Tuesday, August 27, 2013

America's Cup 2013 - Shooting sailing on the San Francisco Bay

Last week was yet another amazing experience for me. It was a chance to photograph the incredible boats racing in the America's Cup race. And the best part is that we were not shooting from the shore. We were shooting from some really fast Protector boats, that could just about keep up with the AC72 race boats.

We had 2 1/2 days on the bay to shoot. The first half day shoot started at 5pm, with us on the chase boats, scouting the bay and checking out the terrain in the evening light. We came across the AC45 boats which were parked for the night. These boats are used for the youths (25 and under), but had very cool sails, which looked great against the San Francisco background.

The next day, were were out on the bay much earlier and got a chance to shoot images of the AC45s.

Here are all of the boats lined up for a race start, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

One of the New Zealand boats racing against the USA boat, with Coit Tower in the background.

I used my Canon 28-300 at 300mm to zoom into the guys leaning off the boat.

And then, as the AC45 boats were finishing up, we saw one of the Oracle Team USA boats come out for some practice. I was really excited to see these boats in action.

Holy cow! These catamarans are so big and so fast! They reach a top speed of 50mph, which is really cool, but makes it hard to keep up with them and still try to get a good shot. Trust me, we were bouncing all over the place as I shot these images. And for those photographers out there, I was using shutter speeds well over 1/2000 sec to make sure and capture sharp images. Originally I had planned on taking one of my Canon 5D Mark III cameras, but decided to bring the Canon 1DX since it has better weather sealing to protect from water damage.

As always, I was looking for good action shots but also looking for great foreground and backgrounds. In this case, the Oracle boat made a pass by the Bay Bridge and I grabbed this frame. I shot vertically to show the height of the sail. This sail is not fabric, like traditional sails, it is actually a hard material. And the size...the same as a 747 wing.

There is something really invigorating about seeing these massive boats coming straight at you. I zoomed in and grabbed this shot of Boat 17 coming straight at us. Seconds later, we had to make a quick maneuver to get out of their way.

Team USA sailing in front of the Sutro Tower.

It was impressive to see how fast the sailers move from one side of the boat to the other.

We had our driver position our chase boat so that we could get a shot of the Oracle boat in front of Alcatraz Island.

On the second day, we had smoother conditions on the water and I decided to switch to both the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 lens and the Canon 100-400 lens. And again, I was continually using the full length of the lenses to get really tight shots of the AC72 boats.

Look at the height of the boat off the water. Once these catamarans hit 20 mph, they start to rise up onto the foils. It is amazing to see how quickly and smoothly these cut through the water once they have reached this speed.

This is one of my favorite photos from the shoot. This was taken during the 3rd race and shows the New Zealand team working hard to win the race.

Another shot of the Oracle team rounding a corner marker.

This is another favorite photo of mine, because it shows the AC72 almost fully out of the water and up on it's foils. Honestly, the photo does not do justice to seeing this in person. To see such a large craft come out of the water like this and to see them whip by us, was really something to behold.

And then...after 3 days of shooting, it was time to get some dinner with the other photographer's and videographers and head home. I was exhausted and trying to make it home before 10pm, and then, when driving towards the Golden Gate Bridge, I saw the moon coming up...

At this point, I was still 5 miles from the bridge and I figured that the bay would be covered in fog. But, I was surprised to see that it was mostly clear skies. My wife called me and asked if I saw the moon, and I figured that if everyone else was seeing this, it had to be captured.  I shot this with my Canon 24-70 lens, which has become a new favorite for me. Wearing shorts and a t-shirt, I braved the blustery winds and cold weather to get the shot, but I am glad that I did. What a perfect ending to this memorable trip!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Using a point-and-shoot camera at a concert - A follow up to last week's blog

After posting last week's blog about photographing at concerts, I had many people write to me with questions, and many people said that they would never be able to shoot at a concert. Sure, not everyone can get credentials to shoot a concert, but that should not stop you from getting decent photos at a concert. Coincidentally, I went to a concert (Train, Gavin DeGraw, and The Script) with my family this past weekend, and since I was there for fun, and not shooting the concert, I only brought a Canon G15 camera. No DSLR, no big lenses...

With the proper settings, I was able to capture some nice images with a point-and-shoot camera, and thought I would share this with all of you as well.

The concert started at 7pm when there was still some nice evening light. We had pretty good seats (about 40 rows from the stage), and I used every bit of the 5x zoom on the camera to try and get close up shots. Honestly, for these types of shots, you could keep the camera in automatic mode and be fine.

As the light started dropping, I switched the camera to Aperture Priority and set the camera for the widest aperture it could get. I also left ISO in Auto mode, since I knew that it would be hard to change settings in the dark. (I am very familiar with changing settings on my DSLR cameras, but less so with this little camera.)

Luckily, Gavin DeGraw decided to hop off the stage and come into the crowd to sing some of his songs. This made it much easier to take grab some nice close shots.

I had perfect golden light on Gavin as he sang from the top of the railing.

This is my favorite photo of the evening. And as you can tell, it is not the sharpest image or the best lighting. This is a photo of Gavin DeGraw and my daughter (who is a HUGE fan of his). When I saw him head out into the crowd, I predicted that he might come our way and I told my daughter and her friend to follow me. At this point, I was in photographer mode, running backwards and trying to shoot images of my daughter and her favorite musician. 

During the second break, we decided to walk from our seats to the top of the lawn, to see what the view would be like from that location. I held the camera steady and shot this wide shot at 1/25 sec.

The headlining band was Train, and as you can see, the sun was long gone and it was time for some completely different camera settings. The camera was already in Aperture Priority and was set up to shoot at f/2.8 or a wide open as it would go when zoomed. The ISO was still set to Auto. I also changed the camera's metering mode to spot metering, to make sure that I had the right exposure on the face of the musician. And here is the most important tip: I noticed that, when reviewing the images, that the highlights were still blown out (too bright). In order to get the photos that you see here, I adjusted the exposure compensation between -1 and -2 stops. This gave me too major advantages. Firstly, it allowed me to control the exposures. And secondly, it bought me some shutter speed to make it easier to capture sharp images.

As you can see here, not every photo was great. With the constantly changing lights, there is some hit and miss when shooting concert photos.

Mid way through Train's performance, Pat Monahan was joined by Ashley Monroe to sing their new song, "Bruises". You will notice in this image how the Canon G15 metering was working for and against me. Their two singers are metered correctly, but the projection displays in the background are over exposed.

When shooting concerts, I really like to tilt the camera to match the angle of the lights. This is true regardless of whether I am using a DSLR or a point-and-shoot camera.

This last photo was taken during the final song, when Pat was joined by Gavin, Ashley and Danny (lead singer of The Script). Again, like many of the other photos that I captured, this is not one that I consider a great photo, but it is not bad for a small camera out in the crowd. And, as my daughter said, when looking at the images and video, the quality was WAY better from the G15 as compared to her iPhone images. Next time you head to a concert, and they restrict any cameras with interchangeable lenses, try bringing your smaller camera, adjusting the appropriate settings, and give it a shot.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How to photograph a rock concert - The Eagles, Sara Evans, and Scary Little Friends

Let me start this out with this disclaimer, I am not a full time concert photographer, but I love the challenge of shooting something new and different. I know many people who shoot concerts exclusively and do an amazing job of capturing musicians in action. I, like many of you, don't do this all the time, but have the chance once in a while to photograph concerts. And, if done correctly, this can yield some really cool photos.

In my experience, I have found that there are certain camera settings and planning logistics that help to get the killer shots. So...with that in mind, I am going to show you some of my photos and explain what I did to get the shot, and the camera settings I used.

Canon 5D Mark II, 24-105mm lens at 67mm, ISO 2500, f/4, 1/125 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
I was asked to shoot The Eagles in concert back in 2010. Not knowing much about concert photography, I planned on staying for quite a while and shooting lots of the concert. That was my first mistake! Most of the big name bands today have a "3 and out" rule where photographers can only shoot the first 3 songs. At that point, you are escorted out of the venue or to a holding room until the next band comes on. And, if there is only one band, you are escorted to the exit of the building and given the swift kick in the pants. Not very glamorous, I can assure you!

The other mistake I made was, I brought a wide variety of wide lenses with me, assuming that I would be shooting from the pit in front of the stage. But, the band also makes the determination of the photographer's shooting location. The Eagles did not want us shooting from up close, so we were only given the option to shoot from the sound boards in the rear of the arena. Luckily, I did bring a Canon 100-400 lens so that I could shoot some tight shots, but as you can see from this image, I liked the wide shots better.

So...how do you get better access and better photos? You go to smaller shows or concerts that are less restricted.

And now we fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I shot a Sara Evans concert in LA and then drove to Northern California to shoot another concert the following evening.

The Sara Evans concert was at The Grove, which is a really small outdoor setting, where I could shoot as long as I wanted and with freedom to move almost anywhere I wanted. I could not bring much gear with me, so I chose to bring my Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 28-300mm lens. I figured that with the high ISO capabilities of the 5D Mark III, I could get away with the slower lens. And it turned out to be the right call. This first shot was taken from the middle of the crowd at 70mm and shows the entire stage setup (Aperture Priority, ISO 1600, f/5, 1/200 sec).

Standing at the same basic location as the first wide shot, I zoomed in as far as I could, at 300mm, and shot this photo of Sara looking right at me (ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/100 sec). I typically put the camera in spot meter mode so that the exposure is correct on my subject. This is really important since the stage lighting is constantly changing, making it very difficult to meter. Many times I will lower the exposure compensation to make sure I am not blowing out the highlights.

Even though I liked the photos of Sara straight on, I moved to her left and really liked these images even better. (300mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/60 sec)

When shooting sports, people tend to forget that there are great shots in between the action, when the athletes are on the sideline or celebrating. The same is true when photographing concerts. I took this photo when Sara was not singing, instead she was interacting with the crowd. You can see the true smile in her face. Love this! (300mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/100 sec)

Towards the end of the concert, I grabbed this shot of Sara belting out a tune. I really like this shot, but would like it even more if there was some light on her left hand, which unfortunately falls out of the spotlight and into darkness. (235mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/500 sec).

As I mentioned, the next morning, I traveled from Southern California to Northern California to shoot a concert for a friend of mine. They have a band called "Scary Little Friends" and they were playing for a sold out crowd in Santa Cruz, CA. This was the largest show they had ever played, and not having any quality photos of their gigs, they asked if I would do the honors.

I got home from the 7 hour drive, changed cameras and lenses, and ten minutes later I was in my car making the hour long drive over the Santa Cruz mountains. (For this shoot, I brought my Canon 1DX with the 70-200mm 2.8 lens, a Canon 5D Mark III with the 28-300 lens, and a 16-35mm wide angle for close shots.)

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the best part of shooting lesser known bands at smaller venues, means that you have more freedom. In this case, I had complete access to the band, including shooting up on stage. But the one shot that the band wanted, was a photo of them playing in front of a crowd. So, I stood towards the back of the venue and shot from the sound board area. And in this photo, I even took the liberty of popping a flash (bouncing off the ceiling) to subtly light the crowd, otherwise they would hardly be noticeable against the lighting on the stage.

I saw this lighting down the aisle of The Rio Theatre and thought that it would make a cool photo. I used the leading lines to draw your attention to the stage area. (Also notice how dark the people are, without the added light from my flash, unlike the first shot.)

Once I knew I had the crowd shots that they wanted, I started moving around to get images of the band from different perspectives.

Here is a shot of Chris Jones, the lead singer and guitarist, from the side of the stage.

...and a shot of Charlie Knote, the drummer, from the very front of the stage.

I mentioned that one of the lens I brought with me, was the Canon 16-35mm. For this concert, I knew that I would be able to shoot from the front of the stage, an ideal spot for a wide angle shot. I stood right in front of my friend, Jon Payne and shot this wide shot of them.

Having complete freedom to shoot from anywhere had it's advantages. For this shot, I went backstage and snuck into position behind the band. Trying my best not to be seen, I pre-focused the camera on the drum set, and using the 16-35mm lens at 20mm, I reached my arm up and grabbed some no-look shots.

I wanted to include this photo on the blog so that you can see what happens when you tilt the camera. Notice how different the image looks when you add dramatic movement like this.

Another thing to keep in mind when photographing concerts, is to watch your depth of field. For most of these images, I was shooting wide open at f/2.8. This is great for isolating one person, but can prove difficult when trying to capture numerous people in focus in the same shot. For this shot and the one below, I purposely shot at f/2.8 to isolate my main subject. Jon was the subject in this shot and Chris in the one below.

This is a classic "rule of thirds" photo, with the band off center in the frame. I shot this as a closing shot, to show the guys in the band, but also the crowd with a small bit of light falling onto their faces.

I hope this helps any of you out there looking to photograph a concert. It is a ton of fun, especially if you have a venue with professional lighting. Throw in a large memory card and go have some fun!