More photos at end of article
Pictures and text by Melanie Stangl
Four months ago, on a January evening, I made my way down East Carson Street to Club Café, battling bone-chilling winds and icy sidewalks for several blocks. The occasion? Local nonprofit arts organization Captured :: Pittsburgh’s third annual Concert Photography Meet-Up. Music photographers of all experience levels were invited for a night of thoughtful conversation, helpful tips, and chances to practice with actual performers onstage. This unique event—equal parts discussion, workshop, and concert—brought a diverse crowd out on a weeknight in January, and proved that the third time really is the charm.
This year’s musical lineup featured singer-songwriter Kynzie Webb as the opener and Jay Wiley (of Pittsburgh rock band The Hawkeyes) as the headliner. The format was consistent with previous meet-ups. This year, however, Captured upped the ante. In addition to livestreaming the event for the first time, they collaborated with Ohio-based photography company The Pixel Connection to offer attendees the opportunity to try out a wide variety of different cameras and lenses. Photographers could also view their shots on a laptop screen, to see the results right away. Friendly, helpful Pixel staff manned a table in the back of the venue, assisting guests with questions and helping them set up the borrowed equipment. These tweaks to the formula were well-conceived and well-executed, adding more practical value to the event. Throughout the night I saw people going back, switching out cameras or lenses, and seeming excited to experience these options firsthand.
I was struck by the wide ranges of ages and backgrounds present. Concert photography isn’t just a young person’s game. The emotional pull of music, the excitement of seeing it live, and the joy of capturing a killer moment onstage has a broad appeal, and it was great to see that personified in the decently crowded room.
Captured’s co-founder/COO Adam Thomas kicked things off with a quip: “Welcome to Open Stage! That was a musician joke…glad all three of you got it.” Photographer/Sound Scene alum Whitney Lerch joined him onstage shortly afterwards for a conversation about the nuances and challenges specific to concert photography. It was straightforward enough to be welcoming to beginners, while also containing useful suggestions for those with more experience.
Previous sessions focused more on technical aspects or on photo pit etiquette, but this year incorporated both, with an emphasis on overall strategy and approach. Thomas and Lerch highlighted the importance of purposeful shooting, as opposed to a rapid-fire “spray-and-pray” method—taking a lot of photos quickly in the hopes that a fraction of them will turn out well. (Thomas even suggested imposing that limit with smaller memory cards or vintage equipment.) Researching the venue, finding out where you’re allowed to be and for how long, bringing multiple lenses if you have them, and remembering the basics of framing and composition were all key points made. Just “winging it” makes the chaos more chaotic and the great shots harder to come by.
That said, “great” can encompass things such as grain, getting the crowd in frame, and blur to convey movement. Thomas prioritized authenticity over crisp, close-up perfection: “Be a fan while you’re there, and let that inform what you’re doing.” Lerch agreed, adding that you can anticipate big, photo-worthy moments by listening to the music and being ready to snap when the tension breaks, the cymbals crash, or the singer hits that high note.
Factors such as shifting lighting, constant movement of both musicians and crowds, widely varying venues, and time constraints for larger acts all pose challenges. However, in Lerch’s words, “Challenges can make images fantastic.” That mic stand could be an obstruction, or an excellent framing tool. That low-light graininess could be annoying, or it could match the grittiness of the music and the band’s expressions. Before thanking their sponsors, Thomas wrapped things up by saying: “Don’t stop shooting once you’re out of the pit, because the story of that show isn’t over.”
Next was the practical portion of the evening. The crowd was divided into groups to take turns at the front of the venue while Kynzie Webb got set up. An up-and-coming singer-songwriter, twenty-year-old Webb’s strong, gorgeous voice captivated the room with original tracks and covers. She had a conversational stage presence, weaving relevant anecdotes between her songs with both conviction and ease.
Webb noted that “this is the first time I’ve had this many cameras in my face,” as the crowd comprised entirely of photographers snapped away. She showed her range with heartfelt originals and diverse cover picks, including Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” Lord Huron’s “The Night We Met,” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon.” Midway through her set, Thomas and Lerch brought up spray cans of smoke and periodically sprayed them behind her. This was an excellent move—it allowed Club Café’s red and blue stage lights to be briefly suspended in shifting smoke clouds, making for some cool, atmospheric shots. Much like last year, Webb could then use the pictures that were posted for her own promotional purposes (a condition agreed to upon purchasing the ticket.)
Jay Wiley took the stage next. I had only ever seen him in brief snippets during Randy Baumann’s Rambles, so I was looking forward to catching a full set. The anticipation was warranted. His powerful voice had just the right balance of soul, grit, and slight twang, and he paired it with impressive guitar chops. On top of that, he was such an entertaining, dynamic presence onstage. He cracked jokes and moved around, even running a lap around the stage and facetiously calling for a “mosh pit!” during a raucous guitar breakdown. It was a lot of fun to watch. He injected fresh energy into the crowd—their enjoyment and engagement was obvious as they moved around the room (and around each other) to get the best snaps.
Wiley played both solo songs and Hawkeyes material (including a new-at-the-time track, “Stone’s Throw Away,” the first single from their upcoming album on Misra Records.) He remarked on the highly individual nature of both solo musicians and photographers, as well as the drive it takes to make those careers happen. That is, when he wasn’t making quips like “Playing without a tuner…how punk is that?” quickly followed by, “I’m playing a Gibson, that’s not punk at all.” Or, “I forgot I had a hat on…next phase of shooting! ‘How to Shoot Hat Hair’ by Jay Wiley of The Hawkeyes.”
But at the end of his (killer) set, he took the time to genuinely thank the photographers in the room, noting that what we do is “more important than ever” in the age of social media. His sincerity, silliness, and skill made him the perfect choice to play this event. It was a great way to wrap up the night.
When talking about the independent streak in photographers and musicians, Wiley had this to say about not getting too much in your own head: “You have to go outside your box…and when you come back, you’ll see stuff you never even noticed before.”
If I had to guess, that was the case for those who braved the cold to be there on January 10th. I know it was for me.
You can keep up with Captured :: Pittsburgh here to be the first to know about their upcoming events. (Follow them on Instagram too.) Kynzie Webb is still working on an artist profile, but you can find Jay Wiley here and The Hawkeyes here.