The Flaming Lips @ the Pageant — 2007.09.28


The iPhone, hard at work, replacing $6k of professional camera equipment.

On a gut level, I've always felt cigarette companies were intrinsically evil, and last night's Flaming Lips performance just confirmed that notion. After getting credentials approved by Warner Brothers Records, Camel Cigarettes, the sponsor for the show, blocked the issue of all photo passes for the event.

Even after last minute appeals by the Flaming Lips' publicist, who went to greatly appreciated efforts to secure credentials, Camel representatives declined all photo coverage. The band's publicist even made calls to Camel's lawyers in attempts to appeal the decision, but for all her efforts, the block of photography stood.

And so, that is why images from this event comes to you from courtesy of the Apple iPhone, which filled in last night for my Nikon D2X and Nikon 17-55/2.8.

Lack of photo pass aside, the Flaming Lips' live show is something that is quickly approaching the status of legend, and I'm happy to report that it indeed lived up to all expectation. At the center of all the theatrics was frontman Wayne “Shoot me with lasers, I like it” Coyne, who presided over the evening's event with the gleeful demeanor of a circus ringleader.

Between the confetti canons, every-volleyed ballons, Wayne's streamer-shooting boom stick, dancing aliens and santas, and ubiquitous laser light, the performance had the feeling of a carnival celebration from start to finish. A highlight of crowd interaction during the concert was Wayne being hit, at his request, by the beams of hundreds of laser pointers, which were handed out at the start of the event.

Aside from the withdrawal of credentials – and the clouds of poisonous smoke that permeated the venue – the concert was a fantastic event.

Shooting Notes:

Located at the back of the pit, above the crowd, I had an unobstructed view of the stage, and being a concert photographer, it was inevitable that I would make a few snaps during the show.

With no song limit and plenty of distance between the band and myself, I was left to lazily snap away with the innocuous iPhone. Unfettered by my normal camera equipment, the iPhone's wide-angle lens easily captured whole stage from my vantage point. The phone's camera mode features no controls of any kind beyond the shutter button, and luckily I wasn't bothered with the inclusion of a flash, let alone manual controls.

The biggest ergonomic failure of the iPhone in camera mode is the position of the shutter “button,” which resides near the bottom edge of the gorgeous touch-screen. The shutter is best released using a thumb, which makes holding the iPhone in one hand difficult, not only in pressing the button, but keeping a good grip on the phone's sleek metal surfaces. This being the case, using two hands for the phone's camera mode is highly advised. In addition, the camera's tiny lens is positioned in the upper corner on the back of the phone, making it very easy to obstruct when holding the iPhone in the horizontal position.

I have no idea what the native ISO of the iPhone is, but the phone seemed happy to drop the shutter speed to achieve the correct exposure. A very large LED screen was positioned behind the band for the entire show and was generally magnitudes brighter than the performers, which created some underexposure in many shots. However, the iPhone generally did pretty well with exposure, considering the inclusion of the screen and other bright light sources in any given frame.

One big obstacle using the iPhone for the demanding discipline of concert photography is the long shutter lag of the camera, which made precise, decisive-moment captures tricky at best. The solution to this was simply to try and anticipate key moments for lighting and gesture, which is a genuinely useful skill to develop for in itself, and one that can be readily employed for quality, stage-front work.

The files produce by the iPhone were generally soft with chroma noise in the shadows, but largely lacking in luminance noise. With a native resolution of 1600 x 1200 pixels, the iPhone's 1.9 megapixel sensor provides an image perfectly suitable for the web. After running images through Noise Ninja and performing a little sharpening in Adobe Photoshop CS3, the files are quite serviceable as snaps. Though the Apple iPhone is greatly inferior to the Nikon D2x I normally use, it actually did better than expected, all things considering.


Balloons and confetti: par for the course


Wayne loves lasers


The mic-cam always wins

I should note that the above images have been cropped to a pleasing 2:3 ratio from their unholy and lawless 4:5 native format. Nature abhors a vacuum and I abhor formats designed to fit computer monitors from 1988.

Alternate titles for this post include:

Cigarettes will kill you. And take away your photo pass.

Sent From My iPhone

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon Z 7:
I use two Nikon Z 7 for my live music photography. A true do-it-all mirrorless camera with amazing AF, great speed and fantastic resolution.


Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8S:
The 24-70mm is my go-to lens. The range is ideal for stage front photography and the image quality is superb.


Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.


Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.

See My Full Kit for Concert Photography

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