The Performance - Exposing for The Stage

The house lights dim and the audience stifles in anticipation with whispered and hushed murmurs. Maybe the stage is hidden by a thick, velvet curtain waiting to open. Maybe the stage is open, revealing a darkened outline of instruments and props. This stage waits, expectant of the life and energy of music; the percussive sounds and artistry about to fill the space, straight to the hearts of the audience.

Such is the atmosphere of the live performance. The performer outputs a rendition of their song, dance. Sometimes better than the last time, sometimes not, but each performance is perfect and imperfect, each unique. Sometimes the performer wonders how he or she could create such beautiful sound even as the music is being created. That’s when you as the performer get back all that you give.

One of my "goals" is to take the time and effort (because I'm old and would rather spend my evenings curled up on the couch with my cat) to get out and enjoy more live music, theatre and dance performances. Back in November, we attended a concert by the a cappella group, Straight No Chaser and their policy on photography allowed me to use my DSLR freely.


From a photographer’s perspective, getting the correct exposure is challenging with the often dark edges of the stage and bright spotlights. These extremes confuse the automatic matrix metering so I always flip to spot metering or manual exposure, erring on the side of under exposing. I look for the silhouettes, the light gradients that create depth on the stage. And try to capture the artist in their element - the essence where the purity of sound fills their soul.

And when the lighting falls flat, convert to black and white!

Lights and Song

The best part of the night? When they reverted back to "Old School" a cappella - no mics, no beat boxing, just lush harmonies.
Closing Time

What was the last live performance you enjoyed? Any events on the horizon? We now have tickets to catch violinist Rachel Barton Pine, performing the Barber Violin Concerto (a fave of mine) with the local CU Symphony Orchestra


2009 to 2019 Retrospective

Here we are, on the cusp of not just another year but a new decade. There seems to be a lot of retrospection going on amidst social media to commemorate this transition. I don't recall the same amount of scrutiny ten years ago when we fell into the "Twenty-Tens". And perusing my blog archives, there is no hoop-la surrounding this date ten years ago.

But I do notice some trends.

In 2009, I purchased my first iPhone, the iPhone 3G. I started taking more photos with that iPhone. Instagram didn't exist (I looked it up - initially released in October 2010 - I posted my first Instagram photo on December 30, 2010). I'm not sure when the Facebook iPhone App was released (can't find a definitive answer on the web). Since 2009, the explosion and usage of mobile phones (and the mobile phone camera) drove an influx of social media and photo sharing apps. People (myself included) document their daily lives via the camera on their mobile phone. And so rises the interest in seeing what we looked like in 2009 compared to 2019. And having digital photos dating back to 1999 (yes, I had my film negatives scanned starting in 1999), I can oblige.

December, 2009, we took our first family cruise to the Bahamas and spent the Christmas holiday with my parents in Florida.

LaoLao and LaoYeh

The photo used for 2009's holiday card:

And here we are in 2019's holiday card:
Family 2019

My extended family, from our trip to Hilton head in August:
Family Reunion

We've all gotten older, my kids are all grown up and fortunately, we all enjoy good health. I don't blog as much as I did in 2009 (I logged over 600 blog posts that year - yikes!) and I don't take my DSLR out except for special occasions. I feel like these trends may change in 2020. I feel like I could take my DSLR out more, and I feel like I could write / blog more. I know I can spend less time on social media.

For even more fun, here's the family photo we used for 1999's holiday card. This was the first year I sent out a family holiday card. I still have it (and the subsequent years').
Family photo 1999

Here's wishing everyone a great new year with continued blessings into 2020 and the next decade.


Golden and Frosty December

December blessed us with many sunny days, lifting our spirits as we enter the shortest days of the season.

Since I am presently unable to run, I've been hiking out at the forest preserve instead, and bringing my camera along.

I was lucky this morning as a light sheen of frost tipped the prairie grasses.


Bedazzle frost

All this "slowing down" allowed me to discover new single track trails carved off the beaten path. I learned that local outdoor enthusiasts, keen on maintaining the health of the forest, worked to clear the area of invasive trees and shrub and in the process, created these new trails and built rustic bridges across the waterway that meanders through the property.

Stream Crossing

I'm finding lovely woodland elements to fill my camera's frame.
On the Shelf fungus

And getting my fill of the outdoors, complete with some of that white fluffy stuff.
The Winter Solstice #getoutside #wintersolstice2019 #trails #snow

So long to December, the Year 2019 and the Decade 2010's! I await the new year and decade with continued optimism and thankfulness.


New Photography Challenges - Engagement Session

As I look back at the years of photos I've taken, I see how the tools of my hobby have changed, I see how the sharing platforms have morphed, and how my abilities have grown. That growth only continues by taking on new challenges, constantly learning and adjusting.

I no longer carry my DSLR with me all the time. I no longer strive to take a photo every day. In reality, I'm less focused on photography and as a result, I feel less creative, but that's OK - it's where I am in today's stage of life. Even though I'm less focused on day to day photography, I still love the feeling of seeing and making an image. I enjoy working with people to create images they will cherish. So I've been taking photos of people via photo sessions. My subjects are long time family friends and sons and daughters of friends. My strategy is to photograph people I know, who have a personal connection to me or my family.

Last month I took on a New Challenge, an Engagement session with Andrew and Alessa

Andrew and Alessa

I had never worked with an engaged couple. Sure, I've done the high school prom photos, but these are certainly more intimate and meant to be treasured for years to come. Alessa is a friend of my daughter's, so there's the personal connection. I think I met Alessa once during a campus event (it was at a bar, and no, I don't recall meeting her, but she remembered meeting me).

I asked Alessa to use Pinterest to document and communicate her ideas and preferences for these photos. That was a tremendous help to me and allowed us to execute numerous poses in several locations at the venue, Allerton Park.
Andrew and Alessa

Andrew and Alessa

Andrew and Alessa
Alessa and Andrew were great to work with, even on this chilly fall day. I did learn something for the future - to make sure the subjects have appropriate clothes for the shoot. At one point, it became evident to me that Andrew was really cold and uncomfortable. This transferred to the photos in his stiff body language and forced smile. We adjusted by moving to a sunnier, less windy area and he put on his coat. I tell folks that if they aren't comfortable, that will translate into the photos.

I enjoyed the challenge of photographing this fun couple and if presented with another opportunity, will certainly do it again.


Music - Sara Bareilles Amidst the Chaos Tour

A month ago, I dragged a friend up to Chicago to see Sara Bareilles perform at the United Center, a stop on her Amidst the Chaos tour. In reality, my friend did the heavy lifting as she drove us there and back after the concert (2.5 hours each way!) - so thank you, Jill, for putting up with my fan girl obsession with my favorite singer-songwriter.

I've seen Sara perform three times before last night, with the last concert in 2011, after her Kaleidoscope Heart album. Back then Sara played more to the local college scene, allowing me to take advantage of those close venues. I missed out on the Blessed Unrest "Little Black Dress" tour because she performed in Chicago and I didn't want to invest the energy of driving there and back. I now realize that live music is a gift we don't experience enough, so I bought tickets for this tour. Of course Sara didn't disappoint - her voice still rich, beautiful and polished even when challenged by the complexity of her songs. I still connect with her music and lyrics which contrast today's simplistic, manufactured pop music.

The stage's centerpiece focuses on the piano with conical chandelier of hanging pages, said to be lyrics and journal entries, a visual representation of music emanating from the recesses of the instrument.
Don’t Stop Trying to find me amidst the chaos, though I know it’s blinding there’s a way out, say out loud We will not give up on love now. #amidstthechaostour

Orpheus (Prologue) - Sara starts with the chorus of this song, which features namesake of the album and tour with these lyrics - "Don’t stop trying to find me here amidst the Chaos, though I know it's blinding there's a way out". The stage, bathed in white light, glistens like a beacon of hope. The stage colors, spotlights and back lights continued to transition throughout the performance, creating a beautiful effect.

She then launches into songs from the current album:
Fire - about feeling the heat of a relationship
Poetry by Dead Men - leaving a relationship
Eyes on You - profiles of everyday people and their troubles and keeping those people close to you in this crazy world

The next song is from her Blessed Unrest album, I Choose You, what I consider to be her most "optimistic" relationship song. It's a piece one might play at a wedding - sweet and loving. It's not my favorite because Sara usually sings about heartbreak, personal discovery and moving on.

She segues into the next song with her backup singers vocalizing jazzy chords a cappella, fingers snapping, syncopated percussion and I'm left wondering what song it's going to be. Until those familiar chords start on the piano - the distinctive start to Love Song. This is what Sara does best - reinventing her songs.

Sara returns to the new record with percussive Armor, an anthem calling for women to support one another. She then brings opening act Emily King to sing a duet - If I Can't Have You. Emily King collaborated with Sara in writing this song.
The mood slows down (and we get to sit down) with the romantic Miss Simone

The set then detours away from pop music to Broadway with a trio of songs from Sara's successful musical, Waitress.

Soft Place to Land - an ethereal trio
Sara Bareilles
Above Photo credit - Shannon Guest
You Matter to Me - duet with her bassist

Bad Idea - duet with her guitarist

She then goes solo with the piano on what I thought was the best song of the night, She Used to Be Mine. This is what I enjoy the most - the stripped down singer with piano. Sara continues with only the piano and Uncharted, which included a brief audience sing along (yes, I sang along since that’s my thing).
Sara Bareilles
Above Photo credit - Shannon Guest

The band re-emerges for a mash up of No Such Thing / Satellite Call. A common trend for concerts is to perform a song where people use the flashlights on their phones akin to Bic lighters to fill the stadium with light like stars in the sky. It's more effective in a larger or outdoor venue where the atmosphere doesn't reflect the light back. I love the sentiment but seeing the insides of the United center all lit up didn’t give that stars in the night sky effect. When I saw Ed Sheeran in concert outside, this effect was totally amazing.

I know the concert is heading into the last stretch with Let the Rain, King of Anything and Brave.

To end the main set, the band circled back to Orpheus - but Sara performed the full version of the song, creating a sense of completion.

We were treated to two encores - Gravity and Saint Honesty. Sara always sings Gravity for her encores and while I love this song, I found the arrangement too heavy on the low strings for my liking. But Saint Honesty makes up for it all, showcasing the power and timbre of her voice - snippet in the video below:
Rain on Us Saint Honesty
I am always amazed how consistently good her performances are and that she seems like a genuinely nice person, in addition to being transparent about her faults.

So if you like lyrical, complex songs, performed impeccably, go see Sara Bareilles and her Amidst the Chaos Tour while you can. Or, if you will be in London in January (2020), she will be playing the main character, Jenna, in Musical Waitress in London's West End.


Fall Has Arrived

October gave us summer, winter and fall weather all rolled up into 31 days.

I liked the fall portion the best, even if it was a bit short lived.
Hidden River

Take the Path

Golden Days


End of Summer Family Photos in the Prairie

Back in July I took photos of my good friend, Grace, and her lovely family using the backdrop of the prairie. I've taken their photos over the last three years and unfortunately, this may be the last time as they move back to the west coast. I wanted to capture the essence of the prairie setting as a reminder of their eight years among the cornfields. Of course, the prairie style park right in our neighborhood provided the perfect setting.

DGOL Family 2019

DGOL Family 2019

I befriended Grace through yoga class at the local YMCA; when she expressed an interest in running, we started running together. She and her oldest son are natural runners and I will miss their energy and exuberance on our group runs.

DGOL Family 2019

Today's Photo tip - Reducing Glare from glasses
One challenge for photographing a person wearing glasses like David here is minimizing glare or reflections from the lenses. The first photo has more glare than the one above. About half way through the shoot I realized there was a lot of lens glare; I re-positioned myself and the subjects to minimize it - this entailed moving to an area where the light was more filtered (like in the shade) and positioning the camera higher. Bonus tip - utilize a step stool to gain height (especially for us shorter people). Aside from my camera and lenses, the step stool is my most utilized tool while taking photos of people.

Grace, David and boys - we miss you but I know I will see you again!



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All images on this blog (unless stated) are the intellectual property and copyright of Shirley LeMay Photography and Shirley Behind the Lens (© 2005-2014). Do not steal, borrow or pirate the images here.

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code. and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) prohibits the use of digital property to be used without the consent of its owner.

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