I’ve really wanted to see Rob Benedict’s band Louden Swain play a concert ever since I first heard them at the conventions, especially after the Saturday Night Special became the big event it is now. The photographs that I took at the concert they played at VegasCon 2014 are still some of my strongest (and I wonder if I will ever top them) so to see them play outside a convention and get an opportunity to photograph it was something I wanted to do for a long time.
I was actually at VegasCon earlier this year and heard that they were going to be playing a gig in June at the Viper Room, and coincidentally it was going to be the weekend before PhoenixCon. Being impractical, I thought …. Well this could be my chance. I’d come over for the concert and stay for PhoenixCon.
I’m so, so glad that I did. It was incredible, challenging and inspiring and solidified how much I actually do like shooting concerts. There’s something about the energy crackling under the surface and the give and take between the band and the audience. Louden Swain are such an incredibly talented band and have such a connection with their fans that it’s this amazing thing to witness that you really want to do justice to when you’re capturing it. Because I’m so fond of them, I really wanted to do a good job.
I got to LA on 6am the morning of the concert, because I like to make things difficult for myself. So by the time the concert started I was already exhausted but wired, and a little awestruck at shooting in the Viper Room. I was so glad my friend Kat was with me, because she helped me calm down and feel less nervous about the whole thing.
Because I wasn’t really sure what it would be like shooting at a concert venue as opposed to a normal con venue, I felt like maybe my 70-300mm lens would be too unwieldy to use, and because its widest aperture was only f4, I felt as though it wouldn’t be appropriate anyway. The only other lens I have is an 85mm f1.8 prime lens, which is mainly a portrait lens. But because 85mm is longer than the average human eye distance (which is around 50mm apparently?) there was still some “zoom” and the aperture would be more flexible in the darkened concert space. This way, theoretically, I could keep my ISO lower, stopping grain, preserving detail, etc.
Which I didn’t end up doing. But I told myself I could, and made myself believe I was making a professional decision.
The truth is, I ended up having to adjust my settings constantly throughout the gig. Depending on which area of the stage I was focusing on and where the guys were standing in relation to which spotlight, key lights, coloured lights etc I had to adjust everything. I tried to keep my shutter speed fairly constant at 1/125, because it would reduce camera shake but also freeze some motion while still showing some movement. But because I refused to budge on that, it meant that I had to make compromises on the other two aspects of the exposure triangle, so my ISO ended up being really, really super high. Which isn’t really a big deal, because shooting a lot of convention photography I do end up using a high ISO and have to clean it up in editing. But I had been trying to get out of the habit, because I felt like it would become a crutch and I would lose detail because of it.
I feel like I’ve developed this certain that style that is quite “close up” and personal, so shooting with a lens that was limited to one focal range was a huge challenge. It’s like having one tool taken away from you; you have to find new ways to sell a narrative. So I was going into an unfamiliar shooting condition without the tools I would usually use, which made me extra nervous. When I first came back and started looking through my photos I was really worried that maybe they all looked too similar, because the ability to shoot at different focal ranges just wasn’t there.
The concert itself was incredible; they played quite a long set and we got to hear a couple of new songs. The audience was loud and passionately singing (and kazooing) along and the band fed off it. It got so cramped and so hot in there that towards the end I had to go and stand towards the back of the room where it wasn’t quite so crowded. But it was such an amazing thing to witness and be a part of.
On the one hand, photography-wise it was a great challenge and it definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone to only use the one prime lens. But on the other, I think if I was to shoot a concert like that again, I would definitely try to rent a 24-70mm f2.8 which would give you more options – wide angle, zoom, aperture etc.
But that’s why we do these things – we try and see what works and what doesn’t and then the next time we try something else. It’s how we slowly build our knowledge and the biggest secret is to never let the failures, or the things that don’t go right, to knock you down. I was so, grateful for this opportunity, and I feel so blessed that I found this amazing network of people that are so inspiring and so willing to help and encourage and support. I think that’s one of my driving factors in wanting to improve myself – not just for me, but for these people that I respect and admire so much.
I was also overwhelmed by how supportive and encouraging people in the crowd were. I knew many people there from the Supernatural fandom, and people were just so nice to me and I’m just a very, very lucky person.