everyone to know what he looks like? Who knows? Who cares? I've heard stories in the past about him singing behind a curtain for the first few songs... emerging after the photogs have left. You know... whatever. If you don't want the press, just don't let us in.

All that aside... They did put on a great show. Their fans look on them like gods. Not completely unjustifiably so. Tool really has created some epic albums. They've reached a multitude of fans across genres. Their very actual "melodic" metal/rock mixed with Maynard's unassuming kind voice makes it very accessible and easy to like. They definitely try to give back too, their shows are legendary... tons of lights, geometric shapes, and bizarre imagery. It really makes for an intense experience all around.

Sadly, very little of what I could tell would be an amazing lighting spectacle was photographed. We photogs were only allotted one song to shoot. Granted, that meant 8 - 10 minutes by Tool standards... but it really wasn't enough time. The lights were very subdued compared to what I know was coming. I could see lasers and mirrors set up at the front of the stage... this would have been awesome to shoot. But I take what I can get.

For the entirety of the first song, Maynard was at the very back of the stage, in what seemed like the only completely dark spot on the whole stage. Thankfully, he was standing in front of a video screen, so I could at least make out a silhouette. At the last second of the end of the song, a little bit of light graced his face and I was able to snap one or two quick pics.

On a technical note, the new 5D MkII performed exceptionally well! In fact, I think I would have been up a creek without it. While there were lots of lights ON, they were fairly dim. I did crank up my ISO to get a lot of the shots... and at the end I switched my 17-40mm out for a 100-400mm to be able to get a pic of Maynard, and had to max out the ISO to its full, unexpanded range of 6400. The photos aren't as amazing as I thought they could have been, but you take what you can get at a show like this. I'm just glad I didn't leave empty-handed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Canon 5D MkII

Friday my whole game changed. I got my 5D MkII in the mail. As soon as I took it out of the box I slapped my 17-40mm lens on it, and before I even put the battery in, I looked through the viewfinder and all I could do was laugh and say "Holy CRAP!" Having never used a full-frame camera before, I was finally in that total and completely warranted awe of what a 17mm lens does for you. It is amazing. Nothing short. I'm already 10,000% sure that this was the right purchase for me, and I hadn't even stuck the battery in yet. For those reading this blog who don't know what "full-frame" means, basically, if its not full-frame, the camera has a smaller, or "cropped" sensor. Meaning, you get LESS picture from your lens. Its like having a small piece of film with a regular sized lens. However, with digital you don't have film, you have a sensor. See below for the ACTUAL difference. Both were taken at 17mm from the same spot in the room. (you'll also notice the 5D picked up a rogue wolf that was wondering in the room, where the 20D did not)

In this blog I will be comparing my 5D MkII to my 20D. Its not a fair comparison, but its what I HAVE. So it would be helpful for people thinking about making the change to full-frame. (For reference, the 20D is a 1.6x crop... meaning my 17mm is actually a 27.2mm) More information here.

So, for me to go into heavy detail would be pointless, there are other places to read that sort of review, I just want to give you the real-world benefits that I personally see and find valuable. I'll tell you the stuff that is important, and excites me personally. The 5D MkII is a 21 megapixel sensor, my 20D is 8 megapixels for example.

Some of the most amazing things about this camera are how Canon has just made every function a little (or a lot) better. The ISO settings range from 50 - 25,600, for a total of 22 different settings. (the 20D, ISO 100 - 3200 in only 6 stops) 2 things are amazing here, the fact that the ISO goes so high, and also that ISO settings are so clean and noise free up to a certain point. This type of thing makes shooting in low light possible without a lot of digital noise. A real world example would be shooting inside your house with no real bright lights on, or a flash... sounds simple enough, but low light is were digital cameras either excel or fail. See below for an example from the 5D at 1/40 sec, ISO5000, F4.

Another neat option Canon stuck in on the new 5D is the ability to have different RAW file sizes. A RAW file is just how it sounds, raw... no effects put on the picture, and no compression used to make the file smaller. It is the cleanest and largest picture your camera can take. It also makes it easier for exposure recovery, and fixes to the image, without loosing quality. Now, however, Canon has made a way for you to take RAW files, but at 3 different sizes. For a real world scenario, take me... I shoot concerts, but the majority of my work ends up being smashed down to a 400px wide file... but I still want the benefits of RAW. The 5D takes a 21 mega bite RAW image, and it's 5616 px wide. That is a bit large. Now I can shoot a RAW file as small as 3861px wide, or even 2784px!

Some other neat additional features... the self cleaning sensor. It keeps dust off the sensor by vibrating at high frequency. This just makes sure no specs show up on your image. Cool!

The large 3 inch LCD screen with optional live mode shooting, while awesome on it's own, it also has its own light sensor, and adjusts it's brightness automatically... so if you are outside, it gets brighter, and when you're in a dark room, the screen wont blind you when it turns on. Neat.

One last neat little gadget worth mentioning... auto rotate, which I actually hate... because the picture become tall on a wide screen... so your image is tiny when you try to review it on your camera. The upgrade makes it possible to auto rotate AND has a feature where it will auto rotate the FILE itself for transfer onto a computer, but it keeps it WIDE when you look at it on the camera's LCD screen. Clever.

Ok, lets get to the really ridiculous feature... full 1080 HD video!! Yes. It IS amazing. It's not super 'user friendly', it's very much set up like a "real" HD camera, where you really should use the focus ring and not auto focus. Two things about the video feature... the sound is not great (BUT it does come with a mic input)... and the actual sounds of the lens focusing and zooming are picked up by the internal mic. Not a huge deal. Especially if you plan to create something worthy of 1080 HD... you would just use a nice external mic anyways. (see the quick example movie I threw together below.)

Lastly, lets get serious... the image quality is amazing! It's got basically the same CMOS sensor that the $7000 1Ds MkIII has. The images this thing will produce are now only held back by your lens quality, and your own abilities. (I will post more photos later to show off the camera's abilities... I actually haven't had a lot of chances to shoot with it yet. Tonight I'm shooting Tool, so I should have some nice examples tomorrow!)

I find this camera very easy to use. Having used my 20D for so long, it was basically a quick assimilation. Only the live view and video functions take a few minutes to get the hang of. But just overall, the fact that this camera has so many features to help YOU and help the IMAGE quality... it just makes shooting easier. It feels like what it should be like... less of a 'challenge', more of an art. The camera is just a tool, and now it's just easier to use.

Now to quote Ferris Bueller, "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Killswitch Engage backstage @ Cricket Pavilion

Friday was the Rockstar Mayhem Fest at Cricket Pavilion. I didn't end up shooting it for the New Times, but my pal at the AZ Republic, Jim Louvau asked me along to assist on a few backstage band photo shoots. These are just a few pics from the 10 minutes we had with Killswitch Engage.

Things were a little hectic. There really wasn't anywhere to set up the lights that I brought, so the shoots ended up being really quick and chaotic. We had a lot less time with each band than we thought. We actually ended up shooting All That Remains also, but it happened so fast that I didn't even get my camera out.

The Killswitch Engage shoot was just in their dressing room. We just threw them up against the most interesting looking wall and snapped a few off. They were cool with it, and did whatever we asked them to. I basically just documented the happenings. Check out the rock star food. Neat.

One of these buses was Slayer. Rock.