Oakville Jazz Festival 2012

What makes the Oakville Jazz Festival special for both photographers and music lovers?

This is one of the very few jazz festivals which offers intimate stage setups which can accommodate large crowds easily. The two main stages are located off street in the town square and the main library a few meters away. There is plenty of room for people to bring chairs and tons of standing room. These are really nice locations to watch and photograph concerts.

For photographers there’s easy access to the front of the stage where there are lots of shooting spots that aren’t right in front of the audience. And, if you have to, there’s usually room to sit on the ground at the edge of the stage and shoot up at the artists.

Lots of amateur photographers will shoot from too far away so you should have the stage pretty much to yourself. At least that’s what I thought until a really old guy (I’m an old guy and this guy could have been my father.) rolls up in his wheelchair and parks himself at the edge of the stage and records the whole night on his IPhone. Amazing. A fellow photographer as far as I’m concerned and good on him.

BTW remember not everyone has a lot of experience shooting in these sort of situations. After years of shooting for newspapers I’m really good at figuring out the best sight lines to shoot from (For example, which hand is the artist holding the mic. Get on the other side so the mic doesn’t block the face.) and sometimes another photographer thinks it’s okay to step in front of you. I don’t mind a shot or two but if they are setting up camp I’ll ask them to move. Usually this is done with a loving tap and gesture. And to be fair, I will move around to allow others the best places as well.

When the headliner is getting to wrap up I’ll move off the sight lines and stand at the edge of the stage and as they stand and the applause breaks out I’ll walk in front of the audience who are collectively getting to their feet and shoot from a standing position and nobody cares. At my age it’s tough to get up quickly from the cold concrete so I preplan this.

There are several side stages setup on the roadways which are blocked to traffic and they allow for easy shooting opportunities although occasionally you do have to politely move in front of folks as everybody is at the same level standing on the roadway. BTW never, under any circumstances stand in front of a senior who has brought their lawn chair and is setup to stay for the duration. This is especially true if the senior brought a cane. Just kidding but you get my point.

Another big feature of the Oakville Jazz Festival is all the venues are free! Where else can you go hear artists like Holly Cole (who was amazing) and Allen Toussaint (who simply blew downtown Oakville away) and Paul James and Fathead who played on Sunday afternoon for free and stand at the edge of the stage?

And unlike a lot of “jazz” festivals in the GTA, this festival actually featured jazz by world-class performers. Very cool.

Best lenses for shooting this type of festival are fast (f/1.4 or 1.8. F/1.2 are lovely but too heavy to carry all day.) 28 or 35mm wide and 85 or 105mm telephotos. Avoid all zoom lenses that aren’t f/2.8 as they’re too slow once the sun starts to go down.

Don’t count on vibration reduction to stop action on the stage. It will help eliminate camera shake from your hand-holding but remember you’re still shooting at pretty low shutter speeds. And you can’t use a tripod in crowd situations and a monopod isn’t really going to help either.

Set your ISO according to what your camera can handle. For me, in the available light at dusk and augmented by stage lights an ISO of 400 was fine. I could easily have gone to ISO 800 or higher but there was no need to do so.

If you’re camera has a built-in flash and you’re shooting at night, you might use it after the performance as the artist is taking a bow just to add a tickle of light but don’t use it during the act. Some artists don’t like flash and the audience sure won’t if you’re banging away during the performance.

As I said in a previous post, I used a 35mm and 85mm f/1.8 lenses for 99 per cent of my shooting at the Oakville Jazz Festival and I’m really pleased with the results. The 60 shots or so that I’ve uploaded to my gallery are the best from 1,800 frames shot during the three-day event.




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