Music Photographer

So you mates blurry iphone pics aren’t any good and you’d  like a band photographer for your album cover, gig or music video?

Below are some recent shots for our band, local Sydney Band King for Day, and a music video I produced for Elyse McLennan

 

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Funky Soul – some Tips on Live Band Photography

An email enquiry through – I was asked to shoot some live band shots in an inner City pub. I mentioned to Anthony – one of the guys in the band, as a part-time muso myself I know how hard it is to get good band shots (as I’m usually playing and also our band photographer) and would be keen to do the job.  

A couple of days later the booking was made and gig details provided.  The venue was the Sly Fox Hotel in Enmore on Thursday night – the band “King For A Day” would be on from 8:30PM-10:30PM.  Actually at first I thought the band was called “Underground Bingo” because a search on the web revealed that as the nights listed entertainment event.  


A further search on the Sly Fox says it’s a gay and lesbian bar – OK, this WILL be something different I thought to myself – I had visions of Priscilla Queen of The Desert

Pre preparation:

Like all new photography challenges I like to research to get some best practice tips.   

My most important tip –

  • Get some ear plugs – you’ll be shooting right up the front and often in front of the speaker stack.

  • Camera Ready – before any gig double check all your equipment – lens and cameras checked and cleaned; cards formatted; all batteries charged.  Yes, I was once through a shoot and my spare was completely battery was flat.  

  • Backup – I now take two camera bodies with me for all event shoots – with event gigs (wedding; sports; corporate; band) there’s only one chance to grab the shots and you’re completely stuffed if your camera packs it in mid gig.

  • A good, easy to access, waist camera bag would be great.

The Event

I arrive at the venue at 8PM as the band is setting up and introduce myself.  The room reminds me of the good old Aussie pub stages we had in the 80’s and 90’s.  I use this time to do some test shots to get an idea of exposure.  “Underground Bingo” is the main event – a heavy tattooed, sunnies wearing, terrets afflicted but, often humourous beatboxing bingo caller and a skinny dude in a flash 70’s suit.   The bingo prizes are equally different – a couple of nurf guns, a plant terrarium and an original native indian dinner plate.

While bingo is in full swing we grab some late notice cover shots in the poster spattered alley way behind the pub.  Time is short and I choose a street light as my key light.

M - 2Photo by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

Technical:

  • I nearly always shoot in Manual mode – I spot meter the available light; shoot some tests and constantly check shots during the gig  – there’s just too many things that can throw out the camera’s auto functions.  Use your viewer and histogram. Remember the “more light to the right” of your histogram contains the most photo data.

  • Dump the flash and shoot high ISO – it’ll add grain but your flash won’t wash out the stage lights.  You can reduce the noise in post production.

  • Also big apertures – more light but a shallower depth of field. I shot most of the following images at ISO 6400 f/2.8 and 1/90 sec.

  • Shoot RAW.  Warning.  I went a bit crazy and shot nearly a thousand images for this gig – that’s a lot of hard disk space.  Are the shots just going onto the web or will prints be made?  

  • Lens – I’ve my trusty f/2.8 17-35mm wide (on a full frame) and my f/4.0 24-105mm portrait lens.  I’d love a good fast prime lens.

We’re back before the first half of bingo ends “33 – tit’s and arse” says Bingo beat box man.  “Bingo!” cries the young hipster and goes straight for the nerf gun prize.


Now time to shoot.

A Photographers Music Video – ‘For Me’ (Original) – Elyse McLennan

 


 

From your smartphone, digital camera, to your new DSRL, nearly every new camera today has the ability to shoot video but, just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you should or that the end result  will be any good. Personally I’ve found shooting good video is a lot harder than an Instagram snapshot with a snazzy filter posted to Facebook.  

Following is the process I went through for shooting Elyse’s clip.

Project Background

The other week I received a call asking if I’d be interested in doing some portrait shots for an new young singer songwriter – “sure no problem – that’s what we do” my reply.  And would we also be interested in shooting a music video? – ahhhhh, well that’s a different story.  As I learnt from our recent Tropfest Project there’s so many other elements to video that you don’t have to think about with shooting stills – the most obvious,

  • “time” – instead of trying to capture a single moment in time and deliver an instant, memorable message – you’re actually incorporating time into the viewer experience for the duration of the clip 
  • “sound” – sound is one of the most powerful components to any video – your viewers will tolerate ordinary vision but not poor sound.
  • “skills” –  editing is yet another new skill set to master.

So, with some initial hesitiation I said “yes”, my belief being that if you’re not constantly challenging your own status quo; learning and doing something new, then you submit to letting life happen to you instead of making it happen (if that makes sense?).

The Fundamental Sound

As mentioned earlier “sound” is very important.  I’m very fortunate with this project that Elyse can sing (her music teacher is our Rachael – the singer in our Maxy band); the song is good (IMHO) and that the production quality from local music producer Derek from Quarterpipe Records is fantastic.   

The first thing I do with the soundtrack is add a slate click track to the beginning of the song which we’ll play for every video take and use to sync the clips via my iPhone and a portable battery powered speaker.  In hindsight I should have then coverted this music track into to a video slate for visual time sync as well – ie for cases where I couldn’t hear Elyse singing along – (long shots or the waves crashing on the beach).

Story lines

Music videos are different than advertising and short films in that you’re not really trying to tell a story – usually the more abstract the better.  That doesn’t mean you just film random shots for 3 minutes either.  This clip is a bit like a show reel – what I wanted to show was Elyse, how beautiful she is and that she also plays guitar.  The target audience are potential fans and music A&R Managers.

Equipment

Canon 5D MkIII; $150 Canon EF 50mm f/1.8; my favorite Canon EF 24-105 L IS USM; 2 x 450mm LED lights and a couple of LED spots; Iphone and little audio docking station; a flecky.

I’ve also equipped my camera with a Kinotehnik LCD viewfinder – it’s practically impossible to shoot video on a DSLR without one of these. 

The shoot – Saturday 9th March 

The alarm rings at 4:30AM and take the dog for a walk to check the weather.  Thankfully the weather bureaus forecast of rain looks like it’s wrong.   At 5AM I text Karin – Elyse’s mum, to confirm our shoot is on and organise to meet at the local Sailing Club at 6AM.

6AM – it’s still dark, sunrise is not due to 6:45AM.  I’ve decided to shoot our first takes in Foodies – my favourite local coffee shop.  Owner Mat didn’t see my message from the previous night but he’s cool – it gives the locals and staff something different to talk about.

Our plan of attack is to have three locations over the next three hours – the coffee shop; the beach and some local forest – wrapping up at 9AM.

  • The first thing we do is set up our scene and lighting – a simple three point lighting setup
  • Next is a white balance using my X-rite colour checker passport.
  • The camera is then manual white balanced for “better”/ correct colour correction.
  • Shoot a colour card image of the X-rite for referene and later grading.
  • Shoot our clips – without guitar; close ups; wide angles; with guitar.  10 takes later and everyone is the cafe knows the song!

7AM – the sun has just broken through the morning clouds so we speed off to our second location on the beach.  Again – white balance; set the camera to custom white balance – shoot a colour card image for reference.  Just as we’re ready to shoot the cloud comes over.  I decide to just keep shooting and see if I can fix later.  There’s a lot of movement in theses shots and a steady cam unit would be very advantageous.

8AM – we wrap on the beach and head up to the trees.   I switch to the $150 50mm lens for some very shallow shots – for online video you just don’t need expensive glass.

9AM – we wrap – next stage editing

 


Editing

Import all the clips into Adobe Premiere CS6

The next thing I do is watch each take and take down a note of bits I like and don’t like.

In the source panel switch to audio track view and mark the clapper point for each of the clips.

Using the mark point I sync all the clips into a multi-camera track.  The latest version of Premiers CS6 allows unlimited camera tracks – the limitation here your computers capabilities.  I’m running a Quad Core with 16Gb of RAM and a Nvidia Quadro FX3800 and it’s really struggling with 9 tracks of 1080p HD video.  I drop play back to 1/4 resolution and this helps.

On the multi camera sequence and colour correct each of the clips. 

After about twelve hours of editing I’ve finished the rough edit.  The next step is adding warp stabliser to some of the clips to try and smooth some of the shots out.  This process can take 10 – 20 minutes just to analyse 10 seconds of video.

The next step was to then look at transitions and then finally rendering out for distribution – in this case Youtube – which took about 3 hours to render (258mb file) then another couple to upload.

All in all about 15 hours of editing (for a three minute clip)

 

Jamie Is My Darlin – The Barney Dawson Story

We’re in a pub (yes having a beer) and the guy playing guitar in the corner looks a bit like a cross between Danny Devito, Aggro the muppet and Mark Knoffler – he’s singing a pretty good cover version of Dire Straits “Money for Nothing (and chicks for free)”.  I’m sure the words he’s singing aren’t quite right but that’s a different story.

After his set, “Barney Dawson” (we learn), comes over and joins us at our table.

We chat, Barney tells us he’s been playing guitar and singing for over forty of his forty-five years, that he’d been a child superstar, recorded albums, starred in films, travelled the country but was now back doing what he loved most – getting face to face with real people like us, just him and his guitar.

By the way did we have any song requests? He knows thousands of songs and he finds gigs are much better when the audience is involved.  “Today, entertainment is an interactive two way conversation with your audience” he says.  It’s interesting how this very much the same as digital brand marketing through social media, that you can no longer jam your message down your audiences throat.

“How about ACDC’s ‘its a long way to the top” my mate Franklyn asks.

“No problem” the reply, …and somewhat apologetically, Barney asks if we can shout him a beer – he’s left his wallet at home and there is some confusion over the publican and his manager not running the normal bands drinks rider at the bar”