Wednesday, 29 December 2010

High Pass sharpening for low light concert photography

A cheapskate's guide to rescuing crappy images.

I've been asked several times during 2010 about how I manage to get relatively clean and sharp images under atrocious lighting conditions.

Noise reduction techniques obviously come into play, but my 'secret' weapon is High Pass sharpening.

Follow the linky to download the PDF article and learn how to turn this

 into this


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Pete Ray Biggin has just launched his new website at designed and maintained by Las Vegas based fellow concert photographer Pat Flanagan

Pete is an awesome drummer who has it all nailed...power, technique, groove, feel and passion.
He is known for his work with Mark Ronson, Amy Whitehouse and Incognito and joined Level 42 this Autumn on their 30th Anniversary tour.

Pete was stepping into big shoes following Phil Gould and Gary Husband, but brought a new dimension to the band and did an incredible job. Pete was a Level 42 fan from an early age and at the age of Eleven, got to play Gary's drums during the soundcheck, making a lasting impression.

When Gary Husband had to step down this year due to other commitments, Pete got the phone call!

Pete's new website has sections with news, bio, giglists, photos/video/audio from Incognito, Level 42, his own band The PB Underground and other solo projects featuring video clips with Mark Ronson and Amy Whitehouse and a forum where you can interact with Pete.

I am pleased to have nine of my images featured in the Photos section in the Level 42 galleries from the Aberdeen show here:

Go and check the website out and if you get the opportunity, get along to a gig to check out Pete's won't be dissapointed!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Right in the thick of it – Sham 69

I’ve been an admirer of Sham 69 from the early days back in ’77.
However, I have to admit to turning my nose up at most of the emerging punk bands from that era.

I was locked away in my room, practicing for endless hours and learning my craft as a bass guitarist…scales, arpeggios, playing to metronomes, radio, record player, whilst my mates were down at the pub, chasing the girls or at the footlball match.

I was a little resentful of the fact that any bunch of lads could go and buy a guitar, bass and drum kit and immediately call themselves a band and get gigs.

Looking back, I missed the spirit of it and over time have come to appreciate what was actually evolving.

I joined Sham 69 at CafĂ© Drummond, Aberdeen on their ‘Who killed Joe Public’ World Tour.

Jimmy Pursey, the original and charismatic front man permanently left the band in 2006 and was replaced by Tim V. The naysayers will say that Jimmy was Sham 69 and was irreplaceable, but Tim V carries the flag bravely and owns the stage.

Dave Parsons is still there on axe duties from the original line up, with Ian Whitewood on drums from the Pursey line up.

Bass duties are now in the hands of Al Campbell who toured extensively with the UK Subs.
Sham 69 were there from the start.
As the ‘intellectual' punk bands began to wane, the ‘Oi’ movement, more in touch with the working class lads on the street took over the baton.

Sham 69 had a string of chart hits including ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’, ‘Hersham Boys’, ‘If The Kids Are United’, ‘Hurry Up Harry’, ‘Borstal Breakout’ and more.

I was a little apprehensive, having researched the history of the band and how they were plagued with an unwanted skinhead following, with violence expected at every gig.

I was joined by Dod Morrison, who I met for the first time.

Dod is THE punk photographer in the area who contributes to Big Wheel magazine and the safeconcerts website and covers the Rebellion Punk Festival in Blackpool.

Dod gave me the heads up that flash is permitted at the venue (just as well, as the lighting was non existent!)

 I decided to monopolise on this and still shoot at a relatively high ISO setting to keep the shutter speed as high as possible to prevent motion blur and pick up what little ambient light there was to fill the gaps in the background.

I set the flash to manual and kept the power levels right down, remembering to change the setting as the distance between me and the subject constantly changed.

Typically, I used flash power settings of between 1/128 and 1/32.

 I used a stofen diffuser, over a ¼ CTO gel to kill that harsh and un-natural flash look.

There were three of us photographing the band and no photo pit, but we all worked around each other well, despite the relatively narrow stage.

The crowd stayed quite a way back for the majority of the set, but as the better known anthems came, things started to liven up, shirts came off and there was a surge to the edge of the stage.

 Without the comparative safety of a photo pit/crowd barrier, I had to watch my back and made sure I always had an escape route if things got out of hand.

There was beer flying and pushing/shoving (all part of the spirit of the moment)

Having bagged the ‘safe’ shots and no longer able to get near the front of the stage, I turned my attention to the interaction between the band and the crowd.
This is where the flash really came in handy!

I love working ‘in the thick of it’ at this type of gig…the images tend to have an ‘I was there’ feel to them, shooting right through to the last number, capturing the sweat, electricity and honesty and interaction as opposed to the 3 songs from the pit sterile ‘looking up noses’ images of the bigger concerts.

The audience is as important as the band at these shows and I always endeavour to come away with some images that capture the electricity between the two.  

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Level 42 30th Anniversary Tour - Music Hall Aberdeen

I had the honour of photographing my favourite band, Level 42 from the pit on 4th October as part of their 30th Anniversary tour at The Music Hall Aberdeen.

Mark King authorised the pass via his tour manager, Kevin Hopwood (Kylie Minogue/Mark Knopler)
I shot the first three songs from the photo pit, then Kevin kindly let me shoot the rest of the show from the auditorium, where most of the better shots came from)

Pete Ray Biggin (Incognito/Amy Whitehouse) joined the tour to take over drumming duties from Gary Husband, who was double booked with John McLaughlin.

The lighting and backdrop was a joy to work with and I got a large number of keepers.
A special feature of the show, which wasn't included in the U.S leg of the tour was Mark, Mike and Nathan doing a roto-tom drum solo during '43'.

I also got to cover the entire set of the support band, The Mighty Mo, featuring another highly respected bass player Yolanda Charles and was able to supply her with a good set of images.

I was shooting for run by Carl Mueller and the images are up on the site now.
Mark King is getting the hi resolution print images and Morgan Roussell, webmaster at the offical Level 42 site has been in touch regarding adding them there.

My Facebook page and email inbox has gone nuts since publishing the images as I have a couple of the band members as friends. 30 years on and there's still a lot of love out there for this band!

Here are some of my favourite images from the night. (click on the images for a larger view)

Friday, 24 September 2010

Level 42 Update

Mark King yesterday asked his Tour Manager to arrange a photo pass for the 4th October show at The Music Hall, Aberdeen as part of their 30th Anniversary Tour.

Support is from Deep Mo, featuring Yolanda Charles on bass, another fine player.

I'll be covering the first 3 songs for

Pictures to come in a couple of weeks!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Maxwells Dead

Had a fun shoot with Maxwells Dead a couple of weekends ago around my home town of Montrose.

Maxwells Dead are a Ska/Punk band based locally and are managed by Punklett Promotions.
I was hired by their Manager to produce images for a press pack.

Here are a three of the images from the session: (click on the images for a larger view)

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Putting a face to the name - a self portrait

I was rummaging through a few folders during my recent archiving exercise and had forgotten about a self portrait session I did last year.

Here is one of the images featuring my well gigged Warwick Fortress 5 string.
I had this bass custom made (I'm a Southpaw) in Germany and features gold hardware and MEC pickups.

The lighting was a simple daylight balanced static lamp through a softbox, above and camera left, set back to increase light fall-off.

The majority of the effect was achieved in post-processing with a dark vignette added in Lightroom 3.

One of the regrets from my 25 years on the road as a bassist is a lack of photographic memories, which is kind of why I like providing musicians with images to keep forever.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

My digital darkroom/mancave/shed

I live in a house full of women, including a very demanding 4 year old daughter. Even the three budgies are female and extremely noisy.
Sometimes I can't hear myself think, so I decided to convert my 
8ft x 8ft shed into a mancave...a place where I can edit and study in peace.

Less than 12 months ago, it was dark, dingy, cold, wet and so full of junk, I’d abandoned even trying to enter it and considered putting a ‘Condemned’ sign on the door. The apex of the roof was letting in copious amounts of water every time it rained.

My first step was to re-felt the roof and let the shed dry out thoroughly. The second step was several trips to the local refuse centre to clear years of junk.

I carried out internal and external repairs to the woodwork then sealed evey joint with silicon sealant (walls, ceiling and floor). I then lined the ceiling and walls with 2 inches of recycled plastic insulation.


The floor was lined with two layers of foam cored aluminium insulation. I covered the floor with thin plywood and the walls with MDF board.

The next stage was left to the professionals.
I called in a qualified electrician to run power out to the shed.
This stage was a real headache, as we had to run power from a new 30 amp circuit breaker at the fuse box located at the front of the house, under all the floors and out through the rear kitchen wall.
We hit obstacles (literally) at every step of the way and had to lift carpets and cut access holes at various points to get the armoured/weatherproof cable through the floor joists.
We eventually got the cable underground and out to the shed and installed a fusebox with ELCB breakers for sockets and lights.
We installed ample double power sockets and two fluorescent tubes.


The next challenge was internet/network access.

My wireless network was a non starter as the signal was too weak.
A little research pointed me to Ethernet over Power adapters. One is installed in the house and hard wired into a switch, the other plugged into the shed switch.
The adapter set cost around £60GBP and have worked flawlessly since install.

I bought a refurbished PC which has a reasonable spec for the price and runs on Windows 7 Ultimate.

I set up RDP connections between the house and shed which is surpringly fast on Windows 7. I can sit at the house PC and RDP into the shed PC as if I were sat in front of it. I have direct links to my backup drives from the shed.

The next priority was heating.
It gets very cold in the North East of Scotland and we have just endured the coldest and most prolonged cold snap for 30 years. A halogen heating system actually made the shed more comfortable than the house!

I built a number of work units and worktops which have a dual purpose.
The shed looks to all intents and purpose like an office, but the work units hide all the normal shed type junk…tins of paint, tools, DIY stuff etc.
The last stage was to add a few creature comforts like a midi stereo system and more subdued lighting, and finally a 100db alarm system and bolt cutter proof padlocks to the door.
The compromise was the colour scheme (I would have preferred a neutral grey to prevent colour casts when editing)


My wife also won over one wall of the shed with a freezer and fridge. I stole the fridge back and it now serves as a mini-bar. I can stick my head in the freezer in the summer months when it gets too hot.


I now have a peaceful/quiet cave to edit images in peace and I plan to return to another abandoned project (due to noise issues) of creating video tutorials. I may even be able to lay down some bass grooves.
Maybe I should add a red ‘Recording’ light to the outside of the door?

Monday, 2 August 2010

Smaller and Future Proof

I've commenced a mind numbingly tedious 2 day task of applying IPTC data and keywords to my entire image library...a self inflicted penance for my laziness and ignorance on the subject.

The keywords are to help me quickly track down images and the IPTC data is to apply basic copyright information to make my images more traceable.

I've created a template, which applies the basic, repetitive information on import into Lightroom.
From there I can add additional information to the imported collection.

The second task I have undertaken is to convert all of my Canon RAW images to DNG format.
(Digital Negatives)

DNG is an open source file type which has two main advantages
  • Smaller file size
  • future proofing
My research on the subject reveals the jury is still out on the subject of DNG.
Some are concerned that vital information may be removed from the manufacturers' proprietary RAW format file, and may affect the file when using the manufacturers' bundled software applications.

I don't use any of the the Canon software, especially as Lightroom now fully supports tethered shooting.

I have triple backups of all my files.
The original files live on my main drive.

They are backed up to a USB external drive, which in turn is synced overnight to a second USB backup drive.
Periodically, I burn the backups to DVD and store off-site.

I prefer to use external drives, in case I suffer a hardware or operating system failure that prevents me accessing my drives on my main workstation.

In the event of a failure, I can simply plug the USB drive into any other workstation.

I have been bitten more times than I would like to admit for having a sloppy archiving/backup routine.

I like to be able to sleep at night without worrying about this subject!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Level 42 30th Anniversary Tour

I've got my fingers crossed for the Level 42 30th Anniversary tour gig in Aberdeen in October.
If it comes off, I will be shooting for the major L42 fanzine run by Carl Mueller.

During my bass playing days, Mark King was a major influence and I saw the band a number of times from their original line up with the Goulds through to Mark Kings' solo band before he re-attained rights to the Level 42 name.

Mike Lindup is now back on keyboard duties, so I am looking forward to the gig even more!

I played in a band in the mid eighties called 5th Gear, who covered a number of Level 42 hits including:

Love Games
The Chinese Way
Something About You
Hot Water
Micro Kid

and many more.

The credentials are looking promising, having touched base with their management.
It's all down to the tour manager a few days before the gig and who else will be requesting credentials.

Fanzines are a great way to get a foot in the door when seeking credentials and I have picked the smaller, northern most gig of the Scottish leg of the tour to increase my chances.

If you are a Level 42 fan, visit Carls' site at  for tons of great resources.

You will see my banner on the front page too!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Concert Photography e-book in progress

I'm working on an e-book called 'Camera Stage Left - concert photography for beginners'
That's the working title anyway!

I thought I'd better practice what I preach and get a blog set up in advance.
I won't have much chance to blog until the book is ready, as I'm busy learning Adobe InDesign CS5 alongside putting the material together.

Expect to see a lot of activity here when I'm ready to launch the book.

Bye for now!