Cold War Kids: A Tale From The Photo Pit

Cold War Kids; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Cold War Kids; photo Lauren Ratkowski

It had been awhile since I had been in the pit. I was excited that I was heading to House of Blues to shoot SoCal based Cold War Kids. They had been on my radar for a long time. I mean, I grew up listening to KROQ and like many, the first song of theirs I heard was “Hang Me Up To Dry.” Their sound always struck me as different. Something needed in this age of rock-and-roll.

After getting my pass and ticket for the night, I headed straight for the pit. I longed to be back in my home. Only two other photographers joined me to capture the night’s opener, Samia. High energy music was met with an active stage performance. These are all things I love from a band, and even better when it’s how I get to start my night. Through the lens I could tell that lighting was even, a perfect mix of reds and blues. I was happy that this meant I could really focus on the flipping, feet in the air, and kneeling being served to me from Samia herself.

Cold War Kids; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Cold War Kids; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Only two bands were on the bill, meaning Cold War Kids were next. The crowd was anxious for them to hit the sage. More photographers had come to photograph the headliner, so I chose to start my shooting at the furthest end of the pit and make my way back. I know when the pit is full, it’s best to try not to get stuck in the same spot. Variety in shots is just as important as lighting.

Cold War Kids started off with much darker lighting overall, which meant I was going to have to think of ways to add some visual effects to the photos. The best way to do this is to use silhouettes to my advantage. The lighting featured many brighter, color spotlights. With little fill light, the photos were going to be dramatic. But I was ready for the challenge! I was selective with the moments I caught, trying to wait to make it count. This led me to one of my favorite shots of the entire set.

I got stuck in one part of the pit, toward the middle. I was waiting, watching. Next thing I know I had bassist Matt Maust right over my head. I took a slight step backward, focused, and fired. I ended up with a pretty nice series of shots with him almost leaning into my lens. Some say photography has to be calculated, but I often find it mostly luck. At least in music photography it is!

Shinedown: A Tale From The Photo Pit

Shinedown drummer Barry Kerch; photo Reuben Martinez

Shinedown drummer Barry Kerch; photo Reuben Martinez

Shinedown, finishing up the last leg to their Attention Attention album tour, played Irvine’s FivePoint Amphitheater. They brought along the bands Broken Hands, Dinosaur Pile Up and Badfkower for support.

Shinedown guitarist Zach Myers; photo Reuben Martinez

Shinedown guitarist Zach Myers; photo Reuben Martinez

When Shinedown’s curtain came up to prep for the band to come on the theme to “Indiana Jones” played. As the curtain came down there were multiple stage explosions then the band opened with the song “Devil”. On the third song, and one thing I appreciate by this band, is singer Brent Smith goes one by one and shakes the photographer’s hands saying thank you for what we do.

Shinedown singer Brent Smith; photo Reuben Martinez

Shinedown singer Brent Smith; photo Reuben Martinez

While watching the remainder of the show, the band took a break and headed to the back of the stage to play a few songs to the back seats of the venue. Most bands play one or two songs but the guys in Shinedown played four, up close to the fans in the back.

As the band headed back to the main stage the screen showed a picture of Chester Bennington of Linkin Park who died last year to suicide. The song “Numb” played with just a piano and Chester singing as different images were displayed. Singer Brent and guitarist Zach Myers walked on stage after playing “Black Hole Sun” paying tribute to Chris Cornell from Soundgarden/Audioslave who also took his life. An awesome tribute to both artists who left us too soon.

Shinedown bassist Eric Bass; photo Reuben Martinez

Shinedown bassist Eric Bass; photo Reuben Martinez

After the band went through hit by hit, they played the last single off Attention Attention called “Get Up” A song written for bass player Eric Bass who has battled with depression and the things he has overcome. Eric also recently came back to Shinedown’s tour after an injury to his back while on the road, but he still gave 110% to his performance.

This was another great show from this band who I’ve seen multiple times, and it was a great way to start the Summer.

Band:
Brent Smith – Vocals
Zach Myers – Guitar
Barry Kerch – Drums
Eric Bass – Bass, keyboards.

Set List:
Devil
Diamond Eyes
Enemies
Monsters
Black Soul
I’ll Follow You
Unity
45
Bully
Amaryllis
How Did You Love
Through the Ghost
Second Chance
Black Hole Sun
Simple Man
Cut the Cord
Get Up
Sound of Madness
Brilliant

Taking Back Sunday: A Tale From The Photo Pit

TAKING BACK SUNDAY; photo Lauren Ratkowski

TAKING BACK SUNDAY; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Camera charged. Lens cleaned. Press confirmation ready. All I needed to do was hop in the car and make the 2-hour drive to San Diego from Orange County. Now, I don’t make these drives for just any band. Taking Back Sunday has served as a pillar in my love for rock music as long as I can remember. Tonight’s show was extra special. Their current touring cycle is in honor of their 20-year anniversary – something not many bands get to celebrate.

TAKING BACK SUNDAY; photo Lauren Ratkowski

TAKING BACK SUNDAY; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Last time I shot Taking Back Sunday, I was covering their show at The Observatory in Santa Ana, The Observatory North Park’s sister venue. That show had also sold out. I remember how crazy packed it was inside the venue – we photographers barely had any room to get out of the pit once our 3 songs were up. Needless to say, I was expecting the same for tonight!

I arrived early to make sure I got inside to catch the openers on this tour- Frank Iero and the Future Violents. Without getting too far into my music listening history, I’m sure we all know Iero was the guitarist in My Chemical Romance. Eleven-year-old me wouldn’t believe that we would get to see AND photograph his new band in addition to Taking Back Sunday!

TAKING BACK SUNDAY; photo Lauren Ratkowski

TAKING BACK SUNDAY; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Only two photographers were in the pit alongside me for the first act. I was surprised by this, as well as by the sheer size of the pit at North Park. I usually compare the photo pit to a trench, but this pit was at least 7 feet wide! More room is always a plus as it gives more space to shoot from different angles and catch more action both on and off the stage. I used this basically empty pit to shoot from both close up and far away. A lot of red tone lighting gave a challenge, but that just meant I had to speed up the shutter and kick up the ISO a bit to be sure that the photos would capture sharp movement. Correcting red lighting was going to be for editing in post- something I’m more than accustomed to now!

Adam Lazzara-TAKING BACK SUNDAY; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Adam Lazzara-TAKING BACK SUNDAY; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Once it was time for Taking Back Sunday to hit the stage, the venue was packed! More photographers had shown up now. This made me ultra-grateful for the larger photo pit. With a pristine multicolored neon of the band’s logo behind them, the performance was bathed in a blend of red, blue, purple, and yellow light. The first few shots I took had me concerned – there was a lot of back lighting action going on. However, I knew this would just take patience. I had to wait for the right moments to snap. I raised my ISO until I found where I needed to be, as well as continued to change shutter speeds with the different lighting schemes of each song. In addition to the band, I always try to keep an eye on what’s going on behind me – what are the fans doing?

Audience at Adam Lazzara-TAKING BACK SUNDAY-Observatory North Park; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Audience at Adam Lazzara-TAKING BACK SUNDAY-Observatory North Park; photo Lauren Ratkowski

If you couldn’t feel the energy in the room when TBS launched into “Cute Without The E”, I would think you were broken. The crowd immediately SCREAMED along (myself included!). I turned my back to the stage for a moment, knowing there were some great photos to be made of the audience. Once our three songs were up, I spent some time getting some more broad shots of the scene from the back of the venue. It felt amazing to see such a blend of fans, many of which had been there for all 20 years of the band’s history, still supporting and participating in the TBS community. Is there a better way for a band to celebrate?

Immortal Guardian: A Tale From The Photo Pit

Immortal Guardian; photo Reuben Martinez

Immortal Guardian; photo Reuben Martinez

Having never been to The Parish Room at House of Blues Anaheim or having never seen Immortal Guardian before, I did my research on the band and was very curious on how they would sound live.

This band from Texas made headways with their music exposure on ESPN’s X Games and performing at NAMM Jam in the past which brought them to open for major name bands in the business.

While NAMM 2019 was in full bloom in Anaheim, Immortal Guardian opened for guitar God Marty Friedman. Trying to get in, there was a huge line at the box office to get my credentials, since Metal Allegiance was playing next door. Finally walking into this small venue, it was hard to get up front to take photos since the place was packed.

Immortal Guardian; photo Reuben Martinez

Immortal Guardian; photo Reuben Martinez

When Immortal Guardian came on, they blew me away! Guitarist Gabriel Guardian, playing both guitar and keyboards simultaneously, played a short instrumental before singer Carlos Zema came on. As a powerhouse on vocals, he kept impressing me. Everyone in this band brings pure talent to the table, Thad Stevens on bass and Cody Gilliland on drums. You could hear in the reaction of the crowd after each song that the applause kept growing louder and louder. Immortal Guardian sounds like a six piece instead of a four piece. As a guitarist, my eye was drawn to Gabriel soloing on two instruments.

With a couple of albums under their belt the latest came out late 2018. But nothing compares to seeing Immortal Guardian live. Even after the show the band hung around the merchandise booth, shaking hands and signing autographs. As I was saying before, it was so hard to get up front to take photos with a full crowd, but I was thankful for a good zoom lens. Often as a photographer I run across a band that I’m covering and get totally impressed. Immortal Guardian is one band that made me a fan. Be on the lookout for this band to make more waves.

Music Tastes Good: A Tale From The Photo Pit

SANTIGOLD; photo Andy Ortega

SANTIGOLD; photo Andy Ortega

It’s about time someone finally brings the greatest things in life together in one place and with this being the 3rd Music Tastes Good Festival, it was done perfectly! This 2-day festival on September 29th and 30th allowed me to stuff my face with delicious food on the way to get photo coverage of the next artist, burn off some calories while dancing and doing photographer jiu-jitsu in the photo pit, then repeat, over and over again! It was glorious!

The event was held in the downtown Long Beach Marina Green area with familiar landmarks in the background such as the Long Beach Convention Center, Queen Mary, Aquarium of the Pacific and the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

SHAME; photo Andy Ortega

SHAME; photo Andy Ortega

The first artist I covered was Shame, a UK-based rock band. It was a great way to start my day off right since they brought an amazing energy that kept the audience on their feet, while keeping the photographers in the photo pit on our toes as well. Shame is the type of band that moves all over the place on the stage (well, except for the drummer and keys obviously). It makes it easy to get a “money shot” where the singer’s hair is caught swinging mid-air, or the guitarist is captured leaping off a speaker. This was mid-afternoon in the outdoors on a sunny California day, which means I could get sharp, action pics with my shutter speed as high as 1/500 or 1/1000!

OLIVER TREE; photo Andy Ortega

OLIVER TREE; photo Andy Ortega

The next artist I was covering, Oliver Tree, was performing at the other stage called the Gold Stage. It was at the opposite end of the festival, which meant I would need to traverse through the smoke of food trucks and the central Taste Tent where many people were being trapped with the luring scents coming from within. It took all of my willpower, but I just couldn’t resist.

CHERRY GLAZERR; photo Andy Ortega

CHERRY GLAZERR; photo Andy Ortega

In the Taste Tent, you could get a $5 voucher to try a dish from many of the chefs in attendance. One of the chefs, Nancy Leon of Tijuana, Mexico, was serving Seaweed Baja taco that consisted of snow crab, mackerel w/ avocado, Meyer lemon, crispy panko, and shiso micro greens served with wasabi dressing.

LIZZO; photo Andy Ortega

LIZZO; photo Andy Ortega

Another chef, Sincere Justice of Oakland, California was serving his “BO KHO TACO” with Vietnamese styled braised brisket (bo kho), roasted garlic lebne, lemongrass morita salsa, herbs, and cucumber. Sounds tasty, eh?

As I stumbled out of the Taste Tent, belly full and a slightly uncomfortable grin on my face, I made my way to the Gold Stage just in time for Oliver Tree.

JANELLE MONAE; photo Andy Ortega

JANELLE MONAE; photo Andy Ortega

I covered a few other artists including Cherry Glazerr, Blake Mills and Lizzo. Next up was Santigold! But there was a problem. By this time, the attendance at the festival had swelled. It seemed like everyone that was going to arrive this day had just entered – including a swarm of photographers that had lined up along the side of the stage to get access to Santigold’s performance. The energy for concert goers was at its peak, but for us concert photographers, it was at the point where I was a bit worried. Would the photo pit delve into a barbaric, rude, mosh pit of starving artists competing for the best spot???

BLAKE MILLS; photo Andy Ortega

BLAKE MILLS; photo Andy Ortega

As the music started, the security guard began letting us in. He counted each person and as I approached, I heard him say “… 19, 20, Stop right here, Sir”. Yup, I was number 21 and immediately a shiver ran down my spine. I stuttered, nervous and a little upset, and asked him, “When do the rest of us get in?”. “Two songs, then your group gets to go in for two songs”. I was so relieved! While the photo pit was still quite crowded, I was pleased to see that we were able to squeeze through and get the shots that we were happy with.

NEW ORDER; photo Andy Ortega

NEW ORDER; photo Andy Ortega

Later that night, I enjoyed covering New Order as they played their hit from 1983 “Blue Monday”. Ah good times!

On day 2 of the Music Tastes Good Festival, I covered Sun Kil Moon, Lizzo and Janelle Monae. Ate more food and checked out the shops and art that was displayed throughout. All in all, the Music Tastes Good Festival was a great experience for the foodie, the hard-core festival goer or the music-obsessed family to enjoy a wonderful time.

Curtis Harding: A Tale From The Photo Pit

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

I love the El Rey Theater and taking pics of Curtis Harding’s show there made my day epic. If you’ve never been to the El Rey, it’s on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, around the corner from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art a.k.a. LACMA. Getting there is fairly easy. There’s paid parking in the surrounding areas but the El Rey offers valet parking for only $10. There was no line when I arrived at the entrance, so I went straight up to the window and presented my credentials in exchange for the coveted photo pass. Security checked me and my bag thoroughly and then I was in.

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

I made my way into the venue and Algiers was just getting started as the opening band. The El Rey has an open floor for general admission and there’s also a balcony. One of the ushers there told me that VIP ticket holders can get access to the balcony, but they usually come right back down because it gets warm up there.

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

There is no photo pit, which means that photographers don’t have a special spot in front of the stage. Instead, you just need to be in the front early or work your way in. Since the El Rey has the best staff members, one of the usher/security personnel turned on his flashlight and created a path for me to get in front of the stage. Thanks bro!

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

CURTIS HARDING; photo Andy Ortega

Curtis Harding’s set immediately had fans dancing and moving. As I started to frame my first shot, I was happy to see that the lighting was nice and bright. This gave me the ability to turn up my shutter speed, so I can get clean, sharp pictures. When I wanted to get a different point of view, I gently squeezed my way to the other side of the stage. Once I had enough close-up shots, I moved back and took a few pictures for a wider view so that I could get the whole band. Then I put the lens cap back on my 50-200mm Nikon lens, took off my earplugs and enjoyed the rest of the show.

Japandroids: A Tale From The Photo Pit

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

Japandroids at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever on May 30th was off the hook!

Normally when I do a “Tale from the Photo Pit” article, I’ll share my experience of a show as a photographer. But boy do I need to back up a bit and address the elephant in the room. I’ll just come out and say it – this concert was at a cemetery. That’s right. Now that you know, you won’t be as dumbfounded as I was when I arrived.

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

The guard at the entrance chuckled as I said, “I must be really lost. I’m supposed to be looking for a concert venue”.

Then he let me know that Hollywood Forever is the right place, you can park anywhere (and it’s free parking), and points to the venue entrance. “That’s where you want to go”.

I grab my camera bag and head over while wondering what was in store for me. Would there be some goth girl taking tickets and giving out media passes, or would it be a guy in a suit whispering like they do at funerals?

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

Well, the inside of the Masonic Lodge was a bit spooky but other than that, no ghouls, no Twilight-looking hipsters, no girls wearing all black. Oh wait, I lied. The opening band was just getting started and they actually did fit right in with the venue and vibe. The women of L.A. Witch did a great job to get the good times started.

During the break, a security guard tells me that someone complained about how loud the sound was. This is the second time I reach complete utter confusion today.

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

JAPANDROIDS; photo Andy Ortega

The time arrives for Japandroids to begin their set. There’s no designated photo pit area at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever so I make my way as close to the stage as possible. Brian King and David Prowse, the two members of Japandroids step onto the stage and the crowd erupts in cheers and applause. The music of Japandroids attracted a full house and lots of energetic fans.

Not all venues have good lighting, but the Masonic Lodge did not disappoint. I was able to get some great pictures with clear detail.

Shinedown: A Tale From The Photo Pit

SHINEDOWN; photo Reuben Martinez

SHINEDOWN; photo Reuben Martinez

Shinedown hit Riverside Apr. 12, as part of their Attention Attention Tour and will return to SoCal Aug. 4 stopping at Fivepoint Amphitheatre with Godsmack.

SHINEDOWN; photo Reuben Martinez

SHINEDOWN; photo Reuben Martinez

As I arrived at the venue 30 minutes before the show, I noticed right away that the line to get in went around the building. Once I was inside, I noticed how crowded and packed the venue was. I’ve shot a few sold out shows here at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium and it was unusual for people to come out early and pack in the venue as the doors opened.

SHINEDOWN; photo Reuben Martinez

SHINEDOWN; photo Reuben Martinez

I ran into familiar faces in the photo pit while waiting for the headliner, Shinedown to take the stage. They opened with “Sounds of Madness” and the crowd went crazy singing word for word. After the first song ended, singer Brent Smith thanked the audience, the staff and us, the photographers, for the work we do and shook all our hands. This was such a humbling experience.

SHINEDOWN; photo Reuben Martinez

SHINEDOWN; photo Reuben Martinez

While shooting the standard first three songs, I really enjoyed the energy from the band. The sound, the lights, also. This band really puts on a great show, one to see. In fact, the audience was on their feet the entire time. They only played a couple of new songs and ended the show with their cover of Lynard Skynard’s “Simple Man”, one of my all-time favorite remakes, followed by the first single “Devil” from the upcoming album Attention Attention.

SET LIST:
Sound Of Madness
Bully
Cut the Cord
How Did You Love
I’ll Follow You
The Human Radio
State of My Head
If You Only Knew
Enemies
45
Unity
Second Chance
Diamond Eyes
Simple Man
Devil

Pale Waves: A Tale From The Photo Pit

PALE WAVES; photo Lauren Ratkowski

PALE WAVES; photo Lauren Ratkowski

If you’ve never been to The Constellation Room inside the Observatory, let me set the scene. It’s a small room off to the side of the main entrance, just before you reach the main venue space. This small room is reminiscent of the legendary venue Chain Reaction just a few cities north in Anaheim. Friendly to local acts and smaller touring bands, this room holds a max of just 300 people. Yes, bands do sell this little room out, but usually not until the night of. Pale Waves, a young band from Manchester, England had their show sold out days, maybe even weeks in advance.

PALE WAVES; photo Lauren Ratkowski

PALE WAVES; photo Lauren Ratkowski

There is no photo pit in this space, just a stage and the fans. Knowing this, I arrived an hour and half early to get my credentials and to be sure I had a good place to work from. Sold out meant it was going to get packed quick, leaving little room for moving around. I ended up at the corner of the stage with a clear view. This was going to have to do. The rest of the room was already a sea of heads.

Shooting from the crowd is always a challenge. Angles and space are limited. Being conscious of others is always a must. And stage lighting in smaller venues is an expected hurdle. Despite those small things, it was refreshing to be shooting outside of the photo pit. It brought back memories of my humble beginnings as a young photographer- sneaking my camera into local venues (including the Observatory) and shooting up at the acts I admired.

PALE WAVES; photo Lauren Ratkowski

PALE WAVES; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Once Pale Waves hit the stage, everyone came alive. Hands in the air, lyrics sang back to goth angel lead singer Heather Barron-Gracie, and small pockets of dancing. Not to sound jaded, but it has been a minute since I’ve seen a young band produce such a passionate following. It speaks volumes to see sold out small venues packed with kids who know every word. Beyond that, that type of energy always bleeds into the photos!

PALE WAVES; photo Lauren Ratkowski

PALE WAVES; photo Lauren Ratkowski

The lighting has improved since I last shot in The Constellation Room, much to my relief. Mixed red and blue lights created an interesting appeal, while white light evenly mixed in to allow the capture of skin tones without washing out. Score! My outpost at the corner of the stage worked out well. I was able to capture some of my favorite shots of the night, especially during the more somber songs of the set when there was some artist-to-fan interaction.

PALE WAVES; photo Lauren Ratkowski

PALE WAVES; photo Lauren Ratkowski

As the set started to come to a close, I started eyeballing places to move to. I scooted across two rows to an empty space just big enough for me to squeeze in. I was now almost dead center, which allowed me to leverage the flying hands in the air as framing devices. I know young photographers who sometimes hate capturing that extra hand/limb/head in the frame, but when you can’t avoid it, you have to use it to your advantage! That move paid off. I ended up with some really strong images from this view point.

Personally, I’m going to bet that we will be seeing Pale Waves in bigger venue spaces before we know it. Between their infectious sound, passionate fans, and confident image, there is no room for failure. Suppose that is my photo lesson of this round- never stop paying attention to the up—and-comers!

Tale From The Photo Pit: One Love Cali Fest 2018

BREWFISH; photo Andy Ortega

BREWFISH; photo Andy Ortega

Even in SoCal, a February outdoor concert can have its risks with the weather but this year, you couldn’t have asked for anything better at the One Love Cali Reggae Fest. As a concert photographer, if there’s any chance of rain, I’ll need to bring some plastic bags and rubber bands to protect my camera. No need for that this time!

The One Love Cali Reggae Fest was held on the grounds of the Queen Mary in Long Beach Harbor. I parked at one of the designated areas, then took the free shuttle to the event. Getting in was smooth and quick thanks to the staff and organization. I went to pick up my media and photo passes. From there, I was directed to go through the VIP line and then through security.

The first show I covered was Long Beach’s own BREWFISH at the Flav stage. Since it was still midday, taking photos was a little more tricky than usual. See, when you’re outdoors on a mostly cloudy day you may need to deal with moving clouds. Moving clouds means changes in brightness. I had to change my settings every so often but they were mostly set at f4, 1/1000th ISO 200.

FORTUNATE YOUTH; photo Andy Ortega

FORTUNATE YOUTH; photo Andy Ortega

After that, I headed to the main stage to cover FORTUNATE YOUTH and MATISYAHU. Fortunate Youth did a wonderful job to get the mid-day concert goers dancing and moving. Then came Matisyahu. The photo pit had more photographers by now so I had to practice photo pit courtesy and carefully squeeze through them, sometimes while ducking, when I needed to change my spot.

J BOOG; photo Andy Ortega

J BOOG; photo Andy Ortega

Another challenge when shooting an outdoor stage comes during sunset. During J BOOG‘s set, I had to update my Nikon’s settings every couple of minutes. Shutter speed goes down, ISO goes up. By the time night has settled in, I was at f2.8, 1/250th, ISO 2500-3200 and stayed there for most of the night.

COLLIE BUDDZ

COLLIE BUDDZ; photo Andy Ortega

For the rest of the performances on the main stage including COLLIE BUDDZ, IRATION and REBELUTION, the photo pit was much busier. It always helps to say “hi” to other photographers and introduce yourself because we’re only able to stay in the photo pit for three songs (unless you have a coveted all-access photo pass) and it’s much easier to work among friends instead bumping and squeezing around strangers.

I’ve got to give it to the One Love Cali Reggae production team. My experience this year was perfect! No photo pass issues, easy entrance, clear and standard photo pit rules, and great security. There was no confusion from staff or security, which happens at large events sometimes.