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House of Paint - 2009

Bluesfest 2009 - camera tips

After missing a couple of years, I went to this years Bluesfest, as a photographer for Soundproof magazine. I worked with two local writers, we managed to cover about 15 bands. I took photos of another 30 groups on my own. Soundproof magazine has almost all our reviews and photos online, and  will be adding some of my extra pics to the web page's scrapbook area. Also, have added to my Flickr page as a set.

I had a lot of fun at Bluesfest, going there eight days out of the twelve. I had a conference in the middle that I had to help organize and do a presentation for, so I got a bit of a break.  All my photos for scheduled events went in to the magazine the next day, so I wouldn't fall behind and so they could stay current online. I had maybe 40-60 to choose from for each show, I sorted and deleted and edited - all in PE7, then sent in my  best five from each one. I used my new D90 with the 18-200 VR lens, a combo selected for better concert work, especially in low light. The first few days I capped the auto ISO at 800 and used shutter priority at 1/40. Aperture was usually at f3.5. Pictures were OK, but I got face blur in some, as the VR compensates for minor jitters only. Next time I let the ISO go up a stop to 1600, and the speed down a stop to 1/80 -same overall sensitivity but th shots were generally sharper. D90 noise is fine at 1600, it doesn't really ramp up until after 3200. I'll try that setting later. Another handy feature was LiveView, in which the back display can be set to show the view through the lens, as in a point and shoot camera. That came in handy, especially when standing in front of the 6 foot main stage, as I was able to hold the camera overhead and get a couple of feet of height when shooting a group. I used manual focus also, as the LiveView focusing is slow. Exposure metering was centre-weighted, no time to spot meter and go manual, with the lights constantly changed colours and intensity. Dynamic full screen metering got fooled by spots shining from the back, so I gave up on that. White balance was on auto, and it managed OK.

I managed to usually find a good spot before the act began, so didn't have to gallop back and forth much with the herd. I found that small hip hop acts like Ludicris or Buusta Rhymes were so active that I just stayed put usually, and let them come to me. The only difficulty was in getting wide angle shots of a band, I didn't bring my 10-20mm Sigma - no time to swap lenses. And my D70 body is too slow for good night work at a concert. Many photographers went 10-20 feet up the passageway back to the sound tent, and shot the stage from there, a good strategy except for the fact that everyone was doing it so kept getting in each other way. In our crowd, I found that some photographers were courteous, some pushy. Oh well. I made sure to be nice - especially to security. My pass also got me access to the Empire Grill area, a wedge shaped section pointing to the stage, with chairs, no bathroom lines, and often a fairly clear and close shot of the stage. That's where I got some "wide angle" band shots, after leaving the pit.

While my pass got me access to the pits in front of the stages, the rule was no flash, and only the first 2-3 songs. Some bands, especially in the afternoon, might have been better with more songs, but festival organizers felt paying customers deserved to see their favorite group without us bopping around in front. Good point, and it is their festival. I usually had no trouble getting 60 shots in those first songs anyways, the challenge at times was to not take twice as many. I realized that all those extra shots still had to be sorted, and a shot at a bad angle or poorly composed was not improved by being repeated 10 times. I did take enough to catch some "moments", that felt good when it happened. Security rushed us out after time was up, but nicely. In addition, for a couple of concerts, like the Busta Rhymes one that started an hour late, they kept us out of the pit until the act actually started - for our own safety in case the crowd got nasty. Fine by me.

I met a lot of interesting people there - other photographers, neighboors, friends, volunteers, cute security guards. I also enjoyed, every night, Italian sausage on a bun - with fried onions. And a cold beer, if I was done with the shooting.

The only big concern I had there was seeing so many little kids, right up front, blasted by speakers, crushed in the crowd.There was one little girl at the Ludacris concert, maybe 5 years old, mashed up against the front fence grill, hands over her ears, distressed look on her face. We made sure security saw her, in case the crowd got rough. Just after the first song they decided to not take a risk and reached over the fence and grabbed her, her bigger (12?) sister, her confused looking mother and father (dragging the stroller) and hussled them out the side of the pit. I doubt that the parents got the point, but hopefully they didn't punish her for making them miss the concert.  

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