Ah, September. A month synonymous with shorter days, the end of summer, back to school. It's very much a time I resented whilst growing up.
As a music photographer, September has become a much more positive experience for me - cramming my diary for the following five months with gigs that I'd love to shoot, my appetite very much whet at the prospect of the shows that tend to get booked throughout the autumn and winter. An unusually subdued festival season is now a distant memory, with the focus very much now being on one thing - Gig season.
And what better way to kick off gig season than the opening night of Future Islands UK Tour at one of my favourite venues - a sold-out Manchester Academy? The photographic potential for this gig was huge - Future Islands' frontman Samuel T. Herring became an overnight icon when his eccentric, volatile dancing style sent Twitter and Facebook into a craze during the last season of Later.. with Jools Holland. I'd had the pleasure of photographing this spectacle at the start of the Summer at Best Kept Secret, and it truly was a joy to behold. I witnessed the full repertoire of 'chest pound', 'power punch', 'read my invisible note', 'I'm going to grab you', 'this sweat tastes kinda good', 'the crab' and - of course - 'the funky cossack'. It was remarkable. On that occasion, Sam opted to finish the set by running into the crowd, placing a pallet against a fence, and vaulting over it. Save to say, they're not boring to watch.
On arrival it became apparent that I mustn't have shot that many sold-out shows at the Academy, as I don't recall such a struggle getting through the crowd just to get to the barrier (unless I've gained further timber). It was totally rammed, but I didn't mind - I was in a GREAT mood. Gig season was back and there was a buzz all around the venue. Plus it was my first opportunity to give my new Canon 24-70mm f2.8L II a run out at a gig, and I love playing with new toys.
Unfortunately, I wasn't in a great mood for long. The aforementioned photographic potential proved very difficult to realise due to some very, very tough lighting - not something I usually associate with The Academy. If I'd been shooting a static four piece it wouldn't have been too much of an issue, but as Sam threw himself around the stage I just sighed, as the elements made it near impossible to achieve a decent exposure. With fast moving subjects its imperative to use a fast shutter speed, but this wasn't an option. I cranked the ISO (sensor sensitivity) as high as I dare without it looking overly noisy to give me as much shutter speed headroom as possible, but even then anything beyond 1/250 second was unlikely. I toyed with the idea of putting my widest fast prime (Sigma 35mm f1.4) on my second body, but Sam's frequent interaction with the crowd meant this wasn't a viable option, as it just wasn't wide enough.
At the start of the second song I crossed EVERYTHING in the hope that the lighting guy would fire up the key lights, but this was in vain. Just backlight and smoke machines. I battled on, but mid way through the third song I knew I was in for a late night editing until the early hours, trying to salvage something to send out. Bah.
It wasn't all negative, though. Whilst I could barely see Future Islands, they sounded great. And my new lens faired very well in the toughest conditions, remaining sharp at high ISO and back lit.
Nevermind. You need the tough gigs to make the great ones feel even better. That's what I'm telling myself, anyway.