I have a confession to make: I am not a trained photographer.
I've never taken a photography class. My degree is in literature; my minors are in Spanish and Linguistics. I've never set foot in a dark room, I've never wound a roll of film, and I've never even processed a roll of film.
I've also never taken any courses on lighting, compostition, posing, digital manipulation, or any of the other bajillion variables that go into creating a memorable image. I'm learning all that stuff on my own.
How? Lotsa ways. I read voraciously. I attend seminars and pro-shooter meetings as often as a working single dad can. I talk to and work with other shooters and learn from them. I shoot often. And one of the most important things I've learned along the way is that the first step to a powerful images starts with your own perspective. It's not about your toys; it's about how you see the world around you.
A normal, non-photographically-minded individual - let's call her Cassie - will see her kid doing something cute and kiddly in the grass or something. Cassie will take out her phone, point it in the direction of her cute kiddly kid, and document what she, Cassie, saw. She, Cassie, will then post it to Facespace or Twitbook or Myfive or whatever the kids use these days, and it will collect about a bajillion - there's that number again!! - likes. She'll show the pic - it's always a "pic" - to her completely deranged lunatic (ie, pro photographer) husband Eddie (that's my middle name, so no libel lawsuits, please), who will scream "you call this a picture?" in enraged disbelief.
Eddie, unhinged but mostly harmless to all apart from his photo gear, will stealthily drop to the grass, completely ruining his satin-white $300 Borrelli shirt that he somehow thought would go well with those torn, too-tight, and faded Girbaud jeans he picked up at Thrift Town twenty years ago. (I'm not basing this "Eddie" character on myself. I promise). Portrait lens already mounted on his cam, he opens that bad boy all the way and deliberately underexposes by about a stop to keep those colors nice and rich. "Cass!! Babe!!" he shouts, and pleads with her to take his softbox-mounted, dome-diffused speedlight and point it at a gentle 45-degree angle at their visibly bewildered daughter. Eddie composes his shot, exposing just as their precious, sweet child mouths "dafuq?" at her wild-eyed freak of a father.
Eddie takes just one shot. He gets up and shows Cassie his work. It is a perfectly composed photograph of their sweet itty bitty baybee. Focus is tight on her eyes, but the 1.4 aperture softens her entire face and renders the trees in the background into a creamy, bokeh-laden-impression. But those are just minor details. What makes the shot is her eyes. Why her eyes? Because it is her eyes that convey her perspective, and it is the camera's eye that conveys that conveyance. Cassie documented what she saw. Eddie captured their baybee seeing as the baybee sees. That is what gives the image impact.
This installment of elBlogo will not feature any infant photography. It will, however, feature my return to the place where I learned to see like Eddie: a dark, dank, and often sticky precipice of wonder and magic that concert photographers call "The Photopit."
That's right, ladies and gentlemen. I learned to see like Eddie by shooting a whole lot of death metal bands.
My bio makes mention of my dark past as a music writer. In my youth, I wrote for several fanzines and was the photographer and webmaster of a San Antonio-based music program called The Scene. One of the many perks was that I got to photograph nearly any rock concert that came through the area. Now, here's the thing about shooting concerts: you have three songs to get all your shots; you're sumarilly escorted away from The Pit once the third song concludes. You're not allowed to use flash of any sort. And unless you're willing to drive to the next town and the publicist is willing to work with you, you don't get a second chance.
Many budding shooters get discouraged with the restrictions of The Pit. Others adapt and thrive. Still others, and I include myself here, take lessons learned in The Pit and apply them to weddings. The shooter who antcipates things before they happen, reacts quickly, and isn't afraid to get dirty will always have the advantage. No one is born with those skills. They must be learned, acquired, and cultivated in the face of sometimes overwhelming opposition. Thus, the shooter who adapts is the shooter who thrives. I call it Photographic Darwinism.
Wednesday, 26 August 2015 marked my return to The Photopit. It had been nearly two years since I'd shot a concert, and I'd been itching to return to my roots. So I sprung into action when I learned that the legendary progenitors of progressive rock known as Yes were to hit the Majestic Theater. I'm proud to announce that I am now an official house photograher for the Majestic and Empire Theaters. I plan to make similar arrangements with other venues. Wish me luck!!!
Oh yeah, the photos. We'll start off with the support band, Toto. Maybe you've heard of them. They seem to think that Rosanna holds the line in Africa. Toto is basically a bunch of incredible musicians playing pop songs. Pop music is just not my thing. But they smoke live.
I learned the name "Steve Lukather" when I started playing guitar at about 13. His name was spoken in hushed tones in music shops and guitar magazines, because apparently he had both chops and finesse. The voices didn't lie; Luke is a musician's musician in every respect.
I thoroughly enjoyed shooting keyboardist Steve Porcaro; if Rick Wakeman is the Merlin of the Keys, then Porcaro is Herr Doktor Frankenstein. He looks like a mad freaking scientist behind his keys, and I had a blast watching him.
Keyboardist/ singer David Paich was also an animated performer.
Fun fact: Toto vocalist Joe Williams is the son of film composer John Williams. Have you seen ET, Star Wars, or Jaws? You've heard John Williams then.
You may have heard that Yes bassist Chris Squire (one of rock music's first virtuoso bassists) lost his battle against cancer a few months ago. Yes's set opened with a touching but not grossly sentimental video tribute to the man. I only caught a glimpse of it; my eyes were on Squire's instrument, which stood unaccompanied on an otherwise unlit stage.
Then the beasts themselves hit the stage. The band's lineup has been famously volatile, but drummer Alan White has been on every Yes album since 1972. You've probably heard him play even if you've never heard Yes. Ever heard John Lennon's "Imagine" and "Instant Karma?" That's Alan White on drums.
Billy Sherwood was the natural choice to fill Chris Squire's shoes; he'd been a longtime friend and collaborator of Squire's, and had previously been in Yes as keyboardist and second guitarist. He has said that Squire told him to "play the music, be yourself, and make me proud." Though Squire didn't live to see Yes's first-ever performance without himself on the bass, I have no doubt that he would be pleased with Sherwood's performance. He pretty much nailed it.
Few musicians wow like Howe. He's old enough to be my great-grandfather, and his chops smoke those of any of the incredible musicians I know. When Steve Howe plays, you shut up and listen.
Geoff Downs is not Rick Wakeman. And you know what? He doesn't need to be. That Ed Hardy Jacket though...
Singer Jon Davison is just a few years older than I am. He isn't Jon Anderson. But you would never guess that by hearing him.
Fun fact: original Yes singer Jon Anderson performed "Owner of a Lonely Heart" with the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio in 2011.
Yes played about a ten-song set, but this being prog rock, it took nearly two hours. Awesome musicians, awesome music, awesome lights, awesome attendees... I don't think I could have asked for a warmer welcome back to The Pit.
Oh, and I get to shoot Broadway shows now. First on my plate: The Little Mermaid.