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The Concert Photographer's Tools - The Early Days

I am often asked what it was like to photograph some of the greatest musicians of the time during one of the most exciting periods in modern music history. If the person has even a basic interest in photography, then the conversation eventually turns to my equipment. While the camera alone will not produce a great photograph, a good camera and lens can free the photographer to concentrate on producing photos. Being able to capture images in quick succession, such as these two sequences, each spanning only several seconds, of Carlos Santana at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago during two 1976 performances, meant keeping my eye to the viewfinder and concentrating on capturing the moment.

This is the time when the equipment definitely is an asset. The first sequence captures the passion and intensity on Santana’s face as he plays. The second, short sequence illustrates the performer turning away from the audience. I don’t believe either set of images would be possible if I had to stop and manually wind the film after each shot.

The images on these on this page were photographed with a Nikon F coupled to a specially modified F36 motor drive. The modification was done in house, by the Chicago Tribune in the late 1960’s. A short time after I began shooting concerts, the Tribune traded these remarkable cameras for the newly introduced F2. I was lucky to acquire 2 of these for some ungodly amount that kept me broke for a long time. However, having them made my life so much easier! Improvements that were made included the addition of two additional batteries to make up for the loss in power when using rechargeable types (1.3 vs. 1.5v), the relocation of the on/off and c/s switches to places where they would not be accidentally moved. A bonus of this modification was an increase in performance when using regular batteries which came at a price: at full consecutive mode, it would eat a roll of 36 exposures in about nine seconds! Restraint was required and short bursts of three to five exposures were the norm. The motor drives outlasted several camera bodies. My example, shown with this article, has a late “Apollo” Nikon of probably 1974 vintage attached. Today, these Tribune modified Nikons are considered true variants and command high prices. One of the two of these cameras that I owned, went missing from my storage locker while I was out of country, the other found a good home in Japan.

I matched one of these Nikons with a Soligor 135mm F1.8 lens. This was a huge piece of glass and was specially made for low light situations. While not particularly sharp, exhibited lots of flare and ghosts, it, with its shallow depth of field and speed would produce images when few others could! The other body, depending on the situation, had a 180mm F2.8 Nikon lens or a 28mm wide angle attached.

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