‘A Year In Jazz’ is a photography project which began with an open door and an opportunity to combine my love for jazz and photography. It’s not often we get to combine our passions together and ‘A Year In Jazz’ was just that.
It all started with a night out on the town when I happened on an open door to a new jazz club. Sneaking in to take a look, I took my first pictures of project. Although I had no idea I was starting this project, I was simply doing what a photographer does, make pictures.
Walking in and taking pictures of the band that night was part luck and part destiny. After another visit to the club and taking more pictures I shared them with the owner and proposed to him I become the in-house photographer and document the musicians coming to play. I wanted to create a historic record of the artists with the hope that one day I would capture images of jazz masters like the master Herman Leonard (http://hermanleonard.com/). The owner loved the idea and I soon became the “Photographic Archivist” for the jazz club Nocturne.
When I started this project I had never photographed live Jazz music before. But I knew I could apply my photographic skills to the music scene and find my way through the subtleties of live music on stage. One of the benefits of a long term project like this is you get to study the subject and learn through trial and error to find what works and what doesn’t.
One of the first lessons I learned was just like street photography or portraiture, expression is key. The lighting, instruments, and wardrobe can all be in place but if the right moment or expression isn’t captured, the photo just doesn’t work. This means not only do you have to find the right angle, the right composition, and control the background but you have to also wait for the right moment to happen and be ready for it. Capturing these moments was a challenge but it was also making me a better photographer.
With the repeated visits I was able to try different techniques, lenses, cameras, and even try using film. It was a great experiment where I could explore creative ideas while not being restricted by specific requests from a client. Of course in a venue like this you need to work around one big obstacle, low light. This meant overcoming some technical problems like high ISO noise, focus issues, and working around the audience and staff. If you’re not spot on with your equipment, you’re just adding another obstacle in front of you.
The equipment I used was primarily a Nikon D810, a Tamron 70-200mm 2.8 lens, and a Sigma 35mm 1.4 DG HSM lens. Other equipment I tried during my sessions were, Fuji x100, Rolleiflex 80mm 2.8F, and a few other Nikon lenses: 105mm 2.8 Micro and 17-35mm 2.8. The base settings I would work from were ISO 8000, ƒ 3.3 and I would photograph in RAW + JPEG with my JPEG previews set to Monochrome. Because of the color of the lights and the distracting brick wall I felt black and white processing was the best look for the venue. The processing also had a classic feel that was reminiscent of the historic photos of the past.
The Project Begins
After each visit I would go home and edit the photos to share with the owner to use on his website and social media posts. As time went on I began to create a collection in my Lightroom catalog. I started to see how I could improve my compositions and what was working in the club. There were a couple of spots in the club I would frequent because of the way the light hit the stage. However, each band set up in different places so I couldn’t just do the same thing every time. I still had to work with what I saw and it kept me on my toes.
I never really thought of this as a long term project but after six months I started to look at it more like one and it allowed me to think about these pictures as a whole rather than one-offs for each night. I knew eventually I would have to organize these photos into a refined collection of some sort. As time progressed I kept looking back to my “favorites” collection in Lightroom and started to see the photo collection build.
Not only was I collecting a set of images for the club but I was also creating a set of memories for myself. Quite often a photographer is taught to remove themselves from the subject to keep a non-biased opinion of what they capture. I do his when I take street photos or any type of editorial work but this was different. Jazz was a passion of mine and it was beginning to seep inside my soul which then started to change my photography. I felt like I could watch a band and begin to see their movements before they would happen. I would see the small physical cues they give each other before a solo. I was getting deeper into the music of jazz and I developed a deeper appreciation for it.
A Year of Jazz
When it came close for the birthday of Nocturne a year later, the owner was holding a special night of appreciation for the friends who had supported the club the past year. I knew this was the time to bring all these images together for the occasion. I decided to create a photo book for the owners so they would have a physical set of memories they could keep for posterity.
The book required a few sessions of editing. I started by creating a book in Lightroom’s book module. This allowed to start visualising the physical book. Then I made about 45 xerox prints to size my candidates. I could use these sketches, arranged on the floor in the order I thought might work, to get a feel for the actually prints. This technique was very helpful in the editing process. It was much nicer to view the physical xerox sketches, as opposed to simply viewing them on a monitor.
Next was sizing them for the sheets of the book I bought. The horizontal was easy but I wanted to include verticals. After I had all the sizes figured out and created a printing template in Lightroom I began printing the 35 photos with my Epson R3000 printer on Moab Lasal Photo Matte 235 paper. Once the photos were printed and dried for at least 24 hours, I began to trim and mount them to the pages before assembling them into the finished book. I created a little work station with guides on a T-Square to help get the photos lined up and centered on the book page.
Once I had the book finished, it was a great feeling to see a year long project come to this concluded effort I could hold in my hands. A lot of photographers never print their work and to edit this large of a collection of photos, print, trim and mount each one into a book was a very rewarding experience. A Year In Jazz was one of my favorite personal projects so far and any photographer who embarks on a long-term task like this, will learn a lot as I did.
If you’d like to see more of these images, or purchase prints directly, make sure to visit the full resolution gallery.
As a bouns, if you’re a member of ‘The Fellowship of Explorers’ make sure to log in and watch this special episode of Handcrafted. Armando goes into great detail about how we created the look for this project using nothing more than Lightroom.