China Adventures: Part 3

While I was originally going to go to the Great Wall of China, I decided I'd rather get my bearings in Beijing first. I became friends with two Polish travelers, Marcin and Diana, at my hostel and we both happened to be going to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square! We ventured out together but we got separated at the gate to the Forbidden City. Oddly enough, I ran into the students from Alabama inside and we hung out for a bit. They had a tour guide so I tagged along with them and learned some fascinating information about the Forbidden City. 

Love these shadows on the wall. Photographing guards is definitely frowned upon.

Being an abnormally tall, white, American, people asked to take pictures with me. Not sure why, but it's kinda cool? One girl walked up and said, "Hi I was wondering if you could take a photo with me. You are very handsome." Well I guess that solves it!

I really wanted to fly my drone around the Forbidden City but I had too many worries about it. I have no idea how the guards would react. Would they not think twice about it or whip out their guns and shoot it down? Also, with the buildings, walls, and trees, I didn't want to navigate flying around those obstacles. I had an unfortunate drone crash last week that cracked a bunch of the plastic. It still flies, but is harder to control and is less precise with the movements. All of this felt too risky. If I crash it now, I wouldn't be able to use it at the Great Wall or the Yellow Mountains, which seems like a better opportunity. Probably not the smartest idea to experiment in a place called the Forbidden City. 

Tim and Jenneh

Left the Forbidden City with no sign of my Polish homies, Marcin and Diana. Ran into another group of Americans from Virginia who just finished a trip similar to mine! Instantly became friends. I had nothing to do so we hung out and they took me to lunch at a hot pot place nearby. Tim and Jenneh hung out with me the most as we ordered way to much food. We shared stories, laughed and had a splendid time. Tim told me how awesome the matcha chocolate McFlurrys are at McDonalds here so I got one after we went our separate ways. He was right. Absolutely delicious.

I just finished my McFlurry and sat down to write about my fun experiences when a group of kids came up to me and started showing me their small pocket watches. They really liked my KO Watch and tried to set their times to match mine. One little boy was fascinated by my camera, constantly making weird silly faces and giggling at the pictures. His mom came up and told the group to all play their harmonicas. They puffed as hard as they could into those little things and it was the most beautiful noise. 

Found live scorpions on sticks getting ready to be cooked. A vendor wanted 25 yuan for 3. After watching them wiggle and dance after being impaled, I lost my curiosity. Also Tim said he had one the night before and it hurt his stomach. 

Wandered around Tiananmen Square which happened to be a big empty plaza with nothing to see. All of the surrounding museums and buildings were closed so I just headed home. The rest of the night was pretty chill. Mostly hung out at the hostel and edited a bunch of photos. Nothing special to end the awesome day!

Self Help Festival

After months of waiting, the day of Self Help Festival finally came. Unfortunately, it came on one of the same days as So What Festival in Texas which meant I wasn’t able to shoot that as well. The day started like any other festival, trying to find parking. I later found out that a Self Help record of 17,000 people had attended the festival that day, so the place was packed to say the least. Before any of the concerts started, people sat on the grassy lawns surrounded by merchant tents and food trucks. Sadly, the line for the beer and food trucks was almost as packed as the stages themselves. 

There were two stages at the festival, the main stage outside and a smaller stage inside of what looked like an old airplane hangar. The main stage was lit by the sun (of course) and very minimal lighting during the day. However, once night time came (around the time Underoath played) the fog machines, lights, and pyrotechnics came out to play. The stage inside the airplane hangar was large and easy to navigate, but the lighting in there was absolutely abysmal which made for terrible photography conditions. The stage was heavily backlit with highly saturated gels which made the colors bleed together and look nasty. Also the lights were quite dim so along with nasty colors, everything was severely underexposed. Ok… enough camera jargon. 

In the beginning of the day, I started playing with the prisms I have to reflect and bounce light across my lens. It made for some interesting images but due to being in the daylight, I got a lot of reflections from areas to my sides and behind me. At one point I took a photo that blended the asphalt ground and a guitarist, but not in a cool creative way. While it was fun to experiment with, I think its easier to do this at inside venues where everything is dark around you except for beautiful lights and smoke. A few pictures turned out pretty well of Thy Art Is Murder, the second band to play on the main stage. The most unique one was where the prism reflected back to the crowd which was cool. 

I got to hang out with the guys from Further Seems Forever early on and take some portraits of them before the show. They were super chill dudes, but had a busy day filled with various interviews and photo shoots before they played on the indoor stage, so I kept my shoot with them brief. For being advertised as a metal festival, there sure were a diverse number of bands from other genres, Further Seems Forever being one. However, they put on a fantastic and energetic show that had the crowd on their feet. 

Being an August Burns Red fan, I was absolutely stoked to see and shoot them for the first time. Jake (vocals) put on one of the most fantastic and unique performances I’ve seen. During breakdowns and instrumental parts like in their song “Martyr,” he got up on the platform and just danced. It was very clear that he enjoys hearing his own music and performing live. Jake also swings his microphone around a lot which is quite entertaining to watch. I was also pumped to see Matt Greiner play live because he’s one of my favorite drummers. Sadly, I didn’t get any good pictures of him.

With the first show after disbanding in 2013, Underoath took to the stage and everyone freaked out. As the second to last band of the night, followed only by A Day To Remember, every one of the 17,000 people were watching the history making show. Due to the intensity of the music and the rapid movements of the band members, photographing them turned out to be quite a difficult experience. It didn’t help that the lighting was quite fast paced, making it difficult to capture someone in some light. That being said, the show was incredible and the audience truly felt it. Even though they’ve been labeled as a Christian band, Underoath (and August Burns Red as well) has made it clear that their music is for everyone and that they don’t write Christian songs. They’re simply Christians who make fantastic metal music. 

Finally, A Day to Remember took to the stage and put on a fantastic show filled with fireworks, explosions, and theatricality. Even though they played 17 songs, I felt that they could have played another 10 due to the energy of the crowd and popularity of their music. This was also the first show that ADTR played their new song “Paranoia” live. Jeremy led the crowd in an act they’ve been calling “Surfing a Crowd Surfer” where one person stands on top of another person who is crowdsurfing. Its close to crowd surfing Inception, but its really cool to see live. Along with the explosions and fireworks, ADTR also had an old man with a T-Shirt gun firing into the crowd, as well as beach balls and toilet paper rolls flying everywhere. I feel like I keep saying this, but A Day to Remember put on one of my favorite shows packed start to finish with excitement and theatricality (along with their awesome music).

While the music was fantastic, nothing touched my heart more than the support the bands gave to the members of The Ghost Inside. Many bands dedicated songs to them and the love was truly there. In case you don’t know, The Ghost Inside was in a massive bus accident resulting in the loss of 2 lives and hospitalizations of everyone involved. Band members were in comas, had lost limbs, and had broken many bones but they were glad to be alive. It was quite inspiring to see Jonathan Vigil sit side stage in his wheelchair watching several of the performances. Despite this awful tragedy, nothing has warmed my heart more than seeing the entire metal genre band together in love and support for the members of The Ghost Inside. 









NAMM Day 2

Well I ended up doing a little bit more research for the second day, learning that there was a schedule (image that) for what famous people would be where and when. I bookmarked specific places I wanted to be in order to see some of my favorite artists. 

Upon walking in, I immediately ran into the all seeing, all shredding god that is John Petrucci. Talk about a great start to the day. He was signing autographs at Ernie Ball and the line was ridiculous. Luckily, I had a telephoto lens. :)

John Petrucci

Aaron Newberry and Me

I walked around a bit, admiring the various booths when a face caught my eye. I quickly tracked the man down to see if it was the person I thought he was. It was in fact Aaron Newberry, the singer and guitarist of the band SONS. I introduced myself and said how I’m friends with Mike Pattengale (the coolest bro to ever live) and that I shot SONS years ago at Indiana Wesleyan University. He remembered me and we had a fantastic time catching up. We talked about how awesome SONS was and how it helped both of us through some rough patches in our lives, along with everything new that was happening to us. This was one of the rare moments that required a selfie because Mike Pattengale and SONS got me into concert photography and changed my life forever. Easily the highlight of my week. I couldn’t ask for anything better.

Next, I ran into Luke Holland and The Word Alive and told Luke that his new drum cover of “Sorry” by Justin Bieber was killer. We talked about how I saw TWA play on Nov 14 in Pomona and how that was the show where Telle stage dove and broke his back. Telle and I talked about his recovery and luckily its going well. However I think he’s gonna keep stage diving to a minimum for now. 

Wandering around more, I found my friends for the blog I shoot for (SoCalMusic Today) and walked around with them for a bit. We walked over to see John 5 (ex-Marilyn Manson guitarist), Alice Cooper’s daughter Calico Cooper, and Alice Cooper’s bassist Chuck Garric signing autographs.

Chuck Garric, Callico Cooper, and John 5

I went to go check out Plini play a quick set. Plini just announced he’s touring with Intervals and Angel Vivaldi recently. His set was awesome and one of the things that really stood out to me was the amount of eye contact he made with people in the crowd as he played. It definitely added a personal feeling to the performance. I noticed Angel Vivaldi was chilling in the back so I went over and said hi. He immediately recognized me from shooting a show of his at The Mystery Box and gave me a huge hug. Angel is easily one of the nicest, funniest dudes I know so hanging with him is always a pleasure. Got two portraits of him, snagged a quick portrait of Plini, congratulated them both on the new tour, and raced off to the next event. 


I reconnected with the guys from The Mirage Theory and we headed to the GoPro booth for their daily raffle. I had signed up earlier that day, but with the number of people at NAMM, I expected to walk away empty handed. I was telling the TMT guys about how a GoPro could help my photography by placing the camera in interesting locations at venues to get new kinds of shots. Well as they were calling out the winners, the announcer said my name and everyone in The Mirage Theory instantly started screaming and freaking out. Naturally I couldn’t believe it because the odds were pretty slim, but I won a GoPro Hero4 Session, their newest, smallest, most lightweight camera. 

Nick Johnston

I shot Nick Johnston at Seymour Duncan, demo-ing their pickups in front of a nice crowd and he graced me by looking at my camera. Something I really love. Snapped a few pics of Neal Morse signing autographs and I saw Thomas Lang taking pictures with some fans after his set (I missed it because they switched the times due to scheduling conflicts).

Finally, to end the day, I met up with Lauren Elle Jaye, someone I met on Facebook who I wanted to meet in person. She was the coolest, most genuine, caring person I have met in a long time. We talked as if we had known each other for years, sitting on the ground of a slowly dwindling hallway. It was the perfectly chill way to end the long and adventurous day. She simply radiates positivity and love and is such a delight to be around. Also she gives dope hugs.

Well Day 1 was kind of stressful and a bit of a nightmare. Day 2 was such an amazing day filled with old friends, new friends, and famous people. 

Other people I met and/or took pictures of were Jared Dines, Mike Orlando, Joey Creel, Steven Slate, John Browne.