CUSTOMER CASE STUDY: Photographing US Singer-Songwriter Gretchen Peters throughout Her 2019 UK Tour

13 August 2019 | Category: Case Studies

CUSTOMER CASE STUDY: Photographing US Singer-Songwriter Gretchen Peters throughout Her 2019 UK Tour

 

Andrew Newiss, although not a professional photographer, has been photographing live music for many years. He has been a huge fan of singer Gretchen Peters since the late ‘90s and was given a fantastic opportunity whilst following her on tour.

Andrew’s beautifully atmospheric photographs caught our attention when he tagged us on Instagram. He chose to hire a Canon EOS R, along with an EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS III – fitted with an EF-EOS R Adapter, having spent years struggling with finding the right camera for the job of not only getting the perfect shot, but also of flying under the radar of the security staff! However, this time the latter criteria was less of a concern, over to Andrew…

I’ve been a fan of US singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters since her first album release back in the late ‘90s. I have been taking snaps at gigs for as long as I can remember, but it has become a much more regular hobby over the past eight years. Although I knew her music and had heard her songs – covered by Neil Diamond, Etta James, Trisha Yearwood, George Strait and Shania Twain, it wasn’t until 2004 that I first got to see her perform, live in the UK on tour.

Andrew Newiss Gretchen Peters

©Andrew Newiss

What struck me then, as it still does now, is how much she loves the interaction with her fans and that she takes the time to do the “meet & greet” after the show. There is always a long queue of people at the merchandise table waiting to say hello, have a chat and get t-shirts and CDs autographed.

What also hit home was that Gretchen loves photos taken by her fans and she often uses the photos of the gigs in her monthly newsletter, fan e-mails, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And she always credits the photographer – a rarity these days when photos are often used without accreditation.

Gretchen Peters singer images

©Andrew Newiss

Over the years I’ve sneaked small, pocket-sized cameras into gigs and managed to take a few furtive shots before the door staff or hired security have asked me to stop, taken my camera off me, or at one gig – tried to escort me out! I’ve managed to get some great shots but have always been envious of the professional photographers who are able to bring DSLRs and fabulous fast lenses into the gigs.

I’d heard that Gretchen’s latest tour was going to be something special – in addition to her usual band, she was going to include a string quartet in the mix. As this was a once in a lifetime tour, I decided to do something crazy – book tickets to every single gig of the 9-night UK tour.

I wanted to take photos at all the gigs – but over the past few years I’ve found myself wrestling with the difficulty of taking photos whilst also not disturbing others. When you pay £20, £30 or £40 for a ticket, the last thing you want is an annoying person near you holding a phone aloft or a camera with a bright screen distracting from the on-stage performance.

Gretchen Peters singer images

©Andrew Newiss

Then there is the issue of venues up and down the country having differing policies on cameras and taking photos.  Some say “no cameras”, but they allow the press or their in-house photographers to take shots.  Some say “no cameras” but then allow smartphones – ridiculous when your average phone has a 16MP+ sensor, works well in low light and offer HDR to boost the images.  Some venues allow “non-professional cameras”, classing “pro” cameras as ones with removable lenses – so DSLRs are out – but a DSLR-like bridge camera with a 1000mm+ zoom lens is fine!  Some allow any camera – but only to be used during the first 3 songs and finally, you get the venues who allow press and professionals to photograph but only from “the pit” (usually the standing area in front of the stage) or from the wings.  But not from the audience’s point of view.  All of which amounts to a bit of a nightmare.

Gretchen Peters singer images

©Andrew Newiss

I’d e-mailed Gretchen to let her know that I was going to all the gigs and when I arrived at the first venue, I was surprised (and delighted) to be given an “All Access” pass. Take a moment to think about your favourite band or singer – you turn up at a gig as a paying customer and you are given a pass which is the equivalent of being a member of the band and crew! For me, it was better than the best seat in the house. Not only did it give me Gretchen’s “permission” to take photos, but I didn’t have to be trapped in the seat I had booked. I could move around the venue and get the shots I wanted – while being respectful to the other concert goers, of course.

Andrew Newiss Gretchen Peters

©Andrew Newiss

So when I packed my camera bag for the second gig, which camera to choose? I looked at my old trusty Canon DSLR and my array of lenses, but decided against it. The main issue is noise. Not on the photos, but the sound of the camera itself. Even at its quietest, a DSLR’s shutter is like a gunshot in a Gretchen gig – there are songs where the audience is held spellbound and you can hear a pin drop. Would I want to break the magic moment with the clack-clack-clack of my old Canon? Perhaps not.

So yet again, I grabbed my favourite standby – an ageing but trusty Canon SX50HS superzoom. It’s smaller than my DSLR, stealthy (I can flip the screen closed against the body so it’s hidden), shoots RAW, is silent and has a great zoom (24-1200mm). But it does have its drawbacks – mainly in low light. Anything above 3200 ISO is grainy and ISO tops out at maximum of 6400. Slowing the speed down to 1/60sec helps, but often produces “blurry hand” on anyone strumming a guitar! Then add a smoke machine into the mix and the camera starts hunting for focus and you end up missing shots.

Andrew Newiss Gretchen Peters

©Andrew Newiss

For the majority of gigs in the tour, the little SX did really well but for the last gig, I knew it would struggle. The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh is fabulous for sound but stage lighting isn’t the brightest and nowhere near what my little camera needed.

So, what to do? The final and best venue on the tour and no decent camera at hand.

I did consider buying a new camera – I did all the research – and it came down to just 2. Already having an array of old Canon lenses, both of the new Canon mirrorless cameras – the Canon R and Canon RP were in the frame… until I read the review of the RP and it was mentioned that there’s no silent shooting mode. So that was out. But did I really want to spend £2000+ on a new camera for a single gig? Not really. And if I was having a new camera, I’d want decent glass too.

That’s when I found Hireacamera. I’d never rented camera equipment before and was really nervous about taking the plunge. The first worry was the cost and the second damaging the equipment while I had it. The cost was the first surprise – I used the “Live availability” checker and couldn’t believe how cheaply I could hire a brand new Canon R, Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS III USM lens, batteries, charger and everything I’d need for the gig. Then the worry about damage while I had it? Full insurance packages and a quick phone call to the team put my mind at rest. So I ordered it all and I am so glad I did. The camera arrived by courier the day before I was due to leave. I checked everything out and made sure it was working but didn’t have a chance to really play before heading to Scotland.

Andrew Newiss Gretchen Peters

©Andrew Newiss

On the day of the gig there was an added surprise – I was given permission to go to the sound-check – another sacred event that fans usually don’t get to see. Plus, I was allowed to take photos.

At soundcheck I put the camera and lens through their paces and tried to simulate how I would use the camera in the dark. I had the screen flipped closed, didn’t review photos as I shot them and tried to learn the button positions. Difficult, when for 5 years you’ve been used to the smaller SX buttons and placement. It wasn’t until half way through soundcheck that I noticed something worrying when I reviewed the photos – for some (although not all) there were vertical dark grey lines across the whole of the image! I tried not to panic, but could the camera be faulty?

I quickly Googled issues with the Canon R and image banding, but found nothing – then one of the lighting technicians saw a photo and knew what it was immediately. All of the stage lighting in the venue had been replaced with new Digital LED clusters. That gave the venue better control and far more effects than with the older style stage lights and coloured filters – but the LEDs introduced flicker and what I was seeing was an interference pattern."

Gretchen Peters singer images

©Andrew Newiss

I ran through a range of shutter speeds, checking and re-checking the images so I knew which speeds were “safe” for the gig and which produced banding. I'm so glad I found out at soundcheck and it didn't happen on the gig shots!

When it came time for the gig, and having seen the show dozens of times, I knew the order of the songs, where everyone would be on stage and where they would move and interact with each other for every song. I positioned myself discreetly in various points around the room, only moving and changing positions between songs. The venue lighting was superb and the smoke machine tried its best to put the camera off, but the Canon locked focus each and every time. Even in near-darkness. Occasionally focus lock was so fast that I thought that it hadn’t done anything! The L series lens was superb. Heavy, but the perfect lens for gigs. It did everything I asked of it.

Gretchen Peters singer images

©Andrew Newiss

Overall, this music fan and amateur photographer was very happy with the professional kit – and without Hireacamera, I would never have been able to get these shots – so am very grateful for everything they did.

I will definitely be hiring kit for the next tour – and who knows, I may change brands – hiring makes it easy to try cameras and lenses without the worry of buyer’s regret!

Andrew Newiss Photography

©Andrew Newiss

Andrew Newiss Photography

©Andrew Newiss

Gretchen Peters singer images

©Andrew Newiss

Andrew Newiss Gretchen Peters

©Andrew Newiss

Andrew Newiss Gretchen Peters

©Andrew Newiss

Gretchen Peters concert images

©Andrew Newiss

Gretchen Peters concert images

©Andrew Newiss

After receiving this article from Andrew, he sent us the photo below, which shows that Gretchen had used one of his previous years’ photos for her posters!

“I’d never had anything recognised or used for publicity until Gretchen used a photo of mine from last year as the tour poster for this last tour.”

Gretchen Peters concert images

©Andrew Newiss

Thank you so much Andrew, for taking the time to write such an interesting article, it’s just great to see musicians that truly value their fans and appreciate the lengths they go to, to support them.

Andrew's Instagram page: @anewiss

Hire links:

Canon EOS R with EF-EOS R Adapter

Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS III