Saturday, 22 October 2011

Further camera woes

The camera came back from the repair centre in Glasgow with the auto-focus problem resolved.
I gave it a quick try out in the house and all seemed well.
I had had to cancel work due to the problem and there was a small gap before my next booked gig, which was YOU ME AT SIX at their Aberdeen show.

I fired the camera up in readiness for the first support band and got the dreaded ERR99.
With some frantic power downs/ups and lens/battery/CF card swopping, I got around the problem, but had to leave the camera powered up or the problem returned after a short rest.

I did some extensive Googling on the subject, and waded my way through the usual forum threads and suggestions. I found an article on Canon's official site stating that there was a known problem relating to the mirror assembly, so delivered the camera back to AJ Johnstone in Glasgow, and made it clear that I would not be at all happy about being charged for a repair of a problem I didn't have before they touched it, and one that is documented on the Canon site quoting free repairs for affected cameras.

To their credit, AJ Johnstone got the camera back to me within a week and with no charge for the repair.

If you are a Canon user, you are very likely to see ERR99 at some point, and the best resource I was pointed to by a forum member was this one from Roger Cicala at Lens Rentals

It is a six page essay on the subject, based on Rogers' research on the subject and the experience of Lens Rentals who have seen this issue a lot. Thanks to Roger for a great article, which he plans to update as new information becomes available.

I'm hoping this is the last of my camera woes for a while.
I'll still never buy a brand new 1 series Canon ever again!

Monday, 19 September 2011

I'm in the pit stop

The 1D Mk3 is in for repair.
In my last blog, I mentioned the severe auto focus issues I was having at the last gig.
It didn't get any better, despite trying all the usual stuff - cleaning contacts, swapping out batteries, resetting to factory presets, updating firmware etc. etc.

Canon's website pointed me towards AJ Johnstone in Glasgow, who are the authorised Canon Repair Centre. I got a few warnings about them, and a few alternatives.
It seems if you dig deep enough, you'll read good and bad reports about all of the repair centres, but in the end, I decided to stick with the 'official' repair centre.
I delivered it in person on Saturday morning, and sure enough, the guy behind me was back in with a lens they repaired and had got it back in a worse state than when it went in - totally unusable.
I hope I'm one of the lucky ones.

Ironically, despite waiting sometimes weeks in between email communication with New York, as soon as the camera failed, I got a flurry of emails from Retna Lts and I'm now fully on-board and ready to shoot.

One of my priorities will be funding a second hand body to ensure I don't find myself in this position again.
"Should have done that already" I hear you say - I'm a family man, with bills to pay and kids to raise and feeling the pinch like everyone else. The family comes first, every time.

I very much doubt I'll be buying another 1 series Canon though - one of the reasons I bought one was because I expected some durability and reliability out of a pro body, which, after 2 years has had comparitavely moderate use (I don't spray and pray) and is in immaculate condition.

The repair bill is going to cause some real pain, especially as we all start budgeting for Christmas, but I guess shit happens, and you always find a way through.

In the meantime, I'm going strir-crazy without the camera!

Oh, and to save anyone the trouble of commenting:

'Shoulda bought Nikon'

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Average White Band, camera trouble & drunken idiot trouble

Saturday 3rd September took me to Montrose Town Hall, less than 3 miles from home as opposed to the usual 5 hour round trip to Glasgow I have to endure for the sake of three songs.

The occasion was the fabulous Average White Band, brought to the town by the Montrose Music Festival Committee, for whom I shoot as part of the official photography team.

I've loved this band for a very long time. I was playing 'Pick Up The Pieces' in a band as far back as 1979 and know just about every song they have recorded - this is my type of music.

There are still two original members, Onnie McIntyre and Alan Gorrie, supplemented by Fred Vigdor on sax and keys, Rocky Bryant on drums and the multi-talented Klyde Jones on bass, guitar, keys and vocals.
Klyde has an amazing voice and sang lead on quite a few of the songs.

There is a special connection with Montrose for AWB - original tenor saxophonist Malcom 'Molly' Duncan was born and raised in the town.

They played a great show, and were as tight as a camels' ass in a sandstorm.
It was however a stressful shoot for me - the auto-focus decided to fail on my two year old Canon 1d Mk3.
It would initially come to focus, then back off, which also meant the shutter button wouldn't trigger.
I noticed it at the start of the first song of the support band, and as you do, went into panic mode.
I tried swopping lenses, turning off and taking the battery out and double checking all settings.

I had to manual focus throughout the night and got the job done, but did miss a few special moments.

On return home, I stayed up until 02:30am, trying to get to the bottom of the problem.
Google focusing problems on the 1d Mk3 and you will be faced with endless pages on the AF Servo focusing issues the product suffered with at launch, but nothing related to my specific problem (I bought mine when all the issues had been resolved)

I documented every one of the myriad of settings on the camera, then did a full reset back to factory settings.
I tried leaving the battery out for half an hour and still, the camera wouldn't focus correctly.
Miraculously, the problem suddenly disappeared. I tried it again this morning and it locks on every time.
I have no idea how the problem arose, and even less idea on how it went away, but I will be on edge for the next shoot - I'll definitely be taking a backup body.

As if that wasn't stress enough, I stayed to enjoy the show after the first three, stood right at the front.
This gig was supposed to be a bit of a disaster in terms of ticket sales, so much so, the festival committee had considered cancelling it altogether, but the cancellation fees would have been prohibitive.
I had been actively promoting the gig on Facebook, Twitter and any other means I could think of.

The room thankfully filled up nicely - I suspect many had been waiting for their salary at the end of the month before committing.

This caused another problem however, as unlike previous gigs with artists of this calibre, there was no security team in place, or crowd barrier. As we all know, some people just can't drink on an empty head and there was one over-merry chap who was making a nuisance of himself - to the band, and to fellow audience members. As I was wearing an official t-shirt (official photographer that is) I was approached a couple of times by guests alerting me to his behaviour. The band had also seen the guy apparently punch his girlfriend and they alerted their road manager who was in the wings.

I decided to go to the foyer and get the rest of the festival team, who apparently had just been dealing with a fight outside the venue, which left no-one up front expect me. I'm a lover, not a fighter, and the rest of the team were not trained or qualified to deal with serious security or crowd control issues.

We created a wall of bodies along the stage front, whilst trying to diffuse the situation around the drunken guy. The problem later moved to the foyer, as the band were doing a meet & greet/CD signing session, and this guy was intent on speaking to the band, so again, we had to create a wall of bodies.
One of the (very large) festival committee members eventually sweet talked him down and he went on his (slightly too) merry way.

I'm kind of wishing I had done the drive to Glasgow now (AWB were playing there the night before)
The drunken guy would have been picking his teeth up on the car park if he'd have tried this down there!
(I'm trying to resist a reference to 'Pick Up The Pieces' there)

All is well though, and I got some images I liked.
Next gig is Wilko Johnson - I'm definitely going to need auto-focus to keep up with him!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Friday, 26 August 2011

Belladrum Festival

Earlier in the year, I won the Pop Cop 'Best Scottish Music Photo 2010' judged by Harry Benson.
One of the prizes was weekend guestlist and photo-pass for the Belladrum Festival in Beauly, Invernesshire.

This was my first outdoor festival, as a punter and as a photographer, and my first time sleeping in a tent since 1975. It turned out to be a fantastic experience - the weather (contrary to the weather forecast) was glorious, right up until the end of the last night. The atmosphere was fantastic, the food was great and not overpriced, I met some great new photographer friends, and got some great images of some great bands.

Highlights for me photographically, were Texas, Deacon Blue, Vintage Trouble, Metaltech, Echo & The Bunnymen, Newton Faulkner and the Gerry Jablonski Electric Blues Band.

I got quite a few fun crowd shots too!

Without further ado, here are some of my favourites from the weekend:

Ian McCullough - Echo & The Bunnymen

Easy Star All Stars 



Vintage Trouble

Vintage Trouble

Vintage Trouble

Ricky Ross - Deacon Blue

Lorraine McIntosh - Deacon Blue

Deacon Blue

Gerry Jablonski Band

Gerry Jablonski Band 



Newton Faulkner 


Black Country Communion

Playing catchup with the blog again, as I've been really busy.
I had the honour of photographing and reviewing Anglo-American supergroup Black Country Communion at the end of July.

This is one I was really excited about, as I love their music.
The band consists of Glenn Hughes (Trapeze/Deep Purple/Black Sabbath) on bass, phenominal blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham (son of Jon Bonham/Led Zepellin) and Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater) on keyboards.

As an added bonus, Micheal Schenker was supporting, and as a double added bonus, I met Glenn Hughes, got to shake his hand and have a quick chat.

As a triple added bonus, the band's PR agency were bowled over with the images and have been using them in PR. One of the images of Joe Bonamassa has been submitted to Guitar Techniques magazine as they are running a big story on him in the October issue (due out in September) and my fingers are crossed that I get my first magazine front cover.

As a quadruple added bonus (there's a pattern here!) the PR company have invited me down to Blackpool in October to photograph Bonamassa's concert as part of his solo tour.

I wrote up a review on the BCC concert for Mudkiss, which you can read here

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The next step - Agency work

I've been doing a lot of soul searching about where I want to to take my music photography.
I've been following the debate on 'working for free' closely and standing two steps back to see both sides of the argument.

Everybody who attempts music/live concert photography will know that it takes a lot of time and hard work to build a quality portfolio and contacts - no portfolio, no accreditation.

I've worked with some great bands on a 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' basis . . .bands who have become good friends. They have helped me to build my portfolio, and have been instrumental in opening doors to wider horizons.

On the other hand, I can sympathise with pro music photographers who have watched their industry decimated by photographers of varying abilities working for free, getting under their feet in the pit with little knowledge of pit etiquette, and sometimes, taking the accreditation away from the working pro.

I had decided early on to pull the plug on the 'free' work as soon as practicable, but couldn't see how I could move forward. Working on the local circuit, it would take a saint to educate bands into valuing the work of a good photographer. The band (generally) gets paid, the venue earns money, the bar staff get paid, the cleaner gets paid, the photographer doesn't. Not only that, the photographer leaves the gig to start hours of hard work, editing/processing/refining and delivering the images, long after the gig is over.

There is a real skill-set involved, plus a huge investment in equipment and time, but the advent of the digital age has undermined the quality of a good music photographer. Almost everyone owns a digital camera and a complete amateur can get lucky with a great shot every now and again. Why should a small band pay for the services of a pro in this D.I.Y age?

The line between serious 'amateur' and the professional has blurred.
There are some very talented 'part time' photographers out there, consistently producing quality work and there are some pro's who seem to do nothing but complain, and have lost their spark.

I greatly admire any professional photographer that makes a living out of music photography, I suspect none of them are running Ferraris or away on their yachts at the weekend - they must be doing it because they can't imagine doing anything else.

I stopped working for free, and as expected, the work dried up - overnight - ZILCH.
I have been befriended by a high profile professional music photographer and her manager on Facebook, who have given me some priceless advice - THING BIG

I am the original 'self doubter' and learned the lesson that if you don't value your own work, nobody else will.

So how do I move up a step?

I have two objectives:
1] To cover higher profile artists
2] To get paid

There are a couple of brick walls that stand in your way.
To achieve 1] you need to get accredited (get a photo pass)
To achieve this, you need to be working for someone, either a publication or an agency, or directly for band management.

Printed publications are pretty much sewn up, with either staffers or preferred freelancers.

On-line publications are where most head to and are a great way of getting the passes.
Music blogs are a good place to start, but again, they will have a preferred team of 'correspondents' who understandably guard their territory closely, plus, in most cases there is no payment involved - you get the pass and portfolio images.

I contribute to Mudkiss Fanzine. It is a highly respected blog with a large team of contributors (photography/live reviews/album reviews and exclusive interviews)
The Mudkiss team do what they do out of a passion for music, and are non-profit.
There are others that fill their pages with free content from contributors, but make a profit from advertising revenue - erm, no thanks! It really goes against the grain to work for free to make profit for others.

The ultimate goal, and where the real money is, is to work directly for the bands/management, as a tour photographer, or carrying out portrait shoots for tour programmes and album covers.
This is for the very gifted few.

I decided the next step would be agency work.
Some high profile acts stipulate 'no agency photographers' and the money is split between you and the agency, typically 60/40. Some will only send you a cheque when you have reached a monthly target, or payment gets carried over to the next month. Some will do all the photo pass chasing for you, some expect you to do it.
Some agencies will send you the assignments, others will let you pick and choose and use them as a reference for the accreditation, some are a mixture of the two.

The agency option kind of resolves 1] and 2] - it gets you in front of the bigger artists, and you have the potential to earn money. You only get paid if the agency sells the images and you won't get rich any time soon, but can be a useful residual revenue stream if you build up a substantial library.

I have until now viewed working out of Scotland to be a disadvantage, but it has one major advantage - a few high profile bands will start their tour up North and work their way South. This means you can get in at the very start of the tour and have a better chance of getting your images sold, as the tour is 'hot' news, more so than for the dozen shooters in a pit in London near the end of the tour.

With this in mind, I went about getting signed to an agency.
I took a hard look at my portfolio, and what the agencies were actually using/selling.
I took a sledge hammer to my portfolio, carried out a major cull and re-edited the rest to the best of my ability.

The end result paid off and I have signed to the very first agency I applied to - Big Pictures.
Big Pictures is reputedly the world's biggest celeb/entertainment picture agency, run by Darren Lloyd (yes, Mr Paparrazi)

I'm now looking forward to my first assignments for them.
I'm only a couple of years into my path as a music photographer - it's a small step forward, but one thing I have learned is that one thing leads to another and doors open - you just have to be smart enough to dash through them before they shut again.