Funk Legend Larry Graham: Concert in a Cave. Some Tips.

Started Mar 10, 2013 | Discussions thread
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RoelHendrickx Forum Pro • Posts: 25,481
Funk Legend Larry Graham: Concert in a Cave. Some Tips.

Last night I had the chance to shoot Larry Graham & Graham Central Station at a relatively small venue.

Larry Graham is a real funk legend : one of those people who can tell stories about performing at Woodstock. How is that for musical heritage? A bass player who practically invented the "slapping" style (much copied by many bands ever since), he was part of the legendary "Sly & the Family Stone". After that adventure he had his own band, but he also featured as a guest star (and regular band member) on many Prince concerts.

Read all (well, not all, but a bit) about him here:

I call the concert I shot yesterday "Concert in a Cave", because the lighting was quite challenging. So I thought I would offer some images and pointers for those interested in shooting this kind of thing.

(1) I had photo access for the first two songs and there was no real front stage, so I decided on the polite approach: before the concert started, I introduced myself to the people on the front row (standing) and asked them for forgiveness in advance for bothering them during the first two songs, promising I would get out of their way after that.

(2) The stage lighting was mood lighting only (in colour) and only from the back of the stage, except for some constant yellowish light from high above front.

And that while this really was a show with some visual flair (Mr Graham has learned a few chapters from Prince on how to dress and move...). It would have benefited the visuals immensely if there had just been one spot from the front following the main event around. Now, almost the only light was reflected from Mr Graham's signature white suit and hat.

(3) Spotmetering is usually my approach for concerts (also now), but for those looking for a challenge, I can offer the following: try spotmetering on the face of a black man in a white suit and with half his face hidden beneath the brim of a large fedora, against coloured lights and see what happens. In PP I had to correct between 0.5 and 2 stops in any direction.

(4) That hat presented a challenge in his own right, so I had to pay close attention to timing my shots to those moments where his eyes were visible, or (alternatively) make the hat and its brim the subject instead of the face.

(5) White balance was another aspect: any attempt at presetting or customizing WB was a joke with the constantly changing light, so I went with Auto WB and corrected where necessary (the suit was useful for PP). Mostly the shots needed some cooling down. RAW is really essential.

(6) Anyway, I tried to make the most of it with S-mode. Aperture priority, even wide open, resulted in just too much wild meanderings of shutter speed. After a few attempts between 1/100 and 1/250 and trying to figure out the energy/movement level of the show, I settled for 1/160 as a compromise to get decent exposure and enough chance of sharpness. I would have preferred 1/250 or 1/320 but that was just not possible, not even with fast glass (and the highest ISO I venture into with my Olympus cameras).

Here is a gallery:

A few samples (with specific shooting notes) follow, but for the biggest versions that your monitor will allow you should really go to the gallery and use the slideshow:

Mr Graham making his entrance through the audience, followed by a roadie with a flashlight. I had to briefly climb up on the stage to get this view.

Mr Graham was center stage with no mike stand: his microphone is attached to his bass. Very clever. A sideways view brings him in relation to his band members.

Trying to frame him with background lights behind him, required getting down on my knees and shooting from just above the edge of the (low) stage. Note the wide-brimmed hat and what it does to the face....

On this wider shot I got lucky with the dancing action. That defines the keeper in a sequence of quite a few more.

At a concert, take a look at the band musicians too, not just the lead.

Walking towards the back of the room after my two songs' worth, I shot a few last ones at long range with 150mm.  This is what I mean when I say that it can help to make the hat the subject instead of the face.  This was spot metered on the suit in a moment of near-darkness (resulting in a much lower ISO).  Upping the contrast in PP makes the faces disappear completely for a very low-key look.  Something like this should never be the only shot of a concert, but it adds variation.

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Roel Hendrickx
lots of images:
my E-3 user field report from Tunisian Sahara:

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