Belsonic Day 1 - Arcade Fire

Win Butler of Arcade Fire

Win Butler of Arcade Fire

The first night of Belsonic 2017 was one of it's biggest artists yet, with Arcade Fire headlining the opening night. Belsonic has moved around venues in the last few years; with Titanic Belfast hosting the festival last year. It is currently taking place in Ormeau Park, located near the centre of Belfast. The new surrounding of trees and grass is much better for atmosphere than the exposed setting of the docks.

 

Luke Pritchard of The Kooks

Luke Pritchard of The Kooks

The Kooks opened the night to a pretty decent crowd, showing that they still have a strong 10 years on from their peak as a band. But the lead singer was in good form and was active enough to let me get plenty of different shots, which can be hard for a support band at a festival, as they don't have a stage show in comparison with the headliners.

 

Belsonic's stage in the heart of Ormeau Park

Belsonic's stage in the heart of Ormeau Park

Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire

A new feature I appreciated was the small extension of the stage in the centre, which allowed performers to come out from the main stage platform and therefore allowed closer shots of the artist. Being 6'4 it came in handy with the platform, as I could just reach the top of the stage with my wide angle (see below)

 

It's always great to see a world class act come to Belfast and witness the quality of their stage production whether it's the lighting rigs they'll provide or the vast array of unique instruments; specifically a glass mosaic set of bongo drums, or a chrome piano..

 

Instrumental bling

Instrumental bling

It's great for me to tick off Arcade Fire on my list of artists I've shot, I was just sad I couldn't stay longer than 4-5 songs even though I'm not the biggest fan. Hearing them play their back catalogue with a crowd belting out their lyrics back to them, it was a great atmosphere. Especially when  Régine Chassagne of the band came to the extended platform and danced her way through 'Haiti'

 

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AVA Festival 2017

Moxie playing the main stage on Friday afternoon

Moxie playing the main stage on Friday afternoon

Now in it's 3rd year, AVA Festival has grown to something bigger than anyone thought was possible; with the Belfast's Boiler Room a firm favourite amongst the dance music community. The conference provides priceless support in information for those currently involved and those trying to get into dance music in some capacity. The venue is a unique space that allows you to see varying acts in vastly different spaces and sizes, both indoors and out. And yet there is a local and friendly atmosphere, where everyone is welcoming and has the common goal to make this year the biggest yet, and there is no doubt that is was.

 

AVA Pro kicking things off @ Bullitt hotel. Belfast

AVA Pro kicking things off @ Bullitt hotel. Belfast

The day started with AVA Pro, where professionals from the music industry are given a space to network and share experiences before the madness of the next two days unfold. Thjings then moved back to T13 where the rest of the events would take place and the conference got under way with an opening keynote talk with techno legend Jeff Mills.

 

Jeff Mills and Guillaume Martin opening the conference

Jeff Mills and Guillaume Martin opening the conference

Jordan, New Jackson, Hammer and ELLLL talking about the future of Irish dance music

Jordan, New Jackson, Hammer and ELLLL talking about the future of Irish dance music

North x South; talking about the comparisons between both parts of the country in regards to curfews, culture and connections

North x South; talking about the comparisons between both parts of the country in regards to curfews, culture and connections

Renaat Vandepapeliere of R&S Records

Renaat Vandepapeliere of R&S Records

 The closing keynote talk with Neil Barnes of Leftfield

 The closing keynote talk with Neil Barnes of Leftfield

Once the dust had settled on the conference, the music performances kicked off immediately. With the outdoor BECKS stage opening just in time for the sun to come out and the atmosphere to truly get going. There was a smaller stage inside to get people ready for opening the main stage a few hours later. 

Inside Moves DJ's

Inside Moves DJ's

People at the live stage during Cyclist's set

People at the live stage during Cyclist's set

It was Fatima Yahama which got the crowds moving to the BECKS stage, where he was due to play for an hour, just as the sun coming down and creeping through the gaps in the tent whilst people inside were going nuts. 

 

Fatima Yahama

Fatima Yahama

 Crowd going crazy for Fatima

 Crowd going crazy for Fatima

With things winding down outside and the sun disappearing, people ventured inside for the main stage and acts like Moxie, Ben UFO warming the crowd up before Jeff Mills played his much anticipated 3 hour set 'Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind'

I was shooting all these acts throughout the day, whilst also providing live uploads for AVA's social media channels. This was tough, as it required me working from 9am well into the early hours of Saturday. This has become the 'norm' for AVA, with the live uploads from photographers providing better quality than smartphone content, and doing justice to the event in real time.

By the time Jeff Mills had begun his set, I was reeling from the day's events and was admittedly looking forward to seeing my bed. But it wasn't over yet and I made my way to the main stage to witness something that would give any photographer chills; no lighting for the performer and intermittent strobe/projection lighting. 

Jeff MIlls hiding behind a lot of lighting

Jeff MIlls hiding behind a lot of lighting

So after an hour of watching this lighting show, which, in all fairness was quite impressive and pretty trippy. But it was a nightmare for me and the other photographers to shoot. We were given strict instructions not to take photos close up or on stage, so are hands were tied in that respect. I'm just glad I managed a handful of semi-useable images. Still frustrating I couldn't do better though.

The festival continued for the next two days, but I was only able to shoot the Friday. I'm making sure I'm free for all of next year, which will be moving location and doing it bigger and better than this year!

Black Madonna

This is a DJ I had been unfamiliar with, only having seen a few clips of her live sets. I only knew that she had topped the most recent Resident Advisor Poll; the top 100 DJ's ranked each year.  She is in high demand due to her RA poll listing, playing mostly disco based dance music, which makes a nice and friendly atmosphere with a laid back disco shaoes being thrown.

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The support was that of local DJ's Schmutz & Hammer, playing B2B before The Black Madonna took to the stage. I always enjoy their sets, mostly because it reminded me of the Boiler Room set last summer, where Schmutz and Hammer both featured in it.

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The only slight issue I had, was that I had been informed to keep my distance when shooting images of TBM. So I set up my two wireless flashes as per usual but decided to shoot from behind and from the back of the room, so I would never be directly in front of her. It worked out okay, but it made me feel paranoid that I was too close at times and I couldn't relax at any time I was near her.

 

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AVA Event @ Narrow Water Castle

This was the first of two big Easter weekend raves, taking place in a castle just outside Newry, N.I. 

It was hosted by AVA Festival, who's main event takes place 2nd-3rd June @ T13, Belfast. The organisers always try and make their events stand out from the rest and this was an exceptional location for a dance music event, with a large tent outside and rooms in the underground areas of the castle also being used.

I came up the night before to get some pre-event images before the crowds showed up. The shot I took below wasn't really planned; I was leaving and noticed that you could see the stars through the clouds. So I took a few long exposure shots (30 seconds) with the help of my tripod.

Narrow Water Castle

Narrow Water Castle

The event was taking place from 2pm, until 11pm that night, so I arrived down during the afternoon and was lucky enough to have the sun come out, which was a big help for atmosphere. There were two areas for DJ's; the large tent outside and a basement room inside the castle. Both areas were in use all day, so the crowd could move from one to the other, with food stands, bars to keep them occupied in between.

There was also a 'chill space' which is a great idea that allows people to take themselves away from the music and noise and chill out on a beanbag when it all gets a little much. 

Chill out space

Chill out space

The DJ's in the tent played mostly house music, with the basement room offering a harder choice of techno. So the music had something for most people to enjoy. With local DJ's Inside Moves playing the start and end set of the main tent. Tijana J closed the basement room, who is a techno DJ from Serbia, showing that it wasn't just a local affair, as well as Auntie Flo playing the main tent in the afternoon

Auntie Flo

Auntie Flo

Tijana T

Tijana T

The atmosphere throughout the day was great; it was mix of high quality dance music, paired with the relaxing setting of a castle grounds, which allowed people to sit on the grass outside in the sun and take it all in.

It's a perfect warm up for the AVA Festival this June, with events taking place @ T13 in Belfast over 2nd & 3rd June.

Run The Jewels @ Limelight

EI-P & Killer Mike of Run The Jewels

EI-P & Killer Mike of Run The Jewels

Run The Jewels playing Limelight on Wednesday and Stormzy to play on Friday, it was a big week for live music in Belfast. Both gigs sold-out of course, but I was more excited about RTJ, due to the fact that I'm a big fan of their music with no disrespect to grime music.

Supporting RTJ was a DJ by the name of Gaslamp Killer, other than having to wait an hour for him to come on stage, he did do a good job of getting the crowd amped. He was extremely lively and would move around and dance throughout the set. This meant I had plenty of decent shots before RTJ had even come on stage. One shot in particular of Gaslamp Killer that I liked so much I decided to throw in into Photoshop and make a Polyscape edit, just to liven it up a little:

Gaslamp Killer

Gaslamp Killer

One shot in particular of Gaslamp Killer that I liked so much I decided to throw in into Photoshop and make a Polyscape edit, just to liven it up a little:

Original

Original

Tripping balls

Tripping balls

I was warned that the crowd could get really lively and maybe even a mosh pit or two. So it was very worrying whenever I noticed the photo pit had been made smaller (about 4 ft deep) which is common for sold-out gigs, but it resulted in me getting elbowed in the head several times. Which was really nice.

EI-P

EI-P

Aside from minor assault received from the crowd, RTJ were on great form, with a strong stage presence and playing strong track favourites from the beginning. With rap performers, it can be a little flat whenever there are only a DJ and the performer holding a mic. However, the fact that there are two of them gave me a lot broader selection of angles (person A, person B, Person A&B) 

My favourite shot of the night came mid-set, whenever Killer Mike was rapping a verse and looked right down the lens at me. At the time I had my 50mm f/1.4 as it's a gig favourite of mine. However, you need to move with the artist, due to the lack of zoom. So whenever he looked right at me, he then moved toward the lens and in doing so I had to move my head back accordingly to achieve the focus.

It was as close as the focus allowed me and just so happened to lock onto his eyes, which came out crystal clear. So a little luck and a little know how got me a shot worthy of the portfolio collection.

Killer Mike

Killer Mike

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes

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Frank Carter will attract a crowd no matter where he plays or what band he's in. He brought Gallows to the forefront of punk rock and left soon after. He had a stint with Pure Love who I saw support Paramore at Belsonic 3 years ago. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes have been going for a few years now and I saw them play Belfast last year at Voodoo Bar which was absolute carnage.

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This time round he was playing The oh Yeah Centre and many people questioned why he would play such a small venue. But the venues low stage supports Frank's tendency to venture into the crowd during the set. And to make crowd surfing easier for everyone; except photographers due to the lack of photo pit!

Not only was the lack of photo pit challenging, but the sheer amount of photographers made it harder to find a good spot at the front of the stage. I settled with stage right, standing directly beside the large speakers of course.

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When Frank finally came on stage, the front was hard to deal with, due to the crowd going ape-shit. But in the image above, the ratio of photographers to people is 3:1, this gives you a sense of how many there actually were.

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With a gig like this, the right angles don't come into your head. You just find a spot where someone isn't trying to shove into you and start shooting. Luck is obviously involved, but you need to make sure you don't get lazy and sit in the same spot or stick to the same focal length. I tried to mix it between the 50mm 1.4 for low light and sharp action shots. Then the 17-40 4.0 to capture the crowd and scale of the gig.

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Shine - Rødhåd

The last time Rødhåd came to Belfast he played AVA Festival back in June '16. I had to leave just as came on stage, so I was relieved when I heard he was to headline Shine, making up for last summer's missed opportunity. Dense & Pika warmed up Mandela Hall, who didn't blow me away, but I'll always be a fan of their stuff, especially Colt; a tune guaranteed to make me throw shapes.

Meanwhile, Schmutz were throwing it down in Bunatee to your usually sweaty crowd. My wireless triggers were playing up, due to a battery leaking in the trigger (Duracell bullshit) so I had to use on camera flash, going for stroboscopic mode for old times sake. I forgot how much fun you can have with stroboscopic mode!

Bar sub is traditionally the 3rd room at Shine and I managed to catch Miniminds in his set. However, it's always the hardest room to capture, with its sheer darkness, with the only light source coming from a backlit projector screen. I was in the process of using that as the only light source until some legend started filming with the light on their phone. This provided enough light for me to up my shutter speed and capture a few shots of the DJ. Call it lucky, but it did the trick.

When I got round to shooting Rødhåd I had no wireless triggers to use, due to the shitty (NEW) Duracell batteries that let me down big time. I shot a few images with the stage lights, but there were a lot of reds and blues that I wasn't fussed with, right up until he played a few faster-paced tracks that got the crowd going. The lights on stage then came into play and it allowed me to get a few brighter shots which I'm pretty happy with (Photo at top)

Full Resident Advisor photo set here

Denis Sulta

Denis Sulta hasn't been about for long, but he has a tune that's been doing the rounds, combined with his lively DJ sets and choice of classic techno & house tracks that draws the crowds. Friday night was no exception, with the Limelight show selling out in no time. There was support from Derry's Bekuz and another Scottish DJ; Brassica, who you might have seen remixing Bicep tracks and vice versa.

Brassica has a more laid back approach to DJ sets, subtly lining up heavier tracks that wound the atmosphere up just before Denis Sulta came on stage. As for my shooting tecnique; I decided to try and shoot most of the DJ portraits with the stage lighting and dropping down to F/1.6 or even 1.4.

But this wasn't getting me the shots I wanted, with hardly any bright stages lights being used, it was extremely hit and miss up until the headliner came on stage, which the best lighting is always held back for. So When Sulta came on, I instantly realised I couldn't rely on stages lights because he was moving about so much! So flashes had to be introduced.

I threw down a flash on either side of the DJ table on Speedlite stands, making them less inconspicuous and easier to adjust the direction, depending on where the subject was.

I couldn't resist a silhouette shot with all the hand gestures he was pulling..

I really enjoy shooting an artist that moves around a lot. It gives you such a variety of images and keeps you on your toes. But I really liked his set, some 2000's classic anthems thrown in that the crowd really appreciated, at least I know I did.

Hannah Wants @ Limelight, Belfast

Hannah Wants came to Belfast last February at Shine, where she filled the Mandela Hall, so I knew the smaller Limelight venue would have a similar atmosphere to her gig just under a year ago.  With the new wireless triggers for my flashes, I set them up either side of the DJ table, simply moving around the subject and therefore adjusting the lightings effect, without having to move the lights. 

The support came in the form of two individual DJ's, allowing me to nail my lighting for when Hannah came on-stage. Cue the silhouettes:

I always anticipate the DJ's hand movements, which came in came in the form of air-drumming and I got lucky with strobe lights, providing a stroboscopic effect.

It's always hard to make a DJ night look different when it's in the same venue, but I ventured into the crowd to trigger the lights on stage. I ran the risk of getting asked to take a photo, only to have both of my flashes on stage. Having to explain to people in a dark and loud nightclub why I don't have a flash has become a challenge. 

I then went back on stage to shoot some images of Hannah, and with the crowd reaching fever pitch I made sure to point my lights at the crowd to get them going nuts. What I'm most pleased with from the night, is that all the images I've posted kept the lights in the same location. I simply changed the order of flashes used, to completely change the look of the image as I've posted below:

Flash on left and right side of subject:

No flashes, just house lights

One flash, stage right:

Product Photography

I was asked by a client to shoot some product images for a food supplier. I'd need to shoot the products on a white background with good lighting, as they will be printed in a brochure for food vendors to order from. I've done some product photography in the past, but I made sure that I had the gear capable of doing the shoot.

As usual, I stuck with my reliable Speedlite's, triggering them wirelessly with Yongnuo triggers and an on-camera controller which attaches to the hot shoe. I'll use 2 or 3 Speedlite's depending on the product and what the dimensions of the product are, as a 3rd light may come in handy to prevent unnecessary shadows.

I found the Yongnuo triggers great from the Canon ST-E2 wireless trigger I used in the past. The Canon ST-E2 didn't require triggers to be attached to the Speedlite's and made it great for shooting on the go. However, you could only shoot at a max of 1/200 and it used a really rare type of battery that was only available online, which meant if you ran out at last minute you were fudged.

Here is the gear I used:

Canon 430 EXII

Canon 530 EXII

Yongnuo Wireless Flash Controller

2x Yongnuo Wireless Flash Trigger

2x Pixel Speedlite stands (much more stable than Canon stands)

As for the backdrop, I wanted a large white background that would not only provide a large surface area for the varying sizes of product, but also something that would maximise the light sources. I found lots of great lightboxes available on Amazon, which basically look like square tents that do a great job of diffusing the light and making sure the light is spread evenly throughout the light box.

As for the setup, I placed one Speedlite on either side of the lightbox and had to play about with the settings until I got the results I was looking for. 

Once I setup the equipment you see above, I set the power of the flashes. The Yongnuo wireless controller was great for setting the manual power on each flash. I set either flash to manual mode @ 1/4. The next issue is getting the aperture right. As some products may have deeper dimensions and if you're shooting at F2.8, then you're definitely going to lose some focus. So I found it better to go from F/5.0 or higher, increasing the power of the lights accordingly ( I upped the power marginally on both to 1/4 + 0.3)

For test shots, I used the box of the Yongnuo triggers (no, I'm not getting paid to plug them) which are identical shots, however, the first is a lower aperture where the back of the product is quite obviously out of focus.

1/320 sec, F/3.2, ISO 160

I very slightly increased the aperture with the same other settings in the next one.

1/320 sec, F/5.0, ISO 160

The only other issue is the slight line of shadow tailing off to the left, which I can remedy by including a 3rd Speedlite from the top of the light box or increase the left-hand side Speedlite's power to try and counteract the right-hand side Speedlite.

Trivium @ Limelight, Belfast

Trivium are a band that hadn't played Belfast in nearly a decade as far as I can see, so there was a bit of hysteria when they announced to play Dublin/Belfast back-to-back. It was sold out soon enough, which makes my job harder when I'm trying to get about the venue for social shots and just general performer shots. But if you didn't have a packed out crowd, then the atmosphere and overall experience would be dampened, so it goes both ways in that sense.

But I guess it's a photographer's job to complain; if it wasn't the large crowd, it would inevitably go to the lighting. Whilst we're on the subject, I was spoiled with light for Trivium, with bright stage-facing lights allowing me to boost the shutter speed all the way up to 1/1250 very briefly! And when you combine the ability to shoot a high shutter speed with varied colours you can get some cool effects.

Another small issue was a number of people crowd surfing; which I have no problem with, in fact I encourage it! Images of crowd surfing is a great indication of atmosphere. However, the photo pit was 3-4 feet deep, with at least 4 photographers fighting for space, 3 security men and a barrage of flying limbs and feet due to the crowd surfers getting passed to the front, it certainly made concentrating quite hard!

Frightened Rabbit @ Limelight

Last time these guys came to Belfast, I was shooting them at Belsonic. However, it was a wet and pretty quiet night, so thankfully the circumstances were very different this time round; with the gig being indoors and a (nearly) full house. The crowd was really up for it, with huge cheers for every song, it was almost as if everyone was trying to make up for the last time they came to town.

FR are a band I've seen a few times now, and it always strikes me how closely they sound to their recorded material, which I guess is a testament to the vocalist; Scott Hutchison. 

The lights for the gig started with blue light and strobes (not good), but then things picked up just before the end of the 3rd song when we all pack up and go. Although, I can never stop myself from going into the crowd and shooting a wide shot..

I uploaded most of the shots onto my Flickr page