Jun 192011
 

Seal in Parnu Estonia 2011: Challenges & Rewards of shooting concerts without a Zoom

By Steve Huff

Happy Sunday morning to all! Don’t you just love Sundays? I usually DO love them because Sunday is usually my lazy day off. This way I wake up on Monday energized and ready to post something new to this very web site. As I write this though, it IS in fact Sunday and I have some free time today after shooting a Seal show last night in Parnu, Estonia.

At this moment, I’m sitting here in my hotel room for the last day in Tallinn, Estonia. We will all leave here in about 5 hours for the airport to head to Lithuania for the next show. Just last night (Saturday) I shot the 1st show of the tour in Parnu, Estonia and right off the bat let me say WOW WOW WOW! This was a VERY energetic and fast flowing show.

Instead of just posting images from the show, this time I wanted to write a little but about the challenges of shooting a concert without zooms…meaning only prime lenses. Also, I am not posting every image I shot at this show in this post. More can be seen at SEAL.COM if you are interested in seeing more from the Parnu show. I also have my Seal 2011 gallery HERE if you want to see my fave past shots. So, on to this post…

It all started with Sound check as the band went through a few tunes with Seal… as always, click the images for better versions.

This one was shot with the 90 Summicron Leica sent me to borrow for this tour. Even with the slight misfocus, I love this image. In fact, I prefer it slightly out of focus.

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on the other hand, for this tour my Noctilux has been tuned up and is focusing like a champ…

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Holly Palmer – one of the new backup singers for the show

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For this summer European tour there have been some band changes and additions and I have to say, I have never heard Seal sound better live. Maybe it was the fact that it was still bright outside at 10pm, or maybe it was just that crazy excitement of the first show of the tour that energized everyone, because the whole band was in top form.

1st pic: Me just before showtime all geared up.

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J.R. – Fuji X100 – He was wantig to buy my X100 and offered me $1350 on the spot but I turned down the offer :) I do believe Seal sold him one though as he had an extra.

I had my M9 along with a 24 Lux, 50 Noct and 90 Cron. Also had the X100 but it did not get used much at all, if at all. I only shot with it during the soundcheck. Why? Well, when you shoot a concert, or in my case, a tour, some days can be better than others.

Every day when I arrive to the venue I immediately look at the setup of the stage, wether or not there are barriers, and if I will have room up front to shoot. Sometimes, like this first show in Parnu, there were no barriers which means I had to try to squeeze my way through the crowd to get close enough to shoot. Getting in close is the best way to get shots when shooting with a 50 or 35, and to get more intimate images as well.

Sometimes the fans do not like this as they think I am just some gung ho photographer trying to push my way in front of them. I usually get an odd look or two when moving up, and sometimes, like yesterday, I could not position myself to where I really wanted to be because it was so crowded up front.

Be The Zoom

Shooting the shows with just a 50mm means that I HAVE TO BE THE ZOOM. I am fine with this as it is how I shoot, and how I always shoot but some nights are just tough to get the right angles. This makes some nights a real challenge, but I am always up for a challenge and welcome them. In fact, it pushes me harder to get better results with what whatever situation I am dealt with.

Seal in Parnu Estonia 2011 – M9 and the 50 Noct, all wide open at 0.95

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I Like to Keep It Simple

Many pro concert photographers have loads and loads of gear. Usually two pro DSLR’s, mass amounts of memory cards, lighting and flash equipment, triggers, and multitudes of lenses. They have cameras set up on stage and have full roaming access and can even position themselves ON stage! I am sure that with all of this equipment you can get some killer shots like THIS guy (love the Bon Jovi Elvis impersonation). I am sure if I wanted to lug around some pro Nikon gear and some super wides and mass zooms I could get some shots like that but upon closer inspection, I am not sure I would want to.

I am in no way knocking his work, hell,  he seems to kicks the pants off of me and his images capture the moment, excitement, and thrill of the show but personally, for me, I like more artistic personal types of shots. I love to play with the color, the depth of field as well as the emotion, and the sweat and excitement of the moment. I also don’t want some automated trigger and flash shooting my shots on stage. I guess I believe more in the Jim Marshall approach (RIP). He is the only concert shooter I have ever been inspired by, and back in his day he walked in with a couple of Leicas strapped to him and shot the show and the personal moments before and after.

Jim’s images with Hendrix, Cash, Dylan and Morrison have what I like to call “Soul”. Was it the Leica that had a hand in this? Not sure, but to me, Jim’s style managed to create classics.

Again, it is all about simplicity. With a simple tool such as a Leica M9 and one 50mm lens, magic can be made. No flash, no zooms, no auto focus. When you hit it, you hit it. When you don’t, you can even still walk away with a great photograph. Other times you walk away with nothing but when you do, it feels really great.

Seal In Parnu. I missed focus in the 1st shot but Seal was in a moment, and that moment was captured. Shooting something like the Nocti or even a 50 Summilux ASPH propels a shot from flat and boring to deep and emotional. The Silhouette is Seals fave shot of the Parnu show. It may also be mine. Why? Because it breaks free from the norm of most concert images.

Over 95% of concert photos I see were taken with Nikon or Canon with Zooms and Flashes. This kind of system will indeed provide you with an almost foolproof way of getting great shots but I have to say it…the results usually look like all of the other concert shots out there.

I have scoured and scoured the net and studied thousands or even tens of thousands concert images and almost all follow the same DSLR/FLASH/ZOOM formula. I could switch to that route but to me that would not be as rewarding, even if I only manage to capture one magical shot per show with my M compared to 20-30 with the gizmos and gadgets.

Before anyone starts commenting that I am a Leica fanboy, what I say can also be done with a D700 or 5D and a 50 1.4, or 85 1.4. Doesn’t have to be a Leica. I am just not into Zooms and flash.

All in all this article was supposed to be about the challenges of shooting concerts with prime lenses but it has seemed to kind of stray off track a bit due to my rambling. Basically, it really is a challenge to shoot a concert without a zoom but my take on it is that you will always get more creative results when you do so. Want to stick out from the crowd a bit? Use one camera, one fixed focal length, and use your body, eye, and mind to create the magic.

Not all of the great shots happen on stage. I always take a walk around during the show to see what is going on in the crowd. Nocti wide open.

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90 cron, f/2 (should have shot it a 2.8)

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So even though I can’t stand and zoom to compose my shot, even if I don’t have AF, and even if I do not always get a good position to shoot in and a ZOOM would be an easy way to get a shot, I still would not give up shooting the shows with the M9 and Noctilux, which is the perfect lens for this kind of work (IMO) and gives me many rewards back.

As I was sitting here writing this time has flown by and it is now time for me to pack and get everything together for the flight out. Until next time!

The f/0.95 flare…

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Apr 152011
 

Seal In Zermatt Switzerland with the Leica M9 and Noctilux f/0.95

Hello  to all! The last two days have been full of travel for me as I headed home after being on the road with Seal for the past 3-4 weeks. I am now home, well slept and re-energized. I am hoping to get a hold of an X100 now that I am back so I can put it through its paces, so stay tuned for that! It feels good to be home and back at my desk. Updating on the little 13″ macbook pro was OK, but not as nice as sitting at my huge desk with my 27″ Imac. Speaking of my Macbook Pro (the one I bought just a month ago), I just took it out of my bag and noticed the screen has cracked during my last flight home! ARG! I did drop my entire camera bag once at the airport, and seeing that it weighed in at around 40lbs the little Macbook screen didn’t survive the fall. Hopefully my M9 did.

It has been an amazing month for me. I have been able to see parts of the world I would have never seen, fly in a helicopter through the swiss mountains, meet some amazing people and make some great new friends, eat at some of the most amazing restaurants ever, finally get a hold of a VAJA Iphone 4 case that I have been wanting,  and shoot my ass off at all of the Seal shows. It has been a month of fun, adventure, photography and also moments of sadness when you sit back and miss your family.

It has truly been a blast and what is really cool is that I may be doing it again this summer during Seal’s upcoming 7 week tour. While I am home I will spend my time with my friends, family and special loved ones as that is what life is all about really. :)

My last post here featured some snapshots I grabbed while going up to the Matterhorn mountain in Zermatt. Todays post will feature some images from the last Seal show in Zermatt at the “Zermatt Unplugged’ festival. I have to say, Zermatt was an amazing place to visit. It’s a ski town but probably one of the most beautiful in the world, if not THE most beautiful. I’ll go back at some point, just as I will re-visit Cape Town again one day. But Zermatt just has that vibe, fresh mountain air, and even some very cool happy locals.

The show was a bit different than the shows on the South American tour. It was held inside a tent and the chairs were all lined with sheepskin, how funky is that? It was an intimate show and the fans were a little more subdued here as usually this event is ALL unplugged performances, which at times can be a but mellow and dare I say…boring? Seal and the band started off with an acoustic set and then launched in to their normal “plugged” set. Was a great show, and a great time though it was tough to shoot due to the odd angles up close. This was also the first show where there were other photographers, and there were SIX of them with huge DSLR’s just blazing away at 7 frames per second for the first three songs (which is what they were allowed to shoot).

I was there with my M9 and firing one shot at a time, when the moment was right and no joke, most of these guys probably shot 300-400+ frames during those first three songs. I shoot 200 or less during an entire show. I guess that is the technique with a DSLR. Fire away and hope for the best.

In any case, I had a blast as always and am looking forward to the next run. Here are some of the images, all shot with the Leica M9 and 35 cron + 50 Noct.

As always, click on any image for a larger and better version

Before the show – You can see the sheepskin lined seats and the cool atmosphere of the tent..

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and the show starts with some acoustic versions of classic Seal songs…

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then the show was ramped up a bit and the fun REALLY started :)

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After uploading all of these shots I sort of already miss it! Wow. I have to say though that after a solid month of use and abuse on the M9 and Noctilux both have performed flawlessly day in and day out. They have some scratches and scuffs on them now but that makes it even better :)

I also got to shoot with Seals Titanium M9 while we were on this trip and HOLY SHIT that thing is absolutely incredible. A thing of beauty. It just feels so good and looks so nice in person. The LED frame lines are very cool IMO. Whoever was able to obtain one has one sweet camera, that is for sure. What is cool is Seal actually shoots his and he brought it to dinners ,lunch, shows, walks…very cool to see someone using it instead of putting it on a shelf.

Once again I’d like to thank Seal (thanks so much for the amazingly generous gift and bringing me along), Ric (thanks for the great food, good times) and everyone else who I spent time with over the past month. I feel like I have an extended family now..well, I guess I do :) See you all soon.

Steve

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Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :)

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Mar 122011
 

 

It’s 2:19 AM and I am in my hotel room going over images I shot tonight at the 1st show of the Seal South American tour in Buenos Aires Argentina. As most of you already know, I am on the road with Seal for the next 3 weeks. There will be 10 or 11 shows and I will be shooting at all of them with a Leica M9 and various lenses. For tonights show I planned on using the Noctilux ASPH f/0.95 along with the 135 telyt but the 135 was a bit too slow (in regards to Aperture) so I ended up shooting with a 28 elmarit and of course, as mentioned, the king of the ring…the fantastic NOCTILUX ASPH.

I missed focus on this as it was dark and I grabbed it VERY quick. Upon entering the Venue this little girl and her father were waiting to meet Seal and even though the image is OOF, you can see the smile on the little girls face as she gets what she wished for…an autograph on her shirt.

What I wouldn’t give to own this beauty of a lens. Seal is letting me borrow it for the tour and I have to say that if I believed in the past that the Nocti and the M9 made a great concert shooting pair, tonight I believe it to be THE BEST. Yes, above the Canon 1d’s and the Nikon D3’s…

I have written about it before but I would say that 98% of all photographers who shoot concerts and live performances shoot with Nikon or Canon. Not that this is a bad thing as Nikon and Canon make FABULOUS and highly capable cameras. BUT if one wants to be original and make their work like this stand out, a Noctilux attached to the M9 is a magical thing, even today.

If I had to use a DSLR for shooting live performances such as this it would probably be a Canon 5D (I or II) or Nikon D700 but my preference will always be with the Leica M9/Nocti combo. The mix of full frame, Leica glass, and manual focusing make it fun, challenging, AND rewarding when you see  the results.

Tonights show was awesome. Of every Seal show I have seen, this was by far my favorite as the band was tighter than ever and Seals voice was about the best I have heard it. The set list rocked as well. I had a BLAST watching and documenting the show and even the little 28 Elmarit did really good. It surprised me. That lens is sharp, contrasty and sort of a super deal in the land of Leica glass.

Being that it is so wide on the M9, with the 28 I was right up against the stage and at one point I went to move further to the back and realized I was surrounded by hundreds of people. I ended up staying at center stage for the last 1/4 of the show :)

So without further ado, here are a few more images from night #1. I won’t be posting ALL of them, just my faves. ALL shot with the 50 Nocti ASPH and the 28 Elmarit. The color in the Nocti shots just POP!

It’s now 3AM here so I need some sleep and tomorrow I may walk around Buenos Aires to do some photography and sight seeing. If I get anything interesting I will post them here! Also, Seal is posting some personal pics to picortwo.com almost daily. You can follow him HERE.

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HELP ME TO KEEP THIS SITE GOING AND GROWING!! IT”S EASY TO HELP OUT!

Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :)

If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter or my new facebook fan page! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader! Also, the new forums are NOW OPEN on this site so get involved if you like! Thanks so much for visiting my site!

Mar 122011
 

I made it to Buenos Aires Argentina! 1st show tonight!

Saturday, March 12th 2011 – 11AM - After 15 hours of flights and airports I made it to Buenos Aires Argentina in one piece :) Took a nap, had a nice hot shower and have been chilling out in my hotel room watching TV and relaxing. I also went for a walk even though some rain started coming in. It’s humid, gloomy and wet out but I walked out and about with just an M9 and 35 cron. Didn’t really take too many shots but it is always interesting when you are in a place you have never been and no one else around you speaks English :)

Im also finding that looking at and editing photos on a 13″ macbook pro is challenging when you are used to editing on a 27″ display. The 13″ just seems so small! But I will get used to it. I have to because it’s all I have with me. Speed wise, the little 13″ has NO problems with the large M9 files, even with Lightroom and Photoshop CS5 both open.

As I was walking the rain started getting harder and I had the M9 just slung around my chest. Water was pounding it so I stopped in a shop that sold leather bags, laptops cases, and purses. I managed to find a cheap ($20 US) shoulder bag that will hold one M9 and a lens or two. The rain started half way through my walk so I wanted to find something to protect the camera. We all know the M9’s are not weather proof BUT I have shot them in the rain before with no issues.

I’m excited to be shooting the 1st show of Seal’s South American tour. Looks like in a few hours I will be in front of the stage snapping away…trying to catch those soulful moments of his live performance.

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UPDATE – March 12th 2011 – 8PM – Just got back from sound check and checking out the arena. I will leave you with one shot as I am heading back in 20 minutes to shoot the show…more later!

Mar 082011
 

I’ve been busy organizing and packing!


Lots of you have asked me to list what I am packing for the Seal tour this week so I decided to post my list! I will be out for three weeks with one goal in mind..kick ass photography with my Leica gear! Well, I am actually packing a medium sized kit (by photographers standards) believe it or not. Besides one huge suitcase with 3 weeks worth of t-shirts, clothes, and hygiene necessities I am taking along a few cameras.

First off, I am bringing my Pelican bag to hold all cameras for the plane ride. This bag is pretty nice and has been with me for years now. It will hold TWO Leica M9’s, a few lenses, and my X1 along with all cables, chargers, and accessories. It’s so cool to be heading out and shooting this tour and packing so light (well, not really that light). No need for a DSLR and huge lenses. Nope, give me an M and a 35, 50, or 90 any day!

I want to thank Leica Camera for sending me some equipment to use for the tour, also Ken Hansen who came through for me last minute and Dale Photo who also helped me out for this trip! It is so cool to be associated with such great people! Of course, thanks to Seal for having me shoot this tour and B&H Photo for shipping my new Macbook Pro out so quickly. I think I am ready to rock…

Here is my UPDATED checklist of what I am getting together and bringing with me to South America!

  • Big Suitcase to hold my clothes and hygiene necessities. :)
  • This Pelican camera and laptop bag to hold all cameras, lenses, and my laptop/cables/chargers and snacks. I have had this bag for three years and it always does its job well. It holds SO much!
  • This Macbook Pro 13″ – Latest model which is awesome! It will be nestled inside its cool green leather sleeve. I just bought this laptop it to replace my 4-5 year old Macbook Pro. I always buy my Apple computers from B&H. Cheaper and no tax!

I always get my Apple computers through B&H Photo. You save quite a bit as they sell cheaper and you do not pay tax. They also offer free shipping! This is the latest 13″ model…

  • Two Leica M9’s – Thanks to Ken Hansen and Leica Camera! One is mine, one is a loaner backup courtesy of Leica.
  • Leica 28 Elmarit, 35 Summicron and 90 Summarit (Thanks to David at Dale Photo for hooking me up)
  • I will also be shooting with the Leica Noctilux f/0.95 once I meet up with Seal.
  • Four Sandisk Ultra 16GB SDHC SD Cards
  • External Hard Drive for backup!
  • Jawbone JAMBOX for my hotel stay music listening and movie watching.
  • Snacks for the long plane rides..have to eat! Hmmm…nuts, jerky, granola…all sounds good.
  • My passport of course.
  • My Iphone 4 and Mophie Juice Pack Plus.
  • This cool photo vest to hold all of my goodies while shooting! Well, maybe the vest is a bit geeky but will come in handy when shooting.
  • This BEEP, and M9 screen protector from Popflash Photo to help out my grey M9.
  • and Cash – Oops, I am all out!

So, have I forgotten anything?

Check out the tour schedule and if you are going to these shows be sure to look for me or even e-mail me and let me know which show you will be at. Would be great to meet some of you if I can! I will be updating the site as often as I can with tour updates and of course loads of great photos. Three weeks of shooting a tour, awesome. Am I dreaming or what?!?!? If you missed my report on the week I spent with the tour last year you can read about it HERE at the official Leica Blog.

 

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