This is a new featured column on Live in Limbo, where I will be interviewing some of the most prominent photographers in the concert and music industries in Canada and from around the world.
To kick off this new series, we are interviewing none other than the pioneer of concert blogging in Toronto, Frank Yang, the creator of the iconic Chromewaves.net!
If you are interested in starting your concert photography journey or if you are already well-established and just want to get to know your fellow colleagues just a bit better, then this interview is for you. It’s a fantastic read into the mind of a well respected concert photographer and I hope you enjoy it.
Sean Chin (SC): Thank you so much for taking part in this Frank, let’s get started. Tell us little bit about yourself?
Frank Yang (FY): I’m 36 years old, currently working as a web developer for The Globe & Mail and doing the blogging thing
SC: Where did you grow up and where are you based now?
FY: I’ve basically spent my life in the Greater Toronto Area and have been residing in downtown Toronto for over a decade now. Part of me wants very much to get out, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon
SC: Did you ever take formal photography classes?
FY: Pretty much no. There was a photography component of a graphics class I took in high school where I fondly recall carrying a manual SLR around for a couple weeks, developing a roll of B&W and getting a poorly-exposed contact sheet for my efforts. After I got into digital photography again I took a portraiture class at the AGO which was useful for refining my shooting nude models skills. Otherwise self-taught.
SC: Being the one and only “Chromewaves”, what made you choose that name?
FY: Actually i’m not the one and only – there’s a .org based out of Atlanta whom I think predates me a little. His is a personal site, though, so there’s not a lot of confusion though he did get my name for his Twitter handle… Anyways, I assume we’re both fans of the British band Ride, who wrote the song “Chrome Waves” circa 1992. I chose it because I liked the name, that’s about it.
SC: What is the relationship you have with Canadian indie musicians and artists and why do you feel so passionate about them and documenting their shows?
FY: My relationship with Canadian acts is about the same as my relationship with international acts; I like their music and enjoy shooting bands, and via my site I’ve got a platform for showcasing both, hopefully to some benefit for them and I would like to think they respect what I do. With respect to Canadian and local acts, it can become a stronger relationship simply by virtue of seeing them more frequently and often getting in more on the ground floor of their careers. It’s funny how many acts that are pretty successful nationally or internationally now, I initially saw playing to a handful of people in little bars or cafes or as support acts playing to wholly indifferent audiences.
SC: Who and when was your first “official” gig with a fancy photo pass?
FY: I had to go digging through my archives to figure this one out… even though I got my first DSLR in early 2006, I did the whole “sneak the camera in” thing for a long time. My first “properly accredited” show may have been The Weakerthans at Harbourfront Centre in July 2006, though much more memorable was having full accreditation and access for Lollapalooza 2006 a week later. The amount of huge bands I was able to shoot with my relatively crappy gear that weekend still amazes me.
SC: In three words, how would you describe you style of concert photos?
FY: “As it happened”? I like to take a documentarian sort of approach to shooting, trying to capture the vibe of the show as it was, so if the performer was low-key and static, so too will the shots be. If the lighting was terrible, it’ll show. It’s all part of the atmosphere of what actually happened and while dynamic, well-lit shots are obviously easier to work with, there’s something to be said for taking what you’re given to work with and doing something with it.
SC: How many gigs do you shoot in a month?
FY: Far less than I used to. At my busiest, I could be out 3-4 nights a week covering shows and that includes writing them up as well. Nowadays, I can still have that sort of pace – just last week, thanks to NXNE, I was out six nights out of seven, but it’s also not unusual to me to have a week or two off completely. It’s just that I’ve seen/shot so many of the bands that I like that are touring that I don’t mind missing a show now, particularly as they’re now playing bigger and less enjoyable venues.
SC: Who and when was your most memorable gig to photograph?
FY: Unsurprisingly, it’s a lot the big names that I can’t believe I got permission to shoot. Last week, it was Elvis Costello. In the past few years, My Bloody Valentine, R.E.M., Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Manic Street Preachers. But if I had to pick one, it’d be Neil Young at the Air Canada Centre in December 2008, and not just because I got to go backstage afterwards and meet him. Total fanboy moment.
SC: Who is your dream gig to shoot and why?
FY: The Great White Whale for me and most photogs is the Thin White Duke - David Bowie. He hasn’t officially retired so there’s some hope that he could return to the stage, but in all honestly it’s not likely. More in the realm of possibility – Blur or Pulp. My inner Britpopper would almost certainly lose it.
SC: What inspires you to create such amazing live photos?
FY: Trying to justify the amount of money I’ve spent on gear? Selfishly, because I want to have memories of what I saw and did for when I’m done with all of this, and to take full advantage of the access that I can get these days. But also, on a broader scale, to create a sort of snapshot archive of the live music scene in Toronto over these years that I’ve been active. Certainly not comprehensive, but a sample of the talent that graced our stages.
SC: What gear do you wield?
FY: Canon 5Dmk2 with a 24-70mm f/2.8L and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS as my go-to lenses. I am also rarely without my primes – 28mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.8
SC: If you in a situation when you only had to time to take one lens to shoot a concert, which lens would that be and why?
FY: Assuming it’s club-size, then the 24-70 is the most versatile and best quality. But there’s something to be said for just slapping a single fast prime, say a 50mm or 35mm, and having at it.
SC: Are you a Mac or PC?
FY: Been on Mac for about five years now.
SC: What digital editing tools do you use to touchup your concert photos?
FY: I was introduced to the wonders of Lightroom last Summer and my quality of life has improved dramatically. Don’t love the library interface but the speed of workflow and quality of sharpening and noise reduction is unbeatable. If I were still using my Bridge>ACR>PS workflow, I’d still be editing my SXSW shots from March.
SC: What blogs or sites do you visit the most?
FY: Sad to admit but I mostly exist in a blog bubble these days – I pull a lot of stuff into my RSS reader but plow through it pretty quickly. Even the blogroll on my site is probably horribly out of date. I’m going to defer this one.
SC: You must have a lot of photographer friends as well. Who would you like to give a shout out too?
FY: Locally, seeing people at shows and in the pit remains one of my favourite parts of doing this. Always nice to see any and all of Carrie Musgrave, Julie Lavelle, Kayley Luftig and Amanda Fotes amongst many others I’m sure I’m forgetting out and about.
SC: What is one way you market yourself?
FY: I’m actually really terrible about this. I used to try and post gallery links to fan forums and whatnot, and still do on occasion. You’d think with every band having a Facebook page you can “like” and post to it’d be even easier but then I don’t like getting tonnes of updates and whatnot in my feed… but I will post stuff to last.fm, songkick, twitter, etc. Largely I prefer growth to be organic, which also means slower.
SC: Your thoughts on release forms these days, what you feel they represent, and the relations they create between musicians and journalists?
FY: They’re unfortunate, both that they exist and that they’re perceived as necessary. I think most are either defensive or unenforceable from the artist’s point of view, so the whole thing is a waste of time and stress but I guess they figure if they can intimidate a photographer from selling or distributing the images beyond the narrow parameters of what they’d prefer, then they’ve retained a modicum of control. Personally, I prefer not to sign but if it’s not too onerous I’ll typically play along. I’ve never walked away and only released my copyright once.
SC: What advice do have for concert photographers just starting out?
FY: Do it for the fun of it, because the odds of making any kind of money, let alone a career, out of live music photography are long. Very long. Don’t stress the gear – most modern DSLRs are more than capable enough in low light situations and getting fixated on the equipment side of it can distract you from improving the technique – both shooting and post-processing. That said, you will need a certain degree of specialized gear that the typical photographer may not. It just doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, nor should it be an excuse for not getting useable shots. And shooting big bands is not the be-all end-all; they’re more likely to impress your friends but will almost certainly be more restrictive to shoot. Club shows give you more freedom to try things out and it’s far more exciting to catch bands on their way up, if for nothing else, the “I saw them when” bragging rights. And watch out for mic-face.
SC: How did you become a Polaris Prize jury member?
FY: They asked. At the time, I wasn’t really sure what the Polaris was going to be about but submitting a list of my top five Canadian albums for the given time period wasn’t too difficult so why not. Of course, since then it’s become a much bigger deal so I’m proud of having been part of it from the inaugural edition.
SC: What are the stresses in being an official Polaris Prize jury member?
FY: Being on the Grand Jury, as I was in 2008, was super-stressful because the back and forth of debating the top album of the year with other jurors can get intense and you need to be able to hold your ground. Since then, filling out the ballot and submitting it – which I still take seriously but which comes without any need to be accountable – is a breeze.
SC: Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your insight on concert photography with us today.
You can find Frank on:
And of course, www.chromewaves.net