Live music photography in Catalonia

Puig-Reig View
View near Puig Reig, Catalonia, Spain.

Well it’s been a very long time since I last wrote a blog post and a lot has happened in the meantime. I should try to write some posts to fill in gaps, telling you about some interesting things I’ve been up to in the past year including shooting fast motorcycles at Brands Hatch, various weddings, model shoots etc., etc..

I am writing this on my Surface Pro 3 while sitting on the plane on the way back to the UK from Barcelona. I spent a lovely few days up in a village called Puig-Reig about an hour and a bit north of Barcelona. This are is the home of a friend of mine called Sean Needham. He is a professional photographer and has several strings to his bow not least an impressive ability to chase storms and produce amazing images of lightning striking the beautiful countryside. See his website at www.barcelona-photography.com

Storms and beautiful local scenery weren’t the reason I decided to go and visit him however. Another main string to Sean’s bow is that he is the official photographer for Autoput , a mainly covers band that are well known in Catalonia and are getting more and more so, especially this past year, having released their first album of original music (Rock You) as well as headlining the Festa Major in Gracia – a huge gig with around 15,000 people in attendance. Autoput cover many Queen songs as well as well-known rock songs from bands such as Guns N’ Roses, and also play Catalan songs along with their own compositions.

David Sais, Lead singer of Autoput.
David Sais, Lead singer of Autoput.

Lead singer David Sais bears a sometimes uncanny resemblance to Freddie Mercury and the Queen covers are a big hit. The band also consists of Jordi Martinez Gual who is a phenomenal and charismatic lead guitarist who has his own following in the area, Xavi Centellas on keyboards and synth, Toni Vilaprinyó on Bass and Isidoro Martínez Pellitero (Isi) on drums. Sean had put an open invitation on a photography forum that I am a member of for a small number of people to come and have a go at music photography at a small local festival which was to be the penultimate gig of the band’s summer tour. I jumped at the chance, and as it happened I was the only one.

The gigs for the village festivals (Festa Major) usually run very late at night, often starting after midnight and continuing anything up to about 4am. We arrived at the venue in L’Ametlla de Merola. At approximately 7pm in order to check the set-up of the stage etc. We arrived before any of the band members.

 

Sean was not very happy with the lighting set up that had been put in at the venue. It was not what the band had specified as they are usually playing with a much larger lighting and sound rig.  Soon the drummer, bass guitarist and Keyboard player arrived and started a sound check, then David and Jordi came by. No one was happy with the lighting rig and Sean kept apologising to me as he said that with that lighting set up the gig would be extra hard to photograph and make look dynamic! Something of a baptism of fire for me, but I wasn’t too worried as there was no pressure on me to produce any amazing images, I was only there as experience for me.

Beginning of set up.
Beginning of set up – rather poor lighting rig!

Once the full sound check had been run it was midnight and time for the band and us to have some dinner (!). The band’s fan club had started to arrive, some from distances of around 200 miles to see the gig. The band have some very dedicated fans. After dinner the gig finally kicked off at approximately 2am and was soon rocking the venue.

Isi wears a hat taken from one of the fans.
Isi wears a hat taken from one of the fans.

As Sean said to me you cannot photograph music, but you can try to capture moments of interaction, crescendo,  movement or emotion in the images. Sometimes too sharp loses a little of the feel of the image  so a shutter speed that can allow a little movement can sometimes be desired, a slightly different way of thinking. Photographing musicians is not completely removed from my experience photographing dance of course, but as I was new to the band it was more difficult for me without any prior experience of the gigs, though I did get some helpful pointers from Sean.

Moment of interaction captured.
Emotion and feeling the moment captured.

So  I wandered around the stage, sometimes on it sometimes right down at the front shooting up at the musicians.

Jordi performs for camera
Jordi performs for camera

Sometimes round the side trying to catch Isi the drummer and Xavi the keyboardist who were the two that were hardest for me to photograph. All the band were great to work with though and really interacted with me when I tried to photograph them. Plus I was having a great time listening to the music and feeling the atmosphere.

Isi and Xavi.
Isi and Xavi.

 

The lighting was not easy to manage as it was not very dynamic and it was hard to make shots from different times throughout the gig look different from each other. I tried to get lights flaring from behind objects but as the moving spotlights were rarely used it was indeed a difficult task!

Photography by Carmen Clark

I also found (and Sean did warn me about this to me too) that my lenses were, if anything too good. I use excellent gold-ring Nikon lenses which are high quality optical pieces and ideal for weddings and the like, but trying to get them to flare and add that extra bit of dynamism to the rather dull light show was very difficult!!

Toni on Bass
Toni on Bass

Another thing Sean explained was about getting images that could be used by the sponsors e.g.. Suhr Guitars  who sponsor Jordi. So I tried to get angles that would show off both the musician, the moment AND the equipment.

Jordi and his Suhr Guitar
Jordi and his Suhr Guitar -one image where I nearly got the desired flare!

 

In the end I shot around 500 images throughout the evening and am very pleased with the outcome of them. All of these images were edited in Lightroom CC on my Surface Pro 3 while I was still in Catalonia, it’s definitely a great travel companion!

For the camera geeks, I used my Nikon D750 which handled the situation very, very well mostly in conjunction with the 24-70 F2.8 but I started off  with my 70-200 F2.8 until I plucked up courage to get in closer. I did not use flash but I used the new “highlight priority” metering mode and Auto-ISO with a manually set shutter-speed/aperture. In general it worked very well for the situation of relatively unpredictable lights in a generally dark situation.

David and Fans in the spotlight
David and Fans in the spotlight

Setting spot metering to one of the function buttons helped too when highlight priority might be fooled into underexposure but for me I had to perform finger origami when shooting portrait mode with my Meike battery grip to reach the function buttons as I’m not used to using them in that way – not unlike trying to stretch to reach a new guitar chord fingering I guess.. I may have to rethink which function button I set the camera to next time as I’m not that long fingered!

I finally got back to the hotel where I was staying at 6:20am… a long but very productive night.

I’d like to thank all the band for allowing me to come and shoot with Sean at the gig. Apparently they’re happy for me to photograph a much bigger one next year… who knows maybe even the 15,000 person Gracia festival. We shall see. Special thanks to Sean and is partner Maria for being amazing hosts during my stay also. Can’t wait to see you all again sometime!