Best of the Year: Top 10 Photos of 2019 by Chris

Judas Priest 3
Judas Priest made the list of Chris Smyth’s Top 10 photos of the Year (but not this particular one). (Photo by Chris Smyth)

Editor’s Note: This year, we asked our bloggers to name their Top 10 shows of 2019 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.

It is an odd feeling when you love and hate something simultaneously. The emotions don’t make sense, yet it’s fully real. That is how I feel each time I am tasked with creating this year-end list. I love looking through my old photographs and remembering each concert that I was fortunate enough to attend, and reliving each show through the images that I was able to capture along the way.

But I hate having to try and pare it all down to a Top 10 list. This year I covered 19 concerts and one charity walk for Parklife DC, and wrote a total of 30 reviews. Two of those reviews were for festival concerts where each post covered four different bands. At an average of more than 20 photos per band, that is a large collection of photographs to review and choose from.

But choose I did. And below are my 10 favorite photographs from 2019 in order of when I took them throughout the year.

1 – Tremonti @ Rams Head Live — 2/10/19

Tremonti 2

While the idea was to show off my favorite photos in chronological order, and not in an official ranking of 1-10, this photo of Mark Tremonti may very well be my favorite photograph I took in all of 2019. Before this shot I had accidentally taken a similar photo of Tanner Keegan, the bassist of Tremonti, with the green lights behind him. When I saw what I had captured I knew that I wanted to get this exact photo of Mark. I moved into the right angle and had to crouch down into an awkward position and wait for the green lights to flash again. I could not have been happier with the photo once I saw what I shot, and it got even better later in the year when I covered Mark Tremonti again, this time with Alter Bridge, and he signed this photo for me after the concert.

2 – Gary Clark Jr. @ The Anthem — 3/30/19

Gary Clark Jr 7

Gary Clark Jr. exudes coolness. He moves slowly but deliberately around the stage when he performs, and he has a swagger in his walk. I love this photo because it shows off this swagger. Gary is mid-strut, and the expression on his face shows him deeply invested in the guitar solo he’s shredding. The lights were especially saturated with color this night leading to a beautifully colorful photograph.

3 – Rival Sons @ 9:30 Club — 4/22/19

Rival Sons 7

I had only learned of Rival Sons at the end of 2018, shortly before their latest album, Feral Roots, was released, and they quickly became one of my favorite bands of 2019. They play fantastic rock and roll music, and their lead singer and lead guitarist, Jay Buchanan and Scott Holiday, are quintessential rock stars. This photo shows them off in their showman glory. I love the white lights streaming down on the guys, breaking up the darkness of the rest of the stage.

4 – Judas Priest @ The Anthem — 5/12/19

Judas Priest 11

I don’t know what praise I could throw out for Judas Priest that hasn’t already been written over their nearly 50 years as a band. All I can say is that it was a fantastic concert at The Anthem, and one of my favorite shows to shoot all year. The lighting was excellent, which helped make my job as a photographer much easier, and lead to this awesome portrait of Rob Halford mid-yell. The details in his face are crystal clear. The focus and lighting on Rob is clean, and the background has a cool pattern that isn’t distracting. I have loved this photo ever since I first saw it.

5 – In This Moment @ The Fillmore Silver Spring — 5/15/19

In This Moment 18

For the second year in a row, Maria Brink of In This Moment makes her way onto my favorite photos list. Last year, I didn’t know who In This Moment were when I covered them. But after they blew me away in 2018, I jumped at the chance to cover them again in 2019. In This Moment’s stage show is a complete spectacle. There is always so much to look at that it’s sometime hard to know what to shoot. I like that you can’t even see Maria in the bottom half of the photo, and that she appears to be rising out of the smoke.

6 – Sevendust @ The Fillmore Silver Spring — 5/15/19

Sevendust May 2019 16

Sevendust is a band that I have been aware of since they came on the scene in the late ’90s, but I never listened to them. I now realize that I have missed out for two decades. Sevendust has a forceful stage presence, and lead singer Lajon Witherspoon’s voice is simultaneously aggressive yet melodic. I was fortunate to be able to cover Sevendust twice this year. First, was back in February when they headlined at Rams Head Live. But this photo came from when they opened for In This Moment in May. The intensity in Lajon’s face is the only thing you can focus on as he is revealed through the smoke.

7 – Slipknot @ Jiffy Lube Live — 9/1/19

Slipknot 17

If I were ever to create a top 10 list of bands that I’d love to photograph, Slipknot would make that list. So when the Knotfest tour was announced and they were coming to the DMV, I jumped at the opportunity to shoot the show. As great as the show was, shooting them was a difficult task. With nine band members spread far across the stage and high into the air, it became tough to know where to focus my attention and aim my camera. The good part though, is that it’s pretty hard to take a photo of Slipknot that is not interesting. Drummers and percussionists are very difficult to shoot. They are far away and hidden behind their kits. This particular photo of Clown stands out from the pack for me, because he was perched a good 15 feet above the stage. The upper half of the photograph is completely black, while the lower half is the drums and kegs. Clown’s mask is just barely peaking over, shining with its creepy stare from the darkness. There is hauntingness to this photo can be felt when looking at it.

8 – Skillet @ MECU Pavilion — 9/22/19

Skillet 1

I love being surprised when I go to a show. Skillet is a band who I knew their hits but very little else. My main goal when I went to this show was to capture Skillet’s co-headliner for the tour, Alter Bridge, and I had basically no impressions at all heading into Skillet’s set. But Skillet’s show was so engrossing, that I had to shoot it. They also blessed us with fantastic lighting, so I finished with an incredible collection of shots. I could have posted a photo of each of the four band members on this list, but I settled on this shot of guitarist Korey Cooper. Watching her play was truly amazing, and I could have spent the entire set just photographing her. This shot of Korey crouched down, mouth agape, with her purple hair falling onto her beautifully painted guitar, shows how she gave her all that night. Skillet is returning to the DC area in March 2020 with a show at The Fillmore Silver Spring. If you want to witness a great stage performance, I suggest picking up a ticket. (Buy your ticket online for Skillet at The Fillmore Silver Spring on March 8!) 

9 – Andy Grammer @ The Fillmore Silver Spring — 10/1/19

Andy Grammer 2019 4

It’s great when an artist does something different. This year, Andy Grammer started his concert from in the middle of the audience, performing an acoustic version of the title track of his new album, Naive. I enjoy this because the light draws your eye straight to Andy as he stands slightly higher than the rest of crowd. You can see a few fans around him in the light, but most of the shot is pitch black except for a few spots of light from the balcony, dotting the the background like tiny stars in the distance.

10 – Tool @ Capitol One Arena — 11/25/19

Tool 24

My final photo of my top 10 comes from the last show that I shot in 2019, Tool. Lead singer Maynard James Keenan stands at the far back of the stage and rarely has any light shined on him. Having seen Tool many years ago, I knew this was going to be the case and I stressed about this for days going into the show. From a photography perspective, this was the most difficult concert that I shot all year. But when I first looked at what I captured, I have to admit, I was very proud of myself. This shoot took all of the skills that I have developed over the years to turn out a good collection of photographs. In addition to Tool putting on a fantastic show, I got to photograph a band that I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to shoot, so the memory of the show is a highlight of my year.

And because I struggled to make this Top 10 list, here are a few more honorable mention photos, in no particular order, because I like these shots and hope you enjoy them as well.

Gary Clark Jr 1 Steven Adler 11

Judas Priest 3 Judas Priest 28

In This Moment 29 Walk Off The Earth 18

Perry Farrell 1 The Struts 12

Behemoth 20 Slipknot 1

Skillet 10

Tool 1

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