Ballet Fantastique’s An American Christmas Carol with Halie Loren

I’ve always got my eye out for a compact camera that does well with the challenges of concert photography. The Olympus Stylus 1 was the latest to get my attention with its constant f/2.8 aperture and 300mm equivalent maximum zoom. Rather than plunk down the money for an outright purchase, I decided to opt for a rental through Overall it was a good experience with both the device and the rental shop, though ultimately it didn’t compel me to purchase the camera (I’m kind of holding out for the next model to have a larger sensor).

What about it?

After reading photographer Neil Van Niekerk’s article about “displaying instead of saying,” I re-evaluated the content of my “About Me” page and ultimately decided to remove the page entirely. My website has always been just a fancy journal about myself and my interests, rather than a means to support and build a business, but Neil’s point is still relevant in terms of keeping things simple. If a person wants to know about me, the blog and various links I’ve included are the best way to do that, not some semi-effusive musing about where I’ve been and where I’m going. However if the goal of the site changes, I’ll likely reinstate the “About Me” page with content more aligned to what Neil advises.

Halie Loren “Simply Love” CD release show

The first time I heard jazz singer Halie Loren, I couldn’t believe this caliber of artist was 1) living in Eugene and 2) not more well known. I still can’t explain the latter, since the quality of her vocals puts her up there with the likes of Diana Krall; plus, her interpretations of standards like “For Sentimental Reasons” and “Moon River” (two of the tracks off her latest album, “Simply Love”) are, well, not very standard at all.

As to why she lives in a town better known as the “Home of the Ducks,” it’s because she doesn’t have to live in a Los Angeles or New York City to know success. While her following in her home state is, ironically, kind of modest, she has a devoted fan base in Japan and has toured there a number of times, to sold out crowds. Her choice to live where she does is consequently a perk for the fans who share the same area code, as they get to hear her on a regular basis and experience CD release shows like the one at the Wildish Theater on September 21st.

Having been to Springfield’s downtown performing arts theater once before, I knew the setup would be a little unconventional with its stage at the ground level and rows of stadium seating extending up from there. Not wanting an elevated perspective to the photos meant having to choose seats toward the front, and since I didn’t know if I’d get a clear shot over viewers’ heads, this meant having to shoot from the front row. In hindsight, the perspective would have been fine in the second or third row, but since this wasn’t a rock show, I was also sensitive to disturbing anyone sitting in front of me with the noise from my camera.

When we took our seats, I found myself closer to the center than I prefer (I don’t like to have the microphone blocking the performer’s mouth in most cases), and wound up switching seats with my wife after the intermission. But ironically, the shot featured above, my favorite of the evening, was taken from my original position.

The other band members were not lit as brightly or evenly as Loren, metering at least a stop difference in most cases. The shadows were also pretty harsh, as seen on the bassist, Mark Schneider. There was a similar harshness of shadows on the accordion player, Sergei Teleshev, but I found when he turned towards the light there was some improvement.

Lighting on the pianist, Matt Treder, and drummer, Brian West, was more even, and while I had a nice clear shot of West, Treder’s back was almost turned away from me. While I probably could have gotten out of my seat to get other angles, that would have most certainly disturbed the other audience members in my row, who were seated no more than 12 feet away from Loren and her band. Going up the aisle to get a wide shot of the stage and its full complement of musicians likely wouldn’t have caused a problem, but most of the time I was just content to soak up the great music.

ZZ Ward with James Bay and the Wild Feathers

I can’t remember how I first heard about ZZ Ward, but not long after, I started hearing her songs on TV, attached to promos for some of the shows I follow. Most people who hear her are instantly drawn to her bluesy and soulful voice, and then surprised when they see the person producing said vocals, reminding them about judging books by covers and so forth.

I’ll admit I’m especially enthusiastic about this talented artist because she hails from Roseburg, OR. She’s had a couple shows in the area in the last year or so, but it finally worked out that I was able to see her up in Portland, at the Aladdin Theater. I did try to get a photo pass for her free show in Roseburg last month, but I never got a response from her publicist either way. Turns out, I probably wouldn’t have needed one, as the photo policy for the Aladdin show was fairly generous. Security wasn’t checking bags at the door, and once I started taking pictures, the staffer only came up to tell me they were limiting photos to the first three songs for each artist. Easy enough, and fairly standard.

There were two press-badged shooters there, both of whom were sporting two cameras with telephoto and wide-normal zooms. Not knowing what to expect from security, I decided to travel light with mid-telephoto and normal primes. I also shot in AI Servo mode, which I admit I’m not the biggest fan of, mostly because I do so infrequently and find I get more out-of-focus shots than I’d like. Granted, I’m really pushing things by shooting at f/1.8 (things were more consistent with the additional depth of field at f/2.8), but I plan to keep trying it to get a better handle on what to expect.

All told, I wound up with several nice shots of ZZ, and of her opening acts, James Bay and the Wild Feathers. Some variety in the perspective would have been nice, but that would have meant using lenses I didn’t have with me, as well as braving the crush of humanity at the foot of the stage. Since I was in the mode of shooting for fun, this ultimately dictated my choice of lenses and relative distance from the performers.


Concert Photography Selections

Last year I wrote about my experience shooting concerts as a ticket-holding member of the audience. I’m going to try a different approach with some upcoming shows I’m interested in, and actually submit a request for a photo pass from the performer’s publicist. Mainly I’m curious what kind of response I’ll get, since my stuff is done for my own enjoyment, though I’d be happy to share the images as well.

So in preparation for the requests, I’ve gone through all the shows I’ve done over the years and selected ones that are portfolio worthy. I wound up with just over 100 images. I could probably trim it down more, but it’s a good starting point.