Sometimes, just Release the shutter in Low Light!

Please read Jeff Gorra‘s “The Ripple Effect of Pearl Jam’s Home/Away Shows” as a companion to this “Behind the Lens”.

My main goal with this Artist Waves column has always been to try to bring you, the reader, on the journey as I strive to improve my art of photography. Along the way, we’ve been honored and lucky enough to have worked with both legendary artists and talented newcomers — all sharing the hunger to continually improve their own art.

As a music photographer, capturing the best possible image of the artist is important, but capturing the ‘feel’ surrounding the event is what makes it relatable and human. It doesn’t matter if shooting from a beach in Seattle, a Zoo in OKC, or a sold out stadium, those goals remain the same.

I like to believe my photos easily express those relatable human feelings. On the other-hand, without the camera, I “Sometimes” struggle to find the words. The thing is, I knew going into this one it would be difficult.

…Staring at the blinking cursor on my laptop, I try cutting through the haze and static surrounding the whirlwind of thoughts and memories. Pearl Jam’s song “Sometimes” from their “No Code” LP is slowly getting louder and louder in my head. The droning melody seems to push the static off to the corner, focus begins to clear…

~Large fingers pushing paint~

It’s 5:30pm, a beautiful early September day. I’m standing on Lansdowne Street leaning against a brick wall just outside Gate C at Fenway Park. It’s only a couple of hours before Pearl Jam takes the stage for the first of two sold-out shows at the iconic home of the Boston Red Sox. I’m here to photograph the band for Artist Waves. The funny thing is that I had no idea I’d even be in Boston five days earlier, but hey, when you get a call saying you’ve been invited to photograph Pearl Jam at Fenway Park it’s hard to turn down. My actual response was, “Are you kidding me? Yes! Of course! Wow! Thank You!”

~You’re god and you’ve got big hands~
Lansdowne Street outside of Fenway Park
Trying to relax before “going to work”, I’m watching the crowd grow in size and enthusiasm as fans pass by on the street. I kinda drift off in my thoughts. ~I never get pre-photo/show jitters, Boston?! Not nervous, Fenway Park?! Wow, this is a different feeling.~ In that moment, breaking through the daze and reeling me back in was the sound of reason of my wife’s voice. “You’re going to be fine!”, I returned her smile, then in a half joking way I responded, “I’m good, I’ll be okay, as long as they don’t open with Sometimes”. We didn’t have to discuss it. I didn’t have to explain. She knew my awkward attempt to smile and raising my hand to my chest was my way of assuring her I was okay. Keep in mind, unlike many bands, Pearl Jam never plays a rehearsed ‘in order’ setlist. Each show is unique in song selection and order. On top of that, it’s common for them to play 30+ songs, making their shows three+ hours. So, the odds of “Sometimes” being the opener would be a low percentage bet.

A short while later, after making it through security, I’m greeted by Pearl Jam’s media coordinator just inside the gate. I’m shown to the photographers pre-show staging area where we can get our gear ready and store anything we wish to leave behind during the shoot. Nothing fancy, just a roped off area of concrete in a little corner area inside Gate C, but good enough for the need.

~The colors blend… the challenges you give man~

I’m way early. I sort through my gear once again, even though it didn’t need it. I grab a water, find a spot in the corner, sit down and breathe. It’s now a little after 6:00pm.

Earlier that day, Fenway Park had announced on their social media feeds that the band would take the stage at 6:30pm. A large majority of the dozen or so photographers now scurried around making their last minute gear adjustments. While a smaller group of photogs, including myself are kicking back and relaxing. It wasn’t said, but we knew Pearl Jam wouldn’t be taking the stage an hour before sunset. Not happening!

About that time, the Pearl Jam rep walks up and asks for our attention. She welcomes us again, goes over the rules of the shot, then lets us know the band will be taking the stage in an about an hour and that we will be escorted to the pit in about 45 minutes, “If you leave, make sure you’re back here on time!”. I didn’t want to waste this opportunity, I stash some gear and head out to see freakin Fenway Park!

~Seek my part… devote myself~

Good call, not passing up the chance to roam the hallowed grounds of Fenway. Taking in the pre-show Pearl Jam atmosphere, feeling the excited anticipation in the crowd and getting to say hello to a few friends made me feel at ease. The ballpark felt like an old friend welcoming all. Then to be able to capture a small portion of it through my viewfinder made for a truly special day.

After a short walk around, I head back to the photographers meeting area and again try to relax. I do my last minute checks, Memory cards √, Batteries √, Lenses Clean √ Ready To Go √ — Breathe!√

~My small self… like a book amongst the many on a shelf~

Then the time arrives! The Pearl Jam rep gathers us once more to go over the rules, including that there will be two groups of photographers. One on each side of the stage, no photographers allowed in the middle or moving from side to side. With that said, we start heading out to enter the pit area. I make my way towards the front of the pack as we enter the field. I wanted to stay with a few familiar photographers, ones I knew I could easily work with in the limited space.

After settling into a space in front of the stage. I start to feel the excitement of the moment building. Chatting with fans, snapping images on the rail was inspiring. So many happy smiling faces!

~Sometimes I know, sometimes I rise~

Shirt of the day?

During this time I noticed a small strip of exposed green grass near my feet. It hits me like a baseball bat, “That’s center field grass at Fenway Park!”, I knelt down and ran my hand across the grass. Next to me, a photographer from one of the Boston newspapers says in a thick Boston accent, “First time to Fenway Pahk, huh?” I responded with something like, “Huh, yeah, yes, how’d ya know?” he laughingly responded, “Because I’ve seen that face before”. He was right. In that moment there was no concert, no Pearl Jam, no cameras, no pressure, just that small kid inside me turning to see the famous Green Monster looming, then looking back towards home-plate at the packed stadium. WOW… WOW! I’m standing in freakin Center Field at Fenway Park! This is the outfield where Ted Williams … all the greats played here! Wow.. Holy Crap! Fenway Park! You’d think something like that would create more nerves but, strangely, it relaxed me. All day I’d had an anxious feeling, now it didn’t seem so big. I’m alive and I’m here! Wow! It doesn’t get any better than this! I was ready! Let’s do this!

~Sometimes I fall, sometimes I don’t~

Then I hear it….~Aye Davanita~ The instrumental track from Pearl Jam’s 3rd album “Vitalogy”, commonly used as the bands walk on song. I knew it was time. As the band takes the stage, Eddie Vedder straps on his “Howard Zinn” Fender Telecaster guitar, then welcomes the crowd with his customary “Good Evening”. The band begins playing… “Sometimes”.

~Sometimes I cringe, sometimes I live~

Yes, the exact song I spoke of earlier with my wife. Why? Okay here goes… I don’t like to talk about this much or to be treated differently, but if there was a time to write about, this would be it. I won’t go into details, let’s just say I have long list of cardiac (heart) issues I’ve been living with over the last several years. During that time, I’ve had more surgical procedures than I’d like to remember. One of those procedures was to implant a Cardiac-Defibrillator (ICD), which will shock my heart if it goes “off track” and it did just that earlier this year for the first time, saving my life. After being “shocked” awake that morning, I tried to carry on as usual. My morning routine includes turning music on to start the day. On that day a live version Pearl Jam’s “Sometimes” began playing. It reached me in a special way and stayed with me.

~Sometimes I walk, sometimes I kneel~

Dark Lighting

Sometimes, Just Release the shutter in Low Light!

Sometimes”, Of all songs …all those thoughts running around my head, then through the viewfinder it seemed to get dark, really dark! As Vedder sang, “The colors blend… the challenges you give man”, I remember looking through the viewfinder, frantically making camera adjustments and thinking,

This lighting is one of those challenges!”. The challenge actually cleared my thoughts, made me concentrate on the task at hand. Like that small strip of Center Field grass, it was just enough to put me in the “photographer zone”, evaporating all the self inflicted nerves of being at Fenway Park and looking through my viewfinder at Pearl Jam playing “Sometimes”. Like my camera, I refocused. Hope you enjoy the results.

~Sometimes I speak of nothing at all~

Our Artist Waves photo pass was for the standard media access for the first three songs. Those songs were — “Sometimes”, “Release”, and “Low Light”, After “Low Light” we exited the pit area and head back to the staging area. I put away my gear, chat with a few photographers, then head out to meet my wife at our seats. Want a surreal feeling? Walk through the empty corridors of Fenway Park with the sound of thousands of music fans singing, “WHY GO HOME, WHY GO HOME!, What a ride!!!!

Eddie Vedder taken during “Low Light”

~Sometimes I reach to myself, dear god~

~You’d like it here Dear god…~ Vedder added this lyric to the live performance that evening at Fenway.

Photographing the first three songs took just a little over 12 minutes. Seems like such a short amount of time, but 12 minutes I’m very thankful for experiencing.

A special thank you to Pearl Jam and their amazing support staff. I’d also like to thank Jeff Gorra for the opportunity to represent such an inspiring platform like Artist Waves. Thanks to all you guys, I now have a couple pretty big boxes checked off the bucket list.

For more Pearl Jam Information please visit — https://pearljam.com

I need the light
I’ll find my way from wrong, what’s real?
Your dream I see

All Photos — By Michael Young

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