Neil Young was one of the reasons I was most excited for Farm Aid, due to the fact that the singer infrequently allows photographers access to him, and the yearly benefit is one of those rare occasions.
One additional treat was seeing Dewey Lyndon “Spooner” Oldham accompanying Neil Young on the keys. I had the pleasure of photographing Oldham earlier this year when he was honored at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for 2009.
As I mentioned in the post for photographing Willie Nelson, press shooters were divided into two groups for Farm Aid 2009. I was in the second group for Neil Young's set, so I shot songs three and four.
For the entire first song we shot Neil Young, he had his harmonica up, which, needless to say, put a bit of a damper on photos of the legendary singer. Here's a taste of that:
Due to this situation, I shot sparingly and delivered no images from that first song. Thankfully, for the second song my group shot, Young put down the harmonica, so that's when I let it rip, so to speak.
Aside from the harmonica, one other big constraint for this set was that we were only allowed to shoot from about a quarter into the stage from stage right, so all press were shooting Young's right side. I was at the front of the group going into the pit, so I got a decent spot. For those at the back of the pack, the situation would be have been much more difficult due to the angles and mic stand stage right of Neil Young.
Aside from the aforementioned challenges, one other big factor for this shoot was the lighting. Don't be fooled by the above images – it was dark for Neil Young's set. He was lit by stage left by white light, which left the rest of his face is relatively open but still deep shadows. The hat Young wore compounded this factor.
My approach to this challenge was to simply let that white lighting blow out and to expose as much as possible for the side of the face in shadow.
My exposure for this set hovered around 1/125 at f/2.8 at ISO 3200. While I could have bumped the exposure to ISO 6400 for a faster shutter speed, this is one instance where the superlative image quality of the Nikon D3 has spoiled me to such a point where I end up using lower sensitivities than I could. ISO 1600 on this camera is just so clean for my uses that I find my self shooting as close to that “base” ISO as possible.