Although my photography is driven by my love of the natural and built environment, my marriage to a Jazz singer introduced me, rather later in life than for most people, to the world of live music. This brings photographic challenges and unique experiences, generated by the combination of performers’ artistry and individuality allied to their staging, particularly the low level of overall lighting and the extreme colour combinations which are generated.
This photograph (the black and white is simply a treatment of the original colour image) was taken at the launch of the band Goldtripper and their new EP in the darkly industrial space Electrowerkz at the Angel, Islington in London. The image is of the band leader Alex Golding strutting his stuff.
The black-dark, standing-room-only hall was filled with jumping, dancing, yelling youth, excited by deafening music and I know not what else. After asking permission to photograph from the stage manager, I extricated myself to a ledge a few meters away from the performers, which gave me just enough isolation and elevation to safely use a monopod and to photograph while avoiding the crowd.
Focus on the action
I frequently change settings in order to: achieve different effects; counter different lighting schemes, or handle different behaviours by the performers. The challenging lighting conditions require the use of “centre-weighted” or “spot” exposure reading settings, rather than “matrix”, which will try to produce an averaged reading for the scene. Clearly this will ignore the image area surrounding the main target, but I personally love the gloomy effect of isolating the high-lit performer. Beyond that came the need to capture the dramatic moment.
Given the above, as can be seen from the settings below, this image was captured with an emphasis on speed, rather than quality, given that the performer was moving fast and unexpectedly at this point. This drove the choice of the D800’s highest “native” ISO of 6400 and resulting speed of 1/500s. I had left the vibration reduction on, although 1/500 is at the high end of useability for VR, because the diaphragm was set to f2.8 and I did not benefit from any tolerance level for loss of sharpness. I have to here give honour to Nikon’s automatic focussing mechanism, which delivered excellent results despite rapid changes in the target’s movements and in sub-par light.
To Colour Or Not To Colour, That Is The Question
I am torn between the “real” image and its Black and White treatment. I like both. The former gives a sense of time and place, a “now” photograph, if you will, while the latter is more timeless and generates references to myriads of performance images from the past.
I still cannot define clearly what is the fundamental attraction of Black and White and I am amused that I write it with capitals, which seems to flow from a sense of its special quality. Partly it seems to be the historic weight of iconic images made with the silver gelatin process, but this does not explain why its use persisted for high art work even as colour became increasingly available. Its use by the fashion photographers of Vogue magazine, or the erotic art of Helmut Newton (who worked for French Vogue) come to mind. Conversely, I am fascinated with the failure of my principal mentor Henri Cartier Bresson to use colour well, despite his unique skills in black and white. There seems to be a joy in the human eye to “see” in terms of black and white?
This conversion was not done out of necessity, for example when struggling to handle the “bloom” effect caused by red stage lights. I hate them! I like the green effect, but I clicked the “monochrome” button and made just a few adjustments thereafter. Apart from some sharpening, I concentrated on optimising contrast, using a black and white “Control Point” on the black plastic section of the guitar and darkening the area surrounding the performer. The aim was to “pull” Alex out from the dusty backstage and focus on his energy and emotion.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: VR 70-200mm zoom f/2.8G,
Focal Length: 116mm
Focus Mode: AF-S
Shutter Speed: 1/500s
Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Metering: Centre Weighted
ISO Sensitivity: 6400
Mounted on monopod
The audience enjoyed the noise and the drama of the performance in a 1960’s Cavern Club lookalike space. I hope that you did too.
Copyright Paul Grayson 2015 All Rights Reserved