Black Thought (The Roots)
Well, on Saturday night, thanks to help from the homie Tafari http://mindspill.bygbaby.com and the wonderful and lovely Nina Moreno over at fusicology.com , I was given the opportunity to shoot the invite-only Hennessy Artistry event at Bert’s Warehouse. At about 8:45 pm, I received a call from Tafari telling me that if I wanted to shoot the event, I needed to be at Bert’s by 9:30. After a shave, a brushing of the teeth, and a quick whore bath, I was ready to roll!
Questlove (The Roots)
I got to the venue at about 9:25. It was raining, and quite chilly. Once Nina arrived, I went in with her crew and was immediately escorted backstage. As I swept through the venue and the crowd, I couldn’t help but notice my lavish surroundings. Did the curtains I passed through instantly transport me to South Beach or Las Vegas? The interior was beautiful, with an elevated and sectioned-off VIP. The bars were stocked with bottle after bottle of free Hennessy. The crowd was so…dignified – not a single Plies to be found!
Questlove and Black Thought (The Roots)
As I arrived backstage by the rear entrance, I couldn’t help but notice that Tafari was nowhere to be found. Immediately upon my arrival, I was told that the talent was about to arrive. I readied my gear, despite having no clue as to what was about to happen. I guess I expected the talent to make a grand entrance, surrounded by a swarm of paparazzi. After all, there couldn’t have been more than 5 photographers back there with me. Security quickly came up and said “OK, The Roots are about to come out. These 2 guys go first (*points to the 2 guys*), then you guys go (*points to me and the other 2 photographers near me*). Then, just as low key as you would expect, Questlove and Black Thought calmly walked in front of the backdrop and posed. No flurry of paparazzi. No “flashing lights” (well, not that many anyway). Just “you take a few shots, now you take a few shots, make a fast, all done.”
Marsha Ambrosius (Floetry)
After The Roots left, there was a considerable amount of downtime, giving me an opportunity to text Tafari. “Dude! Where are you?!?! I’m backstage and we just got some set-up shots of The Roots in front of a backdrop!!” Tafari: WHAT?!?! By the time Tafari arrived, there had been no more guests. (I later found out from JD, formerly of Real Detroit, that we had already missed Travie McCoy.) During our wait for the arrival of additional talent, Tafari and I were able to chat with celebrity photographer, Johnny Nunez (Google him, baby!). The celebs LOVED him. Every one that came in greeted him as if he was family. Next up, was Marsha Ambrosius of Floetry. She was stunning, and I was able to capture the image you see above.
After Marsha, the celebs started to come through a little more quickly. We shot the cast of “Detroit 1-8-7,” as well as several of the Detroit Pistons. Toccara came through, and was mad cool. She laid claim to Tafari as her “side piece.” We also shot Jay Electronica (more on him later). Then, Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest came through and blessed me with this wonderful mugshot! 🙂
Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest)
All the was left now, was to wait on the main event. Each stop on the Hennessy Artistry tour featured a secret surprise guest. The first show had Erykah Badu. The second show had Bobby Brown. Who was Detroit going to get? To Tafari’s pleasure (and the displeasure of whoever is going to have to clean his underwear), it was Chaka Khan.
As Chaka Khan was leaving (and Tafari was picking himself up off the floor and towel-drying his crotch), we could hear the show starting out front. For the time being, work was over, and it was time for drinks. Well, at least for me it was. 🙂
I proceeded to the bar and made quick work of 3 Hennessy Apple’s (Hennessy and Apple Juice Cocktail). I chilled and watched the show for a bit, and it was awe-inspiring. You know how you can hear an artist on their CD and they sound phenomenal, but then when you see them live, they suck? This was not the case at Hennessy Artistry. The Roots and Q-Tip were BANGING!!!! They were BETTER live! The club was shaking, the crowd was hype, and the drinks were flowing. “This can’t be life!”
Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest)
One of the coolest things for me, was that the celebrities who were not performing were just walking around the crowd with all the rest of us. I look in one direction, and I see Derrick Coleman. I looked behind me, and I see Toccara dancing. I look to my right, and I see the cast of “Detroit 1-8-7” living it up. As I returned to the bar, I walked right past Greg Monroe, Vernon Hamilton, and DaJuan Summers of the Detroit Pistons. It was surreal.
I decided that break time was over, and it was time for me to get some shots of the performances. I downed my 4th Hennessy Apple, only to realize that it was still relatively early – not even midnight. This would give me sufficient time to metabolize my drinks.
The Roots and Q-Tip essentially hosted the show. They never left the stage, and it was a blessing. They were unadulterated dopeness! Jay Electronica came out next, and man… dude was SPITTING. Q-Tip had to fan him off, because his bars were TOO hot.
Now, I’ve heard Floetry many-a-time, and I like and respect their music quite a bit. Still, I was not prepared for the eargasms I was about to experience when they brought out Marsha Ambrosius. She sounded absolutely phenomenal. Music to my ears, literally. Travie McCoy came out and really worked the crowd into a frenzy. As an aside, I’m curious. Is he no longer a member of Gym Class Heroes? And what’s with the “Travie”? Travis sounds better. #JustSayin
The crowd was hype, and everyone’s drinks had them on high. It was time for the finale. Q-Tip announced Chaka Khan, and the crowd went wild.
She was amazing. Still on top of her game, she whipped the crowd into a frenzy. I think I saw Tafari do the running man, for some reason. She wasn’t out for long, but it doesn’t take long to slap someone upside the head with awesomeness, and that’s just what Chaka did. As she left, the rest of the performers began playing to the crowd. Questlove autographed his drum sticks (I initially typed “drumstricks” and thought, “Wait, like chicken? No, that’s not right.”) as well as the tops of his drums, and threw them into the crowd. Tafari actually snagged one of the drum tops, nearly decapitating a poor defenseless child in the process. OK, maybe it wasn’t a child, and maybe she wasn’t poor or defenseless, but it was still pretty gangsta. Artists started filming the crowd on their iPhones, taking pictures of us, and shaking our hands (I actually got a handshake from Q-Tip, and Tafari got one from Chaka Khan). And, as Q-Tip danced off stage, the crowd began to make its way toward the exit.
Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest)
Tafari and I made our way back backstage – scratch that, we returned back stage – for a little after-show mingling. I ordered a Hennessy Berry, just for a change of pace, and was reminded that not all change was to be believed in (thanks Obama!). That drink was dreadfully nasty. Most of the performers had retreated to their dressing rooms, but Tafari managed to snag a picture of himself with Marsha Ambrosius, as well as Questlove, with the help of yours truly behind the camera. It was a truly a night for the ages, and I’ll never forget it. I’m both thankful for, and appreciative of, the help of ANYONE who was involved in allowing me to photograph this event. I would say that I hope it’s not my last, but I don’t intend for it to be, so I won’t allow to it be.
Finally, if you want to see all the rest of the photos that I had no intention of uploading into this blog post due to space on the blog, the number of pictures, and my ferocious laziness… check them out in all their hi-res glory on my Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/dtownpistonsfan/sets/72157624964553555/ . While you’re doing everything I tell you, make sure to check out Tafari’s blog http://mindspill.bygbaby.com and follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/photosbytafari . Also, check out Nina Moreno’s site, Fusicology, as well http://www.fusicology.com Finally, keep in mind that you can click on any picture in this blog and be able to see it a “lil mo big.”
Last night, I attempted my first ever night time portrait session. I’ve had shoots that ended around dusk/night, but this one didn’t even start until about 11pm. I had the homie O come through and be the guinea pig for the shoot. Real quick, before I continue, he has a blog as well. Check it out here http://www.o-get-whitted.blogspot.com/ , and while you’re at it, follow him on Twitter as well (@Detroit_O).
Anyway, the shoot itself took place in the middle of the street – a street that still had fairly high traffic at midnight. The most obvious issue with shooting at night is how you’re going to light the subject. Surprisingly, this was the LEAST of my problems. I figured out my lighting on the sidewalk before we started shooting. Once I knew what setup I wanted to use, when traffic was clear, we’d run out in the street and take the shots. We’d run out of the street when cars were coming. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
The lighting setup wasn’t too difficult to figure out. For starters, I knew I had to factor in those funky orange-colored street lights throwing off my white balance. So I threw a full CTO gel on my light and set the white balance to tungsten, or as I like to call it, “light bulb.” I shot into a reflective 60″ umbrella, at *I believe* 1/4 power. The umbrella was probably about 4 feet or so from O, camera right. I upped my ISO slightly to 400 in camera, and shot wide open at f/1.4. To get a proper exposure on the background, my shutter speed was at 1/10. As complicated as all this sounds, I worked all this out in my head quickly and easily.
The most difficult part of this shoot, aside from dealing with the cars, was getting my camera to focus! I spent a large part of the time too far away from O, and the camera simply could not find him in the darkness. Once I got close enough for the AF-assist light to find him, things smoothed out.
Another technique I tried for the first time was stacking my gels. The full cut of CTO that I placed on my light was to balance the light with the street lights. Basically, it just made everything look “right.” However, to me, “right” started to get a little boring. So I stacked a 1/4 CTB gel (blue) on top of the CTO, which helped cast a nice blue light onto O, as you’ll see below.
While I work on constructing a brand new website, I wanted to give you guys and gals a slideshow of my portfolio images. Now that WordPress has added a cool new feature to “like” posts, as well as share them on Facebook and Twitter, feel free to do that with this post, as well as any of the previous ones. Thanks for the support you guys!!!
I have to be honest, I haven’t been in the best of moods lately. I alluded to some of my issues in my return post (about 2 posts down), but that’s just the tip of my mental-turmoil iceberg. I’ve always believed that a good way to cheer up is to do something you love. For me, this was a combination of alcohol and photography. lol So don’t let the smile fool you, I’m not in very good spirits (no pun intended!). Having said that, I think this image turned out pretty good, and I did minimal retouching on it. It’s basically straight out of the camera, save for a few contrast adjustments and sharpening. I haven’t done an artificially lit self portrait in a while, and I think it helped. After a good day today, and some time to think (while I was comatose), I’m feeling quite better. I took some time to come up with some ideas and plot some plans/strategies. It’s always good to have goals, but it’s great to be able to envision the path you will take to reach them.
So last night I went out to The Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac to see Jaydun (@JAYDUNAVIATOR) perform. I went as a fan, and not as a hired photographer. Yet, I couldn’t resist bringing some of my gear, and seeing what kind of shots I could get. Concerts present an interesting challenge for a photographer for a few reasons: For starters, it’s always dark. This fact alone forces a photographer to make a decision on what sort of approach he or she is going to take. Is he going to attempt to artificially light the subject, or is he going to kick that ISO up a bit and use a fast lens? Secondly, as you can see in the picture above, the light can change. It’s not something consistent that you can show up early, measure, and then adjust for. One minute there can be a flood of light, the next minute it can be pitch black, or as you see above, it can be blue and purple.
Now, let me just say that this wasn’t my first time in this situation. I shot a concert that was similarly lit when I lived in California. It took place in the basement of a club in LA. Pretty much, the conditions were exactly the same, and that show went fairly smoothly. So once I got to this show and saw the setup, I decided to start with the same approach. In retrospect, I see why this concert presented issues that the other one did not, and it was for a reason that I did not anticipate going in.
The band that I shot in LA consisted of a guy on a keyboard, a couple guys on guitars, a drummer, and a singer. All of these people were stationary. All of them moved their arms, but for the most part, they stood still. So my strategy of “kick up the ISO, and shoot with a fast lens” worked. Since my subject was essentially motionless, it was almost like kicking up my shutter speed even more. I got more bang with a slower shutter. Also, since that was my first time using my camera in such a low light situation, I kicked up my ISO higher than I would advise doing on a D90. I got a lot of noise on this images. Well, it was a lot of noise TO ME. The average viewer’s eye probably wouldn’t even notice, but when I looked at those images completely enlarged, the noise was excessive. Furthermore, even if I HAD noticed the noise at the time I was editing the pics, I wouldn’t have known what to do about it. Now, I have a noise reduction plug-in Photoshop.
Anyway, Jaydun is a rapper – an animated one. His arms, legs, and body are constantly in motion. He’s rapping, moving across the stage, and getting the crowd involved. 1/50th of a second is not going to produce sharp images. As I found out very quickly, an inflated ISO and a fast lens was simply not good enough. I didn’t know how long I’d have, either. Jaydun could be off the stage any second, so I had to act fast. I had wasted an entire song worth of shots, seeing only blurry “immediately delete me” images. So I did the next best thing I could: I grabbed my SB-600 out of my bag, set it to TTL, and hoped for the best.
It’s worth noting that I had to set the flash to TTL. I typically don’t use it that way. I usually have it in manual mode. The cool thing about manual mode, whether it’s flash or the settings in the camera, is that since you choose the settings, they stay that way. You will get the same output every time, 10 times out of 10. I prefer that reliability when using artificial light. No matter what happens, I control the output of my light, and it will always stay that way. However, it obviously requires a little more time and effort to get those settings correct since you’re doing them yourself, rather than having a brilliant computer figure them out for you.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have this luxury of using the manual mode during Jaydun’s performance. The time it may have taken to figure out the correct settings alone would have cost me valuable time. Additionally, he simply moves around the stage too much. I could have calculated an amount of light output that would be PERFECT for when he’s standing 10 feet away from me, then at the blink of an eye, he could be 20 feet away and now I don’t have enough light.
So I ended up putting my flash in TTL mode (which is fancy talk for “you figure out the light output, flash”). Since the flash would have to talk to the camera in a split second in order to calculate the light output; Jaydun was moving all over the stage and being very animated; and the light on the stage was constantly changing, the flash had to do a lot of thinking. I knew this would produce drastically different pictures throughout the course of the performance, so my final strategy was “take a ton of pictures, and we’ll see what we get.” It didn’t turn out well. Most of the pictures were throwaways. Some were poorly lit, some showed a poor white balance, others were out of focus. Fortunately, rather than getting all throwaway images, I did get some keepers. It was definitely a learning experience, and Photoshop helped me turn good but uninteresting images into images with eye-popping colors. I learned a lot this time around, and the next time I shoot a concert, I’ll be much better prepared for any obstacle I may come up against.
Well, as you can tell by the date attached to my last post, it’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged. I think it’s time I revamped the blog, as well. I’m not necessarily talking about the visual look of the blog. I want to change it stylistically. Before, I was using it as just another medium in which to post my Project 365 images. In case it isn’t obvious, I’ve abandoned the 365 (more on that later), but I don’t want to abandon the blog. So I’m thinking that in lieu of daily image posts, I’m going to post less often, but the posts will be a combination of writing and images.
Where do I begin? Let’s start with the Project 365. As a budding photographer, I was plagued with a lot of self doubt. Most of this self doubt revolved around what I perceived to be a lack of creativity. The purpose of the Project 365 was to put my creativity to the test. The brain is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. So the Project 365 was my Bowflex, and the right side of my brain was starting a 365-day workout regimen. About halfway through the project, it became less fun and more of a burden, and I didn’t want to connect any sort of negative thoughts to photography. This, combined with my move back to Michigan, led to the ending of the Project. Also, I had gained some confidence in my ability as a photographer, and I think I came up with some pretty creative images. Wouldn’t you agree?
Since I moved back to Michigan, things have been going … “less than stellar.” I haven’t booked many shoots, and I have yet to find a 9-5 job. A large part of why I was OK with coming back to Michigan was that, for a number of reasons I won’t go into right now, it presented a great deal of opportunity – opportunity that has yet to be realized. A 9-5 job would go a long way in helping me head in the direction I want to go, but this job search has proved to be FAR more difficult than I expected. I think my concerns about my current life situation have also sapped my energy and motivation. I find myself shooting far less, and I have to constantly remind myself that I do photography for the love of photography, not for the money. Just because I’m not doing a paid job, does not mean that I should not be shooting. While I have been shooting far less (and that WILL change), I still have managed to capture some images of which I am quite proud. (Shout out to Elton Anderson of Elton Anderson Photography for giving me the opportunity to join him on the shoot that produced the following image. I appreciated the shit out of that. I really did. His Twitter is @L10 . Follow him.) I also plan on posting the Twitter name of anyone who I mention in this post and future blog posts. Why? I’m just a nice fuckin guy.
Recently, I was a groomsman in the wedding of a very close friend of mine, @JGRAMMAR . I decided to bring some of my gear, just so I could snap some pictures for my personal collection to help aid me in remembering the wedding (since alcohol has killed my brain cells). I ended up getting some great stuff, and those wedding pictures turned out to be a huge networking success for me. I only wish I had brought some of my business cards to the reception!
I also had a shoot with local hip-hop artists (and friends) Jaydun (@JAYDUNAVIATOR )and Rufio Jones (@RufioJones ) that turned out some pretty strong images, if I do say so myself. 🙂
Then of course, there are always going to be the obligatory images of my heart and my best buddy, my son. He’s not on Twitter. 🙂
Hopefully a shift in focus back to the love of photography (as well as a returned focus toward this blog) will lead to my becoming a better photographer, and coincidentally more bookings. 🙂 Things aren’t going well, and I don’t believe in cliches, but it’s true that it is always darkest before the dawn – and I’m in need of a flashlight right now.
So, you all can expect to hear from me more often, and if you’re not already following me on Twitter. You owe it to yourself to do.