The band took the stage with neither fanfare nor pretense; they did not play an encore. None of this was necessarily in the least. By the end of the night, Explosions in the Sky delivered their soundtrack for all the quietly thrilling and heartbreaking moments of a lifetime.
Over the course of their 70-minute set, the band wove layers of sound that didn't so much exist in their birth or death as they did in the exquisite free-fall of their slow trajectories. Explosions in the Sky's craft is wordless music that finds a voice within us.
Going into Explosion in the Sky's set, I was really curious about the set up. As an entirely instrumental band without a singer or any identifiable leader, the shoot could have gone any number of ways.
As the stage was reset after a performance by Lichens, the crew doubled the number of speaker monitors at the stage, bringing a new meaning to the phrase “wall of sound.”
With two monitors for each of the three musicians at the front and a relatively close setup , and given that the stage of the Pageant is already about five feet tall, these monitors added a solid vertical foot, which created an interesting challenge for the evening.
What saved me during this shoot were three very small gaps in the wall of monitors, the largest of which was about a foot across. The most narrow of these gaps was only a few inches wide, but provided enough of a hole to get a lens into.
This “interesting” problem of no clear lines of slight led me to use the Live View function of the D3 as much as I ever have, which let me shoot more freely and from different angles than I would have using the viewfinder. Nikon's Live View, much like the method that has become ubiquitous with point and shoot digital compacts, allows for framing via the camera's LCD screen, rather than the traditional viewfinder.
Shooting with the ultra-wide Nikon 14-24mm let me position the camera into the gaps between monitors and shoot with a little more clearance – all at arms length in the most extreme circumstances.
Being familiar with the music for this band, I could only imagine what the lighting would be like. And, despite the name of the group, it wasn't bright.
The lighting effects were heavy with smoke and employed atmospheric treatments almost exclusively. Lots of deep color washes, with lots of blues and purples thrown into the mix. No front lighting. Very dark.
Here's a YouTube video shot at the Pageant show if you want to get an idea for the lights:
This is one of the first headlining acts where I shot at ISO 12800 and ISO 25600 for nearly the entire set. Previously, I'd only used these high extensions for the one off shot during a main band's performance, or for openers, but the lighting required I take a departure from precedent at the Pageant and crank up the sensitivity.
As you might imagine for a set like this, shutter speeds were all over the place and at the whim of the swell of the lights.
Overall, I exposed to make the scenes appear much brighter than they were in reality, hoping to play off the water hazers and enhance the lighting. This show is really an instance where ISO 12800 and 25600 are more necessity than luxury when using f/2.8 glass.
Lenses & Gear:
I shot with the Nikon D3 and a slew of lenses for this set. To my surprise, I actually ended up using the Nikon 14-24mm for a good deal of the images made in the last half of the set. Due to the Pageant's already high stage and the positioning of the monitors, the ultra-wide angle was actually highly useful for shooting between the few-inch gaps in the parapet at the front of the stage. Aside from that, I used just about everything else at the bag at some point during the set, including the Nikon 85mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4, and 24-70mm f/2.8.
Leave the gun, take the cannoli. Except in this instance, the gun is your camera. And you'll want to take your ears.
My personal highlight was during the band's performance of “Memorial” from their 2003 release, The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place, which ended with the three guitarists delivering a synchronized barrage of noise and fury with every downward stroke of their picking hand.