AisleFive Comes Out of Hibernation

Being a photographer means you are always aware of your surroundings and never leave home without a camera.

Yeah, you almost always have your smartphone camera.  But, it is way more fun to look through the viewfinder, completely shutting out the rest of the world as you frame up your shot, and cycle through the settings to figure out your exposure and the overall look of the photo.  You become way more intimate with the subject and the photo as a whole.

Red, one, two, three, four. Purple, one, two, three, four.  Blue, one, two, three, four.  Green, one, two, three, four.  Yellow, one, two, three, four…

“Think of the song, and if you know it, anticipate the chorus, the guitar solo, the breakdown.” I told Casondra as she looked through the viewfinder of my Canon. “Frame up your shot to capture the moment she is going to pour everything she has into those high notes.”  Casondra frames up the shot around my aunt, Marivelle as her band AisleFive is about to hit the chorus of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”  And just like that the band brings it up ten notches and the opportunity for a great shot arises.

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Green, one, two, three, four.  Yellow, one, two, three, four.  Red, one, two, three, four.  Purple, one, two, three, four.  Blue, one, two, three, four…

This countdown runs through my head as I watch Casondra shoot, and I observe the cycle of the lights shining down on my aunt, guitarist, Paul and bassist, Mark.

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This is called pinpointing, anticipating the exact moment that Paul is lit red, when my aunt and Mark are lit purple, and my aunt is giving it her all to get the crowd pumped.  A necessary method of thinking when shooting a live performance.  You need to know what moments you want to catch and stay ten steps ahead of it.

It was a Saturday night out with my best friend, Ray at the Black River Barn to catch AisleFive’s first performance of the year.  You can consider Ray and I the band’s groupies, or at least that is how I introduced us to a friend of Glenn, the drummer.

Typically, Ray and I come out to watch my aunt and AisleFive perform at the local bars, and we drink till one of us is carrying the other out the door.  But I was on a mission for this night’s performance.  I was at the Black River Barn to shoot new promo photos for the band with their new guitarist, Paul.

Thinking ahead, I had texted a few of our other friends and invited them out.  The idea was to bring people I was comfortable shooting on the dance floor, and show the energy the band brings with them.  Ray and I met up with our friends Christian and Courtney, and her friend Casondra.  There was no need to drag that many people out, the band naturally brings a lot of energy and the Black River Barn is a popular watering hole.

As the band began, I started firing off shots.

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After capturing the first gem of the night, I started to take note of the lights and the color cycles that individually highlighted each musician.

The lights above the front three performers cycled through five different colors, red, purple, blue, green, and yellow.  Two of them shined each color in four second intervals, while the third was much slower at fifteen seconds per color.

With this in mind, I started planning shots that would make each performer shine in appropriate moments.

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A fairly difficult task when considering three separate lights, on different cycle intervals. A whole new beast when you consider the fourth light in the back, which cycled through three different colors at thirty second intervals.

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With this all in mind, I focused on catching two performers at a time, with the main focus on the vocalists, my aunt and Paul.

Very rarely do I shoot a performance dead on, standing up, I like to glorify the performers and give them a bit of an edge.

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Low perspectives are my go-to angle, especially when there is no stage to raise the band up.  I want to make you feel as if you are front row of a concert, just below the stage, looking up at these gods of sound.

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The night progressed, and I continued to maneuver around the front of the dance floor, trying to capture more and more of the band’s energy.

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By the end of the first set, I had plenty of shots of the front three performers, but was realizing that there was not enough light hitting the keyboardist, Chris, and drummer Glenn.  So while on break, I asked Chris if he could adjust the lights to point more on Glenn and him.  I had even taken note that one of the four lights in the back was barely throwing any light, and specifically requested another light be focused on Chris.

The band returned to the stage and I was given a spot on the stage to catch some shots of Chris and Glenn.

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One of the biggest challenges was to capture Glenn playing.

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I was already lacking light, and had to lose more by upping the shutter speed to lessen the motion blur of his drum sticks.  The motion blur is a nice effect that shows how fast he is actually playing, how quick the tempo is, but there is a limit to maintaining the overall aesthetic of the shot.

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I walked off the stage after getting the shots I wanted.  In between songs, Casondra came up to me and we started talking shop.  She asked about my camera and lens, a Canon 70D with a 35mm f2.0.  I showed her some of the shots I had captured and then handed the camera to her, gesturing for her to get up there and show me her perspective.  She timidly started to fire off some shots, and came back to show me.  I critiqued her shots and explained to her what to do differently, I even moved her into certain positions to prepare her for ideal opportunities to capture the band’s energy.

“Think of the song, and if you know it, anticipate the chorus, the guitar solo, the breakdown.  Frame up your shot to capture the moment she is going to pour everything she has into those high notes.” I told Casondra, trying to teach her to pinpoint her shots.

In the process of teaching Casondra to pinpoint, I began moving ten steps ahead of her ten steps, and started pinpointing my next shot.  A bit of meta concept that had come to mind.

I thought to myself, how neat would it be to capture a photographer shooting the band in an epic moment that shows the bands energy, as well as crowd participation?  This concept could of easily been staged, but when I shoot, I look for candid authenticity.

I had created my subject by putting the camera in Casondra’s hands and attempted to show her how a professional thinks, plans, and moves, and now I had to find my angle and wait for an exciting moment.  But how was I going to capture this moment without the 70D?

The 70D had become part of the subject when I gave it to Casondra and I could not take that away.  So thinking fast, I pulled out my iPhone and waited for the band’s next big moment.

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Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in my capturing my vision properly.  My iPhone’s camera just did not have the control and quality I was looking for, and Casondra had switched to using the screen, which broke that true photographer aspect, but it was cool to capture the screen and its subject matter in the same shot.

Nonetheless, I still managed to capture some great shots of the crowd’s participation, particularly Courtney and Casondra dancing.

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A Saturday night at the bar is not typically a time or place for thinking too much.  But anytime I have a camera in my hands, my train of thought is constantly in search of the next great shot.  It does not matter what the subject matter or location are, if you are aware of your surrounds, you will find and anticipate the subject and reason for your next shot.

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See the full album here: AisleFive Comes Out of Hibernation

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