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.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The mad weekend comes around again!

Tonight is the start of the crazy manic weekend called Mo Fest in my home town of Montrose.
It starts tonight at the Town Hall with Skerryvore, supported by Jill Jackson (ex Speedway)

Tommorrow, I cover 21 bands across 14 venues and slightly less on Sunday.

On Saturday, I start at 12pm and cover bands in half hour increments (including getting in position at the next venue) right through until 1:30am.

It's exhausting, but great fun.

Pictures coming soon, both here and on the official Mo Fest Official website

Saturday, 14 May 2011

3 Songs No Flash - Photography Exhibition

Things have been a little crazy here, which have prevented me from blogging for a while, even though I've had things to blog about!

One of the main reasons is a promotion within my day job which has proved to be a hectic and stressful settling in period.

My quick blog today is to tell you about an upcoming exhibition I am part of.
I am a member of the Official Photography Team for the Montrose Music Festival.
17 venues, over 60 bands over one weekend between the three of us - myself, Wendy Adie and Brian Smith.

An exhausting schedule, but great fun!
This year we are putting on an exhibition at Montrose Town Hall called '3 Songs No Flash', featuring our images of bands across the town in previous years, along with a section featuring some of our other concert photography work.

The exhibition runs from 23rd May to 5th June.
The music festival itself is on over the weekend of 27th 29th May, so if you are in town, swing by for a little light relief from the madness.

The displayed 18" x 12" images will also be available for sale at a very reasonable cost.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Dr Feelgood

"Leave all the lights up, we're a pub band and we want it to look like we're in a pub"
That was the explicit instruction to the lighting engineer at Montrose Town Hall from Dr Feelgood, and what a great decision it was.
For a change I had light to spare, and light that wasn't dancing all over the place.
I was wearing two hats on Saturday 2nd April . . . part of the official photography team for MoFest, Wendy Adie, Brian Smith and myself, otherwise known as the 'Triple A Team'.
I was also there to review the show for Mudkiss Fanzine.

You can view our collective gallery from the night on the official MoFest site and the Mudkiss Review here.


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Charlatans Acoustic Set

Monday 21st March saw me once again on assignment for Mudkiss Fanzine, for a live review of the Oran Mor, Glasgow gig of The Charlatans Acoustic Tour. You can read the full review here

There were a few headaches to overcome, the first being no guest list or photo pass details left at the door.
I counted five photographers in all, and no-one had passes waiting for them.

I was fortunate to have dealt with the extremely efficient Natasha Parker at Work It Media, who is the Press Officer for The Charlatans. Despite her best efforts, and having treble checked arrangements were in place, the band management did not supply the venue with the guest list.
Fortunately, Natasha emailed written confirmation earlier that day, along with three emergency mobile numbers in case of any hiccups.

The primary contact was the road manager, whose mobile was going straight to voicemail.
Thanks to Natasha, I was the only one with the back up numbers which eventually got us through the door.

As this was an 'intimate' gig, there was no pit or barrier and the fans had already lined the edge of the stage in front of the 500 + packed crowd. I had to use every last ounce of charm to blag my way to the edge of the stage. The lighting was also pretty atrocious, photographically speaking, especially for the Charlatans.

At times, I had to rely on manual focus as even the Canon 1d Mk3 was struggling to lock on.
I only needed a small handful of images to accompany the review, so all was not lost.

Trials and tribulations aside, it was a wonderful gig, in a wonderful venue.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

'Chicken and Egg' - Getting the bigger gigs

Anyone who has decided to take the crazy decision to specialise in concert photography will be familiar with the ‘chicken and egg’ scenario.

You start to build a portfolio by working with local bands and may get the occasional stroke of luck getting to shoot some of the bigger names.

You won’t get the bigger names without a decent portfolio, and you won’t get a decent portfolio without working with artists who have raised their game and worked on their stage-craft, resulting in more appealing images.

Even a strong portfolio is often not enough.

To work with bigger acts, you need to be working for a publication, be it printed or online.
After all, the artists and their management are looking for publicity.
They won’t get much of that by supplying you with an opportunity to feed your portfolio.

OK, a strong portfolio will help get you aligned to a publication, but in this oversaturated market, there are very few opportunities and many publications are loyal to their existing photographers, who understandably guard their positions fiercely.

The problem doesn’t end there.

If all you are capable of is photographing a show (and that can be a challenge by itself), the publication will need to also send along a reviewer; few are likely to run with pictures alone.
Getting two bodies through the door is more difficult than one, as guest list passes can be like gold dust for established and successful artists.
PR/Management will prioritise the available spaces to whoever will give their artist the most exposure.

Many photographers have had to diversify, and are required to take the pictures and write the review.
As you can imagine, some photographers have better writing skills than others.

The best place to start is with online publications.
I spent many frustrating months building a database of publications, and contacted each one.
I usually received no reply.
The few that did take time to reply would usually inform me that they had no opportunities at present or my geographical location was not ideal. (I live in Montrose, N.E Scotland. Glasgow, the epicentre of the Scottish music scene is a 2 ½ hour drive away)

I remembered that a childhood friend, Mel Smith was one of the co-founders of MUDKISS Fanzine.
We lived literally round the corner from each other in my home town of Newton Le Willows, Merseyside.
MUDKISS is a much respected online fanzine with an excellent team of reviewers, covering everything with an alternative flavour, such as live shows, exclusive interviews, album reviews and interviews with creative artists such as authors, models and even photographers.

I mentioned to Mel in passing that I could maybe photograph one of the bigger names visiting Scotland at some point in the future.
Within hours of the conversation, a list of potential gigs appeared in my inbox.

The catch? I would have to write the show review in addition to the photography!
“Not a problem Mel, I can write reviews too” was my reply.

I have thrown myself into the deep end and learned to swim several times throughout my life, so I set about researching how to tackle the task in hand. I also spent some time analysing reviews by respected writers and bought a few music magazines.

I chose The Grinspoon gig at King Tuts as my first assignment.
I researched the band fully. I was given access to their latest album and press reviews by their PR company and scoured YouTube for videos of the band.
By the time the gig came around, I was an enthusiastic fan.

Grinspoon are a multi-platinum selling rock band with a massive following in their native Australia and were in the UK to promote the European release of their new album.

The show was supplemented by two excellent support bands, JETTBLACK from London, and Sucioperro from Scotland.

The gig was ideal for cutting my teeth on and gave me the confidence to further explore this new found craft.
I am now looking forward to carrying out further reviews for MUDKISS, with The Charlatans, Dr Feelgood and The Dum Dum Girls in the pipeline over the next month.

My experience as a working musician since 1977 helps tremendously. I should by now be able to write a review with some authority on the subject and my background helps to build up trust and rapport with the artist.

The added advantage of working for a publication is that you are not relentlessly chasing photo passes; the PR companies often approach the publication with tour dates.

It is a good feeling to be able to take a break from the relentless chasing after work and watch quality assignments come to me!

You can read my first live review for MUDKISS here, hopefully, the first of many.

ABBAMANIA - The Music Hall Aberdeen

I first worked with ABBAMANIA a couple of years ago at The Webster Theatre in Arbroath.
The resulting images were used on their website, including the main image on the home page.

Nyree Burt, who performed the role of Freda had moved on to new pastures and was replaced by Juliana Hoy, so it was time to get some updated images.

I was very impressed with their show in Arbroath and the show at Aberdeen was even better.
The sound and lighting show are excellent  and the show includes a number of costume changes…a photographers’ feast!

The show is supplemented by a superb backing band, consisting of keyboards (played by Musical Director Steven Galert), 2 guitars, bass, drums and two female backing vocalists.

The core members are Ewa Scott (Agnetha), Juliana Hoy (Frida), Steven Galert (Benny) and Ross Taberner (Bjorn).

Close your eyes and you will be hard pushed to tell the difference between ABBAMANIA and the real deal. The show is ideal for all age groups, and tonight’s show in Aberdeen was a sell-out.
ABBAMANIA tour all over the UK and Europe.

A pleasant surprise on the night was bumping into Robert Pratt, director of Chimes International.
I toured the UK in 1979 as guitarist in the backing band to The Dallas Boys, regarded as the first ever 'Boy Band', before the likes of The Osmonds. Robert was responsible for the dates in Scotland on the first leg of the tour.

So, without further ado, here are some of my favourite images from the night…