All photos taken with the X-E2 and 18mm f/2, 35mm f/1.4 and 56mm f/1.2 lenses.
The Fuji cameras get praised to the high-heavens when it comes to street and travel photography, but not much is said about how they handle gig photography - which is something of a shame as they really are something rather special. For a start if you're not on the photographers list you can smuggle them quite easily into any number of gigs, and all because friend bouncer views them as some non-threatening, dinky, hipster toy and waves you through. Hardly a pro-camera, right?
Well, that's where they're wrong. I took the Fuji X-E2 out with me when I went to see the utterly splendid Public Service Broadcasting. (Click on that name there to check out their YouTube channel, not only is their music wonderful but they have the most fascinating historical montages accompanying their songs. Spitfire and Go! is especially worth a gander.) I took with me the 35mm f/1.4 and the 56mm f/1.2 and switched my visualising noggin' to Larry Fink mode in an effort to capture cool as hell black and white atmospherics. Fujfilm's Monochrome Red Filter is a godsend in these cases, coupled with medium highlights and dark, inky shadows.
There used to be a lot of grumblings about Fuji's autofocus speed but in practice the contrast detection works pretty well in low light. Plus you can adapt pretty quickly to changing light with the chunky shutter and aperture dials to hand. I walked away with a good proportion of keepers, which is good as when you bring a camera to a gig you really, really, only want to be shooting a third of the songs. The majority of the time you just want to soak in the experience - become too focused on capturing images and you end up doing the band and your ears something of a dis-service. Take your time. Take single shots (from the bar as well as through the camera) and aim to capture only key moments. There's nothing more dispiriting ploughing through five hundred redundant photographs after a gig. I try to keep mine under fifty.
In fact, I find it hard to move away from black and white in gig photography. Ever since stage lights went LED it's been more and more difficult to get a satisfying white balance, with the constant shift of greens and purples and reds bleaching out features. And, y'know, black and white just looks beautiful when you've got that chiaroscuro light and shadow playing over people's faces. Before you start shooting gigs it's a great idea to watch black and white movies by the old masters, you'll learn the value of dark and light - with shadows like rich velvet and heroic faces luminous with life. These photographs I took at a small Welsh backpackers bar called Nos Da, where a lively little gig organised by Cardiff's music collective Pi & Hash introduced me to the great banjo player Darren Eedens among others. Man knows his stuff.
Another little trick to use is to really work those dutch angles. Use backdrops and foregrounds as framing devices for the subject, such as handy ceiling beams, microphone stands and the wind-milling limbs of other band members. Blur can be beautiful as well (um, not the band, I mean the motion) as Pennie Smith showed us with her incredible iconic shot of a bass guitar in the process of being obliterated by an angry Paul Simonon of The Clash. A simple film Pentax shot, blurry and grainy and as evocative as hell.
Thanks for stopping by for this little ramble. And remember, one of the most conducive elements to good band photography is to get lightly toasted, I find around three to four pints is my sweet-spot. Bonus points for those cultured folk who figured out the band in the title and take care y'all out there, and have a very merry Christmas!