The Halifax Jazz Fest: A Photographer’s View

What’s great about writing for a site like HAFILAX is the people that you get to meet. Since we’ve started using this outlet as a space where we can help promote the music scene on the East Coast, there have been industry folk of all different sorts who we’ve had the pleasure of meeting and dealing with.  

Promoters have been fantastic to deal with and want nothing more than help pushing the amazing talent out to the masses, and musicians have been gracious enough to supply our ears with EPs, full lengths and random singles sprinkled throughout. The one avenue within the industry that gets noticed quite often, but fails to gain the recognition is that of the photographer.

Photography has become a major part of our website and has allowed the site to grow in ways we never had expected. Through the eye of a lens we’ve had the pleasure of shooting all different artists, from local acts to national artists, and even some international acts. We’ve also had the luxury of being able to not only meet but also learn from some amazing local photographers who hang their hats out here on the East Coast.

One of those very photographers is friend of the site Ed Boulter. Ed has spent countless years putting time in, and capturing the very essence of what the Blues and Jazz scene mean to both Halifax and Nova Scotia. We’ve been lucky enough to have Ed churn out some words on past shows, and once again consider ourselves lucky to have this fantastic photographer share his views on what happens both behind and in front of a camera during a night at the Halifax Jazz Festival.


Image captured by Chandrae Bailey

The following is a behind-the-scenes look at what can happen while trying to snap the perfect shot. 

By Ed Boulter: 

In working with the folks at Jazz East for the past five years, I’ve been tasked with getting a shot which they have come to term cool and/or different. At times I’m left to my own imagination and other times they may have a specific idea in mind. Because of the ideas that do come up, I have become used to collaborating and finagling with the artists and their management.

With this being the 30th anniversary of the Halifax Jazz Festival, there was some discussion with the marketing and media folks about getting a shot that would best represent what this festival is all about. I immediately suggested a crowd shot from the front of the stage; as expected, the media folks loved the idea, but the artists weren’t overly excited about the idea of having anyone else on the stage. As anyone would guess, this would be the best time to capture the crowd at its peak and would have made my job of getting that special shot much easier, but the idea was eventually squashed and I had to move on.

After more discussion, the media folks had said that I would be able to sneak up onto the side of the stage just before Nile Rodgers was due to go on, but once again I was not permitted to be in view when the band were taking to the stage. Would it make sense to settle for a shot of the people milling around? Another idea down the drain.

By this point even my photography buddies were ignoring me and continued on with their discussion on the finer points of craft ale.   

I did what I could with the views that were given to me and even ended up taking a few pics, but they all seemed to be a bit dull and weren’t worth keeping. The time had come where I was beginning to realize a shot of the crowd wasn’t going to happen from the stage.


Photo courtesy of Ed Boulter

It was at this point that things began to get interesting…

While in the photo pit during the Nile Rodgers set, I had noticed another photographer snapping pics and allowing his flash to go off (for those of you out there who don’t know….while taking shots during live music events it is imperative that your flash remains off. This is one of the biggest no-no’s of live music photography). I tapped the photographer on the shoulder and mentioned to him that he needed to shut down his flash; he ignored me. A few minutes passed and I mentioned it again and instead of ignoring me he took his finger from his off hand and held it over the flash until I moved away from him. Needless to say it appeared that he did not care how intrusive he may have been.

After the three song limit was up, the photographers were removed from the photo pit and left to mingle among the masses hoping to snag some candid photos from within the crowd. I was making my way off to the side, when one of the lovely media folks, Kim Sinclair, asked me if I would go backstage as there might be an opportunity to shoot from the side of the stage while the show was happening.

(Just as a side note, everyone who helped out with the Halifax Jazz Festival were extremely easy to deal with and gracious in every way possible, however big props need to go out to Kim Sinclair as she continuously was always willing to try and make any request I had happen.  If it was a good idea and made the Jazz Fest better in someway, she wanted to make it a reality and for that should be applauded)

While on the way toward the back of the stage I found one of the organizers and began to explain about the situation which I had just run into while shooting from the pit (going forward we will refer to this guy as the “flash photographer…or FG for short).  With a puzzled look on her face, she asked if I would be able to point this photographer out. It wasn’t a full minute afterwards that I saw this same guy walking out of one of the artist’s trailers.

I quickly (and quietly) pointed out the fact that the gentleman stepping out of the trailer was the very same individual who was shooting with his flash on. At this point my mind was tossing around every single possible reason as into why this poor excuse for a photographer was strutting his way out of a trailer. Maybe he was security or maybe a caterer. Could he have been someone who wound up with some sort of extra special VIP tickets? Wrong on all accounts. Needless to say I was fairly surprised when I was informed that he was the tour manager. I kept my head down and moved along politely.


Photo courtesy of Ed Boulter

While making our way toward the stage there was a brief discussion about where we would be allowed to shoot from and for how long. It was here that the Flash Photographer ushered most of us up onto the side of the stage. This was it! This was the moment I had been waiting for. I found myself kneeling less than 10 feet away from Nile Rodgers. The music was flowing, the crowd was electrifying and I had finally made my way to exactly where I wanted to be. The vibe that was moving from musician to crowd and back again made the hair stand up on my arms. I reached down to my side, to grab hold of my Nikon D600. I brought it to eye level. Then the lens began to focus in on the crowd and it all fell apart again.

After a night of spending all of this time trying to get that perfect picture of the crowd, I finally found myself, or so I thought, in the perfect position to accomplish my task and it all got derailed due to a lack of angle.

One song later and we all found ourselves being ushered off of the stage and sent to the back area to await further instructions. It was at this point that we were informed that a giant dance party was being organized, on stage, for the last song of the evening. One quick nod from the organizer and I knew that the green light had been lit. The wait was over. I would finally have the opportunity to get what I needed.

With the second to last song just kicking off, there was a lull among those who were being gathered to take to the stage for the dance party. An excitement even. Some of these people were legitimately freaking out. Phone calls were being made, quiet screeches were being let out, dance moves were being worked on, make-up was being treated, and an overall feeling of giddiness was floating over the troupe.

While waiting for the song to end, I noticed that the Flash Photographer was standing directly in front of me. Never one to pass up an opportunity, I extended the olive branch and apologized for the interaction within the pit and that I was simply looking out for the artist. He happily laughed it off and told me to not to worry about it.  

With that out of the way, the beat that would close out the evening was starting up and the people, who had just found themselves back tage waiting in anticipation, began to pour onto the stage. Some of the crew took over a riser and became the unofficial dance crew for Nile Rodgers. Some of the artists that had performed earlier in the evening slid right up to the backing band and found themselves slipping right into the groove. Even some of the lovely folks who make up Jazz East were on the front of the stage busting out their disco moves. It was one of those magical moments that rarely take place during a live show. You could feel the musical vibrations in the air.  At this point I’m absolutely engulfed by everything that is taking place around me. The crowd; the music; the love; everything is coming to a complete boil.


Photo courtesy of Ed Boulter

It was then that I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I took a quick look at my distance to the front of the stage. Was I too close?

I turned around and found myself with none other than the Flash Photographer. This was it; my time with Nile Rodgers and co was coming to an end. I had that gut feeling that he was there to personally escort me from the stage.  With a smile on his face, he pointed to the front of the stage and instructed me to make my way up front, and that I had carte blanche for the remainder of the song.

I was like a kid in a candy store. After a few failed attempts and a run in with the tour manager, everything was working out. Moving from the front of the stage to the back, I was bouncing from one artist to another, grabbing nods of approval and snapping as many pictures as I could. With a liveliness and a pep I gracefully made my way from one side of the stage to the other. To say that these musicians were silly with excitement would be an understatement. What I had witnessed was a group of people who unconditionally love what they do for a living.


Photo courtesy of Ed Boulter

From there I made my way out to the front of the stage. The moment had finally arrived and all I needed to do was put myself in the right position to succeed. I looked out to the crowd like a prowler looking for his prey. They were captivated; they were focused; they were many; and they were perfectly lit. I broke out my wide angle lens and pointed it out toward the masses. Snap! The shutter closed. After what seemed like an eternity I had finally found myself with the picture I was looking for.

With the music coming to a close and security guards discreetly informing the dancers that the show was over, and that it was time to leave the stage, my time up front would also have to end. I exited the stage right, and as I made my way down the cold, metal stairs, I passed the tour manager for Nile Rodgers and humbly thanked him. In this line of work it’s important to maintain all relationships along the way as you never know when you may run into one another again.

As for the picture, it didn’t necessarily come out as something different or cool, but in an odd, roundabout way, I don’t think I could have gotten a better shot from the stage, that would have been as fun as this one. In a way, the journey to grab these pictures was so much fun, that it made up for anything which was lost within the picture itself; and in the end I did end up grabbing the picture that the Jazz Fest is currently using as the cover on their Facebook page.


Photo courtesy of Ed Boulter

About the author


Jeff is one-fourth of the group that makes up HAFILAX. His usual ramblings can be read right here on the website. If reading isn't your thing, he also hosts the Basement Tapes podcast.