It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Adam Elmakias!
This is awesome. I have never done a guest blog before, so thanks to Scott and Brad for giving me the opportunity.
I am a music photographer and I spend most of my time photographing bands/ musicians while they tour the world. In addition to photographer I also make those fun Lens Bracelets® you may have seen floating around recently at Photoshop World DC. Anyway, it’s really hard to sum up my career path quickly, but I still want you to give you a bit of background information on myself so that you know where I am coming from. Bullet points will suffice:
- Started photography at age 16 for high school year book assignment. I was living in Madison, WI at the time
- Went to tons of local shows, started bringing camera and photographing them for fun/made me feel “cool” (cut me some slack, I was young)
- Befriended the local promoters, traded show photos for free admission and band posters
- Began working with online music sites, getting press passes for larger shows and shooting from the pit
- Bands started crashing at my house after shows and we would do quick press shoots the next day around town
- Became good friends with a few younger national touring acts
- Flew out to New York for my first big shoot when I was a senior in high school, totally blew it, shots never used
- College for a semester while still shooting press images on spec and live shows when I could, started making pretty decent money
- Stop college, go on the road with a band I was good friends with for 30 days, full USA, 8 dudes, 15 passenger van, smelly
- Kept touring for next 18 months or so, continued shooting live and press images, working for publications
- Moved to San Diego on a whim, continued touring and shooting
- I have been doing a mixture of everything for the past few years. Shooting bands in studio, on the road, off the road and working for a few various publications.
That’s the gist of it. There is heaps more, but at least it gives you an idea of what I have been up to. You can check out a full list of where I have been here, and view a map of it all here. If you want to get a little more in depth about whats its like to live on the road, I suggest checking out my five part blog about a summer I spent on The Vans Warped Tour, which was pretty wild. Here is part one to get you going.
Like any photographer I have grown a lot over the past few years. I didn’t like shooting live and/or candid images of people at all to begin with. In fact, at first I was very emotionally disconnected from photography. I thought of it as a pretty basic thought process – get five sweaty dudes, put em in order and make ’em look nice so they can sell some records. However it has turned into something more than that for me. I imagine it will continue to connect with more and more as I continue to shoot and grow, but at this current point in time I am pretty stoked on shooting lives/candids and portraits. Lifestyles is a good way putting it.
So we left off with shooting live and candid images of the band on tour. What does this exactly mean? Well, put simply, just think of me as a professional stalker. I follow the guys around from sunrise to sunset, and then well into the night documenting just about everything. I have a blast and it is definitely more of a hang out with some photography splashed in it here and there. I go on the road for no upfront cost- however I make my money by selling my images to publications, labels, managers and the bands themselves. I prefer doing it this way because when a band takes me on the road I am on my own schedule. For example if we were in London for a day and I wanted to spend it all with my uncle I could. It’s also nice because there is no pressure to shoot anything, everything I do is self assigned and shot because I want to shoot it. When I am forced to shoot images like this I tend to have a very difficult time getting into the shots. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s something I need to work on- I haven’t quite figured it out yet.
For the most part my shoot locations change everyday on the road. Cities, backstage, hotel rooms, sites, and wherever else we may wander. However after a week of touring and shooting the same band for five nights in a row, every live shot I took started looking pretty similar. The stages and crowds would change but it was hard for the most part to tell the images apart. I started getting comments on my blog that “All my live images looked alike” – and after looking them over totally agreed. I mean, I shot the same show at least 15 times on one tour, I had to start learning and challenging myself in one way or another or I would get bored- and if I am bored, you most likely are too. That is never fun! And my main goal while doing anything in life is to have fun. Must. Have. Fun.
So I started switching it up by putting my own flashes on stage. I have learned some pretty solid techniques that really started changing my images. So obviously I wasn’t taking my best shots this whole time, but I was learning, out shooting, making mistakes. Between then and now I have learned how to shoot on stage with 1-2 flashes, so I decided to share that with you. My next step will be to use more flashes, and to start gelling/ color coordinating them and balancing them with the stage lights. However, it’s a lot harder than it seems and it gets expensive. (Note to self, convince LensRentals.com to loan me 50 flashes so I can takeover a stage.)
So for now, we shall stick with two lights. Most of the images I shoot are black and white, because to be quite honest, most stage lights are really ugly. There are a few really good lighting designers, but a lot of the time not so much. And even if I do get a good LD, they might use all red lighting and then I am really screwed. I have started to gel my flashes once in awhile but again, I am still working on it. So black and white in the mean time- plus it looks badass.
I recently photographed a band I have been working with for almost four years now, The Devil Wears Prada (after the book, before the movie). They had a show at The Glass House in Pomona, California on March 16. Now, unlike most of my live shoots, I only had one day to shoot these guys. When I am on the road with bands I can assign each day to getting a few images. So for example maybe I will focus on just the drummer for the whole set and really knock out every angle with multiple lighting set ups for the whole 65 minutes. But because this particular shoot was just one show, I had to try to make the most of it with what little time I had.
Here is how I lit the stage. The red squares are my flashes, and the blue area is where I shot all my photographs from.
Here is a quick video of me running around setting up each flash and testing them out. Now sometime after the main support act finished and The Devil Wears Prada started, I had to set all these bad boys up. Here’s a quick video of me running around on stage. Basically what I do is set each light up, take a test shot or two. Then go modify the lights accordingly. I also takes shots so I can see where the light is hitting.
Light #1: 580ex behind the drummer
Goal: Light up drummer and separate him from background, also lighting up everyone else from behind if possible
– Try to shoot from pit and keep drummers body between you and your flash head
– Turn flash power up high, this way you can knock out stage light when needed without having to adjust flash
– You can always add more ambient light in by lowering shutter speed, won’t effect flash
– sweat drops and smoke will give you amazing effects with this backlit technique
– don’t blind your drummer if he turns around!, or the drum tech
Previous shots using this technique
Light #2: 580ex on stage right
Goal: light up anyone on stage, no matter where you are shooting from, also be used to silhouette people
– Try to stay opposite side of stage as your light, so in this case, stage left.
– Light works best when it can’t directly see your lens, so wait for a band member to block it off
– Don’t fire your light if someone is looking directly at it i.e. looking at their pedal board
– Change the direction of the flash without moving its position on stage in middle of set to quickly get a totally different effect
Previous shots using this technique
Light #3: Alien Bee 800 with Grid in crowd (this light ended up having to be turned off)
Goal: backlight the crowd and/ or light up the frontside of the band
– Shoot from almost anywhere, behind drummer, stage left/ right, pit if you want
– Smoke if your best friend
– Try to keep the flash just above audience head level, but this could also change depending on how high your stage is
– Use a grid to focus light, the farther away the light, the more direct you want the beam- so use a smaller grid
Previous shots using this technique:
*I was trying to use three flashes for this shoot, but this light was bothering their Lighting Designer whenever it would go off by him so I had to take it down last minute- next time!
It’s important when putting anything on stage to think about if your gear falls, what will it hit? Is anyone going to run into it? Who could I accidentally blind with this? The stage is a super busy workspace for more than just the band. You really need to work with everyone that uses the stage to make sure you aren’t getting in anyone’s way. The last thing you want to do is make someone an enemy before they are even your friend.
What am I using to set these lights up in all these fun places? Well, here is a video of me explaining that to you. Gear heads, rejoice!
– Manfrotto 035RL Super Clamp with Standard Stud
– Manfrotto 237HD Heavy-Duty Flex Arm
– Creative Light 25″ Translucent Umbrella
– Bogen 3373 – 5 Section Light Stand with Retractable Legs
– Manfrotto 681B Monopod with 234RC Swivel/Tilt Head
– Manfrotto 026 Swivel Umbrella Adapter
– Joby Gorillapod SLR-Zoom Flexible Mini-Tripod
– Alien Bee 800
– Mini- Vagabond
– PocketWizard Caddy
This gear is great because its small and I can easily change it over and use it for portraits or press shots. All of these shots were done in 5 minutes or less with a simple 580ex and a shoot through white umbrella. They are some of my favorite shots. Always prepared!
I ran into a few difficulties while shooting this show. My stage right light died about five songs in so I had to change the batteries, and my backlight died right at the start of the set. It was really hard to change the backlight because I couldn’t get back their very easily. I eventually did and swapped batteries but it ended up being the Pocket Wizard that was dead so I had to go grab another and switch them. I didn’t end up getting it sorted until the end of the set- but I still got some shots. I also changed the stage right light’s direction halfway in to get a whole different look. Perfect, now that we are all on the same page for what went in to making all of this happen, I want to show you this quick Go Pro video of me shooting the live images.
Some favorites from this shoot:
I also made one of these for a festival I shot recently in Australia, its NSFW due to language/ hand gestures but the content is still there and I suggest checking it out! PS, mount your own GoPro to your camera? I have got a blog post for that too! Cmon, I won’t leave ya hanging.
Stage access is really hard to get, at least in my experience. Maybe you are super cool and have pretty eyes and get it just by asking the band, but I never had that much luck. I usually tell people to start networking now and learn photography along the way. Don’t get me wrong, photography is important and you will continue to grow as you shoot more throughout your whole career, but that’s almost 100% on you. Networking involves you and every other person you meet, so sometimes relationships can take awhile to build and you can’t always speed these things up. The best way to increase your chances is by knowing everyone. Start by getting to know the local crew, the people that work at the venue every show and are from the area. This includes but is not limited to the bouncers, bar tenders, managers, security, sound guy, lighting designer and anyone else that is wearing a venue shirt. Know them all! From there, just keep doing the same thing and slowly asking for favors, maybe start sending the venue a few lo res shots for free to get on their good side. There is no real route or system to how this works, just gotta keep shooting constantly and meeting people all the time. I only know and have first hand experience on what worked for me- so that’s what I can pass on. It doesn’t mean it’ll work for you, but hopefully you can take something from it and apply it to you. If there is one thing that I learned early on it is that when you meet someone, take down their name, write a simple note in your contact book about how you met them and what you have done for them/ they have done for you. I could go on forever with this, but hopefully this gets you off to a good start. Have some flipping’ fun. If you aren’t having fun then go do something else, like mini golfing or parahawking and bring your camera along for the ride.
My editing for my live images is pretty simple. I am usually processing at least 30-40 images from a single show, so spending 2 hours on each image isn’t realistic. My process is to go through each shot in Bridge and star all the ones that look awesome within the first three seconds of looking at them. If they don’t look solid right away, on to the next one. I go back through the starred ones a day or so later and get rid of borings ones I may have missed first time around. Next I open up my remaining selects into camera raw and do some basic cropping, straightening, sensor dust/ spot editing and color correction. From there I open everything in Photoshop and do my whole editing process with Silver Efex Pro 2. This program works great with color images, just make sure you change your layer blend mode to Luminosity and it’ll really make your shot pop.To speed it all up I will usually batch everything and then open up the saved PSDs and make some small adjustments. If that last part confused you, here is a blog regarding. Here is a quick before and after for one of the images.
Well, that does it for me. I hope you learned a few things and at least enjoyed the read. Please, if you have any questions leave them below. Ill do my best to creep this blog for the first few days it goes up and answer all of your questions. Or you can tweet me – @elmakias. Keep shooting’, keep networking and hopefully I will catch you guys around sooner or later. You can always find out where I will be on my blog, and then we can meet up and grab a drink or something together!