Taking photos of concerts

There is a lot of useful information in this article about taking photos of concerts, including about breaking into doing it professionally. My advice is that if you want to do it it’s easy with modern digital cameras. Call ahead to see if they’ll let you bring in an SLR, and if so you’re set (crank that exposure compensation waaaaay down). But be aware that having a camera slung over your shoulder is going to impact how you enjoy the show. If it’s a band I love, I stick a compact in my pocket that I can ignore 95% of the time. I snap a few pictures here and there, and it all works out. It’s about figuring out how much you want to be “person” and how much you want to be “photographer,” because the two are slightly different things.

Photography and editing

Prague abbey Ken Rockwell drops another article on “ow to make good photographs,” this one emphasizing composition and urging you to carefully study your image before taking a picture. He has a particularly formalist bent, but the basic idea of thinking and experimenting before shooting is important.

The only way to ensure strong composition is to look through your finder and make it that way before you press the shutter. Move yourself around to change perspective, which moves elements around in your frame. You can change the relative sizes of elements by moving in and zooming out to maintain the same framing. When you do, closer elements just got bigger while distant ones just got smaller.

This is all true, but there’s another phase of thinking and work that takes place after the picture’s been taken that often gets under-appreciated, which is editing. Editing is looking at your photos after they’ve been taken to figure out which ones are the good ones. What happens during editing is just as important as what happens while shooting. Photographers who post 50 photos from a single day just don’t get it, or they’re not trying to make art. You need to do the hard work of finding the one or two images that rise above the rest by a confluence of factors. Forget what you were thinking while you shot the pictures, and forget which ones you thought would turn out the best; invariably, the best pictures are the ones you didn’t give a second thought to while shooting.

My photoblog isn’t really about taking pictures. Most of the photos I’ve posted so far are years old — it’s about looking at old collections of photos with a new perspective. Editing. Take today’s picture, from a trip to Prague in 2002. I enjoyed this photo at the time, but only years later does it stand far above most of the others. Mastering technique and composition is critical to becoming a good photographer, but so is the ability to look at a hundred photos and realize that the best way to represent the whole group is to just show one.

Nikon F3

Nikon F3 The F3 is Nikon’s top professional camera from the 1980s. I picked one up on ebay recently, mainly because of how absurdly inexpensive they’ve gotten. It was only a couple of years ago that they routinely sold for $500. But despite a resurgent interest in 35mm film equipment from some quarters, I was able to get this one for $130. A perfect little 50mm f/1.8 will set you back another $50 or so, or you can go the way I’m doing, and get top of the line lenses for completely absurd prices (this 180mm f/2.8 cost $127; similarly performing modern lenses cost ten times that).

On the minus side you’re going to be spending money buying and developing film. This runs about a dollar per every three or four shots. (Drop your film at any drugstore, and they’ll develop it and burn you a CD in an hour, which you can then load into your computer just like any digital camera.) Then there’s the matter of focusing, which if a big deal to adjust to if you’ve been shooting with digital cameras.

But as in the year with a Leica, this way of making pictures is revelatory. The F3 has aperture-priority automatic exposure, which means that you set the aperture on the lens, and the camera comes up with a shutter speed (of course you can also shoot in manual mode, where the shutter speed is just a recommendation). In other words, you have hands-on control of the basic elements of what the camera is doing. Same difference as driving a car with manual transmitting — it may not be easier, but it is better, in a way.

The other big benefit is the pleasure of using something that is the best of its kind. You can see that my F3 is pretty well beat up, yet it works more solidly then any of my digital cameras. Then there’s the magical quality of film images. Even scanned and seen on screen, there is something unmistakeably analog and delicious about them.