2015 is coming to an end. This is when all those lists come out. The best and worse of 2015. This is not one of those posts. I am not going to sit here and list all the cool things that I did in 2015. What I doing today is looking back to when I started taking photographs and where I am right now and where I want to be in 2016.
A lot of this introspection started when I realized that Donald Trump was serious about running for President of The United States and the Grateful Dead celebrated their 50th anniversary with shows in the Bay Area and Chicago. I did not jump on the republication campaign trail and I did not go to the Grateful Dead shows, but as you can read in my last blog post, I did photograph Donald Trump with Bob Weir back in 2006. While I wrote that post, i was looking through my older concert images and was amazed at how far I had grown, and how far my gear had evolved.
I started taking photos for fun back in college. I took a couple of photography classes so that I could learn to work in the darkroom. I was taught the basics of exposure but in all honesty, the camera did most of the work. I learned to read the exposure meter and just shot most things using the auto mode. Yes, I had to manually focus, but when you shoot everything using the auto mode the depth of field isn’t that shallow and you can get away with pretty sloppy work… at least I did.
In 1992 I was out of college and really wanted to take better photos so I bought a Nikon SLR and started being a little more serious about my photography. I traded up to a better SLR and bought some great lenses and more importantly, I started to really pay attention to my composition and exposure settings.
Back then, I was still shooting film, well, everyone was still shooting film, digital photography was still a few years becoming mainstream. I upgraded my camera from a consumer level SLR to the Nikon F5, a serious professional camera body. Something changed when I started to use that Nikon F5. I started to take my photography more seriously, The camera didn’t improve my photography but it did push me to create more, to learn more, to try more, to live up to the capability of the camera.
Then the photography world changed. Digital was here and it changed everything. So while the photography world embraced the digital sensors, there was still a serious drawback for those of us who shot concerts. The digital cameras had a ton of noise at the higher ISOs. And when I mean higher ISO, I’m talking about ISO 800. It was a frustrating time. That all changed when Nikon released the D3 and then the D700. Suddenly it was possible to shot at ISO 3200 and get less noise than ever before. This technological leap forward was also a leap forward in my creativity. I was now able to shoot at a wider range of settings giving me more creative control.
This shot of Bobby Weir was shot at the Beacon Theater with the Nikon D2X at 1/50 sec at ISO 500 and f/2.8. The Nikon D2X was great, but the noise at ISO 800 was really heavy, so I tried to avoid going above ISO 500. That meant waiting until the light was just right and the subject was not moving much. You can see the blur in Bob’s hand. This technical limitation actually made me a better photographer and really made patience important.
Jump forward to the Nikon D3 / D700 years and I could shoot at ISO 3200 in the darkest of venues. Take this photo of Sebastian Bach and Steve Stevens which was shot at Iso 3200 in the very dark Roxy.
I shoot the D700 for years, and I still will use it today if needed. This was shot during the Mayhem Festival with Slipknot performing. Yes, the stage lighting was pretty bright, but the action was pretty fast. issued a shutter speed of 1/500 sec and an ISO of 1000 to capture the action with virtually no noise at all.
I currently shot with two different Nikon camera bodies, the D4 and the D750. What both of these cameras have in common is that they allow me to shoot at ISO 6400. I should be clear, they allow me to shoot at ISO 6400 with less noise than the D2X at 800. Check out this shot of Emilie Autumn shot at 1/80 sec at ISO 6400.
At the end of 2014 I got the Nikon D750. I love this camera. So as I sit here at the end of 2015, i look at the current state of my camera gear and realize that I can now capture great images in even the lowest light. So what about the future? Next year I plan on shooting more, show in smaller rooms. That usually means darker stages, with lower lights. The good news is that the cameras I use are up to the challenge. I don’t think anything will be quite the same as the jump back when the D3 was released but you never know.
Here are some of my favorite moments from 2015, all captured with he Nikon D4 and D750. I no longer worry about noise but instead just use the settings that will best capture what I see in front of me.
Plenty more to come