ND – Dusk, Blue
Every year since 1998…
…Birmingham UK has held a citywide festival covering many aspects of the arts on the 2nd weekend of September. Birmingham Artsfest 2010 was held between Friday 10th and Sunday 12th September. Various usual and unusual venues are opened up, repurposed or re-marketed to host events of all sorts, and a number of open air stages are also dotted around the main city squares to host other larger audience performances.
Music, acting and dance shows are streamed across the city for the whole weekend, and by stumbling into the smaller venues you can come across poetry recitals, musical ensembles, amateur and youth theatre groups, and even some of Birmingham’s permanent yet hidden treasures like the fabulous organ in the newly refurbished Town Hall.
Some events encourage you to take part too, and if learning some simple Bhangra moves is your thing then there was a dedicated marquee to cover your needs as well.
Nakedigit is very lucky here as ND towers is right in the heart of all of this magic and wonder. So it’s rude to stay indoors watching the telly.
There are also a range of cultural themes depending on which day you attend and whereas Saturday night on the main Centenary Square stage is a more cultural event with classic Fantasia and Opera performed to a fireworks display by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), Sunday night’s schedule for the same stage highlights high energy guitar rock from bands (this year) such as Elliot Minor and Young Guns culminating in the more melodic yet profane local band The Twang.
I have attended Artsfest for several years now, and there’s always a good source of new things to experience and point a camera at.
Centenary Square is currently somewhat smaller than normal…
…as a large section has been fenced off during the recently started construction for Birmingham’s futuristic new library which is scheduled to open in 2013. More on this later.
I had wondered how the usual stage and audience would all squeeze in, but judicious closure of Broad Street (alongside) certainly helped and many thousands of people enjoyed the various acts, filling out to almost capacity I would say for the final bands on Sunday night.
But rock bands weren’t the only major square-filling attraction and Saturday night’s headlining CBSO and Birmingham Opera Company performance gathered an equally sized and significantly better behaved crowd.
Without a “professional” or “event” photographers’ pass I can’t benefit from the same close up and trouble-free vantage point (directly in front of the stage) that the pros get, but standing half a dozen people back from the stage with a 70-300mm lens wasn’t the hardship that I experienced last year with an 18-200mm weapon of choice and I won’t have a portfolio of shots looking up people’s noses at funny angles either.
My other problem last year was with the camera body I was using. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve previously sported Nikon’s D80 and D200 cameras which have both been fabulous and have contributed some of the images that you can find in this Blog and my Flickr page. But taking pictures at night, of a highly variably lit stage, bathed in rapidly flashing and changing colours can be a challenge, particularly when your targets are moving, sometimes violently.
I’ve taken some great shots with the D80/D200 combo at these events before, but I’ve also taken a lot of shots that were too blurred, grainy or dark. In fact, usually a combination of all three 😦
I still managed some of those this year, but the D700 I now use in anger with its high ISO availability, mixed with the attached 300mm reach, F5.6 brightness and Vibration Reduction (VR) have swung the odds back in my favour.
In 2010 I finally grabbed a larger batch of images that I’m quite happy with 🙂
I have to say…
…that I’m really seriously impressed by the high and genuine ISO ability of this camera. Ken Rockwell is right when he discusses which to choose; the D700 or Canon’s 5D Mark II – “It depends what you want to do with it”.
Technology is moving on, new batches of cameras from both Nikon and Canon (as well as others) are already pushing specifications into the future, some specs unnecessarily so (GPS and Facebook integration in a camera won’t help me make a better image).
I know there is a sea of cameras appearing now that have more pixels to play with than my D700, but it’s genuine ability to capture images in poor lighting conditions is still pretty formidable today and this Artsfest was only the second real time that I’d put it to good use in an uncontrolled external “action” environment.
During the CBSO performance we were offered the operatic delights of two fabulous singers; Rodney Clarke and Stephanie Corley. My favourite shots from this evening were of Rodney and Stephanie singing.
Here’s a truth…
…even if you forget to take the lens cap off, if you hold up a big camera with a big lens attached, in public, some people think you’re a pro. So as Rodney and Stephanie finished their set, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find a young woman asking me “Are you professional?”
My “No, I’m sorry….” didn’t appear to faze her and she introduced herself as Louise, a friend of the singing pair, and “….would you be able to send us some of your photos?”
I don’t know what happened first, did I feel flattered, or did I sink in horror at the memories of the results from previous years? If I only get one half decent shot out of fifty, and I’ve taken one, two, three, fifteen shots – Aaaaarrrggghh, the odds are not good. But I hopefully (naively) stood my ground and replayed a couple of images on the D700’s screen, safe in the knowledge that at that size you’d need a Richter scale magnitude 8 earthquake before a lack of pin-sharp clarity is evident.
My back-up plan? Photoshop them! (Ahem, not really obviously).
By 11.30pm I was home and squinting through my tightly clenching fingers at the horror unveiling on my iMac. But, to my surprise the first one wasn’t so bad, not pin-sharp but it actually looked pretty good. Then a second, then a third. In fact, some of them seemed spot-on.
In the space of half an hour I had copied, backed up, chosen and lightly adjusted the images you see here. Apart from shrinking them to post online and converting them to JPGs, I have performed very little editing on these shots. The one shot that did obviously receive more than the others is the Black and White shot at the top which I fully desaturated. Otherwise, very minor usage of the definition, sharpness, saturation and contrast tools have been used throughout, and the cyanotype styled shot only looks this way because the stage lighting changed momentarily during the performance and I left it alone as I rather liked it.
Shortly after midnight I emailed these images to Louise, and the next morning received a lovely response with thanks, and suggesting I come and meet them at a performance of “Man of Feeling” at the CBSO’s main rehearsal room nearby.
It was great to meet Louise, Rodney and Stephanie and the whole experience boosted my confidence for this type of photography in the future.
It was also significantly better than the experience I had later that evening whilst trying to photograph the young rock bands on the main stage whilst shielding the D700 from flying beer and getting my neck burned from a fresh airborne cigarette butt!