Leo “Bud” Welch has been playing the blues guitar for about 60 years, give or take a decade or so. I photographed him at the Rockwood Music Hall on Allen St. in NYC.
Above: Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens, @1/4 @f11. ISO 400, on manual.
I pretty much made three different views, facilitated by the lenses in my bag. In the age of the smart phone, slicing and dicing a scene, or a personality, or a portrait, in different ways to tell a story remains resolutely the province of the DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses. We’ve all heard it a thousand times. Change your lens, change your perspective.
Above: Nikkor 35mm f1.4 lens, @1/13th, f5.6, ISO 400, on manual.
So, here’s an admission. Everybody in the studio gravitated towards the picture above. And I shot one frame. It was one of those things where I was convinced in my own noodle that the details of his hands would be best rendered with longer glass. So I shot this, and then, mule-headed doofus that I am, I convinced myself of its lack of worth and moved on.
How many times have I counseled photographers to not get so deep into their own heads about the picture they think they want that they trample right over another, better picture that’s right there, barking at their heels like a Westy pup who wants to play? And here I go do exactly that. Dummy. Numnuts squared.
Above: Nikkor 85mm f1.4 lens, @1/80th, f2.2, on manual.
The above worked well also, and was where I was drilling towards. But the 35 version clicked, and has received more attention. So….go figure. Gotta love photography.
Then, I knew I needed something spacious, something that showed elegance, ease, and a sense of place. Leo is one cool, supremely talented dude, and I wanted that sense of a man comfortable in his surroundings. So I pulled back a bit.
Above: Nikkor 35mm f1.4 lens, @1/13th, f6.3, ISO 250, on manual.
All of the above are lit with SB910 Speedlights. The light is appropriate, and I will talk about it in another blog at some point, but the real deal is the carving up of the location with a sense of lens choice. As soon as I walked in, I knew I could work this room, almost like a boxer working a bag. And, when Leo and I talked wardrobe, and I saw the blue suit and the red shoes, I couldn’t wait to have him start picking some chords and getting lost in his music, in that red, red room.
We’re doing a series of these musicians over at our Instagram account.
Luis Paez says
Just Love all of these Joe, but that 35mm shot just reaches out and touches you. Great work as always!
85mm shot is my favourite. Looking at his hands you see years of dedication, practice, skill and passion, that tells a deeper story than a simple wider image of the artist playing…
Would have like to have seen the 35mm shot taken with your 70-200 to see results of compression. It is a great shot as is for sure.
art meripol says
loving the whole series. These are super…as is the lesson. Did a shoot last week I was happy with until I got home and realized there was a cool shot I left behind. Seems that’s always the case. I like the 35 but the 85 too. Admire that last final frame as much as any.
Joe – Would you mind talking briefly about why the lens switch. Invariably, all those shots could have been covered by the 24-70 and your feet since no shot was executed wide open on the primes.
Ross Chevalier says
Brilliant as always Joe. I confess, I like the 35mm shot the best, perhaps it’s because I like to think I’m a guitarist and the fingers are where the magic comes from
Stephen Ratcliff says
Each photo tells it’s own story…..Thanks for sharing the backstory and the specs.
Ken Wood says
Just a question. Couldn’t the 35mm shot have been done with the 24-70 lens? Is there a reason the 35mm lens worked better? Thanks
Masterful work as always. My favorites are the 35’s and the 85 images. Looking forward to reading your post on the lighting!
Ken Wood says
Just a question. Could the 35mm shot have been made with the 24-70 lens? If so was there some advantage to the prime lens?
PS..these are beautiful. I wanna be Joe McNally when I grow up!
Joe McNally says
Hi back….yep, the shot could have easily been made with the 24-70. I needed to shoot some details that day, and was experimenting with DOF, so I mostly used my primes. But yes, the 24-70 would work fine here….Joe
I’m a new reader and I really really like your informative blog! How can you shoot @1/4 and @1/13 without motion blur? Was it dark inside and did you freeze motion with your Speedlights?
Joe McNally says
The key to it is flash. Flash has a quality or component known as flash duration. Very, very fast burst of light, as you can imagine. So while your shutter speed is lengthy, to burn in the scene, the flash becomes your source of stopping power, freezing the subject and rendering them sharp.
Wowz. This is surreal. The two 35mm shots do it for me. But, of course, the ‘hands’ shot is too compelling to not be my #1
Have been in the middle of moving, and am finally getting caught up on bookmarked items and this joy popped up – thank you for sharing the story, the explanations, and most of all the pictures. Love the colors, light, and mood of the last one – Leo’s character and the mood of the room come right through.
Brilliant Photos Joe, My favorrite has to be the 35mm at the tip of the guitar, it tells a story and you can almost hear the music. Thanks for breaking down the images and how you managed to work with the room. I love the diversity of your images there really isn’t anything that you haven’t shot.