Sunday, July 28, 2013

mile - 0

The day began like any other. It was a hot late July afternoon. I was trying to absorb as much AC from my digs that I possibly could, as if my body were a thermos, keeping the cold cold and the hot hot. Fact of the matter is; as much as I'd like my body to be a ginormous climate controlled environment, it isn't. As cold and chilly as I was in my home, the second I began to pound the pavement, my core temperature began to rise.

No worries. On this day I had the amazing opportunity to work with some amazing and talented individuals working their way through the ranks in the music circuit. Introducing, Mile-0. A nuclear meltdown couldn't have brought me down from this high, this surge of adrenaline, this nervous anticipation that I was feeling in the hours leading up to the shoot.

Preparation Stages

I won't bore you with the normal routine of checking and rechecking and checking again the ins and outs of my bags. Ok, I can't help myself, I gotta share a little of the nerdiness. It's what I do.

The pending photo shoot would require a few different "looks" if you will. First, and in my opinion, most important, would be the big promo shot. The brand of the band if you will. Next, would be some live shooting, during the actual show. Working with the D4 would make the live set no sweat as this baby is the world's best in low light performance. No matter what the lighting, I'd simply crank my ISO and fire away at will. Now, as for the big promo shot, things would be a bit different.

I did my best to research the venue but didn't come up with too much imagery. I did a Google map satellite street view to gather some information about the size and surroundings of the shoot location.

The spot? The Doghouse Saloon in Upper Darby, PA, just outside of Philly, in Delco (Delaware County).

From my research, I hypothesized the environment I would be working in. A mid sized, very dark, somewhat aged, watering hole. I had wanted to work the band in a casual setting around a table, with some textured walls in the background. For this I decided I would want minimal light, a single strobe.

To mod that strobe, I thought to myself that a STO-fen Omni-bounce would be appropriate. Unsure how, but I actually didn't own one of this until that day. Having time to spare, I headed down to my friends at Calumet, on Columbus Blvd. in South Philly. For 15 bucks, I had my Calumet version of the STO-fen. Sometimes I'm very brand specific for my gear needs but for a translucent dome, the Calumet would be just fine. In fact, I've come to count in buying only Calumet brand gear for certain grip items; light stands, brollys, etc.

Along with the new Omni-bounce, I loaded up just about everything and the kitchen sink. This would be uncharted territory and I didn't want to get caught with my pants down. Sure I had a vision but in an instant, that could easily be crushed. I've said it once before and I'll say it again, improvisational skills are super important in the world of photography.

In Limbo

At 4 p.m. I had just devoured an Artisan breakfast sandwich (hey breakfast is good any time in my opinion) and a Venti coffee from Starbuck's. Washing it all down with a lemon-lime Gatorade would ensure that my body had enough fuel for the entire shoot. Trust me, if you are considering being a photographer, energizing the body is not something to be forgotten. I have, on more than one occasion, become light headed and dizzy, shooting outdoors, in the hot sun. How does a client handle this? They don't. And trust me when I say it isn't easy hide these symptoms when you are working with angles, composition and precision.

By 4:30 I was already headed out to Delco. Sure, the band wasn't due to arrive until 6-6:30 but I had work to do. I had to physically see the venue, the surroundings, everything about where and when I would be shooting. Would my vision be viable? Where is the sun setting? Do we have any north facing walls to work with?

The Doghouse Saloon, situated on West Chester Pike in Upper Darby was a straight shot out of the city. Basically, if you are headed westbound on Market Street and exit the city limits, Market then turns into West Chester Pike. So, from Rittenhouse Square, this was literally, almost a straight line from my spot. Pie.

By 5:00, I was parked in front of the Doghouse. Before entering, I decided to take a walk around the hood, to see if there were any outdoor spots that could work for this shoot.

Awesomely (is that a word? Oh well, it is now), I found a garage or body shop, of sorts, situated behind the saloon. Strewn across the property were seemingly abandoned vehicles surrounding the somewhat dilapidated structure. It was effing perfect. Time to enter the venue.

I slowly opened the door and the sunlight behind me rushed past me and into the darkness like a gust of wind, washing the darkness away in an instant. As the door closed behind me, the sunlight quietly crept away, leaving only me, a length of bar with small flatscreen televisions hanging above with the typical variety of local sports on each, the local guy, drinking Stella and shots of chilled Crown Royal and the bartender, arguing sports with said local guy.

I introduced myself to both of them, Mike, the local, dressed in a pale yellow Nike golf shirt, nicely dressed but already slurring his words and Tyler, the day bartender, skinny, with his scrappy hair tucked under the baseball cap, making some interesting sporting bets with the intoxicated customer. If I'm not mistaken, it was a bet on horses. I could be wrong. Not surprisingly, I think the sober bartender outwitted and out bet the intoxicated Mike.

I struck up conversation with both of them, explained that I was there to photograph the band that evening. Tyler, eagerly awaiting the end of his shift, was more than accommodating, giving me full access to the venue. Interestingly enough, Mike, the local thirsty man had given me this same permission. I asked if he was employed or owned the bar and he answered in the negative. Funny, my days of slinging drinks had come back in that instant. It was Anybar in Anytown, USA. The story is always the same.

Remember that little thing about improvisation? Well that shot I had in mind, the dark table shot, would be null and void. The shape and space of the room, the walls, the lack of tables, the shot just wouldn't work. Shit.

Luckily, there was a wealth of outside stuff to work with. I mean, if I had to figure it out inside, I would, that's what you have to do as a professional. But with all of the awesome outside spots, I would not waste time inside trying to find that shot.

I awaited the band.

Zero Hour

One by one, the band members arrived.

First was drummer Joe Tecce. Joe and I hit it off right from the get go. I could feel his passion for music, his passion for creating, just seeping out of his pores. He spoke of who has inspired him, he spoke of writing, poetry. Excuse my language but he was fucking awesome. From a creativity standpoint, is was like looking in the mirror. I love surrounding myself with like minded individuals, it has a synergistic effect, making me exponentially more creative.

Next through the door was bassist, Edward Campbell. I can't say enough good things about Ed as he and I go back some years. Ed, equally as passionate as Joe, is an established musician, screenwriter and entrepreneur. In fact, Mr. Campbell is the writer for the short indy I'm currently working on. Six degrees of separation I suppose. All of us creatives in Philly are all intertwined in some way or another. Anyway, Ed exudes positivity, passion and happiness. I can't help but smile every time he's in the room or on the other end of the phone. Not to sound weird or anything but he often lights my fire. Yup, that sounded weird, in a Jim Morrison sort of way.

Next up to bat and through the door was guitarist Don Burnside. From the starting line I could tell that Don was a bit on the quiet side. Not that there's anything wrong with that, in fact it's quite the antithesis. You see, by nature, I can be a bit on the quiet, shy side (hard to tell by reading my uber long blogs) and mixing shy with shy I suppose could be a deadly combination. Now, although we didn't go bonding or anything, Don was super nice and super talented. Watching him rehearse had left me in awe. You know someone's in the zone when you see the mouth moving ever so slightly while jamming away, as if he's verbalizing the sounds he's creating with his axe. Again, awe inspiring. I couldn't wait to hear these guys, as Tecce says, "make some noise."

Last but certainly not least was Nicholle Gousie, lead vocals of Mile-0. Upon her arrival, I knew it was time for me to cease dicking around and as they were setting their stage, I had to set my own. An introduction to Nicholle was certainly more than enough since I was well informed of her background. Having a set of pipes that could rival an angel's freight train straight out of heaven, it would be hard to believe that she is also an Iraqi war veteran. Inspiring to say the least.

I was pumped and ready for work.

Time To Rock and Roll

I worked to set up and break down very quickly. I knew I didn't have lots of time to work as I would be stealing them during rehearsals.

My first outdoor location would end up being a bust. Bottom line, there wasn't enough room to fit the entire band. I scrapped that and moved to the garage doors. I've used a garage in the past and enjoy the lines and texture that I can use to add interest to a composition.

To light the band there, I threw up a 60 inch Photek Softlighter at far camera right. Next, I had a bare speedlite hard camera left and up pretty high. Finally, I had another bare speedlite on the ground, camera right and up close to the band.

There are two creative reasons that a photographer lights a scene. First is that it is believable. The other is simply because it looks bad ass. On this day, I went solely for bad ass. Different.

After quickly, and I mean quickly, shooting the garage scene, I went to shoot individual portraits. To light that I went with a 28 inch Westcott Apollo, camera right, low powered strobe and in very very tight to each subject (these images may be found on facebook or flickr once posted).

Following the individual shoot and having some spare time, I decided to utilize, with Nicholle's affirmation, the deserted vehicles, namely, the older Ford pickup. For this, I just relocated the Westcott Apollo, kicked back the ambient and lit for awesomeness.

How did they work as subjects?

Ok, Nicholle had obvious skills in the posing department. Saaawwweeeet.

Joe was very moldable, taking very easy and very literally to each of my directions. Awesome.

Don was, I could tell, not diggin' the spotlight but at the same time very cooperative. Hmmmm.

Ed was, well, just downright unruly. He didn't really listen or follow one goddamn, one friggin' direction. He was simply out of control. Gggggrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

I love you Ed! WTF. LOL.

I decided to take advantage of his anarchic behavior and roll with his punches. It worked.

Showtime At The Doghouse

The staged photography, the money shots, were a wrap. The clock was nearing 9:00 and the show was soon to begin.

In a blink of an eye, The Doghouse was jam packed. Standing room only in this popular Delco watering hole. I was amazed at how quickly the place filled up. Quite impressive as the daytime drink slinger, Tyler, said that the bar is typically a ghost town in the summer time.

As happy as I was for the bands turnout, I was at the same time annoyed, cognitive dissonance at its best. You see, this venue wasn't huge and my working space with the live performing band would be limited. I could foresee some problems.

At approximately 9:30, Mile-0 began to rock the house. How can I gauge live music. Look, I freaking love music, all genres. But, I'm not a huge fan of live performances as they are typically too loud and hurt my ears. Not a big deal as ear plugs work wonders. Sure, I look like a dork but I prefer saving my sensitive ears. Early that evening, drummer Joe Tecce offered me earplugs and I graciously offered. I suppose if the band wears them, it's not offensive if I do as well. The result? I never put them in!!! That speaks mouthfuls, lemme' tell ya'.

I was so focused while trying to shoot, focused on Nicholle's angelic voice, Ed's, intensity while slapping the bass (I couldn't resist that one), Don's intricate and amazing detailed finger work on the strings and Joe's awesome dedicated determination to keep the band in his pace with his sticks. Their talent was magnificent. I was mind fucked to say the least.

Goose bumps had made their way across my body on more than one song. Mile-0 was just killin' it.

I mentioned trying to shoot. Did I pull it off? Of course I did but with the room size limitations, let me just tell you how challenging it was. Luckily, I welcome any and all challenges so this would be another chalked up success.

I had a somewhat front and centered seat reserved. Thank goodness because moving and working the room, although doable, was something I could feel the patrons may get very annoyed. I had to dance delicately.

The main issue? Me, 6 feet 3 inches. The band, ground level. Camera left, about ten feet away, a group of lovely women that were seem to be barely over 4 feet in height. Ok, my calculations may be a bit off but even when I tried to crouch down, I was getting in their faces. Again, quite the challenge.

I had to work fast and efficiently. Often times I utilized motor driving the D4 at 11 frames per second.

At the end of the day, I would have lots of frames to choose from.


Mile-0, once again, they effing killed that room!!! From opening note to closing verse, they rocked every second of that evening at The Doghouse Saloon.

I was honored and humbled to have had the opportunity to work with the band. Pure, unadulterated awesomeness!

Be sure to check out and like their facebook page [here].

Until next time...