More photos at end of article
Photos and text by Melanie Stangl
Non-profit organization Captured :: Pittsburgh has been a strong advocate for local photographers since its founding in 2016. They aim to make photography accessible to all who are interested, and to celebrate our dynamic city at the same time. It makes sense, then, that they’d look to our thriving music scene for opportunities to do just that. Their second-ever Concert Photography Meet-Up took place at Club Café on January 24th—and Sound Scene Express was a part of it.
This unique event was part discussion, part concert, and part workshop. Our very own Whitney Lerch joined Captured Founder/COO Adam Thomas onstage for a while before the musicians’ sets began. Their conversation topics ranged from technical advice to venue etiquette to what draws people to this field in the first place. Lerch called it “an emotionally-based habit,” while Thomas said, “Even though you have these devices in your hands, ultimately you’re telling a story…telling how it felt to be there at a show.”
The talk had an encouraging mix of practical tips (for both beginners and more experienced photographers) and thoughtful dialogue about how to approach concert photography. Lerch made some excellent points about the different reasons you may have for photographing a show (shooting for an artist, a label, a publication, etc.) These distinctions come with slightly different focuses, she noted, but ultimately, “You’re there to bring an artist to a community.” Thomas, meanwhile, encouraged attendees to embrace the technical “imperfections” and challenges that come with shooting in fast-paced, low-light environments: “Grain can be very rock n’ roll.” He summarized, “Sometimes those ‘mistakes’ will be the coolest things you do.”
The crowd was attentive and respectful, listening closely. I was pleased with its diversity: old and young, men and women, those with huge/high-end lenses and those with more modest ones (like me.) It was heartening and surprising to see just how many people shared this passion.
After all the talk, it was time for some action. Thomas and his Captured co-founder, Jason Fait, introduced the next part of the night: two live musical performances that would serve as practice for the attendees. They intentionally started the show with an up-and-comer, Gianna Rockoff, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh. The pictures that photographers would share on social media would serve as promotion for Rockoff, who could then use them for her social media as well (a condition agreed to upon purchase of the ticket.)
It was a mutually beneficial situation. In more ways than one—Rockoff’s voice was gorgeous and powerful, truly something special. She and her guitarist played through a strong set of covers (including “Zombie” by The Cranberries and “What’s Up” by 4 Non-Blondes), while the audience moved around the room, constantly snapping away. It was almost more of a challenge to shoot with a crowd made entirely of photographers—often you were either in someone else’s shot, or someone else was in yours. There was lots of shuffling and backwards glancing and muttered “excuse me’s” and “I’m sorry’s.”
This pattern continued once the next act, singer-songwriter JD Eicher, took the stage. Eicher is a Youngstown, Ohio native, but Pittsburgh has taken him in as one of our own. He and Lerch had met at a show where he was playing and she was shooting, so his participation here made perfect sense. Joined by percussionist Dylan Kollat, his set was soulful, energetic, and damn good. He was an expert at between-song banter, sprinkling in several jokes (after the second song: “That’s the only audio for tonight…the rest is just gonna be action shots,”), dramatic poses, and photography tips from an artist’s perspective. He advised leaving space on the sides of photos to allow for cropping (“it’s helpful”), including the crowd in your shots sometimes, and told us what artists tend to prioritize—do they look cool in the photo? “We’re all vain monsters,” he quipped.
The night ended with an impromptu duet between Eicher and Rockoff. They covered a classic, Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah,” and did so beautifully. While there had been some sporadic chit-chat during songs earlier in the night, everyone was quiet for this one. It was a fitting conclusion. A reminder of what draws so many to this field, of what made an event like this possible in the first place: the arresting, emotional power of live music.
Sound Scene Express is proud to have been a part of this meet-up. Keep up with Captured :: Pittsburgh here, so you don’t miss their regular photography workshops, exhibitions, and other community events. You can also follow them on Instagram.