Eric Clapton Bangkok 2011, Impact Arena. February 16th. This was my second Eric Clapton concert in Thailand, the first being his sold out concert in 2007. This concert was sold out as well. In fact, try as I might I couldn't get tickets and if it wasn't for the extraordinary generosity of a good friend who took me as his guest, I wouldn't have been able to go this year. Thank you K!

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/10th 54mm ISO 1600

Eric Clapton Bangkok 2011, Impact Arena.  February 16th. This was my second Eric Clapton concert in Thailand, the first being his sold out concert in 2007.  This concert was sold out as well. In fact, try as I might I couldn't get tickets and if it wasn't for the extraordinary generosity of a good friend who took me as his guest, I wouldn't have been able to go this year.  Thank you K!

 

 

I must say Eric Clapton was great, the seats were great, great company, if there was any let down at all it would be the Impact Arena itself which was built with anything but music and acoustics in mind. Still, Eric Clapton went all out this evening trying to find what this mostly Thai audience would really appreciate. As you would have guessed, his classic pop songs won them over in a big way. Cocaine and Wonderful Tonight brought down the house in a big way.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/60th 55mm ISO 1600

I must say Eric Clapton was great, the seats were great, great company, if there was any let down at all it would be the Impact Arena itself which was built with anything but music and acoustics in mind.  Still, Eric Clapton went all out this evening trying to find what this mostly Thai audience would really appreciate.  As you would have guessed, his classic pop songs won them over in a big way.  Cocaine and Wonderful Tonight brought down the house in a big way.

 

 

As you probably suspected, yours truly was not professionally covering the Eric Clapton concert.  The tickets were clearly stamped with "NO PHOTOGRAPHY, NO RECORDING DEVICES, etc" and they were checking your bags on the way in.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/20th 18mm ISO 1600

As you probably suspected, yours truly was not professionally covering the Eric Clapton concert.  The tickets were clearly stamped with "NO PHOTOGRAPHY, NO RECORDING DEVICES, etc" and they were checking your bags on the way in.

 

 

A brazillion cameras, mostly mobile phones with internal cameras and camcorders, made it through.  I suspect small cameras made it through in pockets.  Any bags and all purses were checked.  Watching others using their iphones and other such recording devices I noticed they were limited to either very small subjects in the frame, or what most were doing was recording the big video panels and not the live subjects!

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/100th 55mm ISO 500

A brazillion cameras, mostly mobile phones with internal cameras and camcorders, made it through.  I suspect small cameras made it through in pockets.  Any bags and all purses were checked.  Watching others using their iphones and other such recording devices I noticed they were limited to either very small subjects in the frame, or what most were doing was recording the big video panels and not the live subjects!

 

 

Not being able to get the appropriate cameras into the arena I was limited to a small Fuji F200EXR compact and the Sony NEX-5 with the 17-55mm lens.  Not ideal considering I was 150-200 feet away from the stage and working off a severe angle.  Getting any sort of acceptable image was a major challenge which I'll discuss later.  Even under the best of circumstances using the best DSLR's and fastest lenses photographing a concert is a difficult task.  The lack and type of light results in some real challenges.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/15th 55mm ISO 1600

Not being able to get the appropriate cameras into the arena I was limited to a small Fuji F200EXR compact and the Sony NEX-5 with the 17-55mm lens.  Not ideal considering I was 150-200 feet away from the stage and working off a severe angle.  Getting any sort of acceptable image was a major challenge which I'll discuss later.  Even under the best of circumstances using the best DSLR's and fastest lenses photographing a concert is a difficult task.  The lack and type of light results in some real challenges.

 

 

As the stage lighting changes you’re provided with different opportunities for captures.  Contrast increases and decreases with the intensity and direction of light, colors change, and spotlights isolate individuals while general lighting dims around the others

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/40th 55mm ISO 1600

As the stage lighting changes you’re provided with different opportunities for captures.  Contrast increases and decreases with the intensity and direction of light, colors change, and spotlights isolate individuals while general lighting dims around the others.

 

 

Other challenges brought on by being limited to one shooting location and angle, is that often a stage prop (such as this microphone) is right in front of his face.  As you’ve noticed most of these images are soft.  Let me explain how why this happens.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/10th 55mm ISO 1600

Other challenges brought on by being limited to one shooting location and angle, is that often a stage prop (such as this microphone) is right in front of his face.  As you’ve noticed most of these images are soft.  Let me explain how why this happens.

 

 

Because the intensity of the lighting is anything but uniform, most of your automatic exposure controls just won’t work.  I found that ‘spot’ metering combined with careful exposure control (EV) helped nail the exposures.  When you nail the exposures you won’t be increasing noise by adjusting the exposure after the fact.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/80th 55mm ISO 1600

Because the intensity of the lighting is anything but uniform, most of your automatic exposure controls just won’t work.  I found that ‘spot’ metering combined with careful exposure control (EV) helped nail the exposures.  When you nail the exposures you won’t be increasing noise by adjusting the exposure after the fact.

 

 

In the same vein, autofocus becomes an issue because of the lighting challenges.  In this case there is plenty of light for the AF sensors to find focus, but if you leave the AF illuminator active I found it often conflicted with the stage lights throwing focus off.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/10th 28mm ISO 1600

In the same vein, autofocus becomes an issue because of the lighting challenges.  In this case there is plenty of light for the AF sensors to find focus, but if you leave the AF illuminator active I found it often conflicted with the stage lights throwing focus off.

 

 

Still, I ended up shooting at ISO 1600, aperture 5.6 was the widest aperture available at the full 55mm (variable aperture 3.5-5.6 lens), and to prevent from moving to ISO 3200 where I’d lose even more detail and have even more grain, I chose to operate at shutter speeds of 1/10th to 1/100th which when couples with the OSS image stabilization produced decently sharp images ‘most’ of the time.  Even so, you needed to have a stable shooting platform no matter the shutter speed, and a foot stomping crowd combined with a less than stable seating area meant a stable shooting platform was next to impossible.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/100th 55mm ISO 500

Still, I ended up shooting at ISO 1600, aperture 5.6 was the widest aperture available at the full 55mm (variable aperture 3.5-5.6 lens), and to prevent from moving to ISO 3200 where I’d lose even more detail and have even more grain, I chose to operate at shutter speeds of 1/10th to 1/100th which when couples with the OSS image stabilization produced decently sharp images ‘most’ of the time.  Even so, you needed to have a stable shooting platform no matter the shutter speed, and a foot stomping crowd combined with a less than stable seating area meant a stable shooting platform was next to impossible.

 

 

Now consider I’m using a lens with an effective (35mm equiv) focal length of 82.5 on the long end, from several hundred feet, and now you know I’m severely cropping these images which means very few pixels to work with.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/100th 55mm ISO 800

Now consider I’m using a lens with an effective (35mm equiv) focal length of 82.5 on the long end, from several hundred feet, and now you know I’m severely cropping these images which means very few pixels to work with.

 

 

My friend noticed I was shooting 4-6 captures in continuous mode all the time.  He probably wondered why.  The answer is that a combination of a seriously unstable shooting platform, ISO 1600, slow shutter speeds, and poor lighting meant clear sharp pictures were more of an exception than a rule, so multiple continuous captures of the same subject simply increases your odds of getting a good one.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/40th 42mm ISO 1600

My friend noticed I was shooting 4-6 captures in continuous mode all the time.  He probably wondered why.  The answer is that a combination of a seriously unstable shooting platform, ISO 1600, slow shutter speeds, and poor lighting meant clear sharp pictures were more of an exception than a rule, so multiple continuous captures of the same subject simply increases your odds of getting a good one.

 

 

When more stage lights increased in intensity, it was possible to shoot at a faster shutter speed which clearly gave sharper images, but less contrast.  Everything was a trade

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/100th 55mm ISO 1600

When more stage lights increased in intensity, it was possible to shoot at a faster shutter speed which clearly gave sharper images, but less contrast.  Everything was a trade off.

 

 

Other scenes afforded very little light requiring a very slow shutter speed, yet sometimes you just get lucky.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/13th 55mm ISO 1600

Other scenes afforded very little light requiring a very slow shutter speed, yet sometimes you just get lucky.

 

 

The Fuji Finepix F200EXR which I handed to my friend to shoot, also an experienced photographer, had twice the focal length at an effective 140mm.  You might expect focal length to give an edge as this distance over cropping an image from a larger sensor, but I found the Sony NEX-5, even with a max focal length of 82.5, was able to produce the better image every time.  The power of a bigger sensor cannot be overstated.

Fuji Finepix F200EXR @F5.1 1/30th 32mm ISO 800

The Fuji Finepix F200EXR which I handed to my friend to shoot, also an experienced photographer, had twice the focal length at an effective 140mm.  You might expect focal length to give an edge as this distance over cropping an image from a larger sensor, but I found the Sony NEX-5, even with a max focal length of 82.5, was able to produce the better image every time.  The power of a bigger sensor cannot be overstated.

 

 

It was interesting watching those close to me use their camera phones.  Most were taking pictures of the big screens and not the live subject.  When I asked the lady in front of me why, she smiled and said “mai pen rai, no one will know the difference..”  Considering the poor image quality of even the best camera phones in such an environment, she made a good point.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1sec 20mm ISO 1600

It was interesting watching those close to me use their camera phones.  Most were taking pictures of the big screens and not the live subject.  When I asked the lady in front of me why, she smiled and said “mai pen rai, no one will know the difference..”  Considering the poor image quality of even the best camera phones in such an environment, she made a good point.

 

 

I want to talk about the Impact Arena a bit more.  This is an absolutely terrible location for producing music. Especially blues. It’s bright to the point of being tinny.  It’s obvious seating capacity and not music production where the priorities with the builders.  Every dedicated blues fan knows the sound will change drastically from hall to hall, blues club to blues club, and stadium to stadium.  Dedicated fans will often forego a concert at a close and convenient location, only to travel a thousand miles or more at great expense to hear the same person play at a preferred venue.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/60th 55mm ISO 1600

I want to talk about the Impact Arena a bit more.  This is an absolutely terrible location for producing music. Especially blues. It’s bright to the point of being tinny.  It’s obvious seating capacity and not music production where the priorities with the builders.  Every dedicated blues fan knows the sound will change drastically from hall to hall, blues club to blues club, and stadium to stadium.  Dedicated fans will often forego a concert at a close and convenient location, only to travel a thousand miles or more at great expense to hear the same person play at a preferred venue.

 

 

This is why an ‘accurate’ home stereo system really isn’t the advantage many think it is.  Once past a certain quality point, your listening room and the way it’s furnished, your seating location, the construction of the walls, all of this means much more to accurate music production.  Perhaps the best hall in Thailand is the main hall at the Thailand Cultural Center.  I’ve been to several wonderful performances there where every voice in a choir is enjoyed with great accuracy.  If the same choir had performed at the Impact Arena, in comparison, all you’d hear is a bunch of noise melding together in a very ugly way.  Perhaps this is why many musicians find it hard to really get into their music when at such a venue, which would explain why Eric Clapton got off to a slow start.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/100th 55mm ISO 1250

This is why an ‘accurate’ home stereo system really isn’t the advantage many think it is.  Once past a certain quality point, your listening room and the way it’s furnished, your seating location, the construction of the walls, all of this means much more to accurate music production.  Perhaps the best hall in Thailand is the main hall at the Thailand Cultural Center.  I’ve been to several wonderful performances there where every voice in a choir is enjoyed with great accuracy.  If the same choir had performed at the Impact Arena, in comparison, all you’d hear is a bunch of noise melding together in a very ugly way.  Perhaps this is why many musicians find it hard to really get into their music when at such a venue, which would explain why Eric Clapton got off to a slow start.

 

 

Some will try to tell you shows at the Impact Center are often lackluster and the venue will be half empty.  Not when Eric Clapton comes to town.  Every available seat and then some was taken, from in front of the stage to the top of the rafters.  The house was packed!

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 .6sec 19mm ISO 800

Some will try to tell you shows at the Impact Center are often lackluster and the venue will be half empty.  Not when Eric Clapton comes to town.  Every available seat and then some was taken, from in front of the stage to the top of the rafters.  The house was packed!

 

 

I made this capture to illustrate how many camera phones were being used at any one time.  Anytime you looked you could count hundreds in use.  I really wish they’d allow real cameras and stop this nonsense.  The images would have been hugely better.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 .8sec 18mm ISO 1600

I made this capture to illustrate how many camera phones were being used at any one time.  Anytime you looked you could count hundreds in use.  I really wish they’d allow real cameras and stop this nonsense.  The images would have been hugely better.

 

 

Eric Clapton is one of the most relaxed and laid back performers I’ve ever seen.  He can afford to be.  Even as he ages, he continues to improve his art.  Many are of the opinion that he truly became a master over the last 10-15 years.  My ears tell me this is so.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/100th 55mm ISO 1600

Eric Clapton is one of the most relaxed and laid back performers I’ve ever seen.  He can afford to be.  Even as he ages, he continues to improve his art.  Many are of the opinion that he truly became a master over the last 10-15 years.  My ears tell me this is so.

 

 

Further proof is the sparse stage with only 8 total musicians including the two singers/dancers.  Eric Clapton plays music.  Others ‘put on a show’.  No fireworks required, no flames, no one being lowered from the overhead, no gimmicks.  Just a musical performance by a man at the top of his art and perhaps the best guitar player in the world.  A performance, not a show.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/40th 24mm ISO 1600

Further proof is the sparse stage with only 8 total musicians including the two singers/dancers.  Eric Clapton plays music.  Others ‘put on a show’.  No fireworks required, no flames, no one being lowered from the overhead, no gimmicks.  Just a musical performance by a man at the top of his art and perhaps the best guitar player in the world.  A performance, not a show.

 

 

After their performance the band members come to the front of the stage, take a bow, and say goodnight.  As low key and relaxed as they’d been the entire evening.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/80th 55mm ISO 1600

After their performance the band members come to the front of the stage, take a bow, and say goodnight.  As low key and relaxed as they’d been the entire evening.

 

 

Tim Carmon can really play, he impressed on the baby grand the entire evening.  A preachers son Tim Carmon has a long list of musical accomplishments including working with Gladys Knight, rock Christian choirs, and he started working for Eric Clapton when working on the 1998 Pilgrim tour.  I remember him playing with B.B. King and Eric Claptop in the “Riding With The King” sessions.  A pure joy to experience.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/100th 55mm ISO 400

Tim Carmon can really play, he impressed on the baby grand the entire evening.  A preachers son Tim Carmon has a long list of musical accomplishments including working with Gladys Knight, rock Christian choirs, and he started working for Eric Clapton when working on the 1998 Pilgrim tour.  I remember him playing with B.B. King and Eric Claptop in the “Riding With The King” sessions.  A pure joy to experience.

 

 

What do you think of the blue guitar?

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/15th 55mm ISO 1600

What do you think of the blue guitar?

 

 

For a man in his mid-60’s Eric Clapton played with a huge amount of energy, though during the first half I couldn’t help but think he wasn’t being motivated.  Maybe the crowd, mostly Thai, who seemed more interested in texting and drinking beer and really couldn’t seem to get into the blues selections through him off, or maybe it was the poor acoustics of the venue.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/80th 40mm ISO 1600

For a man in his mid-60’s Eric Clapton played with a huge amount of energy, though during the first half I couldn’t help but think he wasn’t being motivated.  Maybe the crowd, mostly Thai, who seemed more interested in texting and drinking beer and really couldn’t seem to get into the blues selections through him off, or maybe it was the poor acoustics of the venue.

 

 

A choice crop, this shows all the musicians playing this piece.

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/80th 54mm ISO 1600

A choice crop, this shows all the musicians playing this piece.

 

 

ec28

Sony NEX-5 18-55mm OSS @F5.6 1/60th 39mm ISO 1250

Almost the same image as above, you can see how a nearly instant change in light can really change the image.

I was there in 2007, and I was there this time in 2011.  I can’t help but wonder what he will be like playing Bangkok in 2015!  I’ll be there, will you?