Sunday, December 11, 2011

Look back on a Mercedes promo shoot

My good friend Didier was asked to take on a photoshoot for a promo for a Mercedes dealership event. He gave me a call to see if I wanted to help out, two heads are better than one (although some could argue that our two heads only equal one!). We exchanged a few emails, met up for supper, drew up some sketches and had a great collaboration going.

After getting some volunteer models, hair, makeup and all that wonderful photoshoot stuff, we were psyched for the day. Any day you get to have access to Mercedes cars for a day, specially 2 SLS AMGs, you get psyched.

"What?? We need to move the car AGAIN! Sure!! No prob!"

I actually would just randomly start up the car and rev the engine for fun. Yeah, I'm such a kid.

Ok, back to the shoot. We weren't too sure what to expect. We knew it was their basement and we had cars. Didier had seen the place before, but how were we going to make this work with 8 cards (2 SLS and 6 C300) is usually something you only really know when you get there. So you plan to be ready for anything and pack everything. This included multiple speedlights, softboxes, umbrellas, Profoto strobes, reflectors, way too many lenses, diffusers, an actual red carpet, dresses, fur coats...and the list goes on.

Having had just a few hours of sleep (due to a full day shoot and night gig the day before), I got to the dealership around 9am. The models were scheduled in for 11am for makeup and hair. The SilverStar Mercedes dealership were just awesome. Full access to their cars and facilities made our day much easier.

This is pretty much what it looked like when I walked in. Didier had just arrived and was there setting up and Emily was coming in to lend a hand.

A little bit tight. Low ceiling, reflective walls. So the first order of business, after getting some detail shots of the grills, was to clear out all but the 2 SLS, which were our showcase cars.

Now in the process of planning, we had some ideas already down, but we like to try things out as we set up as ideas keep coming. Here is an attempt at an setup with a strong back light that we didn't end up using. We had a few ideas of how to make it work, but decided that it didn't flow with our various setups and left it out. There is always next time!

Anyone who has been on a photoshoot with me, or has actually worked with me at any point and time, knows that goofing off is must and I'm always ready to lead the way. Decided to take some couple shots with my new buddies

And again, being escorted out of the car. Actually, I like to show people what I want them to do. I'm a very hands off photographer, so to get your idea across, nothing better than actually showing people what you mean. It's like a rough live sketch of an idea. A very very rough sketch. That ain't too pretty.

Cars backed out, SLS placed, lights started to click and things were pretty much taking shape. At this point, it's probably noon or so the models are getting ready, we went through the light setups for the different shots we wanted, transitions and so on. As much as I like to have fun while I work, you need to keep things moving at a good pace to ensure no one gets tired or cranky (other than me of course).

I thought this would be a PERFECT time to post up pictures of the SLS on my Facebook while standing in for a light setup. Nothing better than a bit of gloating!

Quick perspective shot, testing light placement from setup 1 to setup 2. Notice how thrilled Emily and I look? At least she faked a half smile. All I'm missing is to raise my leg and do a Captain Morgan pose. Yes, that is why I work behind the camera...

In playing in the cars ... I mean, moving them to their purposeful locations! ... we loved the look of the lights of the cars on. So we grabbed a giant reflector and placed it in front to bounce light back into the model's face.

And this is how it looked when we actually had models! (this is not a finished images, just a few quick edits in lightroom before throwing it up on the website)

This is my wonderful "oh crap, I just walked into your test shot! Sorry!!" moment. Yeah, those happen. I love my look of determination in heading to the other side of the room. I must of seen some coffee or something.

Our models just had to take a break and be pretend photographers. When you work with such relaxed people, moments like this are what it's about. Everyone just gelling together and having fun.

You have to love what you do. People often see the end results of a photoshoot, the perfectly touched up photos, the stunning models, the great locations. But behind all that glitz and glamour and just people trying to make great images. And in our case, awesome people taking their own weekend time to make some awesome images.

And seriously, why would anyone want another job?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

M for Montreal ... M for Music ... M for Memorable

Montreal is renowned for its festivals. The biggest being the Jazz Festival and the Just for Laughs comedy festival. A new festival is picking up steam. M For Montreal had its 6th edition this year. For those who don’t know, M is focused on local talent. But not just putting them on a stage to play, they have a goal of promoting local acts internationally to help opens doors. They invite music industry delegates from around the world to come to Montreal for the 4 day festival and watch the bands put on a showcase of what they do. In the past, this has led to some breakthroughs for great local bands, US tours, European tours, Asian tours, and help in promoting new albums... You can check out M’s website

How did I get involved in M this year? It was semi last minute. I had planned on watching Hollerado, one of the bands that are getting regular play in my headphones, who was headlining a showcase at Sala Rosa. One of the shooters who was scheduled to do the bigger shows was no longer available, so I decided to step in and shoot the shows he was scheduled to do.... which unfortunately meant that I did not get a chance to see Hollerado live.

My first gig was the M For Midnight show at Club Soda. Plaster, making their return to stage, Misteur Valaire, who are on a really quick rise, and Montreal’s darlings Bran Van 3000 were on stage for this late show. And was it ever packed. And when I mean packed, I mean PACKED. The show was actually oversold, which meant that we media had to wait outside until they could determine how much room was left in the venue. Yes, there is a disclaimer on the back of the media pass that says “if there is room”.

We weren’t the only ones waiting outside. Some fans had bought a 4 day pass that grants them access to all shows, and they were waiting outside. With the show starting at midnight, and myself and a journalist getting there around 11pm, we finally got inside around 12:30am and unfortunately only caught the tail end of Plaster’s set.

Disappointed, yes, but we were rewarded with an awesome show from Misteur Valaire and Bran Van 3000. Shooting wise, I decided to stay on the 2nd floor balcony which was initially reserved for the delegates (but they were nice enough to let me squat there). I was able to move up and down the balcony area giving me some fun angles, instead of being down on the floor with no photo pit in the middle of the chaos.

Being perched up top allows you to get some pretty fun shots of bands, like the ones below. Not traditional angles, but they can work. The problem with being more stationary is that you need to be aware and ready to shoot when the artists turn around or give a look, as this is how you will get your variety.

You can see the Mister Valaire image gallery here

You can see the Bran Van image gallery here

After a few hours of sleep and image processing, it was back out for the closing show on Saturday. I was psyched for this show as the promoter managed to put together an awesome line-up. Some artists such as Ariane Moffatt and Marie-Pierre Arthur, who are currently in studio, were convinced to come out and play on stage. Other artists such as Karkwa, Galaxie, Random Recipe and The Barr Brothers all have their stars rising and this was a great way for them to get more exposure. It was great to see Random Recipe so excited to be on the stage of the Metropolis for the first time (and definitely not the last!)

Again, no photo pit for this show, so I decided to arrive early (that being 7pm for a show that starts at 8pm) and wiggle into the front row and stay there for the evening. I’m stuck in a static position again, but I tried to use the lights to create variety in my shots. Doing this can sometimes backfire, as it did for Galaxie, as they set the backup singers right in front of me, severely limiting the shooting angles. But life gives you lemons, you make lemon vodka shooters!

The lights were all over the place. They had these tiny yellow spots down below that cast some really odd and eerie light on the artists from down below, and were often the only lights on. When the spots weren’t on, the stage was blasted from either side with these giant white lights. While I always love white light, the intensity of these lights meant quick finger dialing of new settings but gave many of the images an “I used onboard flash” look where the artist is bright and white and the rest of the scene is total black.

Using the light for a more dramatic effect during Marie-Pierre Arthur

See the full MP Arthur gallery here

See the full The Barr Brothers gallery here

See the full Ariane Moffatt gallery here

See the full Random Recipe gallery here

Small yellow spot lights gave an eerie “ghost story around the camp fire” feel to many images.

See the full Galaxie gallery here

You sometimes get interesting angles on drummers and percussionists

See the full Karkwa gallery here

It was a long and intense 2 days of shooting. Technically, as the Club Soda show started at 12:30, it was all on the same day. ;)

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Shooting a giant bed sheet (?)

Had a first in terms of show shooting on Tuesday night. Which will lead to a not so glamorous set of photos, but I feel the story needs to be told (hehe)

I was assigned to shoot Steven Wilson, the singer of Porcupine Tree and also of Blackfield (whom I shot a few months ago), at the Corona theatre. The Corona is a beautiful old style theatre, however the lighting in there can be pretty dim.

When the manager tells you that you have 6 songs (instead of the regular 3), take this with a grain of salt. There is usually a reason behind it.
When the manager also gives you a free ticket for the show, on top of the 6 song limit, get ready for an interesting night.

I get in the theatre and notice this huge semi-transparent curtain in front of the stage. There were some video projections on it. So I figured the curtain will be up, the music will start, we’ll see bits of the band behind the curtain, then the music will ramp up and the curtain will come crashing down, the lights will blast, the band will go insane on stage, everyone will go crazy in the audience (ok, I’ve seen too many rock shows).

Not the case. The show started low key, with the band behind the curtain...and they stayed there. I went to one of the corners of the stage, right where there was a bit of space beside the curtain, stuck my lens through and started getting some shots. I guess I wasn’t discreet enough as within 20 seconds, the manager came by, tapped me on the shoulder and said I couldn’t do that....and then he hung around nearby

So I waited. The first song was done, curtain still up. They start putting some backlight on the curtain, making shooting pretty pointless as the backlight gets diffused in the curtain and camera sensors really don’t like this.

The image below was shot through the curtain. It still has an interesting psychedelic feel to it, which was perfect for the song being played.

Second song starts, I decide that I need to get some shots, so I head to the back and get some wider shots with the curtain and see if I can find angles that work or incorporate the curtain element into the shot. For all I know, this is the best I’ll get and I still do have an editor to answer to. While I always give my 110% at every show, there are always times where the situation is that even your 110% won't net you a magazine worthy shot.

In the curtain shots, I was looking for angles that minimized the light diffusion and tried to find interesting shadows or images.

Second song done. I see the manager standing by the backstage door so I go ask if the curtain will ever come down. He tells me it will after song 4, during song 5. So my 6 song limit is pretty much 1 ½ songs. Haha.

The curtain did come down at the start of song 5, gave me a few shots, but with the floor being busy and no photo pit, you are somewhat limited in what you can do. I did the rest of song 5 on the floor and headed up for song 6 to get some higher up shots. The lighting for the rest of the show was pretty harsh and contrasty, with some washes on the stage. For the fans, it must of been a really visually interesting show. As a photographer, the lights are part of the show. As a photojournalist, they tell the story of the event.

All in all, an interesting and challenging evening. While at first I was a bit ticked, trying to get the best you can with what you have was actually fun.

Curtain up, I was able to get some better quality shots of Steven and his band. The first below will help show the backlight that was predominant during the show. This is similar lighting to the first image I posted in the blog entry, but without the curtain.

Monday, October 31, 2011


My coordinator at Production Iris sent out an email asking for a last minute replacement to shoot a university football game. While I am a fan of the sport, and I have shot other sports in the distant past, I never actually had the opportunity to shoot a football game, so I jumped on the chance. After a tiny bit of convincing (as my sport portfolio isn't the grandest), he gave me the go.

So Saturday morning, I got up and prepped my equipment....all my equipment. I have shot soccer, which is similar in terms of field coverage and speed of game, and I knew that you had to be prepared for anything. So bringing 2 bodies was a must, as I would never have time to switch lenses between when the QB throws the pass and the receiver right in front of me catches it. Here is a breakdown of my gear for the day

Canon 7D + 70-200 f/2.8 + 1.4x teleconverter

This is my best the setup for max range. The 7D, as with all Canon crop sensor cameras (Rebels, 40D, 50D, 60D, 7D) have smaller sensors and thus give you an effective focal range 1.6x the actual focal range. This means that a 200mm lens is effectively a 320mm range. Attached to the 70-200, I put on a 1.4x teleconverter which made my 70-200 on a 7D into a 450mm lens. Now I'm getting into the right focal range for getting close in on a football field. The drawback of the 1.4x teleconverter is that it cuts one stop of light. So my f/2.8 lens is a maximum of f/4. Not a huge deal for a daytime sports event.

I kept this setup as my bread and butter and had it on a monopod for the whole game. This is what gets you the close up money shots. I would love to have the 400mm f/2.8 lens that the pros use, but I don't have $14,000 just lying around :)

Canon 5D2 + 24-70

This is my up close lens. A more seasoned sport shooter at Iris gave me the suggestion to keep this setup ready at all times. When the action gets really close, just grab the camera and shoot blind. I kept the Focus points to auto select and made sure I had a fast shutter speed. I kept the focal range around 40-50mm. Those few times the players come crashing down on you, I had my camera ready to go.


I also kept in my bag a Canon 10-22mm for ultra wide shots, but never once took it out.
Gloves were a must as it was pretty darn cold outside. While I am moving up and down the sidelines, I'm stationary most of the time and you get cold, fast. I have these thing gloves with leather on the fingers, making the camera operation easy.

How I shot football

Knowing the game is key. You are minded like a defensive player and have to anticipate what type of play will happen. You also have to think about the shot that you want and from which angle you want it from, as this will impact how far down the field you are. If you want a side shot of the QB throwing, don't stand 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage.

Canadian football has 3 downs, as compared to American football which has 4. This means there are a lot more passes in Canadian football than in American. Other slight rule differences (which don't impact photography) are the field is 10 yards longer, the end zone is longer, defensive players line up a yard away from the line of scrimmage. So again, knowing the game is a great asset to having a successful shoot.

After a few plays, I figured out that when in doubt (hey, that rhymes!) stand about 10 yards down from the line of scrimmage on the defensive side. This will give a decent shot of the QB as he drops back to throw or allow you to lock on the RB for a hand off. Most throws are in the 10 yard range, so if the QB throws the ball in your direction, chances are the receiver is right nearby. Once they get within 10 yards of the goal line, heading to the back of the end zone is a good idea as this will give interesting touchdown shots. Luck of the draw and I was not in a good position for any of the touchdown shots, but I did get a few misses in the end zone

Shooting a university game is pretty action packed. I was only allowed on the side line opposite the player benches. I'm sharing this 3-4 yard wide area with the line judges, the cheerleaders, a few security guards and the other photographers. So things get pretty tight. In trying to make my way around the cheerleaders doing their thing, I got whacked in the head by a pom-pom. The referees own the sidelines, so at all times, you must not be in their way. Let them go by, then work around.

Be mindful of the play and learn to shoot with one eye open. When you are this close to the action, it goes by really fast. In the picture below, I had a great angle on the QB throwing the ball. What I failed to noticed was that the receiver was right near me. Really, I swear I was paying attention and not looking at the cheerleaders. After snapping a few shots, I had to jump out of the way as the players come crashing through very fast. And they are big, and heavy, and there are often more than just one.

All in all, I had a great time shooting. It gave me some good insight on shooting the game and having quick reactions. Always good to stretch your skills once and a while as you can pick things up that you can apply in your day to day shooting.

Thanks for reading! Here are a few more from the game. Full series of 62 are up on the website.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Save the gear!!

That was my theme for the La Fouine show at Club Soda on October 6th. La Fouine is a french rapper of Morrocan origins, who is pretty popular on the other side of the ocean. And judging by the totally packed house, pretty popular here to!

You know the show is going to be packed when you are standing at the press table and the bouncers are outside trying to keep the crowd from getting in 20 minutes before the doors are scheduled to open. One poor kid was squashed up against the glass door. I decided to make my way to the front of the stage. The fun of being the house shooter is you get to go in the venue before the fans, giving you choice spot to shoot from. After my last show where I was up on the second floor, I decided to brave the front of the stage. This means that I have to be there through the opening acts, up front, there with the fans. It's actually pretty fun as you get to chat with some of the fans, learn about the artist, about them. I was about 1/4 way from the left side of the stage, giving me a decent viewing angle for when La Fouine gets on stage. The crowd kept piling in, and by 9:30pm (the show scheduled to start at 9:00pm), the front was packed about 20 deep. And when I say packed, I mean PACKED. Tighter than sardines. You get an idea of how full it was in the last image in the series below.

The crowd was getting wrestless and started pushing. Some people trying to get their latecomer friends in with them. It was a wave going from left to right. All the while, I'm trying to stick to my little spot in front of the stage, but now wondering how the hell I'm going to get out. While from of stage shots are great, I like to get at least 2 different shooting angles when there is no pit. Just getting out of the front of the stage, with my camera gear in tow, was going to be a challenge. But I'll deal with that when the time comes.

Security had to step in to break up a fight. Usually not a good sign of things to come. People kept shoving and I noticed that I was about a foot further away from where I had started. And the opener wasn't even on stage yet. So I decided to make a tactical retreat from the front of the stage before it got too chaotic. It's one thing being up front during a packed house, it's another to be up front with lenses and camera gear when the crowds are getting crazy. I made my way to beside the bar and got up on a stool. At least I'm out of the crowd and have a slightly higher shooting angle. And again, having done my visual research, I noticed that he more often holds the mic in his left hand, making the right side of the stage a better position if I am to be stuck in one place. It is always rolling the dice, but stackign the odds in your favour is a good thing.

Well, that was the idea. Just before La Fouine got on stage, the guy who was chatting with me at the front of the stage was all the way to the side and second in row. Happy to be out of the front area, when the show started, everyone got up on front of me and my once perfect view of the stage now became an exercise in shooting between heads and raised hands.

The guy is insane on stage. He came out with so much energy, I was having troubles freezing motion. In fact, many images came out with slight hand blur. The crowd was nuts, he was nuts. While he was late getting on stage, he definately made up for it with energy and intensity.

Most of the shots below were taken with the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS. I did break out the 24-70 f/2.8 to get some wider crowd shots. This is a mandate I get from the venue as they love to post up pictures of the crowd enjoying the artist. Shutter ranged from 1/200 - 1/400. Would of loved to be in the 1/400 when he first got on stage, but the lights were darker for the first song.

Lessons learned? Don't be afraid to back down from your spot if you really feel things are getting out of hand. Know the security guards at the venue. Arrive early to get a good spot. :)

More shows to come!
I have the 4 DJ quarter Birdy Nam Nam coming up next and also doing a Ska Festival in a few days. I'm learning to love variety in music.

Monday, October 3, 2011

I'm not a papparazzi, I'm a concert photographer!

I'll get straight to the point of this rant / post. The higher I climb on the concert photographer ladder here in town, the more and more I am faced with band management (and sometimes bands themselves) asking me to sign ridiculous contracts to allow me to shoot the shows. These contracts are what are referred to as a "rights grab".

Why ridiculous? Because these contracts make me sign away my rights and ownership of the images to the bands and management, at no charge, for ever and ever. They limit my own use of my images and even the use of the images for the media I am shooting for. It may not seem that big of a deal to most people, but think about it for a second.... my gear is mine, bought, paid for and insured. If I am not paid by the media I am working for, I still have rent and groceries to buy.

Why are they doing this? Because in today's digital photography world, everyone and their uncle has a digital camera. For every professional photographer trying to make it in the world by producing quality work and giving great customer service, there are 10 music fans that just want to get in the front row and shoot the show for free, just happy to get in the door. Bands and band management are clueing in on this and coming up with more ways to make money... ie exploiting concert photographers.

I get restrictions. First 3 songs. Only 1 song. Shoot from the soundboard. No back stage. No on stage. No flash. Everyone on the right. But trying to take away ownership and copyright?

All those pretty images that are on the web showing off a band live? All the images that make it into the magazines, in CDs, books, and posters that the fans just love to buy? Yeah, those have to come from somewhere. And they are usually not from uncle Bob with his digital camera.

I find it pretty damn ironic that these music artists, who are using us music photographers as puppets to get free professional images, are the first ones to bitch and complain when someone downloads their music for free off the web. Oh, the injustices of people not paying them for all their hard work, the depreciation on their gear, the creative and artistic vision they put forward, the long years spent in dirty clubs before making it to the bigger arenas, the late nights working on their passion while keeping a day job to pay the bills... oh wait, I just described my life...

I guess its ok to stop buying their art and find free ways of getting it as they don't want to pay for mine.

As the artists stood together to bring down Napster and other illegal music download sites, I hope that photographers can stand together and refuse to shoot any shows from artists trying to exploit them.

Who are some of the bands that have/had these highly restrictive and ridiculous contracts? One of the ones I was shocked at hearing are Foo Fighters. Add to them Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, Kiss, Kesha, Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga, Band of Horses, House of Blues, Maroon 5, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Rhianna, Seether,...

Let's hope the list starts to get shorter.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Crossing an Hasidic Jew and reggae... you one hell of a great artist.

I had the pleasure of shooting an artist I recently discovered called Matisyahu. As of 3-4 months ago, I actually had no idea who he was. I follow a photographer named Jared Polin (aka who posted up some awesome concert and tour shots of Matisyahu and when I had the chance to shoot him in a show, I jumped on it! Nothing better than comparing your output with someone whose work you respect.

The show was at (surprise surprise) Club Soda! And it was sold out! Production Iris was great enough to get my accreditation done (these guys rock!). I was told that he would be coming on stage around 10:00pm, so after getting all set with my press credentials, I showed up around 8:45pm to make sure I could get a good setup for the pictures.

Man was I wrong. I should of just bucked up and stayed in front during the 2 opening acts. Getting in front was a chore. The floor was tight with bodies and people aren't too keen at letting someone walk in front. Although once they see the camera and lens, they are usually great at making space.

I ended up on the right side of the stage, behind a speaker that was hung from the ceiling. I picked this side for two reasons:

1- In looking at Matisyahu images, I saw that he holds the mic with his right hand. So shooting from the right side gives me more of the shots I like to take, where you can see the mic and his mouth. Compared to being on the left hand side where his arm would be blocking the mic and mouth most of the time

2- The left side of the stage leads to the backstage and has a bouncer. The right side is empty (although there is a door) but usually has 2-3 chairs along the wall, giving this photographer a little higher vantage point to shoot from! Oh yeah, I do think sometimes.

And that's what happened! After the 2nd opener left the stage, a few people cleared out and I was able to make my way to the chairs and stand on one. Half the stage was blocked by the speaker, but the front was clear! To my chagrin, Matisyahu likes to hang further back of the stage, where he does this funky dance routine. I unfortunately had no shooting angle to get any of that. I was stuck in one spot, no chance at moving anywhere else. You'll see in the first image posted how much to the side I was.

I was delighted at how Matisyahu blended some rock, alternative and reggae into a pretty unique sound.

At the end of the 3 songs, one of the bouncers was nice enough to let me leave from the door and I ended up right in the back alley. No trying to make my way through the ultra dense crowd back out! The crew at the Club Soda are seriously awesome.

I would of loved to be closer up to the stage and have more access to move around to get a variety of shots as he was pretty expressive on stage. But what can you do! Maybe next time :)

Here are a selection of images, 30-ish up in the Galleries on the website