Band Duty - The Fiddlers Elbow
It feels like a long time since I was out on band duty, but hiatus was broken last Thursday when I had the privilege to head to Camden and shoot the epic IT at Camden's icnoic Fiddlers Elbow. Aside from being out and shooting with the guys again for the first time in a while, I was excited to shoot this venue and put some new kit through its paces.
I had been looking forward to an opportunity to break in my new wide and super wide lenses in properly; I'd completed a few shoots with my new lenses, but I had included these in my arsenal especially for events just like this. Since my last gig, I picked up the Sony 16-35mm 2.8 G master, a chunky investment considering it replaced the Zeiss lens of the same focal length already in my suite, so it was time to see if the investment paid off. In addition, I wanted something a bit wider so had also picked up a used Samyang 14mm 2.8 for that little bit extra.
Being a Thursday night, I wrapped up my regular work promptly and headed into town on what was a beautiful evening with clear skies and a stunning sunset. This particular part of town I am unfamiliar with, and seeing it at this time of night filled me with inspiration for a spot of street photography, so I must return again soon to capture some of the sights I encountered. Time wasn't on my side, so I didn't have time to stop and dawdle too much and continued on to the venue.
First up on the night was Circu5, a band I had not shot before and so was being challenged from the off. I don't know if it was because it had been a while since I last shot a gig, or because I had already necked a couple of pints of sweet, sweet Hop House by the time they started, but I was actually a little nervous when I pulled my camera out. I've more than lost count of the number of gig's I've shot over the last few years now, and generally, it comes as second nature to me, but on this occasion, I was having to concentrate that little bit harder once the action kicked off.
The band also had their own photographer in tow, so I had another factor to consider when moving around the stage which made me feel a little self-conscious about my shooting. Fortunately, once I had a few shots nailed an in the bag, I felt a lot more confident and it came flooding back to me. Just goes to show that my muscle memory is just as slack as my own memory!
The Fiddlers Elbow, for those that are unfamiliar, is a fairly small venue with a reasonably basic lighting setup. I had dramatic lighting on the guitar and bass sections to the sides of the stage, and some lighting to one side of the drums, but lighting to the front man in each case was limited, as they all were more comfortable paying just outside of the front spot. This posed a significant problem, naturally, I need to capture each of the band members, but with limited light on the drums (not uncommon), and in this case the front man I was forced to switch up from my preference of an ISO typically below 6,400.
With a low ISO was out for this shoot, my aperture already wide open and nowhere else to go but blurry, I cranked the ISO and got stuck in, accepting that some noise was going to have to be tolerated in the shots. Hitting lofty heights of 25,600 which does test my level of noise acceptance, I was generally satisfied with the grain produced in the final results, particularly when shooting between 10-20,000.
As the band had their own photographer, and I didn't have any rapport with them, I generally kept my distance, sticking to the edge of the stage and telephoto focal lengths, particularly of the drummer. At least I was able to use this opportunity to warm up a bit and find my flow before the next bands took to the stage.
I last shot Tom Slatter back in 2017 when he played as a 2 piece, and to be honest, I could not have told you much about his music even if you had a sawn-off pressed against my temple. This time he was back as a 4 piece and I do remember the music, not that I could tell you what it was like, because... Let me just say this, I was genuinely blown away with the music, possibly because it didn't lean too heavily on the prog genre, but did sound awesome!
Aside from looking back and seeing I had captured some great and interesting shots from the nights like this, it's these little surprises I get from the music which really pick me up. I truly am finding myself becoming somewhat of a fan of these bands, of which I would have never have heard of before.
Live music of this nature seems to be a dying art and is not supported all that well, so I must urge you to support nights like these. There is so much talent out there, and even if you think it might not be entirely your cup of tea, I promise you will be pleasantly surprised by what you stumble across.
At the time of writing, I received some pretty honest feedback from one of the band members regarding this shoot, which did throw me back a little. I took it for granted that because I had shot Tom Slatter before and had a brief chat with him before sound check that he and his team knew what I can achieve and would accommodate me capturing these shots. This, as it transpires, was a poor use of judgment.
In order to capture wide shots of the drummer I require access to the stage, and looking at the shots I was able to achieve with this shoot it really goes to show how much of a difference it makes having that access. Before leaping onto the stage I did give a nod to one of the band members to indicate my intention of jumping into a gap. In return I was given a nod of approval, however, in retrospect, the guy did find my actions a little unnerving and off-putting.
Hands up, I took a lot for granted. With a few beers in me by then and with an SD card already filled with successful captures, my confidence levels were now operating at near peak levels. The feedback was that I probably should have communicated more of my intentions with all the band before the set, which is great feedback and did get me thinking.
These nights I am usually there to shoot one or two bands that I have an existing relationship with and have requested my services, but do take the opportunity to shoot all the bands to keep my skills tight and maximize my opportunities of developing new relationships. I considered the feedback and my experiences thus far and I have come to the realization that I could do more to communicate with the bands beforehand, however generally with so much going on before a show the bands aren't too interested in talking to some guy with his camera and I am made to feel like a bit of a nuisance. It's only until my work is displayed that people open up and appreciate the work I do.
Of course, I offered my apologies regarding the discomfort I had caused during this shoot and thanked him for the feedback because it has given me a lot to think about. I do need to work on my approach and do more to legitimize myself through my initial introductions and generally adopt a more professional approach.
Despite the negative feedback, the images have been very well received by the band. The music was awesome and I thoroughly enjoyed shooting these guys. Hopefully, we can work together again, and this time I will certainly take the opportunity to talk through my intentions properly to ensure all concerned are relaxed and hopefully capture even better shots on the next shoot.
Juxtaposed with the experience of shooting Tom Slatter and co was the powerful IT. Having met these guys a couple of years ago when out shooting The Gift, we have been working together now for a while and know what to expect of each other. In contrast to the last band, these guys know what I am going to do, and open up to my camera which produces far more intimate shots, like the one adjacent here, a rare shot of Andy actually smiling!
If you aren't aware of the music of IT then I strongly encourage you to check them out. Yes, they're prog rock, a genre of music that you don't just casually slip into, but please take it on good authority (well, my own authority for whatever that's worth) that these guys put on an outstanding performance. Their music is strong, with catchy hooks and the band plays so tightly together bringing intense energy that stays with you. They are genuinely nice guys to boot and are worthy of your attention.
Being able to work around the band means that I have access to perspectives that would otherwise be elusive, this is especially relevant with drums. Unless you're Phill Collins, the drummer is far from the main focus and generally nestled at the back of the pack with poor lighting. Being able to access the rear of the stage opens up opportunities to capture shots that give a real sense of the action and hard work that a drummer puts into the performance.
This was a great opportunity to put my new 16-35mm 2.8 to the test, shooting wide open to maximize on the available light and maintaining a reasonable shutter speed to freeze the action. The sequence below perfectly illustrates the performance of the lens as I caught a burst of Tom crashing away and losing a stick on the process. The expression on his face in the last shot is priceless! Shit happens, and his management of the situation was exemplary, barely breaking his stride. Topman Tom!
This is what I was really looking to achieve on the night, getting up close and personal as wide as I could to capture a larger than life take on the band. When I picked up my new G Master I was taken in by a used native mount Samyang 14mm 2.8. It wasn't cheap, but considerably so compared to an equivalent brand new Zeiss, with the SY being half the size and weight!
This is only my second prime lens, and my hope was that I would get crisper images and of course a much wider focal length. I've got to say that I am very impressed with the results produced by this non-native lens. The shots above left and below I believe are manually focused due to the lack of available light, so not incredibly sharp, but the above right, which is focused on the face at an aperture of f5.6 has certainly yielded exceptional results.
These shots are typical of those I have been shooting before, but now there is a real sense of intimacy and bring the viewer much closer to the action whilst at the same time adding more drama and status to the band members than I was otherwise achieving. These two new lenses were definitely worth the investment and I'm very much looking forward to the next opportunity to get them out my bag!
A big thanks to Nick, Andy, James, and Tom for bringing me along for the ride, and for the awesome music the guys put out. It's evident that the relationship we have developed over the past year or so enables me to capture a true reflection of the band and images filled with atmosphere and drama.
The battle between noise and clean images has been fought hard and long, but in the end, image noise has won and I humbly concede. In these dimly lit venues, I am going to have to accept that higher ISO's are required to stand the best chance of capturing a greater range of angles and compositions, and if I'm honest I'm not too fussed. I have always sought to achieve as clean an image as possible, but this has held my shooting back at times. I look at the suite of images here and can see some honesty in the grain which only adds to the atmosphere I am always seeking to capture.
My diary is filling up fast, but I am open to all suggestions when it comes to shooting live music events. If you are looking for a photographer for your event, please feel free to give me a shout by hitting the contact button or visiting my Facebook page here.
Special thanks to all the bands for their efforts on the night. You can find out more about them all at these links:
For more info on the London Prog Rock scene, follow this page:
As always, your comments and feedback are welcomed! Feel free to drop a comment below.
Until next time guys,