Shooting the Charm City Music Festival

Getting ready for Ballyhoo
Shutter: 1/1000, Aperture: f/2.0, Lens: 50mm, ISO: 100

There is no sight more inviting than a long empty photo pit right before an act goes on. Ok, sure I can think of a few other inviting sights, but is one of my favorites. I just shot the Charm City Music Festival in Baltimore the other week. It featured tons of local Baltimore acts, as well as heavies Stephen Marley, Flogging Molly, Eve 6, and Weezer. This was my first time shooting an all day multi-stage music festival. Check out all the things I learned and kick-ass pictures I got.

Dennis Casey of Flogging Molly
Shutter: 1/400, Aperture: f/2.0, Lens: 50mm, ISO: 800

And you may ask yourself, how did I get here?

The above is my favorite shot from the entire night. That’s Dennis Casey of Flogging Molly. One of the best things about Flogging Molly is their amazing stage presence. They know how to rock hard, and they always look like they’re having a blast. The songs are fun to listen to as well. Anyway, that’s the killer shot I got, let me tell you about the prep in getting to this thing. I keep my nose to the ground to find interesting shows to shoot in DC all the time, but occasionally there are some amazing concerts that come just to Baltimore. I’m sure I saw an ad for this festival on Facebook or in an area concert update email. I couldn’t believe the headliner… Weezer. They had just played a DC area concert for the grand opening of a new Microsoft store (!), and having missed that, I thought my opportunities to see Weezer live were slim to none. To tell the truth, the prospect of shooting Weezer was the driving force behind my quest to get a press pass for this show. I am a fan of several of the local Baltimore acts that were also playing that day, and it was exciting to see all of them in one setting, but I felt like if I missed getting passes for this show, I wouldn’t be able to shoot Weezer any time soon. I filled out a press application via the official site, and heard nothing. I called and got a hold of the organizer. He explained that there were tons of people applying for press passes, and the demand was overwhelming. Most of my exposure is in DC, so I was looking less attractive on paper (and real life, I mean seriously). I explained that my editor had asked me to shoot the Thievery Corporation concert in DC that day, but if it came down to it, I’d rather shoot Weezer. As I have to make commitments, I needed to know quickly. Then I tried a last ditch effort. I boldly told him that, “not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty good. I’m a photographer first, I just love rock.” That struck a nerve, and I did indeed get a press pass.

I had attempted to meet a friend for a beer before the show, but since that fell through, I ended up getting to the fest around 1:30. The first act went on at 2:00, and Weezer went on at 9:30. Shit. I didn’t know if I was ready to walk around and shoot for 9 hours. Earlier that week my back gave out. I literally landed on the floor from a back spasm that knocked me off my feet. I had seen a doctor and had gotten some medication, but I was very nervous I’d have to skip the concert. The hardest dilemma was either not drinking at all so I could take the prescribed muscle relaxers, or eschew the muscle relaxers for two or three beers. I don’t drink heavily when I’m working, but I wasn’t about to commit to not drinking a single beer at a nine hour outdoor concert, let’s be realistic. So I left the muscle relaxers at home (some of you are thinking, why not double the party? But, I do treat this like work, and I needed to have all my facilities about me).

Shutter: 1/1000, Aperture: f/1.6, Lens: 50mm, ISO: 100

I had printed out the line up a few days earlier and started digging up the local acts on YouTube to get a feel for whom I wanted to prioritize. What I should have done was re-order this list in chronological order, and color coded by stage. I didn’t know this going in, but all acts actually had a two song limit, so I missed shooting Jah Works because I got there at the top of the third song. The two stages were a reasonable distance apart (far enough that the sounds didn’t overlap, but close enough you could trot over to see the middle of one act when the one you were watching wrapped up), I could have squeezed in the first two songs of each act. Speaking of acts, this photo above is of Francheska from the Baltimore band Bad Seed Rising. This band consists of 3 boys and a girl ranging in age from 10-14. At first I thought it was a gimmick act, but seriously, these kids knew how to rock out. They sounded better than a lot of good local bands I’ve shot. They’re up and coming. Watch their first official video and keep an eye out for them in the future.

Shutter: 1/1250, Aperture: f/1.8, Lens: 50mm, ISO: 100

When shooting a festival in daytime, the biggest challenge is coming up with unique and signature shots in broad daylight. In a dark club, you get the stage lighting going, it’s easy to get those dynamic rock ‘n roll shots, but in bright daylight, it’s a bit harder to preserve the “cool”. Bright daylight is just so inherently not rock ‘n roll. I try not to default to too much fisheye lens, even though those are best for getting the entire band on stage, or wide-angle crowd shots. I was lucky here to get the sunlight to act as an edge light on Clear for Takeoff Marc’s hair. I wanted a really shallow depth of field to make him pop out a bit more, so I was shooting with my 50mm f/1.4. However with the bright sun, you have to be really conscious of how much light you’re letting in. I also now wish I had a circular polarizer for all the sky that got washed out in these photos. Without cocking the horizon line too much, I aimed to get diagonal elements in the frame to make the image more exciting. It was completely lucky, but I love the strong diagonal in the Flogging Molly shot at the top. One of the disadvantages of the taller stage is that most of your shots will be up the artists’ noses. This can lead to a few dynamic “rock god” type shots, but after awhile, it’s claustrophobic. So I spent a lot of time trying to get something new each time.

Craig Considine, Boes, Denning
Shutter: 1/160, Aperture: f/8.0, Lens: 15mm fisheye, ISO: 100

So here is one of the fisheye ones I like. These are the All Mighty Senators. Craig Considine stood right above me at one point and went to town on that cowbell, chips from the drumstick went flying. That was also a cool shot with the fisheye lens, but I like how this one tells just a bit more story. These Baltimore guys have been around awhile and totally know their stuff when they’re on stage. They were thoroughly entertaining to watch, and they gave me plenty of good stuff to shoot. In this instance, I don’t think the most dynamic feature of the image is the fisheye, so it’s alright. If you’re relying on fisheye to make a cool image, that’s when you’ve gone too far. It’s kind of like HDR, if it genuinely contributes to the art, it’s fine, but when you use it because otherwise the art would be boring, you’re using it wrong.

Max Collins
Shutter: 1/5000, Aperture: f/2.2, Lens: 50mm, ISO: 100

I was really proud of myself for catching this shot of Eve 6’s Max Collins in-camera. I cranked the shutter speed pretty high so that the foreground would be darker, creating that silhouette effect. I could have pulled this off in Photoshop pretty easy, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out straight from the camera. I will take this opportunity to point out how lucky we were with the weather. It was beautiful and sunny the entire day, but it stayed in the mid to low 70s, and not once did I get overheated. It could have been rainy or super-hot, but we did very well. The clouds made for some nice pictures as well. Also this was my first major event shooting two-bodies. I had the 50mm on my new Canon 7D, and the 15mm fisheye on my trusty 40D. It was great not having to switch lenses the whole time, and several instances I was shooting with one body and instantly switched to the other camera, grabbing a moment I would have lost while detaching lenses. Also, the grounds were very dusty/sandy and everything had a fine coating of dust by the end, so not having to switch was particularly nice. I also brought my 70-200mm for some shots, and would switch out now and then.

Shutter: 1/250, Aperture: f/5.0, Lens: 15mm, ISO: 100

I absolutely loved this “sunset sea” effect that showed up. I’m really glad that I captured it as I saw it. I might go back and play with the foreground color balance a bit, but I wanted to maintain that beautiful orange that was enveloping the crowd in the background. I do like that the risque dancers are approaching me, it places something interesting in the foreground. I also love how in this shot you can see the main stage, vendors, regular concert goers, extreme concert goers, and really get a vibe for the entire event, all in one frame. I did crop it to 16:9 ratio to give it a more cinematic feel, but there was very little on the ground that I cropped out.

One of the dancers
Shutter: 1/320, Aperture: f/1.4, Lens: 50mm, ISO: 100

Once the sun started to set, the stage lighting got a bit more active and I felt a bit more in my element. This is one of the dancers from the Stephen Marley set, and I got real lucky with the timing and focus on this one. I was shooting at f/1.4, which severely limits what’s in focus, but when you nail it, you nail it good. I got just the right moment when her dreads were flailing and caught the stage lighting in a halo effect. She was running around the stage, so she wasn’t right up on the edge, but I feel like everything aligned in this shot.

Matt Hensley of Flogging Molly
Shutter: 1/400, Aperture: f/2.0, Lens: 50mm, ISO: 800

I really liked how this shot is as much a portrait of the instrument as much as the artist. This shot is not in my top 9 Flogging Molly shots on my portfolio, but I really wanted to highlight it here. I love the way the focus and stage lighting flows with the visual curves of the accordion. I’m always trying to get “detail” shots when I’m shooting in the club. Close-ups of guitar heads, drum pedals, etc, but here I really think I nabbed it.

Flying W
Shutter: 1/250, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 70-200mm, ISO: 1600

Well I’ll cut to the chase. The big “get” for me this day was the opportunity to shoot Weezer and add them to my rock portfolio. I was in the photo pit with the other photographers, kind of entering a zen state so that I’d be able to really rock this shit once they came on. I had been on my feet for the better part of nine hours, and the moment I had been prepping for finally came. I had been finding a shady spot and going through my photos after each and every set, deleting the obvious bad shots, to conserve memory space. I had plenty of spare cards with me, but I wanted to minimize the amount of photos I had to wade through when I got home as well. Plus I didn’t want a repeat of what happened when I shot Slash and switched to my low data rate cards. All in all I shot 2,200 photos. I had also been conserving battery power so that I’d be putting in a fresh spare right as Weezer was about to come out, I didn’t want to have to restock in the middle of their set. The band Madison Rising had just finished their rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, and the crowd was starting to get wide-eyed with tension. Then the hammer fell. Security alerted us to the fact that Weezer decided at the last minute that they didn’t want any photographers, and kicked us all out of the pit. We stumbled out, but now, with 5 minutes to go, there was no place to squeeze in anywhere near the front. There were almost 10,000 people in attendance. Once we realized we weren’t being allowed back in, I went to the best spot I could, the very goddamn back of the crowd. People had been staking out their ground with blankets and camp chairs all day, and the crowd had been filling in all remaining space for the last hour or so. I grabbed a folding chair and snapped on my 70-200mm zoom and tried getting some shots from atop the chair. Now, if I had shot this set in typical fashion, I’d love to have one shot like this that shows the magnitude of the crowd, but when this is my best shot from their set? It was hard not to think the whole day was a bust. Now that I’ve had some time to get over it, I had a great time at the festival, and I’m really happy with a lot of the shots I got that night. I got some great shots of Flogging Molly to put in my portfolio, and it was a great experience. But it was very much a Wally World scenario at the very end of the day. The worst part now is that I really don’t like Weezer any more. They were one of my favorite bands, and now I can’t stand listening to them without thinking what a colossal bunch of pricks they are. What harm could we have possibly done to their career by taking photos from the pit? And how much money did they think we’d get selling some amazing shot from the pit? It was some type of narcissistic ego trip I suppose. Oh well. I have a few more concerts lined up on my calendar.

Shutter: 1/250, Aperture: f/3.5, Lens: 15mm, ISO: 100

I wish I had talked to the other photographers more. One or two were kind of prickish, more than a couple looked like momtographers with kit lenses, but in hind sight, those may have been Bad Seed Rising’s actual moms in the pit with me. Hmmmm. One guy had a mini collapsible stool for standing on. I’m still trying to figure if the benefit in camera angles is worth the pain of lugging that thing around all day. Not a terrible idea.

I definitely learned a lot about shooting a festival. Two bodies is almost a must, as is plenty of batteries and spare memory cards. Get as much information as you can about the line-up and shooting restrictions ahead of time so you can plan out your attack.

I have two links for you. Here are the top nine from this festival that I’m featuring on my portfolio. Then here is a large gallery of all my photos from that day, organized by band.

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One Response to Shooting the Charm City Music Festival

  1. Nick says:

    Found your blog on reddit. You’ve got some great posts. Your photos are amazing.

    Have a nice day 😉