Durban recently hosted its 10th annual Durban International Blues Festival at the lively Zack’s Wilson’s Wharf venue on the Bay. I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph the Fender evening on a few occasions, but this year it was extra special because my son and his Rock Academy band were one of the acts. They played 2 numbers on the night, namely “House Of The Rising Sun” by the Animals and “Before You Accuse Me” by Eric Clapton (I think he wrote it?). Very proud moment for me. Sometimes I find myself living vicariously… not such a bad thing coz I sure as hell wouldn’t ever have the nerve to get up on a stage in front of a lot of people and entertain them. No sir. I gots me some issues with stage confidence.
I love photographing bands and performers though. Over the years I have accumulated quite a few images of artists who played on various stages. I’d love to put on an exhibition of these works someday. Photographing live music is not easy, but I have managed to perfect my own method which sort of comes naturally to me. A lot of photographers struggle with things like metering methods, colour balance, auto focus and whatever else the camera battles with when left to its own devices. I’ve come to know my cameras over the years, wringing the best out of them wherever possible and recently with my move to the Olympus micro four thirds system I find I am just getting better and better shots as the technology improves. The things I lean on are the new fast lenses that the smaller m43 format has brought us, in particular the Olympus 75mm f/1.8, the ability to shoot at high ISO and get a usable image (see my post A Beautiful Noise) and image stabilisation. Without those three elements you’re going to be in for a lot of disappointment as far as image quality goes (and I’m seeing that evident in the work of others who cover the same events I do).
That said, there’s also a lot to be said for personal experience. I recently discovered something that the Olympus cameras do that kind of makes low light photography a lot easier. On the Olympus bodies you’ll find this thing called a Shadow Spot Meter. I accidentally activated this while on safari recently while we were photographing this pack of stinky hyenas at Sabi Sabi. It was night time and the only lights we had on the scene were the spotlights that the trackers use. I usually auto float my ISO values between 100 and 8000 on the Olympus E-M1 but I couldn’t understand why I was getting decent exposures at low ISO values of 400 and sometimes even 200 in such dim conditions. It didn’t make sense to me, yet there I was looking at these great shots on the back of the camera and zoomed in at pixel level I had hardly any noise. So I tried using that metering method on the stage at this years festival and it worked well there too. Yes, the rest of the scene goes quite dark, but your subject gets just the right amount of exposure if you’re looking for that low key, moody look. Just so happens that I like that. A lot.