London-based Rock and Roll photographer Jason Miller visited to discuss shooting rock and roll shows. He broke down how he goes about it, and how crazy it is to shoot a show in ten minutes flat.
Our conversation began with a discussion of an incredible photo from The Clash, which was featured on their seminal album London Calling, shot by Pennie Smith (who didn’t want to publish the image). Then we discussed a punk rock photo by the legendary New York photographer Godlis.
Once we got into Jason’s photographer, we had a wide variety of shows to discuss, including:
- The Dropkick Murphys
- Backyard Babies
- Sinead O’Conner
A full transcript of the show with photos embedded is below.
You can find Jason via his site rocknrollcocktail.com (and don’t miss his books there) as well as on Instagram (and everywhere else as @jasonmillerca). You may also want to check out Episode 2.7: Rock’s Greatest Photos!
Thanks for listening to the Show Me Podcast with Geoff Livingston. More shows, sponsorship and donation information are available at ShowMePodcast.com.
Transcript of Episode 2.9: Photographing Rock Shows with Jason Miller
Geoff Livingston: Hi everybody. It’s Geoff Livingston and welcome to the Show Me Podcast. I have an old friend on today who’s also, yes, another fantastic photographer for you to enjoy his work. His name is Jason Miller. Jason, how are you, sir?
Jason Miller: Geoff, good to see you, my friend. Thanks for having me on. What a pleasure to see you.
Geoff Livingston: Yeah, man. So most of my photo buddies I’ve met through photography. You’re kind of not one of those guys. You and I met through social media back when it was really cool, about 10, 15 years ago. When blogging was happening and actually, you don’t know this, but you’re the guy that got me into Nikon’s and I still shoot a Nikon D810 and a D850. I also have this little Fuji for my muralists but yeah, man. It’s because of you that I actually checked out full frame Nikon’s and I know that you still shoot with them. I think you’re on a Z7 now.
Jason Miller: Yeah.
Geoff Livingston: So thank you for that. They’re great cameras.
Jason Miller: I fell in to that when I first got into photography. I just went to the store and I didn’t even know Canon and Nikon. I just thought Nikon was a cool name. It was the first camera I saw. I picked it up. It was a D3200, it was years ago. But I just fell into it. But I’m now… if you want to talk about brand love, man, I am a devotee to Nikon. They have treated me so well.
Geoff Livingston: Yeah, you are as loyal as they could be. Normally, we don’t talk shop, we talk awesome photography and I’m so delighted to have you because of that. And one of my favorite things to do is to start off the conversation by talking about other photos and you had suggested a couple of different paths we could with that.
The first was this incredible photo from The Clash, which was featured on their seminal album London Calling. I should preface this conversation for the audience real quick. Jason photographs a ton of rock bands. He’s photographed some incredible people and if you’re not following him on Instagram and Facebook and all the other fine places on line, then you’re making a tragic mistake.
Jason, tell me about this photo cover for The Clash.
Jason Miller: So it is 1979, photographer was Pennie Smith and everyone, you instantly recognize this image. It’s the bass player from The Clash and he’s smashing his bass guitar and the photo was slightly out of focus because if you read the story, it’s a great story.
Penny the photographer said that she was backing away so she didn’t get hit with the bass guitar and she didn’t want to use this image. She was ready to scrap the image because it was out of focus, but someone saw it and said, “Oh my God, the band will love this. We should make this the cover.” And it became this iconic photo.
It’s rated as one of the greatest album covers of all time. It was kind of a mistake and there’s a couple of really great blogs about the story behind the photo where Penny talks about it. But it’s interesting that she doesn’t really like to talk about the image so much. I guess if you became so big, it was pretty much all she was known for and she was on tour with The Clash at this time, but London-based photographer, remarkable image.
They have London Calling, The Clash exhibition at the London Museum right now. Since they closed it down, I got in the day before they shut down everything in London, but they made it virtual because I think it was ending sometime in the next couple of weeks.
So if you want to check it out, you can see the behind the story and all the cool stuff about London Calling virtually. Yeah, it’s a hell of a photo but it’s just… some of my greatest photos, I think some of my best photos are mistakes and I’ve sometimes… I wanted to scrap this one picture I took at a White Snake concert and I put it up as a joke and everybody started commenting on how great it was.
I kind of looked at it from a different angle and now I have that new perspective, like even mistakes can be fantastic.
Geoff Livingston: Right, and I like when you were talking about the sharpness factor because I think one of the things that I’ve seen over the past few years or five, six years, really is how everybody talks about sharpness. Everything’s got to be sharp. Street photography, in particular, no it doesn’t have to be. It really has to convey some human element and I think what you’re talking about speaks to that a lot.
Jason Miller: Yeah, especially in concert photography, we’re dealing with a lot of noise and high ISO’s, so I always used to try to get the perfect shot and the perfect sharpness. Now, I go into each concert I do, before the lockdown I was doing a couple a week, I just look for that one shot. That one shot that captures the moment better than anything. And if it’s in focus, great. If it’s slightly out of focus, I don’t care. Does it convey something magical? Is it unique?
It’s shifted my mindset differently, away from where I used to look for perfection. Now, you’re trying to evoke emotion, trying to get a reaction. So that’s definitely changed my mindset and a lot of that’s straight from The Clash.
Geoff Livingston: Very cool, very cool. So let’s talk about Joey Ramone here. I know you told me the name of this photographer, a famous photographer from New York in the ’70s, tell us about this person. Yeah, okay.
Jason Miller: I have the book here by Godlis the way. I love this book so much. He actually did a Kickstarter and a little message in there-
Geoff Livingston: Oh cool, you met him.
Jason Miller: This guy’s legendary. So he basically just started hanging out at CBGB’s in the mid-seventies when it was starting to pop and he just walked in with this camera. He didn’t need any press credentials or photo pass, he was just there and he took a street photography approach to capturing the magic that was of the punk scene that was being born. From Joey Ramone, this epic photo of him standing outside CBGB’s to Debbie Harry and Patti Smith and David Byrne and Richard Hell.
Again, these are photos that were taken on not the best professional camera in the world. All, of course, film. Lots of it black and white. But he was capturing things as he saw them, as they happened, in the moment. And everyone… I get chills thinking about it. Every one of his images, you just look at it and you see, “Yeah, this is a snapshot of time.”
Geoff Livingston: History.
Jason Miller: And me being such a music fan and loving all these bands. I was born in ’74, so I’m playing catch up. I’m still discovering all these great little gems from punk rock days. But yeah, he did a Kickstarter project for this book and I actually borrowed his Kickstarter plan for my book that I launched and kind of was inspired by that.
So I love the guy. I think he does such cool… he’s very modest. I’d never met him before, but he seems to be very modest, very cool. I think he did almost everything himself for this book and it’s just a remarkable story.
If it wasn’t for that Kickstarter campaign, I don’t think these photos would have seen the light of day in this story format that he puts them in. So it’s a hell of a story.
Geoff Livingston: Very cool. We will put a link to the book as well as your book, of course, too and The Clash exhibit in the story notes.
Let’s talk about your work now. I think we’re warmed up and I wanted to start off with the Dropkick Murphys because they’re one of my favorite, favorite bands. I’ve seen them live. The first photo feature the lead singer. Again, we were talking about sharpness. You can see his hands I motion. You can see him about ready to kill out a killer Dropkick scream. Tell us about what it’s like photographing the Dropkicks.
Jason Miller: So that was at a place called the Alexandra Palace. They call it the Ally Pally up in north. Way up north, not easy to get to. But about a 10,000 seat capacity. I think they had about six or 7,000 people in there. But such a cool spot. It’s a huge venue, right?
So the photo pit is substantially big. But you walk in there and I had a Z6 and a Z7 and you never really know, are they going to be jumping in front of the stage, are they going to be in the back? So you have one long lens, one short lens, one wide angle, one zoom and you try to make the best of it. But there was probably five or six other photographers and they split us up on each side of the pit.
Jason Miller: So we had to pick a side and I didn’t know where the hell they were going, so I got on my side and sure enough, here comes the singer and he jumps and he basically kind of pushes me out of the way, nicely. And he’s hanging over the side and I just pick up my wide angle, and with the mirror, you’re not supposed to do this, right?
But I’ve got to get this shot. I’m 5′ 6″. I held it up, dropped the camera back and I just snapped, one shot, and I got this epic shot of him going in. But yeah, it was so much energy and then you’re trying to… there’s 12 people in the band or whatever and they’re all running around going crazy and you’re trying to capture that and you have such a gap between the crowd and the stage, you’re trying to bring a little bit interaction to show the energy and the crowd and how excited everybody is.
So that was a really, really fun shoot, but those guys, man. They were all over the place.
Geoff Livingston: They’re crazy, aren’t they?
Jason Miller: Incredibly difficult to get the shots that I really needed to tell a story.
Geoff Livingston: When I saw them here in D.C., I remember that they had a kid that was in the front. Somebody brought their six year old kid and the guy’s like, the lead singer, I forget his name, but he’s like, “Ah, what are you doing here with a kid? Come here, kid.” And they put him up and they sit him right on the drum kit and he just sat there the whole time and watched the whole show from the drum kit. It was insane.
Jason Miller: Yeah, it was my first time seeing them. They were absolutely spectacular. But I had to see them once, and I think they’re more popular now than they’ve ever been, rightfully so. Still making great music. But those images for some reason, I guess there was… something happened there, I guess there were a couple of photographers who were supposed to be there that weren’t there, but yeah, I got picked up by Irish Times.
Geoff Livingston: Great. Look at this one of the guitarist, man. He’s awesome. Look at the ink on his hands, he’s screaming. It’s awesome.
Jason Miller: Yeah, I got a couple of shots in the latest Viva La Rock, which is a magazine here in the U.K., but helluva show and so much energy. But man, I do prefer having a photo pit, but I’ve got to tell you, I do love getting the crowd and getting those smaller, intimate crowds. Especially the punk shows where the band is one with the audience, but they’re incredibly to do it right. You’ve really got your beard out for that one.
Geoff Livingston: I’m looking at this one show pic from that particular event where you have the audience, all their arms are up and there he is singing. I guess he’s in the pit with them. And how hard is that? Protecting your equipment while you’re photographing that? I must imagine you must be a little bit afraid that you might drop a camera?
Jason Miller: No, to be honest with you, those Nikons especially the mirror-less series, they’re built to take the beating. These are cameras that go into war zones for God’s sake. So my Z6 is covered in fake blood from the Gore Show, because I got blasted right in the face with fake blood. So my cameras take a beating. It’s more of a… I prefer to protect the lenses as much as I can, but I don’t use lens hoods, never use lens hoods. Just think they’re bulky and they get in my way.
But I use UV protector and I’ve taken a few hits. I’ve gotten knocked by guitars and funny enough though, there was one show, there was Pete Doherty is notorious for this, right?
I wasn’t at the show but it was in North London, a couple of years ago at Kentish Town Forum, and every once in while, you’ll be in the pit and the band will come over and they’ll ask… they’ll try and get your camera. Either they’re going to try to take some pictures of the band or take some pictures of the crowd. What’s that?
There was one band… I think it was You Me at Six grabbed the girl’s camera next to me and just took some pictures of the band. Steve [grabs a camera and takes a picture of a big selfie of himself. But Pete Doherty from The Libertines grabs someone’s camera with the flash pod on, we’re not even supposed to have the flash in the pit and just chucked it in the air.
Someone got a picture of this camera spinning head over foot in mid-air and the entire balcony of the audience is going…
This is probably about a $4,000 camera. Somebody caught it.
Geoff Livingston: Right. It’s a lot of money, man. I’d freak.
Jason Miller: Somebody caught it.
Geoff Livingston: Thank God, right?
Jason Miller: Somebody caught it and brought it back to the photographer. But my point is, back to your question, it’s like, I think about this a lot and I think if you have the opportunity to get that shot and you don’t go for it, you’re going to spend the rest of the night just pissed at yourself. So you just have to go for it, no matter what happens. I’ve dropped my cameras, I’ve banged cameras, I’ve cracked lenses, just you grab something, you hold on and you go in for it. And sometimes it’ works out, that one it worked out perfectly. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes your settings are all messed up.
But the good thing was, they kept jumping down. They were so in the crowd, so they’re so interactive with the crowd. We get the first three songs, right? They were so interactive with the crowd-
Geoff Livingston: Like this one where he’s jumping into the crowd. That’s insane, right?
Jason Miller: It’s out of focus, right?
Geoff Livingston: Yeah, but you get the whole motion, right?
Jason Miller: So movement. Look at that… that’s a widening up to a 14 millimeter lens, man. His foot almost, I could feel his foot near my hair, it was fun.
Geoff Livingston: Hey, at least you still have hair, man.
Jason Miller: I’m in lockdown mode, so I’m growing my hair out and I haven’t shaved in two months.
Geoff Livingston: So almost lost a camera on that. Tell me about… one of the things that I thought was interesting was the picture of the guy with the accordion, obviously, and the Dropkicks are a little bit weird with all the different crazy instruments they bring into it. Very Celtic in their own nature.
But is it hard shifting around and hitting all these different elements like that? This has to be one of the most challenging concerts to shoot.
Jason Miller: Yeah so, like I said. We generally get the first three songs, no flash. Can’t use flash. So pushing some IOS’s a lot of times. And you have to figure out how to tell a story and capture all this madness in about, generally about nine, 10 minutes. But it goes by super quick.
So I usually only bring one camera. I think if you can’t get the story in one camera, that’s… but for a show that big where you have that much room, I carry two, so Z6, Z7. And you have to snap everybody. And you even have to get the drummer. The drummer’s always the problematic one because they’re way in the back and usually hidden.
Geoff Livingston: Dark.
Jason Miller: Yeah, it’s the challenge is how do you find that balance between capturing every band member and then capturing the moments where they come together and then do some individual portraits sort of style shots as well, but then work in the crowd? So there’s so much to think about and lots of… you go to YouTube and you see if there’s footage from the shows from the tour because the set list at a big show like that generally don’t change. But mostly it’s just getting in there. If you know the band, if you love the band, then you’re that much more closer to the music.
There’s a lot of photographers out there that I guess they do this for a living and they’re there for a job. I’m there for… I love the music. I only shoot bands.
Geoff Livingston: Right. It’s your passion project.
Jason Miller: Yeah, but it’s also a job, and I get paid here and there for it. But finding that balance between my love of music and then actually capturing what I need to get the blog or the review done, it’s a challenge.
Geoff Livingston: Right. You’re like me, though. I have a full-time gig right now and the photography is a passion and I’m semi-pro, right? I don’t shoot full-time, but I shoot part-time. This is really something that for you to put in the extra hours, you really love it.
Jason Miller: I’m obsessed. I’ll tell you what, what pushes me is when you miss a shot and you know you should have got it. I’ve shot Kiss four times because I missed a shot each time. I wanted to go back and get it, right?
You’re constantly always trying to one-up yourself and then it’s just so much fun and you kind of get addicted, but every show you go to, I mean I spend probably at minimum of two hours editing photos. And it’s not like there are [inaudible 00:17:16] camera needs to blast them out. It’s just going through four or 500 shots-
Geoff Livingston: Shot selection, tweaking them. Each one needs a little tweak, I know.
Jason Miller: Yeah, it takes up a tremendous amount of time. I don’t sleep very much and I’ve got two kids as well. So you’ve got to find that balance, but I think the question is always is, “How bad do you want it? How bad do you want to get those shots?” And I’ve always wanted to get them pretty bad.
Geoff Livingston: There you go. Hey, let’s talk about Backyard Babies really quick. How was this band? I love this edit where you have the guy’s guitar swishing through and it creates almost a second collage frame and then you have him again repeated through the image. Tell me about what caused you to create that edit like that?
Jason Miller: So I was really into some ’70s sort of rock ‘n roll and the psychedelic stuff and I was starting to bringing a film camera to shoot with at shows. I was getting some really interesting warm tones and so I wanted to see if I could mimic that digitally but also get that psychedelic kind of Led Zeppelin spiral effect. So I bought a fractal filter and it’s this… it’s funny, they almost didn’t let me in the show.
Because it’s this huge glass filter and it’s got these rings for your knuckles. It looks like a pair of brass knuckles, so they almost didn’t let me into the show with it because, “You can’t bring that in.” I’m like, “It’s for photography.”
Anyway, so I used it at a Monster Magnet concert. That’s what I bought it for, so I could get these cool psychedelic Monster Magnet… Monster Magnet always has reds and greens so it looks like something from the seventies, cool spiral. I just brought that because I knew Backyard Babies have that red and green light as well and the guy always jumps up in front of us and does these cool acrobatics with the guitars. Anyways, so I’m up there and it’s almost Prism style, but I’ve got this filter and I’m trying to get the right angle. I just snapped that one. It was just like you get the first three songs and if you get what you need, then I pull out the filters and try to get some creative, unique stuff.
I’m really obsessed with filters. But I don’t like to do it in Photoshop. Nothing’s done in Photoshop. I want to see if I can do all this stuff in camera with a really cool filter or a very unique lens.
Geoff Livingston: Yeah, that’s one of those things that Zacharias says, “The more you can get it right before you get it into the computer, the better the shot’s going to be and it will come through.” It’s very obvious.
Jason Miller: But I’ve got to be cautious that I don’t overdo it, so every shot doesn’t have this crazy, fractal filter kind of thing. Yeah, the fractal filters are really cool and I had a lot of fun with those.
Geoff Livingston: Cool. Hey tell me about this moment where, I guess, it’s the guitarist and the bassist scene. They really start jamming out pretty hard together. That’s one of those moment shots with the interactions you were talking about, right?
Jason Miller: Yeah. My favorite lens to shoot with is the… what is it? On my Nikon D850 that I had, was the 15 to 30A Tamron. And they don’t have a 28 native Z lens yet, so I have it to, I think it’s a 14 to 30 that I use. But it’s an F4, so it gives you a little bit more depth of field to play with, but that lens is on my camera non-stop. I absolutely love it. The standard camera for photography is always the 24 to 70. Everyone has that one on.
So if you go a little bit wider, you can get these different shots. Then when they come in, you go right up in their face, man. And they’re not paying attention. They don’t care. They love the cameras, right?
And you’re literally this far away from them and you just get in there, tuck your elbows in, take a deep breath and just get that shot. But that’s right in their face and they just come for it. The other thing is, if there’s a lot of photographers… there was a shit ton of photographers in that pit that night because it was the Backyard Babies and the Wildhearts, two of the biggest bands in the U.K.
You couldn’t move around a lot so you had to pick a spot and just wait for it. And then once you get it, tuck in and then get your shots. But yeah, that’s the 14 to 30, I think it is. And that’s probably my favorite lens out of all the Nikon lenses.
Geoff Livingston: Very cool. Then there’s the shot of the guitar, which I love, because it really gives you the spirit of the band in a way, or at least this particular guitarist and again, we have a little bit of motion in the hands, so it’s not quite as sharp as the internet photography Nazis would have you be, but you capture everything in the heart and the spirit of this guy. He’s kind of like a fun, crazy guy with all these goofy stickers.
Jason Miller: So that is Ginger Wildheart and he is the singer of the Wildhearts’, of course. They made their comeback record this year, and it’s one of the best rock albums I’ve ever heard in my entire life. One of those bands that was always big in the U.K., never really big in the States, but should have been.
Geoff Livingston: I’ll have to check them out.
Jason Miller: Their fans over here are obsessive, right? So that’s one of Ginger’s classic guitars and he… if you follow Ginger, he’s very open on social media. He’s on Twitter and he struggles with depression and mental illness and he’s always talking like… kind of some things that happens to him in life as a rock star and singer/songwriter. Anyway, but that guitar, I think of everything on that guitar… if I think of what’s in Ginger’s head at any moment, that’s what I think of.
He has a couple of cool guitars. C.J. Wildheart, the other guitar player has a similar guitar, but I love that and I think you can see in Ginger’s hand, that’s a rock ‘n’ roll hand and you can see all those graphics and characters. I mean that’s what I imagine is going on inside of his head when he’s playing and singing. Follow this guy on Twitter. He’s genius. One of the best singer/songwriters on the planet.
Geoff Livingston: Definitely. I’ll check him out after the show, man. This is pretty cool. And then, next we’ve got Morrissey. Like here’s a legend, right? You’re going from punk rock to kind of like new age, prog rock. Morrissey is a god. How does that change your perspective when you go from a band that’s been like the Dropkicks or the Wildhearts, which is they’re well known, but they’re not this guy. What do you think when you walk in and you see this guy?
Jason Miller: So with Morrissey it’s interesting, because I’ve always been a Morrissey fan. Actually, I like the Morrissey solo stuff better than the Smiths, I’d probably get a lot of shit for that.
Geoff Livingston: No, I’m with you on that, as well.
Jason Miller: With Morrissey, I don’t agree with everything the guy says, let me preface that, but I think he’s an immense talent, fantastic singer/songwriter. So with Morrissey, that’s interesting. We had to shoot from pretty far back. So I actually had to rent, I think it was a 200 to 500. Which was a nightmare to carry.
Geoff Livingston: That’s a heavy fricking camera, man. That camera lens, that thing’s massive.
Jason Miller: I’m standing on a step stool and I have a mono pod and I’m trying not to breathe and I’m trying to [inaudible] the ISO, so not ideal shooting situations, but with Morrissey I just wanted to get one shot to capture the majestic-ness, if that’s a word, majestic-ness of Morrissey. He’s-
Geoff Livingston: The icon, right?
Jason Miller: Yeah, and I just wanted that one shot of him singing with all this passion in his voice and then zoom out and get a shot of the big stage with all the graphics stuff from the Smiths’ days and-
Geoff Livingston: Right. Let’s go to that photo now. That’s a pretty awesome shot, too with the people in the background.
Jason Miller: That was a really, really tough shoot and you didn’t’ get a lot of angles because we were so far back. It was at Wembley Arena so there was a [inaudible 00:25:03] pit, but [inaudible 00:25:06], I don’t know, it’s got to be 100 feet back, maybe. Maybe a little more. That was me just trying to capture one photo of this man, that’s so I can put it up on my wall at home. That’s for me. That entire concert was for me.
So it depends on if you have a photo pit or not. If they make us shoot from the soundboard, you’re super limited. Lots of flat shots, lots of seemingly boring images, if you will, but if there’s a photo pit, you can just bring in a nice 200, 7200 pretty much to get what you need.
I mean we’re really lucky in London to have so many cool music venues, right? From the O2 to the smaller clubs to the 100 Club, which is one of the only punk rock clubs left here. Very small place, but I think you go into that mindset of I learned to bring one camera and two or three lenses and get the job done. But if it’s a big arena show, of course, you’re going to bring your stuff, and all this other shit. It kind of takes the fun out of it.
It’s just based on the different venues, different sizes and I like to go as lean as possible. Bring the least amount of gear and try to get the job done. What changes a lot of perception or a lot of… it changes a lot for me, meaning that I want to be as close to the band, as close to the music as possible and the crowd if I can. Clearly you can’t get that with the bigger venues, but I do those much less frequently.
Geoff Livingston: Then with this next image, it seems like he’s… you got him in a moment. Is that just from tracking him and following and you’re like, “Oh, boom. Got it.”
Jason Miller: Yeah, he was… he’s very animated on stage and I think he knows how good he is. So you’re… in the first song… the lights were terrible by the way in the first song, but it started to get a little bit better.
And he whips around the microphone cable and does some really cool stuff, but you’re just trying to capture that one moment where it’s like you want the passion shot and then you want the energy shot, the power shot. I think that was sort of the power shot. But the many faces and the many different sides of Morrissey in three songs, what can you pull out of that? I think that’s what I was going for.
In this case, you don’t really need to shoot fandom. You just want a shot-
Geoff Livingston: It’s all about him. Now, the next artist we’re going to talk about is Sinead O’Connor. And unlike the Morrissey one, you did seem to get a lot of shots with her and the band, but she’s also wearing that… I mean, I don’t know, that crazy get up where she seems to be a nun, not quite a nun.
Jason Miller: So she converted to Islam a few years ago. But what’s interesting about her is you have one of the most remarkable artists on the planet. Arguably, the greatest female voice of modern times, who again went through some very open struggles with mental illness.
Obviously did some very controversial things with whipping out the Pope’s photo and she wore her heart on her sleeve and she didn’t really hide herself. But when they announced that she was going to do a string of small shows, I actually bought tickets to this.
I was the first one in line to buy tickets.
Geoff Livingston: Oh, cool.
Jason Miller: It was at a small venue called Shepherd’s Bush Empire, which holds maybe 1,500, 2,000 people, which is a very tiny venue for her. But the problem is, she doesn’t have a record label. She doesn’t have PR, a press publicist. So I couldn’t figure out how to get a photo pass. So I tried for three months. Finally, I figured out who it was and I got one, but I could not believe that I got approved to shoot this woman because she’s just, in my opinion, she’s god.
The photo pit was so packed and it was literally… she was probably a half a meter, a meter from me at times. But you couldn’t move. It was me and [inaudible] and there’s just this tiny, tiny little photo pit. The photo pit’s probably a foot and a half and you’re just smashed between the crowd and the stage. And when she came out, she smiled and she made these little faces to the photographers in the front row, because here’s all these cameras, this is her comeback.
Nobody knows if she’s going to be great or if she’s going to have a breakdown.
She looked at me and she smiled in the camera and I got this shot and I had my Leica. I had my Leica monochrome with me and my Nikon, my trusty Nikon. I was in awe. But this is… it was one of those moments where I had to balance again, the fan and the semi-professional, right? So I get the work done but also love the music.
She was spectacular. There was a moment in that show… there was a guy next to me I was hanging out with, having beers with, who was a photographer for MoJo and we hit it off. He’s super cool. And he goes, “Are you going to stay for the show?”
I’m like, “Are you kidding? Of course, I’m going to stay for the show.”
So we stayed for the show and there was moments where she would do a acapella songs, traditional Celtic a acapella song and you’ve never heard such dead silence in a theater. There wasn’t a cough, sniffle, there wasn’t anything and it was no microphone, just her and her voice and I’m getting chills again thinking about this. But one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen in my life.
I will say, the look in her eye, the passion in her voice and the way she sounded, she is 100% back and I suspect… I think she’s got two records coming out next year. But new management, she is back and that is a force to be reckoned with. And again, one of the finest voices of our lifetime, Geoff.
Geoff Livingston: That’s awesome. I do like how you pull back and you showed some perspective with the drum kit behind her and then the whole band. It reminded me a lot of a photojournalism style where you would set the scene, so to speak. Was that intentional?
Jason Miller: Yeah, so what’s interesting about that is I wanted to capture… what you don’t see underneath that shot is eight photographers all trying to get underneath her and get this really big capture of her opening up wide with that voice. But you also see, I think it’s in the next shot with the guitar player, there was this guitar player with really long hair.
I guess he’s in a band out of Dublin, a rock ‘n roll band. But this guy was on fire, man. He was like a Jimmy Page, full with hair flying everywhere. So I was trying to figure out, like I want to get my Sinead shots, but I got to get this guy too, man. He’s really making this effort to give me some great shots and he was right in front of me.
So I went wide and again, I always love that 14 millimeter, open up wide. Hit the whole moment. You can see Sinead sort of just resting and letting the band and the music take over for a minute. But all about no one knows what to expect with that show, as I mentioned. So how do you prove that she’s back, she’s got a full band and they’re firing on all cylinders, 100%.
Geoff Livingston: One thing that’s interesting is that obviously, in this coronavirus and the COVID era, I think if you’re a photographer, you’re not going to accept, “I can’t go out to a concert.” You’re going to shoot. You’re going to find something to shoot because you have the bug in you. It’s just the way it is, literally. And I think last week, I rented… you were talking about your 200/500, I rented a 150/600 and went burning for a week because I just, “I got to shoot. I can’t not get out there. I can’t help myself. So, if I’m limited to nature walks then that’s what I’m going to do.”
And I noticed on your Instagram that you’re doing these incredible macro’s. Like God, look at this one insect here. Looks like a bee. Tell us about what you’re doing to keep yourself busy as a photographer during this era.
Jason Miller: So that little guy, it’s funny. He looks like he’s posing. He’s looking at me, headshot, like a LinkedIn headshot or something. But I’ve always been interested in macro photography. I’ve never tried it before. But I was looking for something new to shoot and I didn’t even have a macro lens. I bought a Sigma 105 Macro Use on eBay for 100 pounds. The auto focus doesn’t work on the Z series, and then you have to put the FTC adaptor on there, too, right?
So I was just playing around with it, trying to figure it out. But the depth of field is so incredibly small. You’re talking about a millimeter, maybe a millimeter and a half when you’re at a one to one plus and it’s experimenting, experimenting. To be honest with you, I caught that on my first day I tried. Believe it or not.
Geoff Livingston: Really? Beginner’s luck, huh?
Jason Miller: There was a bee flying around in my kitchen because we have these big open doors that open up to our garden and the bee landed on the window sill and I was like, “You know what? I’m just going to try.” So I put a re-light on and I just walked up to it. I kept sneaking, sneaking, sneaking… he wasn’t going anywhere and I’ve never been stung by a bee so I’m fucking terrified of bees.
I’m about two inches, maybe an inch and a half away from him and I just kind to balance and tuck in, because I didn’t have a tripod and I just fired off, I think, 75 shots. One of them was in focus. I got everything from here down, the whole damn bee, except the eyes. I wanted the eyes. That’s the depth of fled you’re dealing with.
I got it, cropped it down just a tiny bit. A tiny bit of editing and- And that was it. But I got the shot.
Geoff Livingston: That’s crazy. And then this next one, I think, was at the end of a gallery you put on Instagram with a whole bunch of other great macros. Is it the same bee or a different bee?
Jason Miller: So this is a different bee. I don’t kill the bees. Obviously this one is alive, he’s staring a me. But this one, I was looking for another bee to shoot and I heard one buzzing around and I guess he ran into the wall or something, he was on the ground and he was dead.
This one, he’s actually, that’s him on the ground. He’s upside down. I flipped it over, flipped the picture over so it looks like he’s kind of coming in for a landing. But he’s dead as can be and he was just sitting there and then I went to pick him up and his head popped off.
Geoff Livingston: Oh my God.
Jason Miller: Now this is getting cryptic, right?
Geoff Livingston: Right.
Jason Miller: So I took his head and I grabbed my daughter’s glue kit and I glued it on the back of this background and I was just trying to practice with it and then just trying to figure out the depth of field and trying to figure out how to get those eyes. The eyes were what I was really interesting in. Then I put his head in a zip log bag and put it in the freezer, because you’re supposed to freeze them. Forgot about it and my wife was getting some frozen fly head.
Geoff Livingston: What are you doing? I get that all the time.
Jason Miller: Anyway, but it’s fascinating. But I will tell you this. A true macro lens is one to one, right?
But there’s a lens out there called a Laowa lens, a Laowa lens or something, I can’t pronounce it.
Geoff Livingston: L-A-O-W-A, right?
Jason Miller: Yeah. And it gets up to 5 X magnification, which is insane. But your depth of field… you definitely need a tripod and you need that rolling mount… I forget what they call it, a focus rail. Focus rail. But that’s where you get into, you can’t do it on a living spider or whatever. It’s impossible, excuse me. But anyway, yeah I’ve been having fun with that.
Tested all kinds of things and I finally got, I think, what works the best. That Sigma with a couple of extender tubes on my Z7.
Geoff Livingston: I see that picture too, where you had the newer light on it as well. It’s a nice rig, man. For those of you that are watching, you can follow Jason at that Instagram account, Jason Miller CA?
Jason Miller: CA for California, yeah.
Geoff Livingston: Got to go U.K. now, man.
Jason Miller: When I created that handle, it was my Twitter handle. I created it in the back seat of my friend’s car, I don’t know, 15 or 20 years ago. 15 years, I guess. So 2006, 2007, right? Oh my God.
Jason Miller: And I just, but he just said, “Hey man, can you join Twitter so I can get to 100 followers?” He had one more follower. So I never knew I would be using the handle. But anyway, the interesting thing about that is the lens, that Sigma lens, there’s only a couple of options for good macro lenses and you have to get one to one as a starter that’s a true macro.
I have a couple of vintage lenses that are one to two, which make it cool for flowers and stuff. But if you want to get the inside shots, you’ve got to one-to-one and then push it even further. And that’s where the macro tubes came in. Those MIC-KEY, I think they’re called, but those are native Z extension tubes. I didn’t know they made those. They were like 20 pounds, the lens was like 120 pounds used, and then that newer light was, I think, 24 pounds.
So the whole rig there, minus the camera, was a couple of 100 pounds. So about two, 300, so it’s not bad.
Geoff Livingston: Yeah. Not bad.
Jason Miller: And it’s hours and hours of fun and frustration.
Geoff Livingston: There you go. Always shooting, man. Always be shooting. So Jason, how can people find you online? What’s the best way to see what you’re up to?
Jason Miller: So you can find me on Instagram, Jason Miller CA. Tik Tok, Tik Tok, I’ve been playing on Tik Tok, just stupid videos and the kids. Jason Miller one, I think it is or something like that. Then obviously, LinkedIn, if you just type in Jason Miller, Microsoft or LinkedIn, I should pop up. Then Facebook, Jason Miller CA as well.
Then Rock ‘n Roll Cocktail dot com is my personal website. Revamping that now. Cloak is available there. I think I have 20 or 30 copies left. We sold 500, which I was blown away. We actually made it to that.
But now, I’m really into film and I’m doing a lot of instant photography and instant film photography. I’m obsessed with that and I got me, I bought a camera from Russia. Those stereophonic goggles to see them. And I just a Bronica, so medium format. Going old shool.
So that’s where I’m spending my time here, late. But man, it’s, as you know, it’s a journey that never stops. Once you start to learn something else, even film, even scanning film is a pain in the ass.
But it’s never too late to start something new and find some new hobby, I think and I think photographer is kind of taking a beat down with all the massive photos on Instagram. But how do you stand out, how do you differentiate yourself? How do you just keep your memories alive and impress your kids and you do that by just learning and experimenting. That’s what I’m doing.
Geoff Livingston: That’s awesome, man. I love seeing it, too. I love… that was really quite a joy to see the macros on your site. I was like, or the Instagram. I thought that was really fantastic. It gave me something to think about, like “Hey, there’s more to do. There’s definitely more to explore.”
Jason Miller: Yeah, I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing still. I can tell you, lots of frustration, lots of trial and error, lots of missed shots, but it’s fun and I think once you get that shot and you know it and you’re happy with it and you just take a break, you’re like, “Yeah.” You feel a sense of accomplishment and you just want to push it even further. That’s what photography, I think, is all about.
Geoff Livingston: Very cool, my friend. All right, Jason. Thank you so much for joining us on the Show Me Podcast. I’m sure I will see you online anywhere, everywhere.
Jason Miller: 100%. Awesome. Hey, so great to catch up with you and thanks again for having me on. Really, really great conversation. Had a lot of fun. Yeah, look forward to keeping in touch.
Geoff Livingston: All right, brother. Have a good weekend, okay?
Jason Miller: Cheers, mate.