Little Hurricane at Hi-Fi Music Hall

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I heard about San Diego rock and dirty blues duo Little Hurricane from photographer Neil Van Niekirk, who posted accolades for the group on his Facebook page. When I gave their latest album a listen, I was instantly drawn to Tone Catalano’s textured vocals (and most people know I don’t usually gravitate to male singers). I also connected with the band’s fully formed, blues-rock style, backed by the beats of drummer CC Spina. About a year later, a concert venue called Hi-Fi Music Hall opened up and Little Hurricane eventually popped up on their calendar, making for an obvious ticket purchase, even though most rock concerts are scheduled way past my bed time these days. Still, discovering new music and then getting a chance to see the performer live (and maybe shoot the show) has always been one of my favorite parts of being a music lover.

Hi-Fi Music Hall took over the building I will always know as the Rock ‘n’ Rodeo (that information may date me quite a bit). Although I never really stepped foot in the building before, I got a strong sense a lot of work had been done to it, for the better. The space was clean and nicely laid out with the music hall on one side and a full service bar on the other. The bar even had a small stage for another band to entertain patrons, set behind a pull-down screen used to project a video feed from the music hall.

The hall itself was set up for standing room only, but there weren’t more than about 50 of us there. That is probably my chief lament about Eugene, in that cool, new acts will come here, but once they get more of a name for themselves, they won’t tend to come back because Portland will be considered the more viable market. I can’t blame them — musicians need to make a living and drawing in a Eugene-sized audience doesn’t make financial sense after awhile. From a photography stand point, it does provide some nice opportunities, not only in being able to shoot acts early in their careers, but also having largely unfettered photo access. It seems like the more prominent the performer, the more restrictive they’ll be about photography, so newer acts in combination with small venues tend to be the most tolerant of my bringing along my DSLR.

The lighting for Little Hurricane was somewhat challenging, in that Tone was often better lit than CC and her faster movements in a darker area of the stage meant many attempts trying to capture very fleeting moments and expressions. Remote controlled LED effect lights and smoke machines created some nice atmosphere, but the main lights were still a bit dim and tended toward uniform blue or magenta color washes. Fearing the venue would favor a spartan lighting scheme, I packed the 85mm f/1.8 as my primary lens, rather than a slower (and much larger) f/2.8 telephoto zoom. Consequently, I was able to shoot as high as 1/160 for most of the show and with minimal focusing or exposure problems. Given the band’s musical aesthetic, post-processing the images for high contrast black-and-white seemed the most fitting, though I may produce a color version of the selections down the road.

Halie Loren “Butterfly Blue” CD Release Show

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Jazz artist Halie Loren returned to the Wildish Theater to celebrate her latest CD release, “Butterfly Blue.” We weren’t sitting in the front row like last time, so I had to rely on a longer fixed telephoto to make up the difference.

Being about 10 rows up and slightly left of center afforded a fairly clear view of all the performers, but unfortunately pianist Matt Treder was consistently blocked by the other musicians or equipment. My seat afforded a very clear view of Halie, my only nitpick being the background with the edge of a hanging projection screen crossing behind her head (though one could argue this makes things a little more interesting than just a pure black background). Normally I also like to keep “dutch” angles to a minimum, but I tilted things with Halie’s more emotive or energetic moments to mirror the mood and to try to make the background contribute a little something to the images.

Ballet Fantastique’s An American Christmas Carol with Halie Loren

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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 LensRentals.com. 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).

Halie Loren “Simply Love” CD release show

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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

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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

Concert Photography Portfolio

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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.