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 http://www.mpourmontreal.com/

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.