Big Boss Groove at AIS Arena, Canberra

Big Boss Groove in AIS arena

I have photographed Big Boss Groove first in Merimbula Jazz Festival in 2015 and later in their rehearsals and performance in Great Hall, Parliament House in Canberra. This time, I had the opportunity to photograph the band in AIS arena and was very fortunate with the large and accessible stage as well as very good stage lighting.

Photography was done with two cameras, Canon 5D Mark II with Canon EF 17 – 40mm f/4.0L USM attached to it most of the time for wide angle shots, and — when I had the chance to swap lenses in a short break amid the fast-paced performance- Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM for some close ups and to capture brass and artists under the dreamy light of hundreds of small bulbs.

Telephoto shots were taken by Sigma 70 – 200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM mounted on the tiny, simple and old Nikon D3100.

With the Nikon, at times when the light were too low to focus, I’ve used Nikon AF‑S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G. to get the shots I wanted.

If you forgive my Middle-Eastern mindset which is infused with military terminology from childhood, I believe if ultra wides and telephotos are respectively equivalents of cannons and sniper rifles, normal primes are the dagger; when all else failed, go up close and finish the job.

Big Boss Groove at AIS Arena, Canberra

Notes on jazz photography – Part I

Notes on jazz photography – I

Introduction

Jazz photography is an unending experience in discovering motion, feelings, light and interconnection of the human form with musical instruments and each other. Some rules of photographing a portrait apply to it, but the unpredictability of movements, emotions and the need for working with available light make it more similar to the practice of candid photography. Also, the human aspects of it – who to shoot and when, the question of photographer’s courage to cross boundaries and get close, invisibility, visibility, and the speed – make it similar to street photography and social documentary.

This post is a summary of author’s experiences and lessons learned through photographing various rehearsals and live performances, mostly in artificial, low-intensity light, no flash and equipment that’s hardly can be categorized as semi-professional. Of course, having inadequate equipment for a job is not a good thing in itself, but it teaches you what is critical in your future choices of tools.

As I explore this subject, I will write about musicians and their instruments as the central part of the mise en scène*,  light as a subject, the audience, camera angles, camera settings, and some technical aspects of the workflow in my upcoming posts.

Part I – the human factor and the mise en scène*

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The need to have a rapport with performers as they play is not as essential as in portrait photography — which is paramount — because they need to focus on their own task and you should focus on your own. Trying too hard to maintain eye contact with them is not productive because will distract them from their work. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on your work and not trying to look “nice”.

Rangefinder cameras, which can be helpful for photographers who have difficulty creating rapport with their subjects — when their face is hidden behind the SLR cameras — are not necessary, because maintaining eye contact is not essential in photographing musicians.

Ask artists to change positions during breaks

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If it’s possible, ask the band to change positions during breaks. Usually, some performers can get behind others, equipment, microphones, music stands, or simply positioned in the depth of the stage, in an unsuitable location, or without good lighting. Some examples are when there’s a busy or visually unpleasant background behind them when they are sitting/standing alone without any props or people to help the composition. Bad lighting can be either poor light, uninteresting, dull light or coloured light from stage lighting. The whiteness of sheet music, the backlight of tablets used for reading sheet music, computer displays, phones and other electronics can either ruin a composition, scene tonality (think a triangle of extreme highlight in the intersecting one-third of the frame) or confuse the spot meter. Also, open doors or emergency exit lights can be a problem.

It’s not always possible due to wirings and the performers’ preference on maintaining eye contact with the conductor, drummer, singer or other members of the band, however, sometimes all these problems can be reduced or eliminated by simply asking a musician to put one step forward.

Take photos when the band looks fresh

Physical activity, heat, sweating and getting tired alters the makeup, skin tones, clothing, hair and eyes of the performers. It’s a good idea to take some group shots in the early stages of performance, like the first break, when everyone looks their best.

Behind the scenes, drinks and breaks

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Documenting the behind the stage activities, drinks and conversations while waiting for the call to the stage can be even more pleasing than the performance itself. Of course, all these should happen naturally and within the flow of events. I personally dislike being visible in the backstage and make people uncomfortable when they are having a meal or concentrating. Photography must be done in a relaxed and invisible manner.

Jazz rehearsals

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Jazz rehearsals are a distinct and entirely different photography experience than the live performance that can be subject of another article. One can spend years attending rehearsals and learn. However, when it comes to photographing the live jazz performance, rehearsals can be as an essential practice for the photographer as the musicians themselves.

Understanding timings, who’s playing what, where to turn the camera to, possible good angles and knowing the timing of interactions between band members, can make live performance photography a more constructed, planned and effective session. You know which lens you need and when you need it, the time gaps that can help you change position, focal length or camera, and who to frame and exactly when.

Attend sound checks

Not attending sound checks as well as getting as much information about the venue (lighting, light temperature, access level, stage dimensions and position) can break the best-rehearsed photography sessions. So many unpredicted factors are in play in the live performance, and sound checks are the best opportunity to prepare yourself for the unpredicted. Also, it gives you the best opportunity to do metering, check the shutter speed and make the last-minute decisions about which lenses you are going to use.

Usually, you can find information about the venue on the web, looking through online photo galleries to get an understanding of the stage, capacity, lighting, and access. Of course, the best way to know about the venue is going there before the performance or making a phone call and ask.

(To be continued.)

* I’ve intentionally used the mostly cinematic term mise en scène, because I want readers to re-imagine the Jazz photography more as a story, being performed in a scene, and less as a collection of successive cutaways of musicians using an instrument.

Canberra City Band open day 2016

Canberra City Band open day 2016

The Canberra City Band Inc. is the leading community music organisation in Australia’s capital city. The organisation has several ensembles that all contribute to and serve the Canberra community. In addition to the original concert band, the organisation includes Spectrum Big Band and the John Agnew Band. The organisation also includes a number of small ensembles.

CCB is one of Australia’s oldest community concert bands and Australian National Eisteddfod Band Champions 2009 – 2015. Also, CCB was runner-up National Band Championship 2015.

I had the privilege to photograph the Canberra City Band open day 2016. Here are a selection of photos. Many thanks to CCB members, organisers and music directors for their kindness, patience and support.

 

Canberra City Band open day 2016

Canberra City Band open day 2016

Canberra City Band open day 2016

The Canberra City Band Inc. is the leading community music organisation in Australia’s capital city. The organisation has several ensembles that all contribute to and serve the Canberra community. In addition to the original concert band, the organisation includes Spectrum Big Band and the John Agnew Band. The organisation also includes a number of small ensembles.

CCB is one of Australia’s oldest community concert bands and Australian National Eisteddfod Band Champions 2009 – 2015. Also, CCB was runner-up National Band Championship 2015.

I had the privilege to photograph the Canberra City Band open day 2016. Here are a selection of photos. Many thanks to CCB members, organisers and music directors for their kindness, patience and support.

Canberra City Band open day 2016

The Method: a poster

The Method logo always reminds me of things I used to write on my mixtapes with a lettering ruler, Letraset transfers and leaky Rapidograph pens; “Jean Michel Jarre”, “Pink Floyd”, “J.S.Bach — St Matthew’s passion” , some long forgotten 60’s band name or something cryptic for a girl I was madly in love with, but wasn’t bold enough to talk to her. Tapes, gently scented with fragrances, edited with milliseconds’ precision on the father’s “don’t touch it” Akai deck and recorded on expensive Denon metal tapes.* Tracks order chosen strategically and tactically, to create the exact imaginary desired effect (which exist only in my teenager, egocentric brain anyway). But I digress.

With a gentle nod to my little secret childhood joys, lost in the abyss of an eight years war and a sad revolution, this poster was made for the Canberra-based Jazz band, The Method.

The Method Poster

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The Method Poster

*It’s interesting how much brands and products are interwoven with our memories and emotions, and yet, people always treat consumer products with contempt.

Belinda Whyte Ensemble at National Multicultural Festival 2016

Belinda Whyte Ensemble at National Multicultural Festival 2016

Belle Whyte is an Aboriginal descendant of the Murawari people of North Western NSW. Belle comes from a musical family so she has been involved in the performing arts from a very early age. Regularly performing in various genres including jazz, blues, soul and pop.

The National Multicultural Festival is a free community festival held annually each February in Canberra.

Belinda Whyte Ensemble at National Multicultural Festival 2016


Vocals: Belle Whyte and Tahlia Makunde
Drums: Hayden Fritzlaff
Keys: Sharon Robinson
Bass: Brendan Keller-Tuberg
Guitar: Ben Forte