Across the world, the communal experience of gathering with thousands of like minds to celebrate your favorite bands has become an annual rite. Music festivals have become larger and more popular, with no sign of slowing down. And while the largest of the festivals offer much of the same – large grassy fields, mega crowds and hundreds of acts scheduled over a long weekend – the smaller, boutique festivals are making their mark and winning fans by providing something different.
Day for Night is one of those new breed festivals and offers a singularly unique experience of light and sound that marries experimental artists and their large scale installations with a more traditional live music production. The setting is the decommissioned Barbara Jordan post office in downtown Houston, TX. With its unheated, dark, cavernous halls, the old post office is an oddly perfect match for the futuristic interactive experiences. Think Blade Runner and you’ll be partly there.
This year, the festival synched up nicely with the release of Sony’s new a7RIII camera so I loaded up the car and hauled down highway 71 on a cool December Saturday to catch the first act on my schedule – the indie art rock veterans out of Athens Georgia, Of Montreal.
You’ll find a million technical reviews of the a7RIII out there so this won’t be one. Simply put, this is a high resolution workhorse camera for professionals or those seeking to advance their art.
For an event like Day for Night with its dark and dynamic scenes, you need a system that enables creativity and raw performance without the camera getting in the way. Within a single day, I worked in overcast daylight, laser illuminated interiors and rain drenched darkness. From a performance standpoint, never once did the a7RIII let me down and it did it all without a struggle.
Camera systems today are quite sophisticated, with an array of features that gift photographers tools they never thought possible. The downside to all that power is control complexity, and there is a growing chorus of voices clamoring for simplicity. Happily, Sony has already done an excellent job providing the a7RIII user the means to simplify control to an almost analog experience.
With the trinity of exposure (Aperture, Shutter, Sensitivity) all assigned to physical controls, the classic act of exposing a scene is no different today than it was 50 years ago; yet program a modern feature like eye AF to a button on the a7RIII and the camera magically focuses and tracks your subject’s closest eye. On my camera, another custom button is set to toggle silent (electronic) shutter, and yet another allows me to quickly change my drive mode.
Besides the power and control of the a7RIII, the camera impressed with a strong showing in adverse weather conditions during the closing act on the main stage Saturday night. Seminal industrial legends, Nine Inch Nails played for a full hour in cold pouring rain. During the set, I was positioned seventy five feet above the crowd, covered with tarp but exposed on all sides to the horizontal sheets of rain that pummeled the crowd. The a7RIII never stopped and never glitched, even though it was not protected with a rain sleeve.
The energy and emotion of that Nine Inch Nails crowd was a mirror held to the band’s epic performance. Like all great festivals, Day for Night presented scene after scene of interesting subjects that lived not onstage but in the audience.
Of all the weekend’s performances, the one that most embraced the ethos of Day for Night was by Solange. The gorgeous stage production and choreography was a photographer’s dream and yielded several of my favorite images out of the a7RIII. Having never photographed her set before, a friend prompted me on what to expect from the performance – specifically that she does several hair whips during the intro. I set the a7RIII to High Speed+ drive mode which yields 8fps with no viewfinder lag and minimal blackout. I hesitate to give all the credit to the camera but if I’m honest, it made it easier than it should be. That final sentiment sums up the a7RIII – in so many applications, it makes it easier to capture high quality images.
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if you are thinking about or already have switched to the a7RIII for concert or event photography. I’d love to hear your thoughts.