Mike Nakhla: Sonny Sandoval, P.O.D.

The Image

Mike Nakhla

The Chance Theater, Poughkeepsie, NY

Time / Date:
23:00 / May 9, 2012

The Technical

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: Nikon 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye

Camera Settings:
Shutter Speed: 1/400
Aperture: f/2.8
ISO: 8000
Focal Length: 16mm

The Story


I’m mainly a wedding photographer, and prior to this show I had very little experience photographing concerts, so I wasn’t too sure how to prepare for it to be totally honest. Since then, I’ve been very lucky to have photographed for Mutemath, Matisyahu, and P.O.D. several times. I had grown up listening to P.O.D., and they’re still one of my favorite bands, so working with them was an honor and a huge personal accomplishment. They are by far some of the most down to earth and genuine people I’ve worked with. It’s pretty rare to find multimillion record selling artists who are as humble and genuine as Sonny, Marcos, Traa, and Wuv. My wedding style is pretty photojournalistic, so I came into the show with a similar shooting style – prepare, anticipate the band’s movements, and get the shot. A shot like this is often difficult to predict – I had no idea that Sonny (the lead singer) was going to toss the microphone into the crowd. I just happened to have a fisheye lens at the time and managed to capture the moment before he let the mic go. I was more than a little bit lucky in this instance.

The Scene: 

The photo pit at The Chance is as narrow as you can possibly imagine a photo pit would be. I’m a relatively smaller guy – 5’7”, 140 pounds – and even I had trouble squeezing through the pit to get where I needed to be with a camera by my side. It was extremely tight, so I couldn’t change lenses in the pit, only off to the side of the stage – I was just lucky enough to have the fisheye on the camera when I did. P.O.D. puts on one hell of a show, and the crowd really gets into it when they perform – so much so that moshing fans were crowdsurfing past my head, their hands and feet knocking into my camera as security lowered them to the ground next to me. This image was taken immediately before Sonny threw the microphone into the crowd and jumped after it, singing the chorus of their 2001 hit, “Alive,” with a few lucky crowd members.


I shot this concert with a Nikon D3s – the “low light king” at the time. The high ISO capability of the camera and relatively high dynamic range were critical in capturing scenes like this with such uneven lighting across the frame. I shoot only primes, which makes me sort of an oddball in the wedding photography world, where many people swear by their 24-70s and 70-200s. I shot most of the show with a 24mm 1.4G lens, 85mm 1.4G, 180mm 2.8D, and this 16mm f/2.8D fisheye. This shot was taken literally an inch or two from the stage, and in such a small venue and small working distance, the fisheye was able to capture the stage and give a unique perspective on the shot.

Making the Shot:

A huge part of getting the timing perfectly on this shot was luck. I’m not a “spray and pray” kind of shooter, so I was meticulously planning each frame and composing each shot carefully. Again, the pit was tight, so I maneuvered my way towards center stage and tried to get as much of the band into the shot. Next thing I know, Sonny leans towards the crowd and throws the mic before going after it himself. I had been to a few P.O.D. shows in the past, so I knew that at some point he was leaving the stage, but it was harder to anticipate with a camera stuck to my face. The lighting was extremely low for most of the show, so using focus tracking was out of the picture, even with a D3s. I was doing a lot of “focus and recompose” with center point focusing, which gave me a little bit more flexibility to frame as the band moved around the stage.

Editing & Processing:

This was shot with a fisheye, but “de-fisheyed” in post to give it more of a rectilinear look instead, using the Fisheye Hemi plugins. I lifted the shadows a bit on Sonny’s face and bumped down the saturation on the whole image to compensate for the really bright blue hues from the stage lighting. I process most of my photos in Lightroom or Photoshop, depending on how much processing the image needs. In this case, I ran the plugin in Photoshop and continued my editing from there.

Looking Back: 

I had a ton of fun at this show, and looking back these photos makes me very appreciative that this concert opened the door for me to shoot with other artists and shoot even more shows. Shooting different types of work allows me to explore other types of photography outside of weddings and even bring some ideas and inspiration into my wedding work.


Shooting music is fun, and something I think many event photographers would absolutely love doing. It’s tough to break through that networking web, but much easier if you’re talented and passionate about what you do. I started in this business for a very simple reason: I needed money. I was a good photographer, and weddings paid the bills. Along the way, I got better, doors were opened, and now I’m shooting weddings, portraits, concerts, and other promotional work. I’m a medical student and a photographer, two things I’m very passionate about. Whoo thought I would end up shooting for one of my favorite bands and get to where I am today? Certainly not me, but I wanted it, and I worked for it until I made it happen.


I really admire Jeff Mosier’s wedding and headshot photography. He’s an extremely talented photographer based in NYC, and I find his work very inspiring. I’m a big fan of Instagram as well (stay with me here), because I think it’s opened up a community for sharing the world instantly, all from a little device that is essentially glued to most of us. It’s always inspiring to see the beautiful images that photographers can take on a camera phone, and it’s something I’ve started doing myself. The best camera is the one you have with you, after all.


About the Photographer

I’m a New York-based wedding and portrait photographer, and currently a first year medical student at Penn State College of Medicine in Pennsylvania. I’ve been shooting weddings for the past several years, in addition to photographing artists and musicians, including P.O.D., Mutemath, Matisyahu, Dispatch, and more. I’m looking forward to pursuing both my medical degree and further photographic opportunities such as this one.

Website: www.mikenakhla.com
Twitter: @mikenakhla
Instagram: @mikenakhla

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