Dodging blood and gore, photographing Mike Thrasher's GWAR show!

October 17, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

The gas pump attendant looks at me strange as I pull my debit card from a ziploc baggie...

Let me backup for a second.

About a month ago or so I get the OK from GWAR's press people (Freeman Promotions) to shoot GWAR at the Roseland Theater in Portland, Oregon. I was super stoked... and to be honest a little cautious at the same time. Why cautious? Well, its challenging enough shooting live shows where you are constantly making adjustments due to lighting and movement. So, add gushing blood and gore to the equation and you have a whole different battlefield. I did my due diligence and made sure my gear was protected. This is funny... check out my Facebook post before I left:


"Water resistant camera poncho: CHECK
Clothes I can throw away: CHECK
Lens wipes: CHECK
Ziploc for ID and debit card: CHECK
Ziploc for mobile phone: CHECK
Extra change of clothes: CHECK"

 After some minor adjustments, I packed up and headed to the Roseland Theater.

I caught the end of Iron Reagan's set and was able to witness front man Tony Foresta's instructions to get the crowd to form huge circle pits (audience creates an open area on the floor where people can slam into one another). The floor was dark and tonight was a "NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY" gig so I couldn't get a decent shot of the pit.   

Coming up next was Whitechapel, so I made my way over to the photo pit entrance. I originally intended to only shoot GWAR but I felt covering Whitechapel would give me a chance to fine tune some camera settings. Glad I did! Not just for test shots, but because Whitechapel's performance was sick! Whitechapel brought a ton of intensity and at one point split the audience in half, creating opposing forces ready to collide! The front lines each half were fans knelt in sprinting positions ready to destroy other side. In my head, I could hear the speech from one face painted Scotsman, "They may take our lives, but they'll never take our FREEDOM!!!". The fans erupted off the line in a full out charge! Arms were swinging, feet were kicking and hearts were pounding! The dust settled and everyone survived relatively unharmed in this chaotic clash of metal heads.

Whitechapel finished up and at this point it looks as though the occupancy doubled for the next and final set... GWAR! I squeezed through the crowd to get back to the photo pit entrance where other photographers waited. I knew right away who, did and didn't know, what they were getting into by shooting GWAR. One guy had his hairdo all nice, wore a nice coat and a new camera bag slung over his shoulder. Once the show begins, I didn't know if I wanted to focus on GWAR, or shoot that guy in panic mode. Hahaha! So, I got positioned next to a gargoyle prop that had a sneaky tube protruding from its mouth. The gargoyle was strategically positioned facing the front row of GWAR fans. TIP: Always, ALWAYS give some love to the audience! They will love it and at the same time provide a beautiful sense of chaos.

GWAR took the stage and the gargoyles began to enlighten the crowd with spooge! The epic battle had begun! Orderus Urungus (GWAR frontman) quickly got the mayhem underway with theatrical dismemberment, decapitations and disembowelment. I dodged, slip and slid around grabbing as many photos as I could before the next shower of blood and gore. Let me make this very clear, these weren't just squirts here and there, it was gallons of blood and gore being propelled into the crowd! Remember that pretty photographer I told you about? He split as soon as those gargoyles came alive!

As a photographer its critical to keep your gear safe and at the same time being functional, especially at a GWAR show. To mitigate as much gore damage as possible, watch the performers and see where the spray tubes are connected. Then watch to see how, and how far the liquid projects. I was able stay away from most of it but did take some hits along the way. Refer back to my checklist above to help gear for a show like this.

GWAR shows NEVER disappoint! From the dismemberment of Justin Beiber to the mega battle with Mr. Perfect, you will remember this bloody, crunchy, planet destroying metal performance for the rest of your life!

NOTE: The GWAR show is pretty hardcore (Major adult content) so make sure to add shots that may be used for publications.

I shot this show using my trusty D700 with both the Tamron 28-75mm and the Nikon 80-200mm. I used the 28-75mm in the photo pit using ISO 3200 (not using flash), f/3.5 and 1/130th shutter. From the balcony, I used the Nikon 80-200mm using ISO 2500, f/2.8 and 1/125th shutter. There was room to adjust ISO but I didn't want to mess with it too much due to the conditions. The Fulat camera poncho was a cheap but effective solution for soggy shows (Approx. $15). It was a bit of an adjustment using the camera view finder but with a little practice, it was fine.

I'd like to thank the security for doing an excellent job in the pit. I'd also like to thank the other photographers who showed much respect for one another. And last but not least, HUGE thanks to Freeman Promotions for setting me up with access!

Want to see what I'm up to? Follow me on Twitter @thevonburke and say whats up!



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