Out of all the different kinds of photography that I’m willing to talk about in public, I’m most interested in shooting live performances. There’s something about the lights, the stage, the movement of the musicians, even the (absolutely magical) smell of the fog machine, that tends to draw me to the live halls of Seoul a few times a month.
But the Smell of Cancer Future aside, over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about myself as a photographer and my reasons for liking it. Here is a list.
1. Awesome & Not So Awesome Lighting
Live halls spend all sorts of dosh on making an inviting (or at least tolerable) environment for guests which, along with the terrifying logistics of bring a lot of gear into a room of drunken revelers, really simplifies your workflow for taking interesting photos. At most shows, I quickly figure out how often I can use a flash without annoying the performer, and then roll with what I have. Places with a lot of light make smooth and gooey black and whites, darker places make you appreciate grain for what it is.
Learning how the lighting of a place interacts with your camera takes time and it also an fun little road trip in itself. At Freebird, a club in Hongdae with an advanced LED light system, or any show with stage projection, higher shutter speeds will interact with these lights and projectors in unintended ways. The way some modern DSLRs work at high shutter speeds, the top of any high speed photo taken actually occurred a fraction of a second before the bottom. With LED lights, the color of light may change over the course of the exposure causing horizontal bands of differently coloured light to appear on the screen. With projection, high shutter speeds will cause a rainbow coloured blur with no trace of the original projected image. Really fun to mess around with.
2. It’s a challenge, or it’s super easy?
Street photographers, along with people like brain surgeons, French pastry chefs, and emergency first responders are the people I look up to the most in life. On the street, no one knows who you are, or what you do. No one owes you anything, and you have to really work for each and every shot you want to capture. I mean, take a look a this guy. This guy is amazing. He has to be on the bus/train every day in Zhengshou, probably to and from work, taking photo after photo to get these amazing shots. It’s him against the world, and he’s doing it up right.
In concert photography, it always seems to be one of two extremes. Either the crowd and the performers are playing to you so you can get a few good shots, or it’s kinda like being on the street, but where everyone and everything is actively working to destroy your shot (read: hopes and dreams). A night with a memory card full of focal misses, misplaced mic stands and poorly anticipated movement is my worst nightmare, and has happened on more than one occasion. I should be clear though, just like on the street, no one, especially in the crowd, owes you anything, and you really have no right to demand anything from them. They’ve (likely) paid for a show, and that’s what they should get. So, I stick to the shadows, or to rowdier shows where no one cares about what the photographer is doing.
3. It makes you part of a community.
I never really thought I would continue to take photos of the Seoul indie community for as long as I have, but it just kinda stuck. I enjoy it, I’ve made friends with a number of musicians and venue owners, and people generally seem to enjoy what I take. (Generally.) In fact, I’m constantly amazed by how awesome the music and art communities in Korea have been. It’s probably the main reason why photography has stuck when other activities didn’t.
Well, that and the wish that we may one day be cool enough to be on Vice.