How the Art Happens - The Power of Music

January 29, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

The Power of Music

Dean Dillon at Mountain High Music FestDean Dillon at Mountain High Music FestDean Dillon performs at the 2020 Mountain High Music Festival with Sundance Head in the background.

The influence of one artform on other forms of art is undisputed. All the artists I know and work with are striving to tell a story and reach deep into the emotions of those experiencing their art. Some forms of art are better at this than others or, at the very least, deliver a more obvious message leaving less to the imagination. Art involving words can have this effect. Art involving more than one form can be doubly effective. Like music.

Music has probably been more inspirational to me and the visual art I try to produce than I can ever give it credit for. I am rarely alone without musical influence. At work in my studio, at church, in the car, I always have music close at hand. Different types of music create different emotions and responses for me. For many years I have been drawn to the country and folk genres. It's probably because the tunes are more simple and I can understand the words but the stories conveyed sometimes cut straight to my heart as well. It's difficult to put into words the exact way powerful music influences my photography but I know I'm not alone. Many great photographers and other artists are also accomplished musicians. There is a connection we cannot deny even if it cannot be explained.

Last week, I had the opportunity to photograph some of the most accomplished songwriters and performers on the planet in a fairly intimate setting. My task was to provide photographs for the sponsors and artists performing at the Mountain High Music Festival in Mount Crested Butte, Colorado. I have photographed this event a few times. It has a few challenges that most theaters do not share. It has a few advantages as well. As the photographer I have access most of the attendees don't have but, I also rarely get to sit.

The challenges photographing performers on a stage are similar to those in landscape photography. (That can't be right!) As Ansel Adams once said, "A good photograph is largely about where you stand". The camera position in stage photography is critical since where I stand determines how many of the usual distractions I can eliminate. Mic stands, light fixtures, stage monitors, stools, other musicians, etc. can all be distractions from my main subject that I need to eliminate or, at least diminish. Choosing where to stand (without annoying the paying customers) is a key decision. Using a telephoto lens is also very helpful.

Of course, I have to deal with tricky exposures and color-balance issues too, but the critical decision involves listening to the song and capturing the pinnacle of the artist's emotion and performance. I used to try and avoid photographing performers with their mouths open since many of these photos look extremely awkward and unflattering. After practicing for many years, I think I can deliver a strong image at the peak of the song without making the performer look bad. Capturing the emotion of the story has become my goal while getting close enough to provide a point of view that eliminates most of the distractions and delivers a photograph that most of the audience could not experience. Of course, I make photos of the whole stage as well as the interactions with the audience as well but the stage photos are the challenge...and the fun. Click here to see more photos from the Mountain High Music Festival.


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Crested Butte, Colorado photographer, Dusty Demerson creates fine art photography displayed as prints and canvases and provides private photo tours in and around western Colorado.

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