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Behind the Lens: The Bluecoats!

Back on July 2nd for the MetLife show, I went into my second viewing of “The Bluecoats!” with one shot in mind. It happened at the very end of the show and this was possibly my only opportunity to capture it. Then the rain came about halfway through their performance and I thought my chance to get that photo was blown. The performance was stopped about halfway through as the rain started coming down harder and harder. Suddenly, a miracle. The rain let up for a brief moment, the props were dried off, and after regrouping for a moment the Bluecoats decided to finish out the second half of their show making for one of the most memorable performances I’ve seen over the past few years and of course the picture you see above. 


I’ve been wanting to find a good way to utilize the blog feature on my website for quite a while and I think I’ve finally come up with some good ideas to keep it fun, engaging, and educational. I’m going to start posting little breakdowns of my thought process going into shows, shooting shows, and editing the shows afterwards. I hope that this can be a good educational tool for those of you who are interested in getting into marching arts media as well as anyone who is interested in what I do/how I do it. So without further ado, here is my breakdown of “The Bluecoats!”


When I first saw the announcement for “The Bluecoats!” I knew that not only was this going to be a straight up fun, energetic show, it was also going to be a very special show for me to shoot. Going into it for the first time in Allentown was probably the most excited I’ve been to shoot a drum corps show in the 4 years I’ve been doing this which is pretty crazy to think about. A lot of times I’ll just go into a show and shoot blind but for this one I wanted to have an established shot list. I was able to find a video from the Detroit show so I started looking for angles and shooting lanes. When I’m looking for shots in a drum corps show there are 3 things I’m looking for:

1. What are the big moments?

2. What angle can it be shot from?

3. How do I get to that spot on the field?

After asking myself these questions and searching for these things on the field I can create a path that I follow for the show. So for example, maybe the show starts off with something big on the side 2 35. I can start the show right there before making my way to say the side 1 40 for the next big moment. You create checkpoints which are the big moments you want to capture and then the rest of your photos are the moments in between. On the other side of this, it’s perfectly okay to just go into a show and start shooting with no plan. In fact that’s what I do most of the time when I know I’m going to shoot a corps more than a few times during the season. There’s no wrong way to approach taking photos of a drum corps show, do what works best for you and allows you to get the best photos.


These photos from the MetLife show are some examples of that idea of having checkpoints and a clear, thought out path. All of these were planned out before the show even started so I made an effort to get into the right position in order to capture these moments. I like having checkpoints because it gives me some direction for the night when I’m shooting a show, especially if I only get to see the show once or twice. On the other hand, solely working from checkpoints can cause you to get stuck in a routine capturing the same photos so that’s important to note if you’re going to be shooting for a corps all summer or more than one or two times.


These photos from the San Antonio regional are some examples of not having a path or a plan, this is just me scanning the field and looking for moments to capture. If I’m shooting a show more than one or two times throughout the season, this is what I end up doing 9 times out of 10. It keeps you from getting stuck in a routine and it helps find the little moments that aren’t always noticed. Now that we’ve established how to shoot the show, let’s get into the editing process.

 

The first thing I do when I’m editing photos from a show is decide what color profile I want to use. For the Bluecoats, I decided on Adobe Vivid to really bring out the colors of their uniforms and the props. I had debated between going with a more stylized flat film look for these photos but it doesn’t really fit my style so I stuck with what I do best: sharp, bold, vibrant. This is also just one of those shows that, in my opinion, looks perfect the way it is. It doesn’t need to be stylized or turned into something it’s not so I did my best to just enhance what I’m seeing on the field.


The next step in my process is tone curve. Tone curve and color profile are, in my opinion, the two things that really determine what your photo is going to be. These choices effect every other edit you make so they’re the most important in determining the final product. For my tone curve I do a pretty simple strong contrast curve that allows me to make an image a little punchier without cranking up the contrast slider. After tone curve I move on to the Hue Saturation Luminance (HSL) sliders as well as the Basic sliders.


The HSL sliders effect the colors of your photo. They’re all pretty self explanatory so I won’t go too much into what they do. I don’t typically adjust colors a lot in my drum corps photos although there are some exceptions. The changes I make are very minor and are personal preferences I’ve come to develop over the past few years. I touch basic sliders last because like the name suggests, they effect the photo the least out of all of the LR sliders. I add a tiny bit of contrast to help punch up the colors and then bring down the highlights and raise the shadows to balance out the lighting. Whites get raised a bit and blacks get lowered a bit to add some more contrast without touching the contrast slider any more. The blue and orange of the show compliment each other really well without needing the help of a contrast slider. Next we have the presence sliders: texture, clarity, and dehaze. Texture is a pretty new feature to LR and what it does is essentially bring out or hide the texture in photos. I’ve found a lot of good use in this tool especially when it comes to eliminating noise in photos but for this example it wasn’t really needed. Clarity is the tool that gets abused the most by photographers and I am 100% guilty of this in a lot of my older work. Clarity makes an image grittier but I think it’s used as a crutch pretty often. It’s like most things in life, great in moderation but bad in excess.

The only thing left to do is to crop it the way you want it, sharpen it (I’ll touch on this in a later blog post), and maybe add a little vignetting and you have your finished product. It seems like a lot at first but when you establish a productive workflow all of this comes pretty naturally. LR also has a lot of tools available to make your workflow even faster. Once you nail your edit on one photo you can either save those edits as a preset (another topic I’ll be covering later) and use them whenever you want or you can sync your edit with all of the other photos in your set. 


So there it is, my very first breakdown of the process of taking photos of a drum corps show. There’s honestly so much that goes into this job but it’s what makes it so rewarding and so much fun. I hope to continue making posts like this throughout the year and I hope you’ve learned something by reading this! The Bluecoats have come out swinging this year with a masterpiece of a show and it has been absolutely amazing getting to photograph it. I am so excited to continue watching this show develop and I hope all of you get a chance to see this show multiple times. It’s something special. There’s no other way to put it. 

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