Come with me now – Kongos at 9:30 Club

Shutter: 1/500, Aperture: ƒ/1.4, ISO: 1600, Lens: 50mm

It’s been just over a month since 2015 kicked off and I’m finally getting back into the pit. Kongos performed at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC this week, and I had a great time capturing these guys. The four Kongos brothers have a great mix of owning the stage and rocking out, without being full of themselves. I had the extra opportunity of photographing their radio interview in the green room before the show. Click below for more.

Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: ƒ/2.8, ISO: 4000, Lens: 15mm Fisheye

This was my first time getting to shoot the interview before the band, and my first time in the infamous 9:30 Club green room. The Kongos had played the DC101 summer concert this past year, and the tour manager and Daniel both recalled meeting me when I was running around covering the festival! Mid-day host Mike Jones interviewed them while I tried to grab some natural, candid shots. I started picking up on Mike’s rhythm, and could tell when he was going to crack a joke, then I could time it get some good laughter. In addition, I wanted to grab at least one decent shot of each band member, a few shots of Mike that he could use on his profile page in the future, and then a group shot at the end. Two gear considerations: first, just like in the pit, I didn’t want to use my flash. It wasn’t against the rules, but it would have interfered with the scene I was attempting to document. Secondly, I had both camera bodies with me, the 7D and the 6D, but I was only using my 6D for this portion. For one, I thought it would be overkill shooting a supposed meeting of friends with two bodies going, and secondly, my 6D has built-in WiFi and we wanted to grab a photo we could tweet out before the show. So I kept switching between my fisheye and my 50mm. For this fisheye shot, I was really low to the ground. I wanted the viewer to feel like they were sitting around the table, enjoying the laugh.

Shutter: 1/100, Aperture: ƒ/2.2, ISO: 2500, Lens: 50mm

I really like this photo of Jesse. He seems naturally at ease, but also engaged in the interview. I like that I got him leaning forward at the same time I was cocking the camera just a little bit to try and loosen up a bit. It was very dark in the green room, and there were bunks above the benches, creating bad shadows, so I cranked my ISO up to 2500 (I usually start at 1600 during the show). I also wanted to show you the contrast between the 15mm fisheye’s POV, and what you get with 50mm. I had my long zoom with me, but this was plenty close enough.

Shutter: 1/40, Aperture: ƒ/2.8, ISO: 1600, Lens: 15mm fisheye

It had been a long stretch since I was in a pit, it felt good to return. I’ll go on the record and say that 9:30 Club has the best lighting in DC (not to mention being the best venue), however Kongos brought their own lighting. For the first song we got to shoot, the lighting was pretty minimal and all front lit. I was a little disappointed as I love getting the backlit shots. But alas, the next song, the drape fell away and revealed more lights and LEDs.

Jesse Kongos on drums
Shutter: 1/500, Aperture: ƒ/1.4, ISO: 1600, Lens: 50mm

Jesse leads the band from behind the drums, so his kit was actually much closer to the edge of the stage than other bands. I had a unique opportunity to capture the drummer, as that person is typically the most difficult to photograph during the set. After I got a few standard looking shots of Jesse I started playing around with more unique angles and effects. For this shot I wanted to utilize the logo behind him and have the drum set frame his head. I like how the blue light added some ambiguity, so you don’t know what you’re looking at in the first second, it kind of “develops” in front of you as you pick up on landmarks and realize what you’re seeing.

Jesse Kongos
Shutter: 1/20, Aperture: ƒ/5.0, ISO: 1600, Lens: 50mm

So here’s the other type of shot I was aiming for. I slowed the shutter down to 1/20, which is painfully slow, but gives you a great bit of motion blur. When I take the pan blur photos of monster trucks in flight, I shoot around 1/30 or 1/40. That’s just about my threshold for holding the camera still enough to get a crisp image, but allow the moving items to blur. So here I wanted the drum kit and Jesse’s face in crisp focus, but his arms and drumsticks really blurred. This would hopefully catch the action a bit, and illustrate how quickly he was drumming. It took a few tries to get the arms in a dynamic position, and make sure his face was sharp, and that I was keeping the camera steady, but when it works out, it’s a cool look. This type of shot gives the viewer a better feeling about being there than a freeze frame shot at 1/200 or something. If you want to try this, make sure to compensate the increase in light by closing in your aperture (I went from f/1.4 to f/5.0 in this case). If you want a shot like this, but also want the specific depth of field that a wider aperture would give you, you can use a circular polarizer.

Dylan Kongos
Shutter: 1/400, Aperture: ƒ/1.4, ISO: 1600, Lens: 50mm

Here is a shot at 1/400. I usually aim for 1/200 and dip slightly faster or slower depending on the lighting, but I saw Dylan head banging, and I wanted to capture his hair all splayed out. So I cranked up to 1/400 and watched the timing. As you can see from the other pics, there was a lot of blue light at this show. This image was as washed in blue as the Jesse photos above, but I felt like the gallery was too blue already, so I brought down the saturation slider, and played with the white balance a little, and got something that’s not perfect, but better than a blue/black duo-tone. Hey, it’s better than all red.

Johnny Kongos
Shutter: 1/250, Aperture: ƒ/1.4, ISO: 1600, Lens: 50mm

I want to also get Johnny and Daniel in the mix. Johnny kind of remains focused, in the zone, off to the side. He’s up there doing a good job, but he’s not asking for attention at all, so I thought I’d use this unique lighting to illustrate his more reserved presence. I could have easily cropped in tighter, but the large amount of darkspace helps add to the mood.

Daniel Kongos
Shutter: 1/200, Aperture: ƒ/2.8, ISO: 1600, Lens: 15mm fisheye

This is a little cheat… while Dylan and Jesse were rocking out, and Johnny was being stoic, Daniel was doing a great job, but just not giving me any rock-god level pictures. So I moved closer so I’d be right in front of him, and specifically put on the fisheye to grab this photo. The positioning and the framing can add a bit of that rock star glamor, and that’s the look I was going for. There are other little tricks to increase the rock-god impressions, but this one worked for me tonight.

Dylan Kongos
Shutter: 1/320, Aperture: ƒ/1.4, ISO: 1600, Lens: 50mm

I looooove getting lens flare. The trick is that it has to incorporate into the composition. I like how this one kinda looks like Dylan is shooting laser beams out of his eyes. This is literally the last photo I snapped, and it’s the final photo in my set. If you watch the video below, you can see the handful of pics that lead up to it. The funny part though, was that we were told we could shoot songs 2,3,4 instead of just the first three (which is becoming a bit more common now). In the middle of song 4 we were asked to vacate the pit. Not sure why, but if I had been chimping a bit more, I may have naturally stopped shooting after I got this photo. I chimp a little bit, to have a good sense of the number of “kick-ass” photos I have, and what I may still need to grab.

I was extremely lucky this evening. Not only was able to go backstage and shoot the interview, but my wife was actually willing and able to join me on one of my concerts, and she came backstage and met the band as well. Then she and I stayed up front near the photo pit for the rest of the show.

I made another Snaplapse. It’s a timelapse video of all 574 unprocessed photos that I took during my three song set, followed by the 25 I selected to process and publish. It’s under a minute and a half. Check it out! (The clickable gallery is below the video.)

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