Classic Brass Benefit Concert

Spasmodic Dysphonia Benefit

On Sunday, I attended and photographed Classic Brass playing a benefit concert for Spasmodic Dysphonia at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. SD is a voice disorder, and there’s more info here.

Spasmodic Dysphonia Benefit

Classic Brass is a local brass quintet. They play regularly in the area. Warren Bandel, one of the two trumpet players in the group, is a regular member of the pit orchestra for Rochester Civic Theatre’s musicals. He’s been playing during the musicals for many years (since he was in high school, I believe!). He’s usually responsible for those wailing high notes.

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They played a range of music including a couple numbers accompanied by the church pipe organ played by Harold Vetter just filling the building with amazing sound.

Spasmodic Dysphonia Benefit

I’ve been a fan of horns since I was a kid. I still have a stack of Herb Alpert’s LPs somewhere. During my high school band years, I (along with many of our band members) developed a taste for what was then called Jazz-Rock. Bands in that era were Blood, Sweat and Tears (leaning more toward the jazz side) and Chicago (leaning more to the rock side). A short-lived group was headed by uber-trumpeter Bill Chase, named Chase for him. They had a concert at a local high school following a day of trumpet workshops which I think a couple of our band trumpeters attended. If you haven’t heard Bill Chase play – and you like amazing trumpet work – it’s worth looking him up. He and his group sadly died in a plane crash not long after I saw them.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the concert Sunday. Most of the photos I took were before intermission. After intermission, I sat down and mostly just listened!

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We have some truly amazing talent here in our relatively small neck of the woods.

Our First Cruise and the Olympus OM-D E-M10

Stateroom on Enchantment of the Seas

We just returned from our first cruise, a short four night adventure from Florida to the Bahamas. Our ship was Enchantment of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean vessel. We didn’t know what to expect, but it was fun and a different experience from other vacations we’ve taken.

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Being in the latter half of March, we found ourselves on board with many college students on spring break. So, there was that! And, I do believe many had opted for the drink package add-on. But the ship is large enough to find respite in various places.

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It’s sort of a mix of land-based tourist sites. There’s a casino which is not open all the time and is relatively small. There are pools, indoor and outdoor. There’s a rock climbing wall and some sort of bungee bouncing thing. There are shows, live music, karaoke, lounges. And our stateroom, though small, was remarkably quiet.

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We had two ports of call, Coco Cay – owned by the cruise line – and Nassau. At the former, we were tendered to shore in boats that I estimated could hold about 250 people or more. At Nassau, we docked which is certainly more convenient.

Magenta Skies

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you may have seen my post a couple years ago about using the Canon SL1 on a vacation (it’s here). I’ve been on something of a long quest for a travel camera – something that will be easy to cart around when photography is secondary but good enough to allow me to take the photos my head sees.

Cruise Show

The SL1 is a fine little camera. It’s a Canon, so it’s also familiar. Although the ergonomics are different from the higher level cameras (no wheel on the back, for example), it makes sense to me, the menus are pretty similar, and I know what Canon calls various features. One thing it lacks that newer cameras provide is a Wifi connection.

Coco Cay

So, I’ve been looking at other options. The top contenders were Fuji, Sony, and the micro-four-thirds cameras of Olympus and Panasonic. One criterion was cost – I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a “fun” camera. Cost and some other factors ruled out the Fuji. Sony’s A6000 looks like a pretty good contender. I had a chance to hold one and play with it a bit. It feels good in my hands, and the reviews of the focus system are very positive. I was a little annoyed that it doesn’t have a touch screen.

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On the SL1, the touch screen implementation is terrific. The Q screen showing most of the major settings lets you touch and change them, and the playback mode for reviewing your shots works just like we’re used to with our phones.

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One other factor that entered into my thinking was the format. The Sony and the Fujis (and the SL1) are all APS size. While this allows for smaller lenses for the same field of view than my full-frame 5DIII, they are only moderately smaller. The micro-four-thirds cameras, on the other hand, work with much smaller lenses. The field of view is half – so you double the focal length to get the corresponding 35mm lens (e.g. 25mm is equivalent to a 50mm lens) – and the circle the lens needs to cover is so small, the lens can be quite small and light. That was an attractive quality.

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I ended up settling on the Olympus OM-D E-M10. And, indeed, it’s small. Very small. There are little bumps and things to help you grip the camera, but it still feels maybe a bit too small. It’s hard to hold it correctly with my left hand, for instance (palm up, thumb to the left). But it is light and very capable. It has a touch screen, although it is disappointingly much less useful than Canon’s implementation. It has Wifi, although it’s quirky and I’m still not quite sure why it only shows me some of my photos for downloading to my phone.

All the photos here were taken with the Olympus. For a tiny sensor, its low light capability is pretty decent with tolerable noise. I figured out how to set it to back-button focus. Sort of – changing focus modes seems to revert the focus to the shutter button. I also purchased the Sigma 30mm f/2.8 lens. This lens worked very well, is nice and sharp, and focuses quickly. It’s one of Sigma’s new Art series of lenses.

In Port in Nassau

Things I like:

I often want to shoot a series of bracketed photos for HDR especially inside buildings. The Olympus can do this, but it also has an HDR mode. I was about to dismiss that, since I want to process my HDR photos myself where I have full control. But in the HDR menu, there are options to just take bracketed shots and the camera automatically shoots them in continuous mode. So, you set it to take five shots, for instance, and when you press the shutter, you just hold it down and it takes five shots and stops.

There are two good dials to adjust exposure. There’s no fumbling for another button to override a single dial. This is actually a big deal for me and partly what sold me on this camera.

The size and weight is pretty good. The camera is pretty solid feeling, so it’s not uber-light. Mine weighs 14.3 oz without a lens.

The tilt screen is nice. Fully articulated (with a selfie mode!) would be great, but the tilting is useful.

Cake Decorating Contest

Things I don’t like:

The Wifi quirkiness. I figured out that it won’t just process and transfer a RAW file. I always shoot RAW. But it does have RAW processing built-in, and I was able to do that to produce a JPEG that did appear on my phone’s download list. But when I did another photo, it did not appear. Huh? Then another day, I processed a third shot. That appeared on the list but neither of the first two. I swear, those JPG files are still there on the card! I may try shooting RAW+JPEG and see what that does. You can also control the camera from the phone app which seems to work fine. The manual is pretty slim about all of this.

The sometimes-touch screen. It’s sort of a touch screen and sort of not. If I can use it to change settings, I haven’t discovered how. In playback mode, it lets you move around a zoomed image, but there’s no pinch-to-zoom. Instead, there’s a zoom bar you can slide your finger up and down.

The electronic viewfinder. The EVF has some nice features, but it has more negatives than positives for me. The most prominent of those for a vacation is: it is totally useless when wearing polarizing sunglasses. Completely useless. With my glasses, I had a large black cross from the top to the bottom, left side to right side. I had to push my glasses aside to use it, which meant I also lost my correction (prescription glasses). I will sometimes pull up my camera to look at a scene even before I power it on. None of that with an EVF. When I’d take a shot, I’d see a review pop into the viewfinder. That can be nice, but mostly it’s distracting. I can probably turn that feature off.

Battery. Battery life is poor, but that seems to be pretty common among all the current crop of small cameras. I’ve also grown fond of the smart battery technology in my 5DIII. When it says I have 50% remaining, I’ve learned that really honestly means 50% remaining. Here, I’m back to the “it’s full” to “it’s about to run out” sort of display.

Depth-of-field. Small sensor means f/2.8 is more like f/5.6. So, even my “fast” Sigma lens doesn’t provide a very shallow area of focus. I knew that going in, and I figured for the most part, the types of photos I’d be taking with it wouldn’t really require shallow focus. Still, sometimes… And, I have to think more about it, where it’s more second nature for me with the larger camera.

It’s all about trade-offs, I guess. Having a light and capable camera is so much easier to cope with when vacationing. With the light lenses, I’ll be able to pack a couple or three and still have a lightweight kit. By the way, I bought a Thinktank Mirrorless Mover shoulder bag for the Olympus, and it worked great.

Centrum Seating Area

There you are – some shots from our cruise vacation and probably more than you wanted to know about my review of the OM-D E-M10. I definitely need to explore its settings some more and spend some time with the Wifi to understand that better!

The Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing, MN

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Located in the heart of Red Wing, MN is this amazing early 20th century theatre. There was a certain elegance about the performance venues during this era. You’d walk in and immediately feel you were about to experience something special. Very different from the clean lines and blank walls in such places built today.

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I was there to photograph Phoenix Theatre’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but I took the opportunity before the rehearsal to walk around the theatre and capture a few images. My friend Lindsay told me I’d love the theatre and would likely want to take photos of it. She knows me well!

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When I see one of these old theatres, I recall going to such places as a young child to watch movies. In Columbus, we had a couple old theatres where movies had replaced live performances. Through the 1960s, they became rundown and were nearly destined for demolition. But in the mid-1970s, a couple there were saved and renovated, most notably the Ohio Theatre. It’s a rather enormous and grand place that central Ohio is lucky to have.

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The Orpheum in Minneapolis, though smaller than the Ohio, has that similar feel to it. So, in Red Wing, here is another of these theatres. Smaller, as you’d expect to find in a small town, it is still a remarkable place.

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I shot these photos all hand-held using an HDR technique I particularly like for architectural interiors like this. I was pretty close to my limit for holding the camera steady unaided, but it seemed to work okay. I was a little torn regarding how saturated to keep the colors. The color, especially the walls and the painting above the stage, provide some of the feel of the place. But for this last photo, I decided to give it a desaturated, “older” treatment, which I must say I kind of like!

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in Red Wing

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This week, I had the opportunity to shoot at a new venue for me, the Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing, MN. Phoenix Theatre is producing Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof this weekend.

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This is a marvelous play, an American classic, and really a must-see for theatre-goers. I remember RCT producing it about a decade or so ago, back before I was regularly photographing their shows.

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Costumes were designed by Sara Shannon and Dace Miller. The simple, but elegant and effective, set was designed by Jeff Chalmers and Rob Meyer. Russell Johnson provided the lighting and sound with Calvin Harper. Props were handled by Jamie Johnholtz. Make-up and hair are being done by Paul O’Connell and Corinne Redman. The show was directed by Julie Martin and stage managed by Kim Chalmers.

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My good friends Lindsay Herr and Angus Russell are portraying Maggie and Brick. One of the things I remember from the RCT production was the dialog – especially Maggie’s (aka Cat) constant rambling through most of Act 1. It’s certainly a dialog-driven show, as I think Williams’ plays tend to be. That dialog reveals layers that give dimensions to the characters. You walk out at the end still questioning who they really are.

It’s uncommon and counter to the way we seem to pigeon-hole people, both in fiction and real life.

Other players are Jerry LaCroix, Neil LaHammer, Micheal Lupella, David Oakes, Min Martin Oakes, and Marcy Watzl.

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From a photography point of view, this was a nice change from my recent theatre shoots – there was generally plenty of light! There was a single set – the couple’s bedroom. Lighting in the Sheldon Theatre is apparently all LED lights now. These can pose some challenges, but there weren’t the color extremes that make capturing photos a little more difficult.

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There were many scenes with two or three actors and some good opportunities to find an angle and focal length to capture an emotional moment.

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When several folks are on stage, the goal is figuring out who are interacting and how to collect all of them together in a shot that shows that interaction.

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I generally take several shots as they are performing and speaking. I’ll move a little, looking at their physical relationship and backgrounds, and watch where they move, and who is talking.

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When the blocking has them all spread out, I will often grab a wide shot or two. While I prefer the more intimate photos, there’s some value to these larger shots. We see – and document – more of the set, and there’s sometimes a feeling there that is just different from what a close-up provides.

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But, yeah, I do like close shots!

The show continues its run tonight and tomorrow afternoon. We’ll be there for the final performance tomorrow. It’s well worth your time. And, the Sheldon Theatre is a beautiful performance space with an early 20th century design. It reminds me of a handful of other theatres from that remarkable era. That it exists in the small town of Red Wing is pretty amazing.

I’ll have another post later with a few shots of the Sheldon. Watch for that one soon!

RCT’s Cabaret

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It’s theatre season, I guess! And, for the second show I’ve shot in a row, another deep – or maybe heavy is the right word – show. Rochester Civic Theatre’s spring musical is Cabaret.

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Here’s another stage show which I’d never seen before this production. I did see the Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey movie many years ago, too long ago to remember much.

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Cabaret is set in Germany between world wars when Naziism was on its rise spreading its fascist themes and, of course, producing the Holocaust. By intermission, this ugly truth will clearly affect the story.

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Photographing this show was a lesson in extremes. We had extreme low light throughout much of the show. We had the extreme brightness of the spots. We had the extremes of color – costumes, gel’d lights. We had big musical dance numbers with the Emcee’s antics. And underlying stories of hate and intolerance and living life in the consuming Cabaret.

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In other words, lot of potential to tap!

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The photos I’m posting include some from the musical dance numbers as well as a few from the quieter moments. I tried to capture some of the angst and emotion of those scenes.

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We attended the opening last night. Watching the show as a regular audience member allows me to pay more attention to the story and what’s going on. It’s pretty amazing how well the show holds up almost 50 years after its Broadway debut.

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By the end of the show, I was struck by the incredible talent we have here – on the stage, in the orchestra, behind the scenes.

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And, opening night draws in many of our theatre friends. So, before the show, intermission, and after the show are fun times to catch up with everyone.

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The show is selling well, too, which is great.

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The spring musical is also the kick-off for the next season at RCT.

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The 2015-2016 season was announced recently, and season tickets and memberships are now available – and at a discount for the run of this show.

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More shows next season will probably keep me pretty busy. And, entertained!

The Crucible at Riverland

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A couple weeks ago, I shot show photos for The Crucible at Riverland Community College in Austin, MN. It was written in the 1950s by Arthur Miller and centers on story surrounding the Salem witch trials.

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That it was written in the heart of the McCarthyism era is not difficult to see. As with most of my show photo work, I only caught bits and pieces of the dialog, but the symbolism is pretty clear.

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The director, Lindsey, mentioned the generally low light level before the rehearsal – and promised the next show would be much brighter! Ha! But lower light levels can mean a lot more interesting and dramatic light, and that was the case for much of this show.

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I’m fortunate to have a camera that handles the low light well. Shooting lots of theatre, that is one technical aspect of a camera that I rely on. Especially when shooting a live rehearsal, there aren’t any opportunities to stop and ask for the light to be bumped. Something really more challenging than the level is the mottled light we see sometimes as in the “night” shot above. Faces can go into one of the small dark areas and lose all of the little light that’s there. I’ll usually shoot a few photos and watch for a little movement out of the dark to grab the (hopefully) good shot.

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There were other parts of the show in which the lighting was pretty good.

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I also didn’t have spots to deal with. There were some hotter areas, but nothing unusual or difficult to handle.

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But there were lots of gels – which I like. They help set a mood, which is key for the performance but helps with the still photos, too.

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Still, it’s about finding the angles and the compositions that communicate something of the story and something of the feel of what’s happening on stage.

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I believe they are now on to rehearsals for their next show. Meanwhile, back here in Rochester, I’ll be heading over to the Civic Theatre to shoot Cabaret this week. It opens Friday – and tickets are going fast! If you make it to opening night, I’ll see you there!

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