The Best One-Day Music Festival I’ve Ever Been To – The Whitaker Block Party

A little background.

Whiteaker Block Party is a neighborhood event for the Whiteaker neighborhood of Eugene, Oregon. This was the 11th year of the block-party. The neighborhood residents and businesses in the hood pull together and volunteer to throw a ten-hour party. Which is more like a music festival than block-party.

I had been approached a few months back by Mick Dägger of the band Dick Dägger to see if I was interested in shooting the Whiteaker Block Party and then he later asked me to manage the photographers. I was excited to volunteer for the job. The word got out that I was working the festival and people I know would come up and be enthusiastic that I was shooting the show. It feels good to know I have fans of your work.

Planning the job.

How do you plan a job like this with two photographers? You have to know the players and the layout of the event you’re shooting. I tried to put a plan together, I had a Google Doc of the bands that needed to be photographed. I planned out different routes between stages where I could get to a good vantage point to photograph the attendees, vendors and volunteers. That was the plan at least. I started my planning process weeks in advance. I needed to prepare and purchase any supplies necessary for the event. I worked on a project a month earlier and already bought extra batteries and memory cards, so I was well equipped in that area. I only brought one too many lenses, which is pretty good for me. I brought a mono-pod and never used it and I didn’t bring a tripod and didn’t miss not having it.

When Tyrone Russ (the other photographer) and I arrived on location at 09:45 we re-evaluated our plan. We decided on a new plan; abandon the orginal plan. New plan: Shoot everything and anything interesting.

How was the music?

The music was amazing. Just amazing. Almost all local acts. There is such a deep talent pool of musicians in this place. It is a little ridiculous. There really was music for everybody, and every musical taste. I just wish the schedules were staggered a little better, but with eleven stages I could see that being difficult. There were a lot of acts that I like that I had never heard of, but I really enjoyed seeing. There were several stages, I couldn’t get to because things were so to tight.

It’s not just about the music.

There was a lot going on the at block-party, more than just music. There were street performers and arts and crafts for the kids and just a bunch of neighbors hanging out together, playing out with their dogs and children. I think I saw some people having a beer together. This event is nothing like I’ve ever been too. Ferry Festa in Dobbs Ferry and Ferrogosto in the Bronx are a lot like a big block-parties, but hanging out in the Whit with these clowns was the highlight of my time in Eugene.

I left at 10:15pm and I woke up at 10:15 the next morning, I walked down to the zone and if I didn’t see the party for myself, I probably would have assumed that it didn’t happen. Man, the cleanup crew really did a great job.

Nice work guys.

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Off stage
On stage

Good Night Folks

Subjects and Muses

Last December was the first time I caught the band Childspeak. I loved their music immediately, I also find this band a compelling photographic subject. I’ve photographed them on stage and off stage. There comes a point when your subjects become your friends and your friends become your subjects. Photographing people is a personal process, these things are bound to happen. Yesterday Derek and I were talking and he reminded me that we as artists often have muses. A muse in simple terms is just a creative influence. In practice though, a muse has a powerful impact on your art and creativity. I have yet to decide or figure out if a whole band can be a single muse.

I’ve hung out with these guys a lot in the last few months, and they are a lot of fun to know. Childspeak is always been fun to photograph, but honestly, the first few times I photographed them on stage, I’ve had a helluva time trying to get images that I like. That challenge has been worth the work though. Music is an emotionally powerful art form, I would argue that it’s far more powerful than photography. So trying to photograph subjects making music often seems fruitless. So how do you do it? How do you tell a story of someone telling a story?

Each time I photograph them though, I get a bit better at it. By better, I mean that I like the work I am producing more each time. Technically the mechanics are the same, but I am able to see what I want to capture before I even press the shutter button. I’m not bored with photographing them yet. I tend to lose interest in shooting a single band fairly quickly. I rarely lose interest in the music itself. As you photograph a subject a few times you can get bored pretty quickly, especially if they don’t show interest in the image making process itself. Which is often the case with musicians.

I don’t really know if Childspeak has become a muse for me or not. It’s complicated. There is a fine line between a subject that you aren’t done exploring and creative influence. I can tell you that I really enjoy what they do. They seem to appreciate what I do.

A Night of Childspeak

It doesn’t matter whether we’re photographing dog catchers, accountants or musicians. Photographing groups of people always adds another level of complexity over photographing one person. It’s difficult enough to coordinate with one or two people, it’s even more so with four or six people. There’s usually an element of uncertainty when photographing groups.

If there’s already an event where the group had planned to be at, this makes it easier. Coordinating a group photo-shoot is a different situation. There are always people in the group that aren’t so thrilled about being photographed. Every situation is different of course. I had a band shoot a few months back during the band’s practice day and there were members that had some anxiety over being photographed. This shoot with Childspeak we had some scheduling issues, but everyone was happy to have the shoot happen.

We hustled pretty hard to get this shoot done in one night. I had such a great time working with these guys.

Everything comes down to having a good plan of what you want to achieve. When things go off the rails have a plan b and a plan c ready to go.

Broken Heart Rodeo

Next month I am having my first solo gallery show in town. The photography show’s theme is the musicians of Eugene, Oregon. Fortunately, I have good friends that are musicians. They decided to get together and volunteer to play the opening event for me. I am very excited about this event.

One of the bands is called “Broken Heart Rodeo“, and the members come from four different bands. Le Rev, Pancho + The Factory, Booty White and his Contraband and Holler House. They are getting together to play some honky-tonk songs. I decided I needed to get some promo shots of the band. They let me come to the last hour of practice to shoot some pictures. However I thought this might be more of a dress rehearsal. It was not, but we made it work.

Show details

Eugene Musicians in Pictures: May 5th at Shadowfox, 5:30—8 pm (First Friday Tour Stop at 6:30 pm)

Over the last several years, Tom Chamberlain has photographed more than his fair share of live music. All of the images he will exhibit are of Eugene musicians performing on stage at various local venues. He enjoys photographing musicians because of his love for live music.

The opening reception will feature musical performances by SurfsDrugs and Broken Heart Rodeo, who will both perform again at Luckey’s for the post-reception party.

About a dozen prints of various sizes will be exhibited and for sale at Shadowfox. Every penny that Tom collects for prints will be donated to Eugene MASV (Musicians Against Sexual Violence), a non-profit coalition of musicians, artists, entertainers and activists working to prevent sexual violence in the community’s night scene and to empower victims/survivors who are performers and audience members.

An Evening with the Suburban Dead

Last Wednesday I got the opportunity to photograph Pancho + the Factory. I have been wanting to get a shoot with those guys for weeks now. They have a big show coming up and a bunch of new songs, but Steve giving me that precious practice time with them was fantastic.

There was no time to shoot a group shot, so it was one on one. I had 90 minutes to shoot seven head-shots while they were working on their stage-faces. I had to cycle through the group whilst learning my new 120cm octagon-softbox. I’ve used large softboxes before, but I have never used an octagon this large. It does make beautiful light that wraps around the subject. I think I still have a little ways to go with this thing before I really get the hang of it. I also had a limited amount of space to work in. I had not been to their practice space before, so I didn’t know what to expect. There was a large step-van in front and it blocked the wall I wanted to shoot in front of. The weather didn’t exactly cooperate the way I would have liked either. Fortunately there was a good overhang for the band. I however spent most of the time shooting in a light rain.

The shoot was fun, and I can’t wait to shoot more with this band. There is one necessity that I need when photographing a band with six or more members, a good assistant. I was lucky to have Michelle there to wrangle the gang for me. It’s always nice to have someone carry stuff for you too.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Photographers

This is a story of one of my recent failures, sort of…

Last Friday there was a show I wanted to shoot. I hit up the organizers and got a media pass and I was ready to shoot. It was a long show, with lots of performers. I try to go into every gig with a game plan. I knew what I was getting into, but I just did not get what I wanted when I left.

What was the plan?

My plan was to shoot as many individual portraits as I could while in the green-room. I would grab them between sets and sit them down. I knew how I wanted the images to look. I knew that there was a lot of stage time as well, so I would just go back and forth from the main stage to the green-room. I felt this would be pretty straight forward and easy to pull off.

What did I do wrong?

I brought light-stands, umbrellas, and strobes. I thought I was prepared and I felt like I was prepared too and just did not get there early enough. I walked through the door and there was musical equipment everywhere. The “get there first” approach has always worked well for me. I should have gotten there an hour earlier than I did and scooped up a good spot to set up my lights and chair. I needed to create a space just for shooting and kept clear of clutter.

The room doesn’t have very good ambient light and my auto focus isn’t so great in low light, an extra lamp would have been helpful. I snapped so many pictures and when I got them into Lightroom, they were out focus. I could plainly see that my auto-focus just did not get the right point. I didn’t know most of the players, I never knew who to photograph or when to photograph. People were running around all over the place. Some people got there late and I found it difficult to go back and forth from the stage to get shots in both places. I was really upset with myself. I could have planned things better than I did. I never do well when I’m rushed.

Events like the one I just attended are very fluid and I need to be just as fluid. I should have brought somebody to help me round people up and I should have been more clear on what else I wanted to. I feel I could have done it right, and I can’t whine about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I managed to edit down 90 images that I really liked. Only six of those were from sittings in the green-room though.

What did I learn?

I learned not to take a situation for granted. I know to get the location early. I understand that no situation is as perfect as it seems. I think this is why I am so frustrated with myself, because I know where I went wrong before it actually went wrong.

I had a photography teacher that made one statement very clear; you either got the shot, or you didn’t.

So now I just have to get back out there and have a clear plan of what I want and learn to adapt to situations more fluidly. These kinds of gigs come up from time to time. At the very least, the organizers were very happy with the 90 images I supplied to them. At least I have that going for me.

So, are you a good photographer?

I am a photographer, and on more than one occasion people have introduced themselves as photographers. Yay! The more the merrier I guess. I actually love talking photography with photographers. However, I don’t have a lot of patience for people looking for an opening to brag. I like to open with one question to weed those people out. The answer itself is not near as important as the delivery of that answer.


So, you any good?

Those four words can coax a lot of information out of people. I get a mix of answers and I always appreciate a bit of humility. Most of the time that is what I get. However, I have noticed that the younger and hipper the photographer, the more boasting they like to do. There’s no need to brag though. You have the whole conversation to work in how “good” you are.

My favorite interaction; I was shooting a show at Berbati’s Pan in Portland and this kid struck up a conversation with me. I asked the question, and he actually said, “I’m pretty much the best young music photographer in Portland.” He went on for several minutes, I turned my back on him and walked away. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses.

Is good even definable?

Yes, I think it’s definable, but only in a very limited context. The adjective good as it relates to photography is much more vague than in other forms of visual media. Good is subjective. If you think it’s good, then it’s good. Simple. I know that doesn’t help.

How do you know if your work is any good?

See above.

Seriously though, don’t listen to your friends and family, and for the sake of all that is pure, don’t give any weight to the opinions of your Facebook and Instagram followers. These people don’t know what they’re talking about. Work hard and put real pressure on yourself to get better and learn more about your own work. There is no such thing as a natural. There are no naturals in the world of photography. Monetary success and popularity does not make a good photographer. Putting out consistently good work and not resting on your laurels.

Well, then how do we know if we are good photographers?

You ask yourself that first question. If you answer it honestly, then you’ll probably fall somewhere between terrible and the best the world has ever seen. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Join groups and look at other people’s work. Sure, 👍s, ❤s and ⭐s are great, use them as a general gauge and go from there. If you need more than that, you can seek out professional portfolio reviews. You should probably prepare yourself for reality though, those guys can be harsh.

Xerox came up with a computer program that can tell the difference between good and bad photos. I think it’s kind of funny.

My Time in Burlington

Burlington, at the end of the day is just another American city.

I don’t want to sound like I am taking a jab at this Burlington, but it has a lot in common with so many other cities. It is a nice town, but not particularly unique. Burlington is considered a fairly progressive city, but that’s difficult to judge as a tourist. There are still homeless people scattered around the city. There is still a big traffic problem. There are tourists everywhere you turn. Downtown is very shopping-centric. These are fairly typical traits for an American city.

I like that Burlington sits on a lake that feels like it could be a cove near the ocean. Lake Champlain is quite an impressive body of water. A beautiful park and multi-use path follow the lakefront for miles. In the summer, the lake attracts tourists and sportsmen/women. Going to the “beach” was always so much fun. I spent a fair amount of time sitting a the bench smoking a cigar staring down at the water.

The architecture doesn’t seem too impressive compared to other cities near by. Montreal, Boston,  and even Concord NH in my opinion are more architecturally impressive than Burlington. Those are perhaps the closest large cities. I also found it odd that there isn’t much in the way of public art as I would expect. There is very little wall art (there is plenty of graffiti), I only saw a couple sculptures or statues on public property. Those other cities seem to do a nice job in the way of public art. The open air mall on Church Street is very nice, and a great place to tourist-watch. There are plenty of  great restaurants and pubs. There is even a closed air mall on Church Street. This is where you would find the camera shop.

While Burlington is not the capital of Vermont, there are some beautiful state buildings. There is an odd mix of New England style and plain stucco box architecture all over town. The University of Vermont campus is fantastic too. I didn’t spend too much time up there though. Most of the big buildings and hotels in town are very modern looking.

I have huffed around the city several times with my camera, there is plenty of stuff to photograph. I never really got bored with photo-walking, but I also have never been here in the winter. I expect the weather is terrible in the winter, especially this far north and on Lake Champlain. I would not look forward to that commute through this area either.

I imagine people just stay indoors but the snow is always fun to photograph too. My next visit I hope to make in the fall. They say the colors are spectacular. I’ll keep you informed.

EyeEm or Instagram?

Battle of the social photography apps?

EyeEm or Instagram? Actually, the answer is both.

Most photographers will agree that Instagram is a wasteland of visual clutter and nobody has friends on EyeEm. I have been on the EyeEm for quite some time now, and I have been using Instagram since it was released. I like both platforms, but I have been using IG much more frequently.

The key differences between EyeEm and IG are not just in layout, but in user-base. Since IG was bought by Facebook the user-base has really changed with it.

IG like Facebook is a place to see your friends vacation and bar photos, along with memes and corporate brand advertisements. With its curated feed, you see the “popular” posts first. Then if you’re lucky you see other stuff. So if you follow somebody with a low follower count you are less likely to see anything they post. It’s a fine spot for popular photographers to share images and gain followers for their “brand”. I actually have more engagement on my images when use Instagram to post them to Facebook, than on Instagram itself. However I am not a popular photographer.

EyeEm on the other hand has really gained an international feel to it. This is more of a place for photographers to share images with other photographers of all levels. The layout lends itself well to bigger phone screens and not so well for smaller screens. Unlike IG, EyeEm editors don’t curate your following feed. The feed is chronological but with a couple of swipes you find yourself in an area that features curated feeds with stories from very interesting photographers. You can also follow “keyword” feeds. If you like to look at cat pictures you can have a “cat feed“.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the money.

I am a photographer, and like every other photographer we need to put our images out there for people to see. So hopefully people hire us. The app developers need to earn money to keep the platform going. Instagram uses in app ads and EyeEm uses stock photo sales. Instagram made $719 million last year according to Fortune magazine and has been difficult to nail down how much money EyeEm has earned, they are using photo stock platform to sell images through online sales and are splitting the money 50/50 with the photographer. As far as I can tell this is in the single-digit millions somewhere.

Both of these applications have great image filter options for the mobile photographer. They are both very easy to use. You can add images from Lightroom Mobile or if you are still one of those photographers that does not want to update to Lightroom CC then you can just grab images from your Dropbox app.

Personally I take more stock in EyeEm’s ability to satisfy my photography inspiration needs. If I need to see memes and celebrity re-grams I have Instagram.



Photo-walking Middlebury Vermont.

The first time I walked through Middlebury, I was immediately taken by its charm. After a day, I felt that I photographed everything worth photographing. After a couple of photowalks through town, I quickly realized there was indeed a lot to photograph out of plain sight. I searched around with my camera in hand looking for interesting scenes. The town is really lovely, and it takes a few days to get a feel for Middlebury in pictures.

It’s a nice town with plenty of things to do. There are museums and galleries, there is shopping and eating. There is plenty of nature to explore too. There are no big buildings though, and that is just fine. The waterfall that drops below Main street can only be photographed in so many angles before you get bored with it. There are plenty of little nooks over the area though.

I think a photographer would need a couple of days to get this place captured, but it’s the feeling you have while here that I think is attractive about Middlebury. Every photographer will see this place differently. I saw this place differently each time I came down to photograph it. I am not sure when or if I’ll spend much more time here to photowalk, but I wouldn’t mind a little more time. If you ever find yourself passing through, it’s worth a few hours with your camera.

A Craftsman’s Shop

Spending the afternoon at Kelly Bike®

The ShopYesterday in sunny Nevada City California I spent a few hours with the master frame builder, Chris Kelly at Kelly Bike® HQ. We were shooting some video and some still images for his new website. The footage we shot was him adding the braze-on parts for a new frame build. A braze-on is any metal welded to a frame, like seat post clamps, water bottle cages, cable guides and panniers racks. Chris makes the process look easy.

I think a lot of people don’t see is the office work that goes into running your business. When you look into a shop like Chris’s it’s hard to tell that he also does his office work here too. He routinely works 14 hour days. Building frames, packing them up, shipping them off to customers and then there is buying supplies and doing the marketing going to shows and setting that all up. Kelly Bike Company is really just a One-Man Show.

There is more to being a craftsman than working in the shop with a torch in hand.

Chris Kelly in the Office

The Practice Space

Another day shooting with And And And, this time we’re at band practice. I’m not sure that the average show-goer realizes as how much hard work bands put in. A band practice can go on for several hours, even superheroes need a break.

The only thing better than photographing musicians in a photo-studio, is photographing them in their own practice space. The band is there to do one thing, practice. This is how I was able to get images that I really like. it’s the only way to work.

I’ve been photographing And And And for a long time now, and these guys are just comfortable around me with my cameras. They tend to keep their guard down. There are plenty of photographers that are champing at the bit to get the access that I get with And And And. I do indeed understand how lucky I am to have this kind of access.

And And And

Saint – Minden Video Shoot

Casey from the band Minden gave me a call when he realized he needed a photographer to shoot stills for the filming of the band’s next music video. The whole video was shot in one long day. In Portland the weather actually held up for most of the day. Benjamin Ross Lyerly was the director for the video, and his crew were real pros. I was so glad I got to sit in on this shoot.