The next time you see a live band in San Diego, look around carefully. The most talented artist in the room may well not be on stage. He or she may be behind a camera. Photography is an art, seeking and capturing emotions and moments that touch us. People go to concerts not just to hear music – you can do that with a CD or on-line. They want to share an experience, an emotional moment with the performers. They want something live they can carry home in their heart. Hey, have you ever been to a Steve Poltz concert? Think back; don’t you remember particular concerts that really got you in a way a recording just can’t? It doesn’t happen every concert or with every performer, but it does happen in special moments. That’s what a great photographer can capture.
Maybe it is a moment shared between band members on stage—perhaps something the audience didn’t even notice. Or, perhaps there was an audience reaction, or the unforgettable face of a first-time open mic performer. Sure, lots of people take pictures of live music. But, it is the rare pro, with a great eye, years of experience, and astounding skill who can capture those moments and do it reliably over and over again. Here in San Diego, shooting for the Troubadour, we are fortunate to have some of the best. In this article we will introduce you to four of them and their work.
Dan has never taken any formal photography classes but learned from the Time-Life photography books and from trial and error experience over the past 40 years. His work covers the spectrum, from landscapes, architectural and candid imagery, to live music and music related photography. Beginning in the 1960s, and growing up in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, Dan was captivated by hearing and seeing live music and discovering new bands and their music. He was surrounded there by music media and music photography and attended many concerts at the Fillmore East (in NYC) and other venues before he picked up the camera for music photography. It was natural for him to combine his photography skills with his love of music.
Dan goes for the face, getting up close to capture the expressions and emotions of musical performers. For him, it’s often a waiting game – waiting for just the right moment to capture that facial expression. At this technique he excels. Last month Dan covered the San Diego Blues Festival as one of the key photographers for the event. He likes to put people together who might not know each other and shoot their encounters – a delicate art that yielded some great photos. Dan grew up listening to the Rolling Stones and was a fan of the band since their early days. Once, upon meeting Mick Jagger in an airport in Barbados, he engaged Mick in a pleasant five-minute conversation and got an autograph, but unfortunately never took a photo with him.
Dan goes with the flow at a concert, although he will definitely check out the lighting, his access opportunities, and other technical details in advance. His philosophy is to shoot and move – getting what he wants and then getting out of the way. He wants a natural look in his shots without effects, although he might adjust color and contrast.
By his own statement he is still learning and excited by photographing live music. He notes that “things are always changing and challenging – the lights are different, the people and bands are different, the angles are different,” and Dan’s art is to work with the circumstances to get those great shots. He grew up shooting black and white, which he feels conveys more emotion and is more primal than color, although he added color to his arsenal with the advent of the digital age.
As an interesting side note, Dan worked for two years fabricating the gold and platinum record awards for the RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America). These are the awards that grace the office walls of the music industry, radio stations and the musicians. Dan has been published locally in such publications as the San Diego Reader, Fahrenheit, and San Diego Citybeat, along with exposure in several national publications.
You can see more of Dan’s work at: www.facebook.com/danchusid/photos_albums
Dennis started out shooting sports shots. First underwater shots of fish, then girls’ softball (his daughter was a player), then at the Olympic training facility in Chula Vista. Soon his photos were in high demand and for more than a decade he has photographed many kinds of sporting events, including car races, bull riding, the Beijing Olympics, for the NCAA, surfing publications, and much more, always specializing in capturing emotional content.
As a lover of acoustic music Dennis quickly noticed that, just like in action sports, there were great moments and emotional opportunities in live music. So, it wasn’t a surprise that, in 2004, he turned his years of action sports photography to shooting live acoustic music in San Diego. He is the first to admit that his sports photography gave him a great advantage. A quiet and unassuming man, Dennis is the consummate artist. He is rarely without his camera, and he is always looking, observing, and pondering the photographic potential of everything he sees. It shows in his work for the Troubadour.
Dennis attends more than 150 concert per year, sometimes two or three in one evening, and is a remarkable master shooter. He shoots color, but will, as needed, convert to black and white, using Photoshop lightly to adjust color, contrast, or brightness as needed, and finishing an occasional photo with sepia tone, for example, to portray Gregory Page. He is unobtrusive to the point of having the nickname “the invisible man.” But, he is always a consummate professional. He studies lighting, access, shooting angles, and every technical aspect of getting great shots before each shoot, so that when it comes time to pull the trigger he is all business and no distractions. He approaches every concert with his own set list – what he wants to shoot and how he plans to do it. Artist by artist he knows what he wants, and he delivers.
Curious how he good he really is? At a music festival in 2011 John Prine came up to Dennis and said, “I don’t remember your name, but you shot pictures of my concert at the Speckles Theater in San Diego a couple of years ago and they were great.” In 2013 Emmy Lou Harris approached Dennis and said the same thing about his photos of her concert at Pechanga. These two music icons have had literally thousands of photos taken by thousands of photographers whose pictures and names are, no doubt, a muddled blur at this point. Who do they remember? Dennis Andersen.
Likewise, when the New York Times decided to do a feature story on Tim Flannery, looking at the man who crossed over from professional baseball to acoustic music, they flew in a pro photographer to San Diego. Tim invited Dennis to tag along. The New York Times article ran using only the photo taken by Dennis. ‘Nuff said.
You can see more of Dennis’ work at: www.dennisandersenphotography.com.
John is a true photo artist of the highest order. As a kid he always had a camera with him, starting with a 35 mm at age 13. He grew up steeped in music and photography, encouraged in both by supportive parents. His tastes are broad, including classic rock, singer/songwriter, country, Americana, blues, jazz, and some classical.
John was in the army in Germany, spent time in Hawaii, and as he puts it he was “way into the music scene.” It seemed inevitable that he would marry his two passions – music and photography.
What he is looking for in a music photo depends on the target. He loves to shoot and capture bands with on-stage energy, noting Steve Poltz as an example. He wants the emotional content coming from energy, reflected in the face or from wherever it might spring.
He tries to stay out of the way while shooting live concerts, getting great shots but ideally without folks knowing he was there. He will definitely scope out technical details in advance: the lighting, where to shoot from, etc. He likes to share this information with other shooters, and he likes to move around a lot while shooting.
He uses good equipment and lenses and aims for a natural look in his photos with minimal adjustments and only when needed. He attends at least a few concerts per month and often many more. He is still excited by photography and is always experiencing new things that challenge and excite him. He produces occasional black and whites, but typically only if the color is bad, which he corrects using the occasional sepia tone.
John’s photo work has been published not only in the Troubadour, but also in Surfer magazine (of a music concert), in Guitar Player magazine (of Devo), and many artists have complimented his work, including Cherie Curry of the Runaways.
You can see more of John’s work at: www.johnhancockphotos.com/music.
Steve is another self-taught pro, although he had the help of a photographer dad with a dark room and time to help his young son. Steve grew up shooting mostly black and white but expanded to color when the digital era came on the scene. In fact, Steve, who is a professional computer person, found his interest in photography rekindled by the digital age and the interfacing of computers and photography.
As he puts it, he was, at first, shooting technically correct pictures but soon learned that to express himself artistically he needed to break the rules, which he does with stunning effect.
Growing up in Atlanta Steve was a classic rock fan, attracted to locals like the Allman brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Steve’s first published picture appeared in the Troubadour, a photo of Lyle Duplessie (one of the Troubadour founders) and his band. From there Steve met publisher Liz Abbott and he has been a regular Troubadour contributor ever since. He also works as a free-lance photographer and has done work for a variety of clients, including KPRI radio where he has had the privilege of meeting many talented musicians.
When shooting, Steve is looking for a close up, a face shot, or an expression. Maybe an iconic moment of a band that captures the essence of who they are. He tries to be open and adaptable when shooting, although like the others, he will prepare, perhaps watching videos of the band in advance, and for sure checking lighting, angles and the like.
He edits all his work, but focuses on a natural look, noting he is not a purist and will edit a photo if he thinks it will improve it. His general strategy is to shoot the first three songs of a performance and go from there, adjusting color, contrast and brightness if needed. At a typical concert he might shoot several hundred stills, and then edit them down to 10-15 percent of the total.
Steve shoots color, but will convert it to black and white on occasion, and he definitely thinks about tone and presentation in his work for the Troubadour and others. You can find him shooting at Lestat’s coffeehouse in San Diego and other local venues reflecting his interest in everything from open mic to folk music and Americana. He tries to be unobtrusive while shooting, sometimes imposing restrictions on himself. He dresses in black and often shoots from the wings. Flash is never used, except in very bright conditions to fill shadows. If you see a guy dancing to the music with a camera around his neck, that’s probably Steve as he is still way into enjoying live music.
As a computer jock as well as first-rate photographer, Steve notes the accelerating pace of the interface between computers and photography. He notes the coming HDR trend – high dynamic resolution – where computers will combine several still shots into one, adjusting resolution and exposures. He sees 3D emerging, but mostly in video, and he sees more overlap between still and video photography, especially as the equipment now allows shooting both.
Visit Steve’s work at: www.stevecovault.com.