Broken Banjo Photography

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Nick and His Instruments: Anchorage, Alaska

This is Nick.  While on assignment in Anchorage recently, I stayed with an old friend of mine in town.  One night, during my visit, she took me out to dinner at a pizza joint in Anchorage; her friend was there, she said, participating in a ukelele jam.  Pizza and ukeleles?  Yes please!

She introduced me to Nick "The Dream" Weaver, a co-worker of hers.  He was a tall man with a big presence and gentle smile; he was holding a steel resonator ukelele and sitting amongst a dozen and a half other tiny-instrument players. 

In my head I thought, "I want to photograph these people." I had my camera with me.  Why didn't I pull it out and ask?  I don't know.  A resolution for the new year is this: when I see a person that I want to photograph...ask them!

This was the first portrait that I took with my new Pentax K-01, a camera purchased to be a backup to my more professional equipment.  I used just two flashes for the image; at ISO 100, 1/160th of a second, and f/5.0, I was able to remove all ambient light and maintain a satisfying depth of field to keep most instruments in focus.  I arranged some of the instruments behind Nick to maintain interest, and experimented with chair position while he happily entertained us with songs.  The biggest challenge: controlling shadows from all of the guitars to make the lighting look relatively natural.  One speedlight was propped up on a chair camera right, aimed at the white, angled ceiling.  This cast a general diffuse light over the whole scene from above.  Another flash was held by my friend, camera left, and aimed straight at Nick's face. It had to be angled carefully to avoid a shadow cast by Nick on the wall.  Finally, I had to be careful to watch sharp reflections in the shiny instruments (the ukelele, bottom right, is a little hot for my taste) and angled the camera upward to avoid the pea-soup-green carpet in the photo (nothing says "rock star!" like shaggy carpet).
Luckily, I saw Nick again a couple of nights later, and he invited my friend and I over to his house, where he had (proudly) gotten most of his guitars hung up on the wall.  "Sure," I said. "Can I take your portrait with them?"

When we showed up, it was a billion degrees below zero outside (Alaska in December...there are reasons that tourism plummets!), but warm in his house, a space he was still moving into.  There was very little there...a couple of changes of clothes, some cookware, a table, a few chairs...and piles of beautiful instruments.

While arranging the room for the portrait, Nick played endlessly entertaining songs; people like him remind me how many wonderful musicians there are in this world who I will never hear.  Every time I'm at a campfire, wedding, potluck, street corner, and hear a talented person pushing music out through their voice or instrument, I'm simultaneously thrilled at the experience and saddened that relatively few people will ever give them credit for their art.

Luckily, it's the age of the Internet, and people have the option of playing the street corner of the web.  Nick is on ReverbNation and YouTube

This was a photo done for fun, and I'll be sending him a copy.  Most people are quickly willing to sit for a portrait, especially when in the context of their own passions and things they identify with.  Ask to take portraits!  Often you're offering a gift to the subject, not the other way around.  Remember that.

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