Photoessay: Avril Lavigne, live in Kuala Lumpur

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Here’s something you probably weren’t expecting from me. Though I’ve shot concerts on assignment before (here, for instance) I don’t tend to go very often as a fan, simply because I don’t have the time, and even if I did, most of the acts I’d want to listen to don’t come to Kuala Lumpur.

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But since Avril Lavigne decided to stop by on her 2014 new album tour, I thought ‘why not?’ Oddly enough, a lot of people have said they’d never expected me to be a fan. Time passes quickly: she released her first single in 2002, which is now 12 years ago and about the same time I was starting to take photography seriously. By that metric, even Britney Spears is starting to look like easy listening classical. I liked her first two albums, a lot. There was a good mix of the catchy and the depressingly grungy. The third album, Goodbye Lullaby, didn’t quite do it for me; it felt too…soft. Fortunately, the new album – self titled Avril Lavigne is I think her best yet. It has the catchiness of the first one, but with some added sophistication; no doubt injected by new husband/ co-writer/ duet performer Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback. Marilyn Manson also makes a cameo in there too, in what is perhaps both her darkest and most sexually open song.

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Music aside – all that’s even more subjective than photography, I think – it seems that whilst DSLRs are banned from concerts, compacts, phones and obnoxious people holding iPads in the air to record the entire thing aren’t. (The latter really should be though.) Being smaller than most compacts, the GM1 got in without a second glance; I paired it with the 45/1.8. Despite being in row 4, the 75 would have been much more useful; the only problem is one of stability. The GM1 itself has no stabiliser, nor do either the 75 or 45mm lenses; 1/250s was the minimum required to freeze subject motion, and I think camera shake also; anything lower would start to show the weaknesses in handholding a moderately long focal length at arms’ length.

This set splits into two parts – color and monochrome; I feel the monochrome has more energy and punch, though the color captures the atmosphere better. It was quite difficult to decide on one over the other, so I’ve included both. Note that my point of view was fixed, for obvious reasons. In hindsight, I probably should have used my press credentials to get a media pass, but then I’d be concentrating on shooting instead of enjoying the show. MT

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Attempting to right the imbalance between the star and the band

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  1. Completely off-topic and irrelevant, but I’m curious: what’s the price of an Avril Lavigne ticket in Kuala Lumpur?

    • Anywhere from about US28 to US160.

      • Jealous_of_Chad_Kroeger says:

        Hi Ming,

        would you now take or think the EM-10 could be an attractive alternative instead of the GM1? Do you think the EM10 is still small enough in order not to get in trouble with the security staff or is the GM1 already the max. limit? (,491)

        Are their any other pocket-size/interchangeable cameras/alternatives on the market or upcoming which you think might be even better than gm1 (IQ/allround performance)?

        Thank you so much in advance!

        Take care!

        Best regards!


        PS: Please don’t ask me why I chose this name and i’m jealous of Chad Kroeger… know already the answer …it’s not about his money….;)!

        • Jealous_of_Chad_Kroeger says:

          Sorry…. what about the Pana GX7? Better than the GM1 for this purpose (concert photography)?Your thoughts….?

        • Can’t say since I haven’t used it yet.

          RX100III, except you lose the long end of the zoom.

  2. Miles Archer says:

    Reminds me why I stopped going to concets years ago.

  3. Interesting your comments about “professional” cameras being banned from shows. This happened to me a few years ago, taking a DSLR into a small-venue concert. I was turned away at the door, told that “professional-looking” cameras weren’t allowed. “What,” I asked the doorman, “(performer) would prefer that crappy photos of him were posted on line instead of good ones?” That actually drove me to look for something compact but capable, and I bought a Fuji X10 the next week. I upgraded to an X20 last year and had a second chance to see that performer and had no problems taking it in. I was amazed by the X20’s capability at 800ei–I shot everything manual and was amazed by the results. So much so that I dumped all my Canon DSLR gear in November and went fully Fuji X-system. No regrets. And I bet I’ll be able to take that X-E2 in next time.

  4. Great concert shots with the small GM1. I would imagine that if you had the Olympus OM d EM5 you could have been able to sneek in this camera with the 45 1.8 and take advantage of the excellent stabiliser system for even more dramatic shots!

    • Actually, you’d probably not be able to get it in because it looks too much like an SLR, and the stabilizer wouldn’t be able to freeze motion – you need the shutter speed because the performers are moving.

  5. Very competent photography, it does show the GM1 in a very positive light that you well able to get this without stabilisers or such. It does show, however, that you had a fixed vantage point, which reminds me that I often think when going to an event to simply enjoy it whether or not I should do photography and how much. It’s nice to have a memory, but often photography gets a bit out of hand.

    Also, the circumstances might not be very favorable to photography: armed with a phone or a compact in a packed venue and somewhat distant spot imposes pretty serious limits on what can be accomplished. And then someone in front is going to hold their phone/tablet up most of the time, which is really annoying, esp. considering how poor the pictures look even in the viewfinder.

    • Thanks. Yes, vantage point was fixed. I shot very little (by my normal standards) and just enjoyed the concert for the most part…

      As for phones and tablets: I’m just reminded that the idea of ‘good enough’ varies hugely for most people 🙂

  6. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Although I’m not a fan of Avril Lavigne,
    I find them all great concert photos,
    (occasionally considering your locked position… 🙂 ).

    As photographs, I find a few real favourites:
    Nr:s 6, 8, 10, 11, 15, 17.

    But I must admit, that my choice is partly influenced by the modern trend to overdo stage effects,
    which isn’t the photographer’s fault. 🙂 !

  7. What kind of metering you used? Thanks

  8. I never imagined you to be a fan, either. I enjoyed her first album back in school, but as I grew older I found her music to be too … commercialised. She got famous in a time when there was a new pop chick coming out every week, that kind of “Britney Spears clones wave”. I prefer authentic singer-songwriter music to the deliberately designed music that big music labels often produce (with the pinnacle being those dreadful talent shows). But seeing that you of all people are an Avril Lavigne fan I guess I should check her out again. I have to admit that I haven’t heard her music in a couple of years, so maybe she has evolved. So thanks for that food for thought.

    Regarding your photos, I think that shorter focal length is really quite interesting because it shows more of her surroundings. So far I’ve only been to three concerts (I’ll only go to smaller concerts from now on though, I’ve found I don’t really like the big ones) and I’ve always focused more on the singers (see for examples). Next time I’ll try to get more of the surroundings as well. I especially like that blue shot where people are holding up red sticks, it has a really great feeling!

    However, I think the color photos are much superior to the monochromes here — those bold colors just look great and have a great atmosphere around them! They look lively and energetic; and as much as I love monochrome, that gets completely lost in B&W.

    • There was a ‘meh’ period after the first one which didn’t do it for me. I do like her latest album though. However, many have told me my taste in music is a far, far cry from my artistic/photographic sensibilities…

      Wide lenses – 35 and under – can be used very effectively at concerts if you have the run of the place. If not, everything is just too small 🙂

      • I’ve listened through the new album now on WIMP (like a European Spotify), though admittedly only once as of yet. However, I have to say: I did not expect such a load of melancholy and nostalgia! It’s got an almost depressing vibe to it and though a lot of the melodies sound similar to me, I can connect to the lyrics to a surprising degree. I get the impression that Avril is in sort of a midlife crisis, but instead of becoming sluttier and more drug-dependend in the process like her colleagues, she seems to just celebrate the past. It sounds sad but healthy, so let’s hope she deals with this better than Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus.

  9. Your concert photos are so much better than most, the difference is day and night, and they are all the more impressive given your vantage and equipment restrictions. Great job!

  10. Hi Ming,

    Great images. I think from your position the 45 was the best choice. Maybe the 75 wouldn’t have given such variety because of the tighter crop.

    Question about the Gm1 processing: I assume these were shot in raw? Are you basically using Lightroom or some different workflow?
    The reason for the question is because I’ve been having trouble with the colors on my GX7 and I imagine the GM1 would be similar. The Adobe processor just kills the orange and reds and sometimes turns purples a little bluer. Sunsets were a no-go up till now.

    Tried others (DxO, Acdsee Pro) and they’ve done a much better starting job, but I wouldn’t like to have to change my workflow. Even the OOC jpg had much better colors in a bunch of situations.

    What was your experience?

    • I’m not sure; the 75 would have less atmosphere but more intensity – does that make sense?

      Yes, all shot raw. I don’t use LR, they went through my usual ACR/PS workflow.

  11. Steve Jones says:

    And these were taken with the GM1? ok, I’m impressed.

  12. Steve Jones says:

    Would rather listen to Chrissie Hynde than Avril any day ( better voice) but..there you go. On a photographic note Ming. These are excellent. What I really like about them is that they are sharp. Amazing how many concert photos I see are usually just enough out of focus to bother me.You’ve nailed that, and the lighting. You could definitely be a ‘rock star’ as a photographer if you had the time or inclination to do so. Great shots,

    • Thank you. Music is personal preference, even more so than photographs. I did shoot concerts for several years – mostly jazz – but I suppose being the photo groupie might be fun…

      • What an odd coincidence; I started out photographing jazz musicians. First paid shoot ended up in a music CD, and not long after that I got some covers. It never paid that well, but photographing musicians has always been entertaining. They’re usually great people to work with on ideas.

        • It’s also fun to work for people whose work you enjoy, and other creatives so they understand your need for some creative breathing room. My corporate clients mostly want every single angle tied down exactly without any freedom to adjust for the subject on the day…

  13. Jorge Balarin says:

    Really awesome.

  14. Impressive work with the Gm! How is the auto focus with this combination? I was just snapping a few pictures with my GR, at a matin sexton show. The focal length was fine due to the proximity of the venue, but focusing on Martin, who was often not standing still , was a challenge . I know the Gm1doesnt have phase detect, but my understanding is for low-light you relie on contrast anyway, so is the AF reliable or are you just picking the shots that are in focus?

  15. Tom Liles says:

    As a bona-fide skater boy (ex), I used to have a thing for the then Miss Lavigne. Not her music. Her 🙂
    [I think the only skaters who listened to AV were all girls or 12 years old, or both.]

    It’s been about five years since I even saw a picture of her and, not many will get this reference but, hand on heart, seeing her now the first thought in my head was Undertaker from WWE. She’d still be welcome to come over and tombstone piledriver me.

    Anytime xxx

    • Hahahaha. Well, she is attractive in a forbidden fruit way, I suppose…

      • Tom Liles says:

        She is. I would rock her World. But I can’t imagine her being a bundle of fun at coffee in the morning.

        I’m allowed to fantasize like this as my wife endlessly drools over Jude Law. I think she’d run away with him if he offered. And I’d have to hold my hand up—he is a good looking man.

        Sexiest man as voted for by men?
        I’d say late 70s Clint takes some beating.
        Honorable mention for Steve McQueen.
        (The dead actor, not the live director.)

        And I’ve always had an unexplainable affection for Mifune Tishiro: post SAMURAI, pre TORA TORA TORA. What a man

        • Tom Liles says:

          Tom gets iPhoned, vol #58644

        • I thought Watanabe Ken was pretty smooth too. But Avril would probably be a lot more fun.

          • Tom Liles says:

            Couldn’t understand a word he said in INCEPTION. But he looked good saying it.

            On the Avril Lavigne hypothetical—I think, all things considered, I might want to flip-flop and go for Taylor Swift. She’s probably married to some rocker, too 😦

            If beggars could be choosers eh!

  16. wow! what a fabulous set of rock concert photos, master ming.
    looks like the former greats are making their rounds in kl.
    rick astley is coming to town too.
    have a good weekend.

  17. Really great images… Go Canada!

  18. Excellent photos. I especially like the monochromes very much.

    I like some of her songs very much. Great singer, probably a great performer as well, never have had the chance to see her live though.

  19. Megatron says:

    “Photoessay” and “Avril Lavigne” in the same headline?! 😛

  20. Bill Yuey says:

    The only question I have is, how in the world did you get seats in row 4?? Whenever I go to a concert, the only tickets available to me are for the seats that require an oxygen mask to watch the show … ?

  21. Peter Bendheim says:

    Excellent Ming. I’m impressed with what you got out of the GM1. I must say, it’s a little gem that really impresses – and, more importantly, it’s a lot of fun to use. Hard to believe that something the size of yesterday’s compact camera can deliver a file that’s probably cleaner than the D2x or D300 that I once owned.

    • Thanks Peter – yes, definitely cleaner than the D200 (at least) – which is what I used to use for concert photography when I still did it seriously back in 2005/6…I remember ISO 1600 being seriously borderline territory, and useful in mono only.

  22. Micke Pettersson says:

    Great pictures as always, specially the first in color for the color balance between stage and audience and the first b&w with nice backlight.

  23. Concert photography, good to see it here – it’s where I made the most of my photos; in fact, it is what brought me to photography. 🙂

    I’ve mentioned in a comment, in a preview post here, how silly are these camera restrictions with “interchangeable lenses”: the could deny you enter with a m4/3 with a 20mm lens, but allow you to go inside with a Sony RX10, only because “don’t change lenses”. And don’t bother about the stupid people rising an iPad blocking people’s vision – just for showing, since iPad photos are terrible.

    The 45mm and the 75mm are indeed very good lenses for concerts, if you are close enough; autofocus of both works reasonably well, if the light and the performers collaborate a little, but very ofter I switch back to manual focus. With the GX7 peaking and focus assist, I could get a very good keepers rate, with the focus where I want (still making experiences with the pinpoint autofocus in the GX7).

    Saw in the exifs that you could use f/2.0 and ISO 1600 with 1/250 shutter: kind of good light. In most of the venues that I shoot, need to use the 45mm wide open, ISO 3200 and 1/100.

  24. Reading about Avril Lavigne feels like a walk down memory lane. I used to like her, but, gee, does she look old. You should have blurred the photos more for her own benefit. LOL

  25. I enjoyed the change of pace article. Nice to know there are other people that are surprising Avril fans. I to like her and for certain I am not in her demographic. I have always found her music with much more of an edge and rock in style. I’ve also found some of the song humorous in a good way. I haven’t dived much deeper than the hit songs that I have heard. I have purchased Complicated and Happy Ending as singles. If yo were to look through my iTunes library they stand out like a sore thumb. Regardless they rank high in listens. Now when my wife needles me I can direct her here.

  26. Hi Ming, just curious though: since your shooting position was pretty much fixed, would you ever consider using the 12-40? Was it due to the size or its f2.8 (or both) ? Would a zoom lens give you more flexibility?

    • Both, because security tends to be particular about camera size. Also, I wanted longer, not wider; 40/2.8 isn’t preferable to 45/1.8 in that case…I was already low enough on light that I had to run wide open and ISO 1600.

  27. Great images Ming! I specially like the B&W drum set picture, so powerful!

  28. Dirk De Paepe says:

    Incredible pictures. The more because you didn’t have free movement. 18 out of 20, I’d hang at my wall with great enthousiasm. That’s about the highest rate possible. So it’s clear, I like your style!

    • Thanks! I don’t suppose you’re a fan of her music too?

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        Should I know her? 😀 Of course I’ve heard òf her. But being (quite a lot) older than you, it’s not evident to really follow things up that closely. Obviously I’m not a fan. She’s from another generation. In the meanwhile, you’ve made me curious, and I checked her on YouTube. My first impression: everything is very well made with the highest level of professionalism. She reminds me of Brittney Spears a lot. Having a musicians background (classical education), I mainly concider the music, not the lyrics. So maybe I miss a lot in that department. But I guess she can possibly represent the feel of a generation. It’s hard for me to judge that. The songs, like I said, are well made, the most catchy that I heard is IMO “Complicated”. The production, like I said, is very professional. But, again IMO, she will not take an important “first class” place in the music history – miss Spears will probably rank a bit higher in that department. But surely Madonna, Prince, were playing in another league, they were more self reïnventing and had more influence on other artists. (Gaga wouldn’t have existed without Madonna…)
        So, she’s obviously a great singer, in “Class B”. BTW greatest influences of all time in “popular” music probably came from The Beatles. Maybe I make myself very unpopular and old now, amongst the majority of your readers… 🙂

  29. Nice shots (nothing new there!). I would never have you pegged as a fan of this artist, but the world is full of surprises. I don’t know her stuff that well, and the only thing that ever gets played on the radio here is some awful song called “Skater boy”. So I can’t say much about that.

    On a totally unrelated tangent, I couldn’t help but read this part –

    “The third album, Goodbye Lullaby, didn’t quite do it for me; it felt too…soft. Fortunately, the new album – self titled Avril Lavigne is I think her best yet. It has the catchiness of the first one, but with some added sophistication; no doubt injected by new husband/ co-writer/ duet performer Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback. Marilyn Manson also makes a cameo in there too, in what is perhaps both her darkest and most sexually open song.”

    – without thinking of “American Psycho” when Bateman is talking about how much he loves Genesis. Don’t know if you’ve read it, but if you have you’ll know what I mean 🙂

    • Haha – thanks. Haven’t read the book, but perhaps I’ll have to now…

      • Well, I would tend to recommend it, but you’ll need a strong constitution. I consider it a masterpiece of modern literature, but there are a lot of people who consider it a) gratuitously violent, and b) misogynistic. It certainly goes to some incredibly dark places. The author got death threats after it was published. Definitely a case of “reader beware”.

      • No, you don’t “have to”, believe me. Masterpiece of psychological Jungian duality…no, I don’t think it ever achieved close to that. The author going on a sick, self-indulgent vank? That I can believe. There are so many better books, including those by the same author.
        But, IMHO, it won’t add anything to your life, or art, by reading it.

      • leonroy says:

        Heheh, American Psycho popped into my mind on reading that paragraph too. Recommend the film over the book though – more succinct (and palatable).

  30. I cannot believe she doesn’t have a grammy yet.
    I like the coloured ones bec like you said, it captures the atmosphere. But I like the BW too. For a single point of view you managed to get a lot of keepers.

  31. buy the way,you run a great site.

  32. good shots ming. but more important i bet you had a great time,did she rock?

  33. Nice work. Great treament of the lights.

    • Thanks – we had a lot of ambient smoke/ haze, which actually helped (though it was very unpleasant for the respiratory tract…)

  34. The shots are nice! It looks like they had a good configuration on the lighting too…

  35. Terrific shots, Ming! Shots 2 and 4 from the color and the monochrome generally are my favorites. The 45mm worked well to capture a good bit of the stage and other performers.

  36. Rain Santiago says:

    Nice work Ming, seems like the GM1 is a keeper for you 🙂 very surprised the GM1 was able to slip in most concerts here in the US definitely specifies no cameras with interchangeable lens allowed.

    • I don’t think most people would be able to tell. And it’s hardly likely to have interchangeable lenses if you can slip it into a belt pouch…

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