Greta Van Fleet performs at 9:30 Club on July 20, 2018. Chris Smyth chose another photo from this show as one of his 10 Best of the Year. (Photo by Chris Smyth)
Editor’s Note: This year, we asked our bloggers to name their Top 10 shows of 2018 or choose their Top 10 photos of the year. We will run them over the course of mid-December as our Best of the Year posts.
When I was asked to write a piece about my 10 favorite photos from the past year, initially I was very excited to do it. It seemed like an enjoyable way to recap what has been an exciting year of concert coverage. I joined Parklife DC in March, but as of this writing, I have been fortunate to have covered 21 shows, and I produced a total of 28 reviews. This has been far more fun than I ever could have imagined.
However, once I actually sat down to try and decide which photos would make it into the Top 10, it became much more of a struggle than I ever thought it would be. How could I possibly pare down a few hundred photos into a mere 10? So many great shows and bands that I love will be left out. Am I really going to leave the amazing Lzzy Hale and Halestorm out of this list? The thunderous Sons of Apollo and their awesome double-necked guitars can’t possibly be cut, could they? Trivium’s “The Sin and the Sentence” nearly ripped my face off because it was so powerful live, it wouldn’t be fair to leave them out.
After spending far too much time examining my photos from the past year, I feel that I have finally settled on a set of 10 that I’m happy with. To narrow my list to my Top 10, I used a few criteria to help me figure out how to break it down — How unique is the photo? What was my personal experience while shooting the show? What emotions do I feel when I see this photo? And finally, how great was the concert experience? These criterion, among a few other things, helped me make my final determinations.
So with all of that said, here are my ten favorite photos of 2018 in order of when I took them throughout the year.
1 – Pink @ Capital One Arena — 4/16/18
To put it simply, Pink is one hell of a performer. Pink started her concert at Capitol One Arena by descending from the ceiling on this massive, bright pink chandelier. To watch her jump off of the chandelier and do flips in the air, all while still singing, was truly a crazy feat to behold. For far too many artists, the glitz and glamour of a big stage production is needed to help distract from the fact that the artist simply isn’t that good of a singer. That was not at all the case here. Pink used the excessive size of the arena to her advantage, and used her stage props to help accentuate her abilities, not hide her flaws.
For me personally, this was my first big arena show, which set up a whole new set of challenges that I had not encountered before at a concert shoot. It was a challenging shoot, and I nearly came away with nothing because I had my camera settings all wrong at first. But it was fun to work through my issues, and I feel that this shoot helped me to grow as a photographer.
2 – Tony Bennett @ Wolf Trap — 6/23/18
To be honest, Tony Bennett’s music is far outside of my wheelhouse. I was never deeply invested in the music from the “Rat Pack” era, but when I saw that Tony Bennett was coming to Wolf Trap, I jumped at the opportunity to cover his show. There is something appealing to see a man who is the last of his kind — a legend of his time — and still creating new music today. Tony has a aura about him that only comes from being a legend in your craft. He has achieved practically all that can be done in music, but when he performed at Wolf Trap, he appeared to be genuinely pleased to still be on stage and receiving praise from his fans.
For me, I was able to bring my mom to this show, and she mentioned that “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” was my late grandpa’s favorite song, a fact about my grandfather that I didn’t know. So when Tony went into that signature hit of his, the emotions got to my mom, and it was a special moment that I was happy to be able to share with her.
3 – Greta Van Fleet @ 9:30 Club — 7/20/18
Few bands this year have created the amount of hype that Greta Van Fleet has. The Michigan band has gone from seemingly unknown to rock radio regulars in what feels like no time at all. This newfound attention, plus their comparisons to Led Zeppelin, made me excited to see if the there was any chance that these guys could live up to all the noise surrounding them. It turns out that yes, they are that good. Greta Van Fleet sounded phenomenal live. Josh Kiszka’s voice was as clean and powerful as it is on their records. It would have been a travesty had Josh not been able to hit the high notes live, but not only did he nail each and every one, it looked like he did so with ease.
I like this photo because it shows a good representation of Josh on stage. His clothing was individual to him. His voice soared. And I really like the wash of purple and yellow lights that fill out the frame.
4 – In This Moment @ UMBC Event Center — 7/31/18
I didn’t know a single thing about In This Moment before I saw them open for Halestorm. In fact, since the show was up in Baltimore at the UMBC Event Center, I didn’t even get to the venue until after In This Moment had started their set and I had no intention on covering them. But then I started watching their show, and it became clear that there was no way that I could possibly not cover them. Of all of the concerts I attended this year, In This Moment was possibly the best stage performance of them all. With a mix of wild set, costume, and mask changes, In This Moment have created a show that you cannot look away from.
I could have made the entire Top 10 list with just photos from In This Moment, because there are so many great ones. But I chose this photo of lead singer Maria Brink in the wolf mask because I love how she’s emerging from the fog. Most bands use a little bit of smoke to help their show, but typically there is just enough to make the photos look hazy. In This Moment filled their stage with tons of smoke making it difficult to shoot through, so I had to figure out how to use the smoke to my advantage. It was a real challenge to get these photos correct, but once I figured it out, I left with possibly the best collection of concert photos I have ever shot.
5 – Godsmack @ Jiffy Lube Live — 8/19/18
Godsmack is known for having high-energy concerts. Considering the fast-paced metal that they play, it’s only fitting to have a show that matches. While they didn’t go too crazy with the stage lighting, the guys of Godsmack did like the use of pyrotechnics.
This was my first shoot involving pyro, and just like when any other new element is introduced in photography, I had to learn on the fly, so I did the best that I could to figure out how to create a great shot while the pyro was burning. I particularly like this photo because I captured a few columns of fire during an intense moment in the song. Lead singer Sully Erna’s neck and face are full of emotion and extremely expressive. To me this shot is a great encapsulation of a Godsmack show.
6 – Shinedown @ Jiffy Lube Live — 8/19/18
There are a few times when I start parsing through my photos from a night of shooting where I immediately recognize my best shot of the night. That is what I feel with this photo of Shinedown.
As with Godsmack, I could have chosen a really cool shot of Shinedown with flames firing off in the background. But I love everything about this photo — the pose, the mix of red yellow and white lights, the smoke, the dark shadows and bright lights on their faces — everything works. This is such a dynamic photo that when I struggled to figure out my Top 10, I knew right away that this was making the list. Add in the fact that a Shinedown concert is an amazingly fun time that makes you feel better about yourself, and this photo was one of the few easy choices that I had in this process.
7+8 – Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators @ The Fillmore Silver Spring — 10/2/18
A night like when I covered Slash, featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, is the reason why I love being able to shoot concert photography. When I was a kid, Guns N Roses were my favorite band on earth. I wore out my Use You Illusion 1 cassette to the point that I’d be lucky if I got through one song before needing to use a pencil to re-spool the tape. I have dressed up as Slash for Halloween on two separate occasions. So when I was granted the opportunity to cover Slash at The Fillmore Silver Spring, and watch him perform from just just a few feet away, I couldn’t imagine a better thing happening to me.
The first photo is a fantastic portrait of how I think about Slash. With his signature top hat and mop of black hair covering his face, dark black sunglasses, just a bit of beard stubble, and his guitar resting on his hip, the photo is quintessential Slash. Add in the little bit of purple back light to help separate him from the black background, and I don’t think I could have lit or framed the shot better.
I chose the second photo from this show with Slash and Myles Kennedy, because for as much as I love Slash, I have come to really respect Myles Kennedy as an artist in the past few years. This year, I was fortunate to be able cover Myles twice, once with Slash, and once in Baltimore during an acoustic solo performance while touring his first solo album, Year of the Tiger. Myles comes across as a humble guy, who truly enjoys performing. Plus, his voice is incredible. The expressiveness of Myles’ face and body in this shot shows how he puts his all into every performance.
9 – The Struts @ 9:30 Club — 10/8/18
The Struts are band that is pure, glam fun. I didn’t know much about The Struts prior to seeing them perform at the 9:30 Club, other than I liked the few songs that I had heard on the radio. But while I was a decent fan of theirs prior to the show, I now love them after.
Their performance is what I hope for every night I go out to a concert. I want to be impressed by the singing and musicianship, and entertained throughout the show. Lead singer Luke Spiller has learned from the glam countrymen who have come before him, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, and channeled them into a persona of his own. Spiller sauntered around the stage with the confidence of a human peacock showing off his feathers. The fact that Spiller has all of the showmanship to go along with a great rock voice, I strongly believe that The Struts are one of the next great rock bands on the rise.
10 – Shinedown @ Out of the Darkness Community Walk DC — 10/20/18
As you can clearly see, this photo did not take place in a concert venue. The final photo of my Top 10 is of Brent Smith and Zach Myers of Shinedown performing a short acoustic set on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Brent and Zach participated in charity walk around the tidal basin for a cause that was personal to them — suicide awareness and prevention. Shinedown wasn’t performing in the DC area when this walk took place, so it would have been very easy for them to donate money to the cause and move on. But it was important to them to show up and show support for the people who have lost their loved ones.
Brent and Zach took time to speak, walk, and take photos with the participants in the charity walk — and at the end, they performed a short, three-song set for the walkers. The performance was emotional for many in crowd.
I love this photo because the setting is beautiful — looking down the reflecting pool with the Washington Monument off in the distance, Brent and Zach looking at each other, and the crowd of walkers watching them. This shot really captured the day, and for me it is a great reminder of an uplifting afternoon spent with two rockstars who were trying to do good for community of people who needed the support.