Mook Noir

One of my favorite Austin bands and pals of mine, The Mooks, played a Sunday afternoon show at One-2-One again last weekend. It’s great to see them on a nice big stage, especially when I don’t have to be out until the wee hours of the morning to catch the show. It was a busy day but I made sure I squeezed in their set.

It’s become habit for me to do black and white images for these guys. They dig it and we jokingly call it Mook Noir. I went even deeper into the inky blacks than usual this time. It’s fun to experiment with different looks, especially when the band is all for it. As usual, these were snapped with my Fujifilm X100F and processed in Lightroom CC. If you like these, you can find more on my gallery page.

Anamorphic Mook Noir

My pals in The Mooks played another Sunday afternoon show at the One 2 One bar in Austin last weekend. Kudos to One 2 One for these early shows! It’s so nice to be able to catch a band without being out until the wee hours of the following day. I’ll admit it - I’m getting too old for that sort of thing.

Since my wife accompanied me to the show, I left my camera bag at home. I didn’t want to be tempted to geek out with my camera rig and neglect her. Of course, that didn’t stop me from pulling out my iPhone for a couple of songs. I attached my Moondog Labs anamorphic lens (Yeah, yeah, there was a bit of premeditated photo gear smuggling - no camera bag though!) and grabbed a few snaps.

It wasn’t all too long ago that I thought smart phone photography was ridiculous for anything beyond a casual snapshot in good light. Forcing myself to shoot with my iPhone 6s has changed my perception completely. I actually like most of the images I get from it, even in challenging light. Still, it’s far from ideal as a concert camera. Or is it? I’ve used it a few times now and find that I’m getting better with it in a difficult environment even for my “real camera.”

Since I don’t care for the native 4x3 aspect ratio, I often opt to use my anamorphic lens rather than cropping to 3x2 or 16x9. There is a bit of distortion and some interesting effects with light sources in frame. I love the cinematic vibe in spite of any technical imperfections. I’ve also reached a point in my photography where I’m not so concerned about sharpness and noise in my images. After all, it’s dark and performers are moving. No, the iPhone can’t shoot at ludicrous ISO. So, I adapt and I still get images that I really like. Images that are emotive and less technically perfect.

The entire workflow from image capture to processing to making this blog post was done with my iPhone and iPad. I used Blackie for the camera app and Snapseed and Lightroom for processing. Rather than trying to correct the imperfections, I accentuated them. A bit more blur and grain was added to enhance the dreamy cinematic look that was already there. I like what I ended up with a lot. I may be leaving my Fuji rig home more often. 

Mook Noir

I was stoked to see my buddies in The Mooks at the One-2-One Bar in Austin this past weekend. It was even an early show (for some reason the bands I want to see usually have a stage time of around midnight) and I was able to get home at a decent hour for work the next day - woo hoo! The Mooks are a great bunch of guys and just a darn good rock-n-roll band. I always look forward to giving them a hand with promo photos when I can.

The guys seem to like my black and white work so I snapped some photos with that in mind. It’s my preference anyway and it’s nice to know that others appreciate it. I’ve felt in a bit of a rut with my live music shots and I tried to experiment with different angles. Lots of low angled stuff here. When I went to process my shots, I found a cinematic feel in some of the images and I decided to go with the 16x9 crop. Normally, this is a decision I make ahead of time and I shoot accordingly using frame guidelines in my camera viewfinder. Making this choice after the fact was a bit of a challenge.

While I could have created a set of images with mixed aspect ratios, I chose to keep things consistent. As a result, I ended up with some tight crops in places. I liked the results. Sometimes I can be too conservative in trying to keep tops of heads or hands/feet in the frame. This is a creative endeavor so why force myself to adhere to my inner composition rules? Instead, I pushed the boundaries of the narrow box on some of these. Next time maybe I’ll try those compositions in camera.

More shots from the show can be found on my gallery site.

The Mooks- Side 2

My buddies in The Mooks just released a new CD called Side 2 and they threw a release party at Antones Records in Austin a couple weekends ago. It has been many years since I've been in an actual record store. One of my first jobs way back in high school was working at a popular record store and being at Antones took me back to fond memories of those times. The ways we buy and listen to music have changed so much since then. The walls and bins full of vinyl records at Antones was a nostalgic experience. I realized how much I miss the the tactile experience of holding a vinyl record and enjoying the album art and liner notes. 

Unfortunately, vinyl records are now a very expensive way to enjoy music. I haven't owned a turntable for a couple of decades and I was astonished at what vinyl records sell for these days. It's an expensive collectible. Producing a recording on vinyl is likewise a very pricey endeavor. The Mooks' Side 2 is a CD release in a modest cardboard sleeve. Just as well since I wouldn't have been able to play a vinyl record anyway. Pity. It's a nice recording all the same and it will be much easier to get on my iPhone so I can enjoy the music in my car.

The guys crammed into an aisle at the store and played a short set that was no less blistering than if they had been on a club stage. I moved around the record bins and weaved among the small crowd as best I could to get a few photos. Unusual for me, I shot in color. The majority of my live music photography is black and white. This was an odd scenario though - one that presented a big challenge for me.

Color photos would ordinarily be a poor choice. The store was lit with bright fluorescent and the afternoon sun was pouring in through the storefront windows. Plenty of light, but mixed in color, flat, and boring. My black and white style fits best with sparsely lit stage lighting. Color was a bit of a long shot as there is no way my colorblind eyes can deal with mixed light in post production. So, I set my Fujifilm X100F to Classic Chrome film simulation with auto white balance and just shot away. The colors aren't perfect I'm sure but I wasn't happy with the contrast lacking lighting in the black and white versions I tried. Regardless, I was pleased with some of the moments I was able to capture.

The Mooks at Hole in the Wall

I got to catch a matinee show by my buddies in The Mooks yesterday afternoon. They played an unusually early time slot starting at 4pm at Hole in the Wall. That's perfect for us old timers, leaving plenty of time to make an early bird dinner before hitting the sack. OK, I'm not quite to that point yet. Still, it was nice to be able to see a great band in a time slot that didn't roll over into the next day. 

The Hole in the Wall is a great dive bar on The Drag (Guadalupe St. along the UT campus for those not familiar with Austin.) It's a friendly place with cheap drinks, low cover, and great local bands. I've played there myself a number of times over the years. This time I was there to enjoy the show and, of course, snap a few shots. The low budget venue means that there are just a few lights thrown up with random color gels. Green, red, and some daylight spilling in through the door to the patio meant for an awful color mix that defies any sort of reasonable white balance. So, it was black and white to the rescue, not that I've ever complain about that. Here are a few shots I liked.

The Mooks!

I got to see The Mooks at Strange Brew again recently. My wife and I got there early and managed to snag a table at center stage. Seating is hard to come by at most Austin club shows so this was a treat. I didn't bring my Fuji X-T1 out this time since we were out to just have fun and hang out with friends. That's not to say I wasn't prepared for a little photography. My little Fuji XF1 was in my pocket and I brought it out for a couple of songs. This compact point and shoot isn't a great choice for low light photography. It gets real noisy at the ISOs necessary for concert shooting. Still, I was able to get a few decent shots of the boys rocking out.

When using the XF1 I tend to treat it like a full auto point and shoot even though it does offer full manual control. I usually set it to the appropriate EXR mode and fire away. This mode creates 6MP JPEGs with a bit of expanded dynamic range from the data captured with the 12MP sensor. I shoot in an EXR mode in black and white almost exclusively.  The extra course grain from shooting at ISO 3200 doesn't bother me at all in black and white. In fact, I usually add some grain in post processing. 

Anyway...enough jibber jabber about the damn camera. Here are some snaps of The Mooks.

Rockin' the Carousel Lounge

SXSW just wrapped up in Austin, TX. It's a huge 10 day festival that features technology, film, and a whole bunch of music. I have to admit that I'm not a fan of big festivals like this and I generally don't go near the downtown area while it's here. I hate to miss out on the great music though, especially when I have friends playing gigs down there. I was delighted to hear that my buddy's band, The Mooks, was doing a non-SXSW affiliated gig at Carousel Lounge, a bit north of the mayhem that was going on in downtown Austin. Now that I was down for!

The Mooks rocked this place with a great set. The lighting was pretty dim and funky colored (common theme in Austin bars) and I initially shot in black and white. I prefer monochrome, so I probably would have done that anyway. Lately I've been tweaking my in-camera settings on the Fujifilm X-T1 to get a look that is closer to what I'd post process. I decided to go with a very noir look and cranked up the shadows and boosted the highlights a little. These are camera JPEGs that I adjusted for a bit more contrast yet in Lightroom. For Fuji folks, this is the base B&W film simulation with shadows at +2, highlights at -1, NR at -2 and sharpness at +1. This is ISO 6400 and I even added some grain in Lightroom. I wanted some gritty shots to go with this crunch rock n roll! Hopefully y'all know this already but just in case, click the images to make 'em bigger.

Once I got some decent B&W shots I decided to switch the X-T1 to a relatively new film simulation I've been playing with, Classic Chrome. This simulation tones down the color a bit and after having some success with it on some nighttime urban landscape outings, I decided to see what it would do with the funky bar lighting. As it turned out I was quite pleased with the result. Classic Chrome seems to help tame weird color casts and render things naturally, although slightly muted. I kept the in-camera contrast cranked up and I liked the contrasty crushed black look I got. For Fuji folks, the following JPEGs used the same settings as my black and whites except for the film simulation. I didn't do anything to these in post other than crop as needed and boost the mids a slight bit.

I arrived a little early to the show and got to check out a set by a really awesome new band, The Frightened City.  This all instrumental band had a great sound - rock, punk, surfer...not easy to categorize but I thought they had a fresh sound with a driving edge. Their high energy set got the place going and I enjoyed getting a few shots. Grungy, grainy B&W photos seemed to suit their style.

If you're in Austin and looking for some great music, look around for either of these bands. Good, good stuff.