Can an Andrew Bird concert teach us about Photography?

I had the opportunity to attend an Andrew Bird concert last weekend. It was held at St.Marks Cathedral. That’s a fabulous venue for this kind of concert. It just wasn’t particularly my favorite kind of music. Now, don’t get me wrong, this guy is incredibly talented, and the church was full of people that completely loved him. I did like some of his music. But not all.

So, while I was listening, I found my self watching the lighting. I watched how they changed the colors, and went from dim lighting with hard focused spots, to lots of warm glowing amber light, depending on the mood he was trying to convey. I started to wonder if I did the same thing when I lit people. Do I do enough to light someone purposefully to convey a mood to the scene?

Andrew is all about layers. Lots of layers. He uses more audio layers than I have ever used photoshop layers. He starts off by playing a fairly short piece into a looped recorder. This loop replays it’s self, all the while recording the next layer. They keep stacking and stacking. His main instrument is a violin. I have never heard so many different sounds out of one instrument. It was fascinating. Picking, strumming, fingering, hitting with the bow, and of course, playing with the bow as you would expect. He is technically amazing.

So, I started to think… how well do I layer? With flashes. I was at a workshop with Joe McNally, and he did exactly the same thing. Started with one speedlight. Then added a softbox. Then added a trigrip. Then added a light bounced into the floor. Then another. How about more volume with another light behind the trigrip. Lastly, add a hair light. Layers. Always in control. Always adding something deliberately one at a time. Do you do that? Can you build an image one layer at a time?

One of the things that I had a hard time appreciating was toward the end of his songs. At some points, he lost me. Too many layers. They diluted the message. No longer were there discrete layers. Each new layer was no longer complementing the next, but starting to muddy the whole thing. So what would Joe do? Tear it all down and start over. It was one of the things that he talked about. When you get to the point where things are out of control, and you start throwing speedlights around because it doesn’t yet feel right, and more must be better…. just start over. Tear down, turn off, and start again.

I was amazed at how similar this artist was with a photographer. I had never thought in those terms before. If you get the chance, give Andrew a listen. You may learn something about photography.

1 thought on “Can an Andrew Bird concert teach us about Photography?

  1. Nice observation. I was sitting next to you during that concert and though I think in terms of set design and stage lighting, the layering of light for photographic purposes was a cool take away that would have been lost on me if I hadn’t wandered on to your post 🙂

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