Casulo - A Brazilian Jazz Concert at the Cadillac Hotel

Casulo - what does the word mean? It appears to be a Portuguese word that could translate into “cocoon” or “pod” or “chrysalis”. I like the idea of this band’s music emerging from a cocoon-like pod and bursting forth with colorful beauty, just like a butterfly. And that’s exactly what this concert was like!

I’ve photographed, perhaps, two dozen different musicians at the Cadillac Hotel our the past three years and the caliber of those bands — many of whom are just kind of getting started — is amazing! Casulo was no exception.

First, as always, let’s briefly get a look at the tools of the trade.

ISO 200 — 90mm f/2 — f/2 — 1/18sec

ISO 200 — 90mm f/2 — f/2 — 1/25sec

ISO 200 — 90mm f/2 lens — f/2 — 1/30sec

Next we’ll have a bit of a reveal. I’ve been trying to nail this shot for a while, and the band’s leader, Paolo, was in just the right spot for me to get it.

ISO 200 — 90mm f/2 — f/2 — 1/40sec

And now a view from above.

ISO 200 — 35mm f/1.4 — f/2.8 — 1/12sec

I rarely am able to get the above shot, but this time the musicians were positioned perfectly and filled the space Normally the piano is turned in a different direction, making this shot a bit awkward, but I like how Paolo positioned the piano for this performance.

Dropping back down to ground level, here we see the drummer, in the zone and focused.

ISO 200 — 35mm f/1.4 — f/1.4 — 1/75sec

The next shot was taken with the 56mm f/1.2 which on a full frame has a field of view of an 85mm and roughly the depth of field of an f/ 1.8. I just absolutely love the effect here. The saxophonist, Rueben, pops out of the shot while everything else behind him just melts way. But it wasn’t just the lens that did this, but also the lighting. Both worked together to create this nice, pleasing effect.

ISO 200 — 56mm f/1.2 — f/1.2 — 1/20sec

Normally, I would make the above photo black & white because when shooting in that direction, the colors of the curtains are often a distraction in the image. But not this time around. Somehow the sound and lighting engineer, Max, arranged the lighting differently and the background colors became pleasantly muted.

Next we have our acoustic bass player. Black and white was the best option for this shot because I think it adds to the focused look on his face.

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And finally we have the band leader, Paolo, playing and singing lively ballads for the audience.

ISO 200 — 90mm f/2 — f/2 — 1/8sec

Prior to the start of the concert, I had introduced myself to Paolo and he asked if I could take some group shots of the band, so we spent about five minutes getting some static photos.

ISO 200 — 35mm f/1.4 — f/5 — 1/30sec

ISO 200 — 23mm f/1.4 — f/5.6 — 1/40sec

If you’re interested in booking Casulo for a gig, have a look at their website and send Paolo a message!


Colonial Williamsburg - Women in Early Music

While at Colonial Williamsburg, the last event I attended was a presentation called, “Women in Early Music”. It was late March and the program was quite appropriate for Women’s History Month.

Photography was not allowed during the performance itself, mostly because the room was really dark and the camera would have been a huge distraction/disruption during the performance. But afterwards I asked two of the ladies if I could take their photos and they excitedly agreed!

To say that the shooting conditions were difficult is an understatement. I was having to push what I thought were the limits of my camera’s ISO!

This first shot is of the flautist. What I found so amazing about her performance was the distinctive very deep breath she would take at the beginning of each song (or movement). You can see from the size of the flute just how robust it is compared to modern day flutes. But the music she drew from that flute was strong and steady, which is a testament to her stamina and skill!

ISO 1600 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 26.6mm — f/2.8 — 1/30sec

This next shot was the most difficult one of my entire time at Colonial Williamsburg, and also of the two shots taken that night.

Our singer positioned herself in a very dark portion of the room, perhaps too dark in most circumstances.  However, I trust my Fuji, especially the X-H1 with it’s IBIS.  So I did my best at guessing the exposure and trusting the fact that the dynamic range of the Fuji sensor would allow me to bring this image up a whopping 5 stops!  And here’s the final image.

ISO 1600 — 16-55mm f/2.8 lens @ 37.6mm — f/2.8 — 1/30sec

At ISO 1600, the image was grainy, but not so much that i wasn’t able to use the noise reduction in Lightroom to do some decent correction. The sepia conversion was done to primarily help mask the remaining noise, and also to make the image look older. It seems that when we think of sepia, we think of older photos and we think of grains so hopefully worked!

I’m glad I was able to catch this performance because it was actually the final performance, since Women’s History Month and the March of month was coming to a close. If I could go back next year and catch this performance again, the only thing I would change would be to bring a small flash and a flash sync chord!

The Brian Byrnes Trio at the Cadillac Hotel

I’ve been photographing concerts at the Cadillac Hotel for the past two years now, but in those two years, I had never experienced something as magical as when I was there for a Saturday concert by the Brian Byrnes Trio.

I’ve seen people clap during the concerts, mostly at the end of a song. But this was the first time ever, that the audience clapped in the middle of a song because they were moved so much by Brian’s solo with the harmonica, or the solo by pianist Lee Bloom. I call that pure joy! That’s what Brian, Lee, and Peter brought to the Cadillac Hotel that day. Joy!

So let’s begin at the beginning, with the tools of the trade. When I first met Brian, he had joined Coelho & Ridnell at the Cadillac Hotel to provide vocals and play the harmonica.

ISO 800 - 56mm f/1.2 lens - f/1.2 - 1/75 sec

These are Brian’s instruments, from the harmonicas to the guitar.

ISO 640 - 56mm f/1.2 lens - f/1.2 - 1/80 sec

And the acoustic bass below belongs to Peter Barshay.

ISO 320 - 56mm f/1.2 lens - f/1.2 - 1/80 sec

For this opening shot of Brian, I used the 56mm f/1.2 lens, which on a full frame camera would have the equivalent field of view of an 85mm lens. I like the compression offered by the lens, and even at wide open at f/1.2, there’s a lot of detail. You can see the focus in Brian’s face.

ISO 320 - 56mm f/1.2 lens - f/1.2 - 1/80 sec

Next is pianist Lee Bloom. I wanted to take some photos of Lee’s hands as he was warming up at the piano, but he saw me on the edge of his periphery and turned to pose for a photo. Again, shot wide open at f/1.2.

ISO 250 - 56mm f/1.2 lens - f/1.2 - 1/80 sec

This next shot is of Peter Barshay, playing the acoustic bass.  I went for the black and white conversion for this photo, specifically Acros-G for the Fuji camera, because I really liked how the lights were hitting Peter’s face.  Black and white gives the shadows more contrast and also makes Peter’s already focused look, look even more focused.  You can also see more details of the bass’s scroll and machine heads.

ISO 640 - 56mm f/1.2 lens - f/1.2 - 1/80 sec

I typically bring three lens for shoots at the Cadillac Hotel: 56mm f/1.2, 16mm f/1.4, and 90mm f/2. Those three lenses pretty much cover everything I need at the Cadillac. While I could use a zoom lens like the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8, which would be the equivalent of a 24-70mm lens on a full frame camera, nothing matches the sharpness of a prime lens, and I often like to give the musicians the sharpest images possible. Also, since most prime lenses tend to be wider than f/2, I can use a slightly higher shutter speed, thus freezing most of the motion of the musicians.

Swapping out the 56mm for the 16mm, I decided to get a wide shot of the Cadillac Hotel’s lobby. There were a fair amount of people there for a Saturday.

ISO 320 - 16mm f/1.4 lens - f/1.4 - 1/60 sec

For the next two shots, I decided to experiment a bit with angles. Tilting the camera in a such a way is often taboo in most instances, but for musicians, it often enhances the image because it implies additional motion. For the first shot, I tilted the camera in such a way that it went in the direction Peter was looking.

ISO 800 - 56mm f/1.2 lens - f/1.2 - 1/80 sec

For this shot of Brian, I wanted to try to line up the neck of the guitar horizontally. Again, the motion is going in the direction in which Brian is looking. I think the tilt draws a little more focus to Brian and the guitar.

ISO 320 - 56mm f/1.2 lens - f/1.2 - 1/80 sec

I really like this next shot of Lee. He was getting so deep into the music, putting all that he was into it. You can feel the intensity in his posture.

ISO 800 56mm f/1.2 lens f/1.2 1/125 sec

This final shot of Brian was taken with the 90mm f/2 lens, which on a full frame would have a field of view similar to a 135mm lens. You’ll see that I shot the image at 1/125 sec, but the image doesn’t have the hand-shake blur, thanks to the In Body Image Stabilization of the Fuji X-H1. This is my favorite of the shots because not only can Brian play the harmonica and guitar, but he’s got a great singing voice as well.

ISO 800 - 90mm f/2 lens - f/2 - 1/125 sec

If you want to listen to the music of the Brian Byrnes Trio and purchase their CD, head over to this website.

ISO 640 56mm f/1.2 lens f/1.2 1/80 sec

Also, the Brian Byrnes Trio will be performing on November 23rd at Armando’s, along with saxophonist Jules Broussard.  You’re guaranteed to hear music that will get you to clap your hands and stomp your feet!

Orion's Joy of Music - Jazz Sextet

When you have several musicians and less than thirty minutes to capture their concert, you really have to think fast and work hard.  Thankfully, "Orion" Edmunson and his team -- some of whom are familiar faces -- had so much dynamic movement during that time that it was so easy to take shots that captured the whole thing.

ISO 250 56mm f/1.2 f/1.2 1/80sec

I like the shot of the individual drum above because it shows how well-used it is.  And below we see a wider shot of the drums and cymbals.

ISO 200 56mm f/1.2 f/1.2 1/60sec

And here we have a saxophone.

ISO 640 56mm f/1.2 f/1.2 1/60sec

Or perhaps two saxophones?

ISO 200 56mm f/1.2 f/1.2 1/60sec

It's actually just one sax player, but the different view of it in his hands how his fingers were laid out was interesting.

And what's this in the next photo?  Something a bit out of the ordinary.

ISO 1250 90mm f/2 lens f/2 1/60sec

While I take photos, Kathy Looper also shoots video of the musicians and gives it to them, plus uploads it to YouTube as well.  Here you get a hint of the different band members.

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And here's the man himself, Orion Edmonson.  I don't know why, but seeing him on the drums reminded me of Mick Fleetwood.

ISO 400 56mm f/1.2 f/1.2 1/60sec

And no, this is not a TRIBU performance, but this next shot definitely is the multi-talented Steve McQuarry of Mandala Productions.  Steve had told me that was helping Orion out that day as Orion was in need of pianist.  For the below shot, I felt the need to make Steve's back line up so that it was parallel to the left edge of the frame.

ISO 640 56mm f/1.2 f/1.2 1/60sec

I'm continuously experimenting now with different angles, tilting the camera to see if I can not only get better framing of the subject, but also trying to make the tilt look natural, meaning that the lines line up in a pleasing way.

Next is our bass player.

ISO 640 23mm f/1.4 f/1.4 1/60sec

For the above shot, I had to tilt the camera because I wanted to show most of the bass, but also because I was too close -- even with the 23mm lens which has the field of view of a 35mm lens on a full frame camera.  I couldn't actually back up any further so had to tilt the camera to fit everything in.

I took a lot of shots of the trumpet player because just the way he held the trumpet and the lines it created was neat, but the below shot is my favorite.

ISO 200 23mm f/1.4 f/1.4 1/60sec

And here we have another TRIBU band member who was there that day to help out.  I tried to get the line of his flute to be as horizontal as possible.  It was the flute player's hands that were -- in an earlier shot -- holding the two sticks.

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And here's our sax player.

ISO 400 90mm f/2 lens f/2 1/60sec

And here you can see just how tight the space was, and yet, that didn't deter these guys from bringing forth some really great music.

ISO 500 23mm f/1.4 lens f/1.4 1/60sec

It's amazing how, when all of the instruments come together, the power and beauty of sound itself comes to life.  From the piano to the flute, to the two sax players and the trumpet, and the bass player and the drummer, all coming together for one single purpose: to create something wonderful.

Check out Orion's Facebook page for more info about him and his contact info if you want to book him and his group for an event.

The Free Press -- A Concert at the Cadillac Hotel

More fun at the Cadillac Hotel, this time with a band known as The Free Press!

ISO 200 56mm f/1.2 lens f/1.2 1/900sec

One of the beautiful things about the concerts at the Cadillac Hotel is that it attracts singers and bands who have been established in the Bay Area for a while, and also bands that are just getting started.  Most important, the concerts are free, so these musicians are donating their time to bring some life to the hotel and to the residents who live there.

ISO 1600 90mm f/2 lens f/2 1/125sec

This concert gave me a chance to finally test my Fuji XH-1 and the camera's In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS).  Since I've only used prime lenses for shoots at the Cadillac Hotel, the IBIS would come into play since none of my prime lenses have any type of image stabilization, and Fuji's 16-55mm f/2.8 lens -- which on a full frame would have the same field of field as a 24-70mm -- lacks the image stabilization as well.

Here we have lead singer, Christie Harbinski, really diving deep into the emotion of the song.

ISO 200 56mm f/1.2 lens f/1.2 1/900sec

For the above image, the IBIS didn't come into play because of the bright background, but in the next shot, I was able to drop the shutter speed considerably.  You can see that the pianist's face is really sharp while his hands are in motion.

ISO 320 56mm f/1.2 lens f/1.2 1/80sec

The general rule I've always been taught about working with primes on a non-IBIS body is that the shutter speed should be twice the focal length to avoid hand-shake, although one pro photographer recently told me it should be four times the focal length.  I've been able to get away with maybe 1.75 times the focal length, but that's been risky.  Of course, the downside to a high shutter speed is a darker image.  Thus far, the Fuji's dynamic range is good enough that there aren't too many images that Lightroom can't handle, but the result tends to be either a grainer image or loss of color at the expense of exposure.

This next shot of the guitarist was taken as he was warming up.  At this point, I don't think he wasn't actually aware that I had gotten this close to him, but I saw this look and had to capture it.

ISO 200 56mm f/1.2 lens f/1.2 1/120sec

I've been tilting the camera a lot lately, per the advice of a friend who learned his technique while he was a combat photographer in the Navy.  It doesn't just change the perspective, but it does something else: sometimes there are lines that you want vertical or horizontal that the eye would find pleasing.  Like in the next shot where the saxophone is vertical.

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I converted the above photo to black and white because the colors were too distracting, and I just wanted the focus to be the saxophone and the man playing it, with further focus on the sax itself since it has the defined vertical line.

This next photo was one of those instances where one of the spotlights was hitting the wall behind the pianist / drummer.  (Amazing that he's doing both!)  I had to move quickly to take this shot because all of the band members were moving. 

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And here's our final shot.  I put a little extra work into this one in post-processing because it was such a lovely image and vignette keeps our focus on her.

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Definitely looking forward to hearing more from this band in the future!  Check out their website for booking info and more on the band itself!

Coelho & Ridnell at the Cadillac Hotel

Chico Coelho and Dave Ridnell... When they showed up to the Cadillac Hotel, along with Brian Byrnes, jazz and bosa nova music filled the air and whatever clouds may have been hanging over the rest of the Tenderloin on that day, at least in this hotel, it was all sunshine.

You know I like to start with a key photo, and in this case, here's a good intro.

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

The guitar belongs to Dave Ridnell, and you can see him in the below photo.  I just happened to be up on the second floor of the lobby and got this wonderful angle of him.  It gives just a hint of what he's doing.  Of course, if you just saw only this photo, you'd think he was on his own.

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2.0   1/125sec

Ah, but now we see the rest of the band.  Chico and Dave on guitar, and Brian either on the harmonica or doing vocals.

ISO 640   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

And here's Dave Ridnell with a nice, reflective look.

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2.0   1/125sec

I chose the black and white conversion for pretty much all of their shots (definitely all displayed here) because it seemed that my X-T2 was misbehaving as far as color temperature.  I couldn't figure out what was causing it.  It only happened that day and it hasn't happened again.  But somehow it was as if the temperature was too warm, turning skin tones into an odd orange tint.  It was the one and only time I've ever experienced it at the Cadillac Hotel.

Next we have the trio.  This is the only good photo I got of Chico.  When he sings, he really gets into it and moves, so for this shot I had the shutter speed high enough to freeze him in motion.

ISO 500   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

Next up is Brian.  At this point he was doing the vocals and I like this moment because, just like Dave and Chico, Brian was in the moment.

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Here's the final shot of the trio.  You can see that they filled up the lobby with a lot of folks.

ISO 640   90mm f/2 lens   f/2.0   1/125sec

I wasn't able to stay long while photographing the band, but got some great shots.

Coelho and Ridnell, as of this writing, have released a new album and are currently in Brazil for a few weeks playing a bunch of gigs.  Check out their website to see where they're playing next!

Rock, Country, Soul Express

We're back once again at the Villa D'Este Restaurant for another concert, this time by Rob, who goes by the handle "Rock, Country, Soul Express", aka RCS.

I experimented with a little more bounce flash photography this time around, and then also mixed in my ever reliable 16-55mm f/2.8 lens, as well as the 56mm f/1.2 and 90mm f/2 lenses.  One of the interesting things about photographing Rob is that he does definitely take on the persona of an old time country and soul singer, so he gets a lot of emotion in his face.  He doesn't move around a lot, unlike some of the other musicians who’ve performed there because the emotion that everyone experiences.

This first shot is a little out of focus.  It was shot while Rob was warming up a bit.  I did bounce the flash off the wall to the left, and the light was also supplemented by the natural light streaming in from outside.  

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

I photographed Rob just as he started moving, hence the slight blur.  I could have cranked up the shutter speed at the time, but this was one of those moments where I had to think fast and just take the shot.

The next two shots are a lot sharper because I took the shutter speed up just slightly.

The first shot, I once again bounced the light off the wall to the left.  I was pleasantly surprised at how soft the light came out because, from past experiences, I was worried that the windows might reflect the light back in a much harsher tone.  I especially like the shadows that subtly show up on Rob's face.  It gives his face definition.

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/80sec

This next shot was done with the 90mm.  I was really close to Rob at the time.  As Rob was getting into his song, I wanted to get a closeup of his face to show some of the emotion.  Some may think it's taboo to have the top of someone's head fall out of frame, but in this case, it's the emotion I wanted to capture, so getting close and tight was what I was aiming for.

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2.0   1/80sec

And that's a wrap for the first half of the year concerts at the Villa D'Este.  There will be more performances in the next few months with even more great musicians and singers lined up!

Rob actually did do a duet with a lady named Barbara, but since she'll be singing solo at the Villa D'Este in the future, I'll devote an entire blog posting to her when the time comes.

Undone in Sorrow at the Cadillac Hotel

We're back at the Cadillac Hotel, this time with a very special performance!  For as long as I've been taking photos there, Max Lopez has always been the sound-man, but it wasn't until recently that I found out that he was also part of a bluegrass band known as Undone In Sorrow.  They're a fairly new band, consisting of Max (vocals, guitar, mandolin), Katelyn Kimmons (vocals, banjo), and Susan Sullivan (fiddle, guitar).

Let's take a look at some opening shots.

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/125sec

It's bluegrass so we have to use sepia, right?

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/125sec

I used the 90mm prime lens for the above shots as I didn't want to get too close because they were warming up.

Now we switch to a little black and white for the band members themselves.  First is Katelyn.  She does most of the vocals for the group.

ISO 320   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/60sec

Next is Susan.  When she plays that fiddle, it comes alive!

ISO 320   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/60sec

And here's Max Lopez.  As I mentioned before, I would always see Max at the soundboard, making sure everything sounded just right, but it wasn't until about a month before this performance when I saw the flyer that I realized that Max was himself a musician!

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/60sec

And now, here are a few artistic shots.

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

I normally don't tilt the camera, but decided to experiment it more, based on a recommendation from a fellow photographer.  I can see the benefits to doing so because it changes the perspective while also framing things better -- if you're too close -- and also balances out the lines.

For this next photo, I lined things up and realized that Susan's bow looks like it is splitting the frame in half, which provided a neat balance to the photo.

ISO 640   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

My only regret was that I didn't get as many photos of Max.  There was a column in the way -- you can see it in the next shot -- so it was hard to get a good angle of him head on.  But the ones I did get, I still made sure to frame and balance the image.

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.6   1/125sec

And finally, here's the entire band together.

ISO 200   23mm f/1.4 lens   f/2.5   1/125sec

Keep an eye and an ear out for the name "Undone In Sorrow".  They're an amazing group and the emotion of their music filled up the lobby of the Cadillac Hotel that day, and people left the lobby enlivened and enriched.

Grant Levin Trio at the Cadillac Hotel

We’re back to the Cadillac Hotel again, this time with the Grant Levin Trio!   

As always, I like to set up the piece with the tools of the trade... 

ISO 500   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/125sec

And here’s Grant Levin himself!  I wasn't sure who he was at first because when I looked at his website, prior to the concert date, he had longer hair and a much thicker beard.

ISO 500   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/160sec

The above shot was actually taken as Grant was warming up before the concert.  I always like to do shots like the above while the musicians are warming up because it helps me get the lighting and color temperature right.  The lighting configuration at the Cadillac Hotel tends to shift around each time based on how many musicians and singers are performing, so it's always good to do several tests because some of your performers could end up in areas of too much light or too many shadows.

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/160sec

As you can see as well, I'm once again shooting at a fixed shutter speed of higher than 1/125th sec in order to freeze motion and prevent camera shake.  Those shutter speeds seem to work the best for me, regardless of which prime lens I use.  And then in post-processing, I'll adjust the exposure so that all photos will match.  If you compare the above two photos -- it's very subtle -- you can actually see the light fall-off / differential between the 56mm and the 90mm, thus necessitating the need for a little exposure compensation during post-processing.

(Side note:  I am so tempted right now to get the Fuji X-H1 because of its IBIS capabilities, but we'll see if the budget and common sense will overrule the G.A.S. (aka Gear Acquisition Syndrome))

Next,  we have the drummer whose name I actually didn't get.  I was amazed at how quickly he set up his drum set and started playing.  Thankfully he had a nice, even pool of light around him so that my X-T2 didn't have to hunt too hard for focus

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/125sec

A view from the top!  I've found that whenever I try to get a shot from up above, the colors don't always turn out the way I want.  Hence, the need for the black and white conversion.  

ISO 800   23mm f/1.4 lens   f/1.8   1/125sec

Next we have the third member of the group for the day: Effervescence.  He rolled in a little late, but immediately lit up the room with his voice.

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

Here's the final shot I took before having to leave.  There was definitely some foot-tapping going on!

ISO 500   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

All three of these performers -- I've been told -- live within or near the Tenderloin neighborhood.  And while the Tenderloin has a bad reputation, there's also a lot of good going on there, from rescue missions to soup kitchens to men like these who can sing and play.  And I may have failed to mention it in the past, but all of these performers donate their time; they do it for free.

That's it for now from the Cadillac Hotel, but in the coming weeks we'll have a few more blog postings on the unique musical styles that are heard there!  In fact, in a few weeks, it'll be bluegrass music from the band "Undone in Sorrow".

Matt Helm Sings Dean Martin

It's back to the Villa D'Este Restaurant in San Francisco for more music!

This time we have a gentleman who goes by the name Matt Helm.  Matt is a Dean Martin impersonator, and he's very good.  I arrived early and ran into Matt already in costume, but he was no longer Matt Helm; he'd already taken on the persona of Dean Martin.  I have to admit that he was quite convincing!

I used bounce flash again, with the Nissan i40 flash mounted on the Fuji X-T2.  This time around, my homemade snoot was a much longer piece of foam, giving me a bit more control with the direction of the light.  The longer the foam, the less bleed of light to the sides.

This time around, too, instead of using primes, I stuck with the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 lens.  It's the equivalent field of view of a 24-70mm lens on a full frame camera.  I decided to stick with the zoom lens because I was also taking shots of people at each table, and that meant I need something that I could frame and shoot with quickly.

The first shot is, of course, of the tools of the trade.  Here we have a simple sound mixer and a laptop ready to play the music.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 38.8mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

I saw the next shot and had to go for it because I knew I only had seconds to get it.  Had I been using a prime lens - and at this distance it would have been the 56mm - I probably would have lost the shot.  Neat too that you can see a couple dancing on the left side of the frame.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 34.2mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

And here's Matt, as Mr. Dean Martin himself.  Complete with cigarette.  It was a prop cigarette, but Matt was so convincing that you thought it was real.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

For this next photo, I decided to try an older style of color scheme, which was simple enough using Lightroom.  I was trying to match some of the photos of old.  I think in the future, I'd need to take down the exposure and the shadows as it doesn't really match the look of other yesteryear photos I've seen.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 28.3mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

Here you can see people in the audience as they're getting ready to dine on some of the fine cuisine offered at the Villa D'Este.  In order to make it look like it was complementing the window light, I bounced the flash off the wall to my right.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 17.6mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

You can also see that the ceiling of the dining area is rust-colored, so I had no choice but to bounce my flash off the walls, otherwise everyone would be bathed in a reddish-brown hue.  That effect is more apparent at night.

I call this my "hero" shot.  Matt's face tells it all.  He's focused, in tune, and projecting all that is Dean Martin towards the audience.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

Another favorite shot.  Matt had just ended one song and was reaching for his martini glass, but the folks just kept on dancing.  You can tell from the direction of the light that I bounced it off the wall to my right.  One thing I learned from watching the videos of Damien Lovegrove is that it's best to shoot into the unlit side of the face, so I did my best to do that this night, making a conscious decision to bounce that light as best I could to illuminate the far side of the face.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 17mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

If you'd like to hire Matt for a gig as Dean Martin, check out his website.  It'll be an experience you won't forget!

San Francisco Recovery Theatre at the Cadillac Hotel

As you can tell, I really do enjoy photographing musicians.  Why?  I think because it's more challenging than photographing runners or models.  Maybe.  Regardless, I do enjoy taking photos of them.  I'm always out of my comfort zone when photographing musicians because of the high contrast lighting situation.

The San Francisco Recovery Theatre spent the lunch hour at the Cadillac Hotel recently to entertain the residents there with some lively music.  Some of the singers are recovering addicts, and they've channeled their former addiction towards the power of music, and powerful it is!

Mr. Geoffrey Grier heads up the SFRT and when he talks, it's like he's singing a tune.  

ISO 640   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

SFRT's music style harkens back to days gone by, but it still gets into your bones and makes you want to put your hands together and tap your feet.  There were more singers than captured below.  I wasn't able to photograph all of them as I was on my lunch break and couldn't stay long.

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/60 sec

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.4   1/125 sec

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

Have a look at the pianist's shoes!

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

ISO 320   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

ISO 500   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/125 sec

ISO 500   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/125 sec

This final photo is Mr. Ben Bacot.  He's got such a powerfully deep voice.  

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/250 sec

That's all for this week.  Next week I'll profile another musician, but in the meantime check out SFRT's website for another show near you.

Perrish Sings Sinatra

I suppose the subtitle for this blog posting should also be "Experimenting with Bounce Flash Photography" because I did it 100% of the time during this shoot.  I'd heard about the concept of bouncing the flash from a fellow photographer who directed me to some blog postings by pro photographer Neil van Niekirk.

It was a Sunday late afternoon, and I found myself at a wonderful little Italian restaurant called the Villa D'Este.  I'm rather familiar with it because I hired them to provide the meal that was served after my mother's memorial service last year.  The musician for that night's performance was a gentleman named Perrish, who sings in the style of the legendary Frank Sinatra.  I've heard Ol' Blue Eyes sing before and have to admit that Perrish sounds almost exactly like him.

What follows are a whole bunch of photos from the evening, also with my camera settings.  The restaurant's ceiling was a rust-color, so bouncing the light off that was difficult because even at full power from my Nissin i40, the bounced light really came back a dull red.  So I really had only the walls to bounce off of.

My i40 was mounted with something that pro photographer Neil van Niekirk calls a "black foamy thing".  Except my foam was wrapped all the way around the flash, like it was almost a snoot.  This allowed me to bounce the light spread from the bare flash somewhat contained.  The last thing I wanted were dinner guests getting flashed in the face.

First up is Perrish's sound board.  I bounced the light off the wall to my left.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 42.7mm   f/2.8   1/125 sec

Next are the table settings.  You'll notice that I used the 16-55mm f/2.8 lens in the beginning, but later on in the night I switched over to prime lenses.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 24.9mm   f/2.8   1/125 sec

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 40.1mm   f/2.8   1/125 sec

Here you see the dining area of the restaurant itself.  I bounced the light off the wall about 25 feet to the right.  As you can see, it was a full house that night.  All tables were reserved.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 18.2mm   f/2.8   1/125 sec

And here's Perrish!  I bounced the light off the wall and a window behind me.  The distance from the wall to Perrish might have been 30 feet.  The flash was at full power and I'm surprised at how distinct his shadow is on the wall in the photo, but my guess is that the window acted like a mirror and didn't diffuse the light at all.  You can see that the shadows are all very distinct.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/2.8   1/125 sec

For the next shot, I bounced the light off the wall just to my left.  It was maybe ten feet from Perrish, so you can see the difference in the light's power from his hand to his face.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 25.7mm   f/2.8   1/125 sec

Here, I bounced the light from the wall to my upper right.  Full power on the flash because I was about 30 feet away.

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

I love the tender moment in this next photo.  It's a shot of father and daughter dancing.  Yes, people got up to dance!  Again, the flash bounced off the wall to my upper right.

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

This next shot, I was leaning against a wall and bounced the light right off the part of the wall next to my right shoulder.  I didn't think it would work, but it did!

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

The final shot is my favorite.  It was actually taken of Perrish just a few moments before he started singing.  The light was bounced off the wall to my right.

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/125 sec

I learned a lot that night.  Bouncing the flash was something I'd always heard about, but never experimented with.  In the next few weeks, I'll be back there again to photograph a gentleman named Matt Helm, who'll be singing Dean Martin songs.

Dirty Cello - Photos for Their New Album

I met Rebecca of Dirty Cello about a year ago when she and pianist Noel Benkman performed a free concert at the Cadillac Hotel in downtown San Francisco.  And having listened to Dirty Cello, their bluegrass is just amazing!

Rebecca contacted me recently and asked if I was available to take some photos for Dirty Cello's upcoming album, and how could I resist!  It's an honor to take pics of a band that has gone on tour to the UK.  And not only that, but to have my photos on the flyers that had been working their way around the British Isles!

It was a late afternoon when shot these photos, and Dirty Cello had just wrapped up a concert in Santa Rosa so all of the current band members were available.

We were shooting in the shade, so that meant that I needed some speed lights.  For this shoot, I used the Godox Flash System.  Over the past year, Godox has developed a flash system that will do high speed sync (HSS).  My gear list is at the end of this blog posting, but all of the shots below were done in full TTL mode, with about +1 to +2 increase in exposure.

I had two flashes set up.  The main flash primarily focused on Rebecca and was to my right on a light stand.  The second flash was to my left, being held by the girlfriend of one of the band members.

Also, because there wasn't much room, I used the Fuji XF 16mm f/1.4 prime lens.  I shot around f/4 though because I wanted to keep everyone in focus, especially Rebecca.

ISO 200   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/4   1/250sec

ISO 200   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/4   1/240sec

ISO 200   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/5.6   1/125sec

One of the neat things about working with Rebecca is that she changes her pose, even ever so slightly, once she knows I've taken a shot.  It's almost like working with a model whose gone to finishing school!

ISO 200   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/4   1/250sec

I have many favorites.  This next shot is my most memorable one for this shoot.  It doesn't exactly match what they were looking for because they needed head-room in the image for the band name and album title, but they love it as much as I do!

ISO 200   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/1.4   1/500sec

The above shot and the next two shots were done using the Godox HSS system, which I'll discuss more in a future blog posting.  But the shadows in the next two shots are awesome!

ISO 200   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/14   1/500sec

ISO 200   23mm f/1.4 lens   f/5.6   1/500sec

Check out Dirty Cello's website for details of their new album and also their upcoming concert dates!

Gear used:   Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF 16mm and 23mm lenses, Godox Xpro-F HSS trigger, Godox AD200 HSS flash, Godox TT685 TTL Flash

I'll have a separate blog in the future with comments on the Godox flash system.

Michelle Lambert

Musicians and runners are some of my favorite subjects to photograph because of the sheer challenge of getting the right elements in focus.  Both are in motion, and usually the elements that you want to capture (facial expressions, instruments) are always moving.

Last Sunday was one of those days where I was at the Stonestown Farmer's Market and had heard singing and a violin playing.  And it was also one of those days where I had my X-T1 with me.

As I made my way to where the singing was coming from, I saw lots of folks sitting at tables, enjoying a bite to eat, while listening to musician, Michelle Lambert.

I had the the 50mm f/2 compact lens on the camera at the time.  Despite the focal length -- the 50mm on the X-T series mimics a 75mm lens on a full frame -- I like the compression and the depth of field at f/2.  My only concern was that it was a bright sunny day, but the aperture set at f/2 didn't exceed 1/3500 sec.  (NB: The X-T1's max mechanical shutter speed is 1/4000 sec.)

All of these shots were done one-handed as I was rushed for time and didn't think about putting my grocery bag down.  With the exception of the aperture, everything else was set to auto.  Camera settings provided below each photo.

ISO 200   50mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/2700 sec

I moved in a little closer to get a shot of Michelle with the violin.  Bringing her closer to the lens also made the depth of field more shallow, isolating just her face and the violin.  Her ring also popped out too, which I didn't think the X-T1 -- being only a 16MP camera -- would be able to capture as sharp.

ISO 200   50mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/2500 sec

For the final photo, I wanted to focus more on angles and balance.  I didn't tilt the camera, but waited until the violin was as lined up as close as possible with the lower right of the frame.  

I also went with the black and white conversion to shift more of the focus to Michelle so that our eyes are drawn only to her.  If you compare the above photo to the previous one, the background colors are a bit more distracting, especially the blue car and the red tail lights.

Have a look at Michelle's website for more info about her, video samples of her music, and booking!

Of Things to Come - More Dirty Cello!

It's always a pleasure to meet up with the band Dirty Cello, and that happened this past Friday.  I previously photographed them giving a free concert, and then had the honor of taking band photos for them at the end of spring, just prior to their UK tour.  Here's a little teaser of a free concert they gave, and despite the rainy weather outside, their music chased away the gray skies and had people clapping their hands and stomping their feet.

I also tested out a new lens, the Fuji XF 60mm 2.4.  More on that and on this photo shoot in the next few weeks!

Lily Holbrook - Spring at the Stonestown Farmer's Market

It was over two years ago when I first ran into Lily Holbrook entertaining the Stonestown Farmer's Market shoppers, and here I was, photographing her again.  It was a feeling of full circle for me.  When I first met her, I was just getting to know my Fuji X-T1.  Now two years later, I'm using the Fuji X-T2.  And while I'll admit that I'm still a noob when it comes to photography, I've learned a bit more about composition and depth of field, and most importantly, trying to make things interesting by telling a story.

This time around, when I ran into Lily, I was using the XF 50mm f/2.  It's a compact, weather-resistant lens that doesn't really telegraph to everyone that you're a "photographer".  This was my first outing with the XF 50 lens and what better way to test it out than to photograph someone who I knew.

ISO 200  50mm lens   f/2   1/4000sec

I took the above shot while chatting with Lily in-between songs.  We'd realized that it had been almost a year since we'd run into each other.  I saw something neat about her ponytail and decided to take a shot of it.

Unlike the first time I'd run into Lily, where it was raining, today was a bright, sunny day.  The abundance of light pushed the shutter speed of my X-T2 right up to the max: 1/8000sec.  But I wanted to shoot wide open at f/2.

ISO 200   50mm lens   f/2   1/8000sec

One of the most important "tools of the trade" for a musician are the hands, so I tried to capture Lily's hands in motion.  The high shutter speed helped a lot in freezing the motion.  I wish I'd gotten a lot closer to her hands for the above shot, but I didn't want to interrupt her singing and the folks watching might have thought it weird...

For the next shot, I wanted to capture a little bit of the farmer's market itself, to show what things were like from Lily's perspective.

ISO 200   50mm lens   f/2   1/4400sec

I couldn't resist taking the next shot.  The little boy sitting on the ground was fascinated by Lily and listened to her for several minutes before wandering off.  We both noticed him and commented that it was neat a child was interested in listening to her music.  Perhaps she'll inspire him to be a musician as well?  As I've mentioned before in this blog, "inspiring the next generation, that's what it's all about, right?"

ISO 200   50mm lens   f/2   1/5400sec

Next is one of my favorite shots of the day because of the lighting.  She's got a nice, natural hair-light thanks to the sun behind her to the left, but also the light reflecting off the ground makes a nice, soft fill light for her face.

ISO 200   59mm lens   f/2   1/2700sec

I was worried that because of the sunlight, it would be a high contrast situation, but I was pleasantly surprised when viewing the images.  I like the trees in the background as well because the complement they entire image.  The only thing I could do without is the safety pole by her right arm.  I could have converted the image to black and white but decided against it because I liked all of the colors.  Removing it in Photoshop could have been another option, but I again decided against it.  I should have just stood a little more to her left and her body would have hidden the pole.  Next time I'll have to pay more attention to objects like that which might distract from the overall image...

And finally, Lily's winning smile!  Like all artists, it's a hard job, but she tackles it with energy and enthusiasm.

ISO 200  50mm lens   f/2   1/5000sec

If you're interested in seeing more of Lily's work, check out her website and Facebook page.

Gear used: Fuji X-T2 with 50mm f/2 lens.

Rebecca Roudman & Noel Benkman Concert at the Cadillac Hotel

Concert season is well under way again at the Cadillac Hotel in San Francisco.  This time around it was a pleasure to listen to, and photograph, cellist Rebecca Roudman and pianist Noel Benkman as they entertained a lunchtime crowd with classical music.  It was a stormy day outside, but Rebecca and Noel made the hotel come alive with their music.

I'll let the photos mostly speak for themselves.  As always, my camera settings are included under each photo.

ISO  640   35mm lens   f/1.4   1/60sec

ISO  640   35mm lens   f/1.4   1/60sec

ISO  640   35mm lens   f/1.4   1/60sec

For the above three photos, my shutter speed was a wee bit too slow.  There wasn't that much motion blur though.

ISO 800   90mm lens   f/2   1/200sec

ISO  640   56mm lens   f/1.2 1/60sec

ISO 800   90mm lens   f/2   1/200sec

I worked hard to get the above shot just right.  The intricacies of a pianist's hands are so difficult to capture. One of the dangers of using a high focal length lens is that you run the risk of motion blur.  I used 1/200sec, which made the image darker in my live view, but because of the dynamic range of the X-T2, all it took was a minor adjustment in Lightroom to bring the exposure to where I wanted it to be.

ISO 800   90mm lens   f/2   1/200sec

The above picture is my favorite of the concert.  The depth of emotion and concentration in Rebecca's face; she's in tune with the music.

ISO 800   90mm lens   f/2   1/200sec

ISO 800   90mm lens   f/2   1/200sec

The above shot is something that I've also wanted to try to capture.  I had been thinking about since ever since I found out about the concert.  The central question: What one single image would represent the concert?  I always try to find the answer to that question whenever I decide to photograph an event.  The hands are really integral to most musicians, so when I got an angle on this, I went for it.  Rebecca's hand is out of focus, with the focus mostly being Noel's hands, but I think it still works.  There's symmetry in the angle of the piano keyboard and Rebecca's hand and both of Noel's hands.  Increasing the F-Stop to get everything in focus would have meant a really really dark image, and possibly a grainy one too.

Gear used:  Fuji X-T2, 35mm f/1.4 lens, 56mm f/1.2 lens, and 90mm f/2 lens.

Nelson Lunding, the Bluesman

I saw a poster a few weeks ago for a piano concert at a residential hotel in San Francisco's Tenderloin.  Apparently, the hotel hosts several concerts throughout the year.

For this concert, Nelson Lunding, a blues pianist dropped by to entertain some folks during the lunch hour.  The piano itself has an amazing piece of history, which you can read about briefly at the Cadillac Hotel's link above.

ISO 3200   90mm lens   f/2.0   1/250sec

What would photos of a pianist be without a shot of their hands on the keys?

Shooting in the lobby of the Cadillac Hotel was slightly difficult because it was rather dim, even with the large video light that was pointed at Nelson.  Since getting close to Nelson would have been too distracting, I used my 90mm prime lens.  The f/2.0 aperture would gather enough light and would still allow me to shoot at a fast enough shutter speed to avoid blur.  You can see the rather high contrast above.

I could have used a 70-200 f/2.8 lens, but that lens is a monster to lug around and I wanted sharper images.

ISO 200   90mm lens   f/2.0   1/8sec

For the above shot, I wanted to see if I could capture his hands in motion while hoping to make the rest of his body look fairly still.  So I dropped the shutter speed to 1/8 sec and set my X-T1 at its base ISO of 200.  You can see that his head moved a little bit, but the motion blur of the hands came out exactly the way I wanted them to.

ISO 800   90mm lens   f/2.0   1/180sec

Again, in the above photo, you can see how high the contrast is with the single video light shining on Nelson.  Moments before this photo was shot, a dog passed through the lobby with its owner and dog started barking.  Nelson then improvised a few lines of his song to address the dog barking.  He had everyone laughing.

ISO 400   90mm lens   f/2.0   1/180sec

I love the above photo, not because Nelson is in the foreground, but because of the reaction of the lady behind him.  Most of the folks in the audience were elderly and so his music really spoke to them.

ISO 400   90mm lens   f/2.0   1/180sec

My favorite shot saved for last.  Nelson is a great performer.  He can whip out a tune and improvise on the fly.  And most important, he made the folks of this residential hotel, and the folks who walked in off the street, very happy with his music.

If you want to book Nelson Lunding for an event, send him an email.  You won't be disappointed!

Click on this link for more of my photos of Nelson's performance at the Cadillac Hotel.

Gear used:  Fuji X-T1 with 90mm prime lens and 56mm prime lens.