Pinhook, Light

Today is a holiday for most US folks today (not me, sadly, I’m off to work in a few) so there is a little more space in the day for a post with a paragraph or 11. So, I’m going to talk about light, specifically light at the Pinhook.

First a disclaimer about how I shoot: I shoot in JPG; almost exclusively in 400ISO; almost always in manual (but with autofocus) and the with the lens wide open or close to it (usually my battered and beloved 50mm f1.4); I crop in camera; I’m persnickety about getting white balance right in camera, heck, I’m persnickety about getting everything right in camera; I post process as little as possible; I don’t own photoshop or even lightroom, the most I’ll do is use Picasa to increase the depth/darkness of a shadow a smidge here or there and crop every now and then.

So what I say doesn’t go for everyone. But I shoot Pinhook alot, and I have opinions.

Since this Des Ark show, I’ve been in a recurring conversation with the good people at The Pinhook (and other folks) about the stage lights at that fine bar.

So I just want to say, simply. I love the lights there. But what I love about them the most is that they invite participation, invite familiarity. Let me explain.

It’s a uncomplicated setup: three cans (stage R to L: blue, white, red) and a few backlights (that mainly hit the black backdrops behind the stage). The light options are: backlight only, cans only, cans & backlight. Without the cans on, you just set the white balance to Tungsten -2 for the night, set a low shutter speed, love the abstract (see here). Without the backlight on the light from the cans falls off aggressively fast into the black backdrops. With the backlight everything lingers a little more. And that light from the cans, it’s tricky.

The lights don’t really overlap, or, more accurately they overlap but don’t blend into one seamless color. And, more than anywhere or anything else, I have The Pinhook to thank for really teaching me about white balance, its been the single best improvement in my photography in the last year. And it is such a great place to learn because almost every step on the stage needs a different white balance: you’ll need 2500K/G9 filter setting for that one spot, 2900K/G1 for another, over there it’s cloudy -3, on the other side you’ll want a flash white balance -3 (but not with flash, never that), there you’ll want shade -3, there is 4300/M6, the drummer in the back is in beautiful sunny +3 (seriously, drummers at Pinhook who set up at the back of the stage in the traditional drummer spot are all gorgeous, washed in a stunning light) .

It isn’t perfect: it’s hard to get balance that isn’t tinted when people are sitting on stage particularly if it is a show like that Des Ark show where I just sat in one spot for most of the show (I was too amazed the whole show took place *on* the stage to move around much); I’d love to be able to tilt the cans down, just a tad, when people are sitting on stage; and there is this one place where folks sometimes set up on stage wherein most of the light in camera is actually backlight off the video games from most angles and non-existent from others (roughly where The Moaners had the drum kit).

But those sweet spots, golly they are gorgeous.

And the aggressiveness of the light from the cans allows me to revel in the light differences. The photo on this post is the perfect case. That light: hard, three different white balances on one person, light falling off fast (no backlight). It is something that I can’t get elsewhere with other fancier light systems.

And there is where the participation comes in, because most of those spots, those specific white balances I listed, only work if the person on stage is in a very specific light and I’m in a certain spot, holding the camera just so. I watch a Pinhook show and I want to move, to participate, and engage. It pushes me to pay attention to the movements in the music, to how the band moves, to where I’m standing, to (and pardon in advance for how this sounds) the color story I want the photo to tell.

Shooting at the Pinhook I feel more a part of the show, feel like an active interpreter of the show in a way I just don’t elsewhere. And it is no accident that I keep going back to the Pinhook again and again because the booking is excellent and all the folks there are good people, because there are still those two places on the stage I can’t quite figure out, and because, at this point, the light map of the stage I carry in my head feels like an old friend.

Like the bar itself.

And that right there is really why I adore the light at Pinhook: it fits the bar to a T. Varied, overlapping but never blending; a mix that keeps its sharp edges, its variety. Familiar in a way that still holds unanswered questions. Participatory. If I was a better poet (or a poet, at all, actually) I’d have words for the beauty of how the Pinhook and its stage lights are perfectly suited.

But I’m a photographer instead, so what I can say is: it’s easy to say the lights at Pinhook are awful but it’s wrong, really, what they are is inviting. Inviting me to come back again and again until the light map of the stage in my head is as comfortable as a seat at the bar and a good conversation (or a good book).

Pinhook feels like it looks in my photos, and I’m so glad I get to shoot there, to learn there. Exactly as glad as I am to have it as one of my locals.

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