Johnnyswim played two sold-out Christmas shows at The Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, Tennessee on December 8 and 19, 2017. Before their first concert my girlfriend and I got engaged. Just before they played our favorite song, Touching Heaven, they gave us a little shoutout and dedicated the song to us as a congratulations! I had managed to set this all up through a mutual friend the band and I have. And as my way of saying thanks, I photographed their second show a week and a half later.
I arrived during the band's soundcheck and warmed up while they warmed up. When first meeting a band, it usually takes a little while to reach a good comfort level that allows for being in their space without being too distracting. I like to begin by working with a longer lens from farther away so they know I'm there without getting in the way.
(Above: Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano Ramirez, the husband and wife duo that are Johnnyswim)
After warming up and chatting with the band a bit, I felt more comfortable getting closer to them.
Abner and Amanda Ramirez, the principals of the band, have a son named Joaquin who has made appearances on their albums and at concerts. He was around for soundcheck and also came out during the show!
The band was also joined by La Vie String Quartet for a portion of the show. The quartet features violinists Hannah Sorrells, Jake Tudor, Josée Weigand, and cellist Tim Kampen.
A choir also joined the band for select songs throughout their set, which added a really nice touch!
I always love getting shots of the small details when there's not a lot of action happening. The layout of a pedal board, closeups of instruments, or even flourishes on clothes add a lot of personality and character to the scene.
If I have the opportunity to photograph an artist's soundcheck, I try to shoot from perspectives that aren't available to me during the actual performance. Whether that's standing on stage in directly front of or behind someone, getting an angle from the crowd where someone will be seated during the show, or the little moments like the artist being out in the seating area while it's empty.
Just before taking the stage, the band gathers around for prayer. After, Abner leads the guys in a quick round of pushups to get pumped up before performing!
As the band takes the stage, the sold-out crowd cheers and applauds. The Schermerhorn is a beautiful venue, which was made even more so by its holiday decorations.
One of my favorite things to photograph is when an artist interacts with their fans. At the beginning of the show, Amanda grabbed a fan's phone from the front row and recorded a video for them from stage as they performed, which I'm sure made their night.
A little later in the show, Abner asked the audience if anyone had come to the show alone. A man in the second balcony cheered, and Abner asked him to come down to the front row center where they had saved a seat for him. The man had driven all the way from Gainesville, Florida just for the show!
Sometimes it's difficult to decide... Do I want to go tight and show more detail on stage? Do I want to zoom out a little and show mostly the stage but with a little atmosphere around it? Or do I want to go really wide and show the whole venue? I don't think there's a wrong answer, so I went with all three!
One of the unique things about The Schermerhorn is that the seating goes behind the stage as well. This provides a view for shows that a lot of people never get to experience!
When given free reign to shoot from anywhere for an entire show, it can be a little overwhelming because there are so many spots to choose from. And with no photo pit to camp out in, I didn't want to stay down at the front of the stage for very long, blocking fans' view of a show they've been waiting months to see.
Thus, I tend to roam around throughout the show. I don't want to be a distraction, so I'm as discrete as possible while moving around the venue. But I also want to tell the full story of the show, which requires getting as many different perspectives as possible. Finding a happy balance is key to effectively sharing the experience of a show for those who aren't there, without ruining it for those who are.
When the choir came out toward the end of the set, I shot them from the side of the stage, then took advantage of them being on stage and got behind them for a shot. I had really been wanting to shoot from the back middle of the stage, but I didn't want to be a distraction nor impede anyone's view from the seats behind the stage. This posed the perfect solution, so I jumped on it.
Remember what I said earlier about loving interaction between artists and their fans? Johnnyswim embraced this wholeheartedly when they jumped out into the crowd for a song at the end of their set!
On their way back to the stage, Abner paused for about half a second for a quick photo with a girl who was at the show for her birthday (she later got a proper photo with him after the show).
For the encore/finale, the band was joined onstage by the openers for the show, Bryan and Katie Torwalt, La Vie Quartet, the choir, and then even pulled their friend from Gainesville up on stage to sing with them.
And, always appreciative of their fans, Abner posed with people for photos once the show was over.