Tuesday night I arrived at 7:45 and the doorman shooed me out saying they weren't open yet, though the first band was set to start at 8. Of course they do always start late, but I was hoping to stake out a good spot in advance. I sulked outside for a few minutes but then Steve Kirk pulled up and invited me to go with him to find parking and food after he unloaded his gear, which cheered me up considerably.
I secured the one spot on the balcony with a mostly-unblocked view of the stage. As I predicted, my new 85mm portrait lens was just right for a photo of a single band member from that location. For full group shots or photos taken closer to the stage, I had to switch to my 17-55mm. I wanted to use the 85 as much as possible as it has a wider maximum aperture, 1.8 vs 2.8. But I didn't want to keep switching lenses either. So over the two nights I developed the strategy of taking group shots from the balcony with the zoom first, then portraits with the prime, then switching back to the zoom and moving down to the main floor for additional perspectives.
I left the camera in program mode the whole time, only setting the ISO manually - at first 800, then quickly moving to 1600. I didn't use any flash except on two audience shots which I didn't end up uploading. I didn't bother to set a custom white balance, figuring I'd fix that in post. The auto white balance on the camera actually did a very good job this time, considering the challenging lighting conditions.
Steve's band's set was fun, including the song "Father Christmas" by the Kinks which I love. I was planning to leave after his band (the second of three for the night), but we ended up going backstage and talking for the entire duration of the third set, about everything from religion to sex to diet and exercise. It was a really good conversation.
Wednesday night I arrived later and couldn't get the balcony spot for the first set, but still managed some decent portraits from the stairs. The second set, the jazz workshop with Jim Peterson I've been in twice myself, was challenging to shoot as everyone had music stands blocking them. The keyboard player showed up halfway through the set; his friend on the balcony said he was a lawyer that had three trials that night. I'd taken workshops with him and both of the sax players before.
I took over 600 photos between the two nights, and stayed up very late processing them. Lightroom has a great workflow which makes it easy to quickly flag picks and rejects. The first night I was so tired I made some poor choices with adjusting tone (basically using the auto levels which were not always optimal), and ended up redoing a number of photos the following morning. The next night I had napped before the show and was more alert, so spent a bit more time making adjustments. My goal was to get a fast turnaround though, as I like giving people immediate gratification.
Several Blue Bear staff thanked me for taking photos the previous night and asked if they could get some of them printed large and framed for the office. BB has already been using my photos in their e-mail newsletter, and just recently added several to the rotating slideshow on their home page. They also included one gerardp shot of my R&B workshop, which was a nice surprise.
I'm enjoying concert photography, despite being sleep-deprived. I'm glad I now have good equipment that allows me to shoot in low light without flash without the photos coming out too grainy. I still want to get a couple more lenses, a 60mm macro prime and a 50-150mm zoom telephoto, both 2.8. Though it would be great to get a slightly shorter portrait lens that went to 1.8 or better, because with the 1.6x magnification the 85mm can be impractical. But I have to draw the line somewhere as I'm not going to be able to afford and schlep around all this equipment.