Photographer Brian Ullrich on Star Wars, Rush and Getting the Right Angle
"When you're not shooting it, you're thinking about it. Part art, part science, it's all passion. Being in the moment through the lens, hearing the music, all you're thinking about is getting that one shot..."
Thus begins the homepage of F/stopme Photography. Brian Ullrich scouts new and local music to shoot, handles the business end of things, and runs a pretty good second camera to lead photog Charlie Naile. They've shot locals The Bright, The Backsliders, Tejas Brothers, Old 97's, Eleven Hundred Springs and more.
I understand the first band you ever shot was your own? How the hell did you pull that off?
First band I ever shot was my own, in high school in San Antonio, during my junior year. The Clocks. We had a regular gig at this teeny-bopper hangout called Pappy's. I played keyboards and rhythm guitar, so when I wasn't playing on a song, I went out into the crowd with my newly-purchased auto-drive and shot every roll in my bag.
Are you a photog essentially because you're a frustrated musician?
I am. I have a degree in music, so it's a natural fit for me. Understanding music, incorporating that into the composition is instinctual for me. I actively listen to the music while shooting, and this really works well for me.
What music turned into the bug that bit you?
Now this is funny. The theme from Star Wars, in 1977, in the fifth grade. The local middle school band came out to recruit kids into their music programs for the next school year. When I heard that trumpet soloing the Star Wars theme, I was hooked. From that, I first learned the trumpet, and over the years picked up almost all brass instruments, playing them in various bands, both in school and out. I taught myself guitar and keyboards, and now I play my guitar when I can.
It would seem the two genres you're mainly drawn to shooting are rock and outlaw country.
Yes and no. They are distinctly different genres, and I've found each has distinctly different challenges, but both are fun to shoot. Rock bands tend to be flashier and more bodily expressive; as you say, more high energy. They also give you far more lighting opportunities to incorporate into your composition, and you can often use flash to fill.
That's not necessarily true when shooting a country or folk act. Those artists tend to be less active on stage, and more facially expressive. You almost NEVER use flash shooting country shows. But therein lies the challenge for me; to find a way to capture the essence of the moment, and the intensity and passion of the artist.
Any fave local photogs?
I like Michael Insuanste's work. He's been around so long he's a legend in the music photography scene. I've shot alongside him a couple of times, and learned some techniques from him. He's a very decent human, and a great photographer.
How about venues?
As for venues, that's a little harder. Every venue has its drawbacks; I don't think I've ever shot a place and found myself saying, "Wow, I LOVE shooting here." That said, Starplex (or whatever it's called now) and Gexa aren't bad. Those are multi-lens venues though. Bring long glass and your backup. I liked Reunion, because the stage locations often offered multi-level shooting angles.
I've shot at tons at bars around town. I like shooting at Adair's Saloon, oddly enough. It's too small, cramped and with crappy lighting, no wings at all, but for some reason I always get good results from that joint. The Boiler Room isn't bad. Good lighting there and room to move around the stage. Trees, of course.There are lots of good places in the Stockyards, as a whole for festival-type events, and some of the places off Exchange are cool. There's an open-air venue there that I like because it offers good angles and lots of different looks. House of Blues is good, but it's tough to get good side angles shots. Billy Bob's is OK, but that's nearly a stage-only venue because the roof is so low. I do like the Granada. Plenty of room, proper stage and easy access, multiple levels, good lighting...can I re-think my earlier statement?
Do you have a dream band shoot?
I'd love to do Rush. Yeah, I'm one of those. Been a fan since I first heard them. I'd also love to shoot Jeff Beck in a small, intimate venue. I recently saw a show that he did at a London pub, and it was just greatness. It was very well-produced, and the intimacy really came through. Monte Montgomery and Andy Timmons in a lick-for-lick throwdown would be incredible.