Mac's Bar is small, dirty, stuffy, and laden with graffiti. Their parking lot isn't paved, their hot water doesn't work and I can't remember the last time there were paper towels in the bathroom.
But people who know of Mac's Bar know that. They expect it. Dive bar go-ers don't walk in expecting the floors to be mopped or the pint glasses to be smudge-free. Mac's doesn't promote their establishment to be nicer than it is. And that's what makes it a popular hangout and live music destination.
HowEVER, when you're a concert photographer and you hear "bar" in the name of a venue you immediately think, dammit.
I would never, EVER photograph a sold-out show there unless I loved the music. Which was exactly the case on Wednesday night.
New Politics are one of those bands that you fall in love with after seeing them live. What a ridiculously awesome show.
But no barricade, no pit area, no official security staff, and no spotlights. The only way I could get close to the stage is via the narrow side-stage entrance the band uses and crowding their guitar tech's space (and making it awkward for the band when I have no choice but to stand only inches from them while they're waiting to take the stage). "Well this is awkward." "Yeah, kinda."
When you're side stage and the band's singer spends almost the entirety of the show standing on of a speaker right up against the crowd at the corner you're standing at... well, that's when you take a few photos of his back and then aim your camera towards the drummer. In this case the drummer was fantastic and the saturated orange lighting was the brightest on him.
Usually the lighting at Mac's is a dim, saturated red, orange, or the not-so-often blue. The only white lights they seem to have are some newly installed strobes, nestled in the ceiling over the crowd. That's when you have to use the "spray and pray" method (you can't time your shot with strobes. You just can't).
But, because I was right up against the stage I couldn't use either of my prime f1.8 lenses (50mm or 35mm) so I had to settle with my 17-55mm f2.8. I needed the advantage of that 1.8 but thankfully the Nikon D7000 is great with high ISOs, so I just cranked it. As Todd Owyoung once said, "I'd rather have a sharp, grainy photo than a blurry, out-of-focus photo." (Or something like that.)
You're probably thinking "Why don't you just use flash???"
Well, by personal preference, I don't like to flash my speedlight in the performer's faces. I think using the available light makes for better, more natural photos. And if my flash temporarily blinds my friends it'll blind a performer and that's not something that anyone wants to be responsible for. Why do you think some venues and almost all bands ban flash photography?
However, in cases of desperation such as this... I thought "did anyone tell me no flash?" ... nope. So I broke out the speedlight. I never flashed it in anyone's face. I used it mainly for crowd shots; New Politics' singer jumped into the crowd and they made a circle around him so he could do a little breakdancing. The strobes were flashing but not often, so I used my own flash.
And I'm happy I did.
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