At the end of a year, there’s a lot of time spent retrogazing online. Everybody seems to do it - there’s the year's top news stories, top search terms, best-of lists everywhere… And concert photographers are no different. The end of the year brings a (relatively) calm respite to the constant barrage of must-see tours, and it allows us a moment to look back at all the fun shows we’ve shot (and yes, some miserable ones too.) And many photographers take a moment to pick our their best images from the year and post them in galleries online.
And music photographers aren’t alone - this year, a tool came along that helped Instagram users identify their “nine best” images from 2015, as ranked by total “likes”. So naturally, I ran my Instagram account through the wringer and, well… I wasn’t totally impressed. It seems that the photos that got the most likes in 2015 were often not my favorite images, but were popular more because of who was in them. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
So like many photographers, I took a few minutes and gathered up a few of my favorite 2015 images from my Flickr feed. I quickly came up with 22 images, each of which was special to me for some reason. Perhaps there are more I could’ve included, had they been uploaded to Flickr, or perhaps 22 was already more than enough - there’s something to be said for editing oneself, after all. At any rate, it was good enough and I posted a link to my gallery and moved on.
After returning from holiday travel, I felt that I needed to do something more. It isn’t enough to name your favorites if there’s no context given as to why they’re your favorites, especially since in my case my favorites aren’t necessarily the most unusual, or the most technically excellent exposures that I’ve taken - sometimes they’re my favorites simply because they speak to me in some way, or carry some special memory from the show.
So here goes nothing - a small sampling of my favorite photos from the year, with words.
First off, here's my most viewed photo of 2015: rapper Lecrae with 2015 NBA MVP Stephen Curry of the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. After shooting the usual three songs from the pit, which was unusually empty this night, I moved to the back of the room to watch the show. And almost immediately I noticed the MVP standing by the soundboard, as is typical for VIPs. I kept an eye on Steph through the show, not wanting to bother him but dying for a photo op. And to my relief, midway though the show he was whisked backstage and soon after appeared on stage to accompany Lecrae for the song "I'm Turnt". And thankfully I had my long lens ready for the moment! This image was originally posted to Instagram during the show with a very rough edit, and afterwards it was re-grammed by Steph himself to his 7 million followers. My post got 57 "likes" - his post got just shy of 300,000. That's gonna be hard to top in 2016.
Sometimes shows don't go as planned. This is one of those shots I look back at and cringe a little. It's a shot of Gregory Alan Isakov performing at the venerable Fillmore in San Francisco. It's pretty much the only usable shot I got that night. I arrived at the venue late, had problems picking up my photo pass, and then got in only to find there wasn't a photo pit that night. Worse, there aren't many spots at the Fillmore that allow you to shoot over the audience's heads, and I didn't bring a step-stool this night - big mistake. And the balconies were either off-limits or packed full. I took this picture standing on my tiptoes while leaning up against the bar that runs along the side of the venue, tucked inside an arcade of sorts. It was a miserable night, but I was glad to get such a cool image given the circumstances.
Sufjan Stevens on the Carrie & Lowell tour in Oakland, CA. This show meant a lot to me, as I detailed in a previous blog post. This shot gives me goosebumps because it comes at a moment in the show when Sufjan is left alone on the stage, surrounded by the mess of instruments and tools of his genius, working out his grief as only he can. Goosebumps.
I love capturing passion in a performance, and these two images do it in spades. Above, Mikey Hart and Jack Antonoff of Bleachers, and below, Jon Foreman of Switchfoot. Amazing performances from both of those bands this year. I'd gladly shoot nothing but those two bands all year if I could, they make my job so incredibly easy.
Here's a shot that wasn't actually taken during a show - instead, it was taken just before Lord Huron took the stage in Oakland, CA on their Strange Trails tour. I love those moments before and after the show when there's often a nice, soft stage light and a sense of calm on the stage. Having grown up in Michigan, I was admiring the Michigan state flag draped over Miguel Briseno's bass rig - when suddenly a roadie walked over and posed like this for no apparent reason. The roadie made the image so much better, I think!
Drummers are incredibly hard to shoot well much of the time. When I get a good one of the drummer, it can feel like winning the lottery. I love this picture of Finish Ticket's drummer in particular because of the intensity with which he plays. You can see the tendons popping out of his neck!
Lastly, here's another black and white that I'm still enamored with. Such a simple portrait of John Bell of Widespread Panic, but I love the pained expression and furled brow, and the asymmetrical lighting across his face. Sometimes passion can be expressed quietly, too.
It's been a good 2015, and here's to many more great shows in 2016!