“Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés.”—Louis Pasteur

Matthew Richards, a photojournalist based in Thailand, left a kind comment on an image on my wire service news feed, and it got me thinking about Louis Pasteur, science, music, and photography. Not necessarily in that order.

I like music, always have; and if I’d followed my mother’s advice to practice more, I might have become a musician instead of a photographer who plays fingerstyle guitar well enough that no one leaves the room when I’m playing, but not a lot better. I also like to photograph music and musicians, in the studio and on stage, both for shits and giggles and for clients. (I shoot for the Brooklyn Academy of Music, for example.)

I’ve been shooting a number of the concerts for a wire service at Celebrate Brooklyn! this summer, and the drill for press photographers is usually something like this: the first three songs in the pit in front of the stage, the rest of the set out in the house and don’t make a pest of yourself. This is an annoying policy from a photographer’s point of view, more understandable from the artist’s and audience’s point of view.

Ryan Young of Trampled by Turtles
Ryan Young of Trampled by Turtles


Three songs is not a lot of time—ten minutes or so—and by the time you’ve figured out how a band interacts, how individual musicians move—Like Trampled by Turtles’ fiddler Ryan Young, above, for example—what the light guys are likely to be up to, and then jockeyed for position with the other photogs, you’re out of there. I see a lot of disgruntled photogs after their time in the pit checking their smartphones and generally looking grumpy until the beginning of the next set.

So I was standing in the back of the seated section, in front of the lawn seating, and during earlier performances that evening I was shooting people hanging out and dancing there.

Dancers at Celebrate Brooklyn
Dancers at Celebrate Brooklyn


Towards the end of Trampled by Turtles’ regular set, a lot of the audience in the seated section were standing up, waving their arms, and I took a few frames with silhouettes of the audience, hoping to get some arms in the air. I somehow thought something might change, so I stood there, holding my camera in front of my eye, framing a shot, with some people in front of me holding smartphone cameras up and taking snapshots. All of a sudden the lights on the front of the stage and the house lights—I hope the general lighting in outdoor venues can be called house lights—came on, lighting the audience with this terrific rim lighting from the stage and some fill from overhead. I shot 2 frames, before the guy on the left put his phone down, and the woman clapping in the center of the frame put her hands down, and then the light changed.

Cheering crowd at Celebrate Brooklyn
Cheering crowd at Celebrate Brooklyn


Tech note for geeks and gearheads: The shot in question was shot with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm, ISO 3200, 1/100 sec at f/2.8, so you can see there wasn’t a whole lot of light even with the lights on. I get a white balance early on, set it and forget it. I also shoot in manual mode, and in outdoor venues in the evening, the exposure will change a bit as the ambient daylight goes down. Gotta pay attention. I usually shoot this kind of gig with 2 bodies, 2 lenses (24-70, 70-200), and throw a 1.4x teleconverter in my pocket just in case.

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