Photographing Jackie Venson during Black Fret’s Listening Session at Austin’s Spider House Ballroom

Last Saturday night at Austin’s Spider House Ballroom, we rocked out to David Ramirez and Jackie Venson at a Black Fret Listening Session. Black Fret is an exclusive and limited network of art patrons dedicated to supporting Austin's internationally recognized local musicians.

When Jackie Venson took the stage, I knew she was going to be a blast to photograph.

Jackie’s style is intense and joyful. Complimenting her impressive vocal range is her own tight and accomplished lead guitar sound. It is hard to believe that Jackie taught herself guitar only 5 years ago.

Her comments between songs created a fun and intimate environment. One time, referring to her skills at lead guitar, she simply stated “there is one way to get good: play a LOT!” I thought that was a good lesson to all of us in the arts. 

When we arrived at the Spider House Ballroom and took our seats on the second row, I was concerned that I had brought the wrong lens. I have caught beautiful shots with my Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master lens, but I sat a mere 8 feet from the lead mic and worried that 85mm might be a bit tight. Soon my concerns were put to rest, realizing that this focal length was perfect, enabling me to capture Jackie’s many expressions.

Focusing was a bit of a challenge. I shot at f/1.4 because the lights were low and because I wanted a wide-open, shallow depth-of-field look. While the G Master glass captures gorgeous images, it isn’t known for being a speed demon at auto-focusing. Some of the time I tried manual focusing, only to return to auto-focus due to Jackie’s energetic movements. Much of the time I had my Sony A7R II set to “Continuous” AF as I held the shutter down and blasted tons of continuous shots. Admittedly, my “hail Mary” approach to getting "the shot" resulted in hundreds of images to sort through in Lightroom.

No biggie. That's half the fun of it. Hope you enjoy the results. 


Joe Van Wyk
Portrait Photographer and Videographer for Social Media Marketing