What Jessie Did Next...

...being the inane ramblings of a mundane Yorkshire bird.

For several years now I’ve been showing up to gigs around the Wakefield/Leeds area, taking photos to try and better my own technique: indeed in one of the pubs in Wakefield there’s a gallery of past events where I took the shots. With my Canon 30D and a handful of lenses stretching from an f1.8 50mm through to f5.6 300mm I think I’ve made a lot of progress in taking reasonably evocative and sometimes exciting shots. Comparing pics taken in 2005 with more recent efforts offers quite a startling contrast.

More recently I started getting offered paying work to turn up at a show and do some photography, so I thought I’d better start taking it seriously. As anyone who plays with dSLR kit knows, glass is expensive: it’s easy to run into many hundreds of pounds once you get addicted to photography! Thus I wanted to make sure if I spend a pile of cash on a lens then it’s the right one, which would deal well in low light and give some nice clear shots so I didn’t end up having to put half the shoot into B&W.

Ideally I wanted a way of evaluating different lenses over the course of a few days each and in a variety of different situations:

  • Full gig atmosphere, stage show, etc. – not always possible since it depends on the band and the venue.
  • Pub gig atmosphere, intimate venue with small room for maneuver – O’Donoghue’s in Wakefield is good for this.
  • Harry’s Bar in Wakefield, which stages regular gigs but has the most godawful lighting in the universe.

The latter two were easy – I regularly take pics in both venues. The former was afforded with a gig photographing Paleday again.

That left the decision on where to borrow lenses. I have friends who have camera kit (some ridiculously expensive), and most of the lenses I wanted to try out were out of their price range too. Enter LensesForHire.co.uk who have been absolutely sterling not only in having a wide range of lenses you can hire, they also ship them to you the day before the hire and collect it the day after, include full insurance, and you get a lens that’s been tested and cleaned. Perfect!

First lens up was the f2.8 70-200 USM IS L. I didn’t have a full gig to go to, but figured trying it in O’Donoghue’s would be a good start (photos). Sadly, that model just wasn’t designed for gigging, it’s heavy, the IS function is useless in low light, it’s just more of a sports lens or for outdoor gigs: most of that gig was taken at ISO800 or ISO1600 which on the 30D gives grainy shots (it’d probably come out a lot better with a DIGIC-III based body such as the 450D but that’s not the point).

Neal recommended I try the f1.2 85mm L II USM so I hired that for the Paleday gig last Friday where I’d got a full backstage pass and the run of the venue (woo!). Honestly, I was absolutely at a loss for words – the glass is utterly fantastic, wow, etc. This is the lens.

Many of the sound check photos were taken purely with a flourescent floodlight at ISO100 or ISO200 giving a clarity I’d just never come across in my photos before. No mucking around, no playing with colour balance, no monochrome – just clean-cut angles and excellent bokeh.

(Incidentally – I carried around Nicky’s EOS 400D with the f2.8 Sigma 28-50 on the front, any 400D photos you see in the Astoria collections were taken with that).

The first band of the night were Royal Showdown, a 15-piece which included a string section – good opportunity to try stuff (photos). One of the bigger problems I’ve had in previous gig shoots has been the prevalence of saturating red and yellow light, to the extent that I set up a colour profile on the 30D purely to deal with that in extreme cases; no such worries here with shots such as this being taken from the auditorium, and this from the balcony. I’m especially pleased with the shots of the string group (example) and although that particular lens has a very tight depth-of-field at f1.2 I found the focus was almost bang on most of the time, needing only minor adjustment.

Paleday were fab of course (photos) – only a 30-minute set but still great music. I spent pretty much all of it monkeying around the auditorium and wings taking band pics. The saturating light got in the way a little, especially when taking photos of Phil the bass player from across the stage (photo) but by and large they’re a stonking set of shots including some good ones of Sam. I considered stopping around for the later bands but to be honest I was exhausted and not looking forward to a 200-mile drive home!

So, it worked in a full gig and lighting atmosphere. Next up, let’s go to the pub – O’Donoghue’s on Saturday night. The band ‘Full Tilt’ were playing a set of good hard loud rock including use of a Black & Decker drill (no, it’s not faked). Close-up saturating light from PAR56 cans set about 1.5m away from the performers gave me ample time to play with stuff, and I was very pleased with the results.

Tonight I’m probably going to wander to Harry’s Bar to just do a final test at Open Mic Night, however I’m largely happy with it and will be purchasing one when I’ve got a replacement for the Marlow contract. It’s heavy, it’s expensive (coming in at a list price of £1500 and a discounted price of £1250 if you shop around), but it’s the dog’s for it.

Enjoy the photos.

1 Comment

  1. Hey,

    Nice write-up! I’m trying to figure out what lens to get next for gigs too.

    Just wondering if you could elaborate a little more on how the 70-200mm f2.8L USM IS didn’t work out?

    My current worry is that the canon 85mm (which comes up to 136mm on my 1.6x crop sensor) can’t reach out far enough, while the canon 135mm is way too close despite its sharpness.

    Was actually considering the 70-200mm zoom to help cope with a variety of situations/distances (plus I read somewhere else that the lens is actually recommended for lowlight gig shots).

    Would love to hear more about your experience with the 70-200mm. Hope you might be able to share, thanks!

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