Photography and Art

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Photographing Live Performances

In my day job, I manage a local search site called It's an interesting job that involves marketing, sales and content strategy. The best part of my job involves moonlighting as an arts blogger. This gets me out on the town a couple of times a week looking at galleries, live theatre and jazz. This past week-end, I had the opportunity to catch the Mike Murley Trio at the Opal Jazz Lounge in Toronto. A couple of years ago, I'd been out to visit my brother in Phoenix and he'd taken me to a "Battle of the Bands" concert at a local high school and I'd taken some decent photos of the bands on-stage. I figured that covering a jazz trio would be a snap in comparison. The lounge is a pretty intimate place and access to the musicians would be unfettered. How could I go wrong?

I packed my Canon 20D with a 70-300 IS DO zoom lens so that I could take some good close-ups and not worry about camera shake. I had a 4GB card with me so that I could take lots of photos to ensure some good ones to choose from. Little did I know that I'd be shooting in the dark!

When I'd taken the photos of the battle of the bands, there had been some pretty powerful theatre lights shining on the bands, creating some wonderful coloured effects. But, it seems that jazz musicians are a shy lot and don't really like the spotlight. There was a bank of track lights shining towards the trio, but only the bass player was illuminated. The guitar player and the sax player managed to find places in between pools of light and, to make it worse, the sax player turned out to be an animated performer who really liked to move his head around when he played a solo.

What was the solution? Short of a miracle, the only thing I could think of was to crank the ISO up to 3200 and take lots of pictures. As a result, I took 160 frames and got about 20 usable photographs, one of which I actually like quite a bit. That's a pretty bad ratio normally, but in this situation, I was happy to get anything usable.

After looking at the results, I decided to try converting some of the images to black and white to get some additional drama and I think it worked. Noise Ninja was used to cut back on the noise, leaving a nice bit of grain residue.

Mike Murley's Trio is a great outfit with a new record out. Here are some pix of their performance:
Here's a photo of Mike leading the way with another great solo. The first set consisted mostly of covers of older standards, but the second set featured more original material off the album.
This is Reg Schwager, the smooth guitar player in the trio. Reg is a terrific rhythm player and a smooth soloist.
Steve Wallace is a fantastic bass player. He lays down a terrific rhythm and can also run off a funky solo when called on.
This is my favourite photograph of the bunch. We see Tara Davidson, a special guest of the trio who plays on their record, with Mike Murley silhouetted in the background as they do a sparkling duet.
Here's a neat photo that illustrates some of the problems presented by a dimly lit sax player who likes to move. Here Mike Murley tosses his sax side to side as he does a solo. I think the effect is quite neat in this case, although more than a 100 other blurry images had to be discarded.

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