Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008

Radio City fills with a deep reverberating bassline that cascades across the darkened stage and out into the audience for what seems like an eternity. She slinks out, heels kicking as high as her black minidress will permit. Once she is center-stage, Erykah Badu owns the night.

While her vocals on the new album, “New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War” often drift below complex breaks and layered instrumentation, Erykah Badu’s live show places her firmly at the center of her own musical universe.

She starts and stops her eleven-piece ensemble at will with the precision of tracks cued into her laptop, she sips unknown liquid from a thermos and then pauses to check her makeup, she removes and replaces her whig/hat during song and plays with a pair of giant rubber balls on stage.

It’s a poor analogy but being within eyeshot of an Erykah Badu concert is akin to being front and center for David Copperfield in that her complete control over every aspect of her at times insane performance is both perplexing and astonishing.

Badu began the show with tracks from her new album and switched to older work from her previous four disc catalog half way through. “New Amerykah, Pt.:4th World War,” Erykah’s first album since 2003 is wonderful and definitely worth a repeated play.

Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008 Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008 Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008 Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008 Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008 Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008 Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008 Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008 Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008 Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008 Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008 Erykah Badu @ Radio City Music Hall - 09.05.2008


Erykah was positioned center-stage about 10-15 feet away from me. Like many theaters in NYC, the seats in Radio City Music Hall go right up to the stage. It was for this reason that I was restricted to a seated position just house right of center for the allotted three songs.

Erykah didn’t take the stage until nearly four minutes into her first song. That combined with the fact that I was so sick my hands were shaking had me worried I wasn’t going to be happy with my work at the end of the night. Still, thanks to the Image Stabilization function of the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, and more Alkaseltzer Cold & Flu than a small Chinese guy should probably ingest, things turned out okay.

This was the second time I’d had the pleasure of photographing Erykah Badu. I caught up with her at an intimate listening party at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors just days before the release of her “New Amerykah.”


The lighting for the first three songs was decent enough and fairly straight forward. Warm red lighting abounded and was punctuated by hot white spotlights. Though yellow, red, and blue background lights flared in time with the music throughout the first three songs, most of them were too high to fit into the frame.


I shot with the Canon EOS-1D Mark III and the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L for nearly the entire set. Save the single wide shot, taken with the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, the rest of my lenses stayed in the bag.

Without the ability to move around, I stuck to the 150mm – 200mm end of the zoom to get a tight perspective on the action. Since Erykah performed in entirely black clothing on a black background, the most interesting part of the images were her face and arms.


My exposure rarely deviated from ISO2000 and 1/200 at f/4.0.

End Notes

I owe a huge thanks to Nicole for being so helpful in setting up access for this shoot and big shout outs to Erin Baiano and Abbey Braden who I had the pleasure of sharing the pit with.

  1. Nice set of photos. Really crisp.

  2. chris

    Thank Bryan. I’m surprised how well these turned out considering I should have been in bed.

  3. chris, these are really, really great. i love them.

  4. Great set, man. You really do a great job of getting in tight and making nice, dynamic images at the same time. The first and last photos are absolutely stunning! Do you often go up to f/4? Is it just to keep your focus sharper? Does it help that much over 2.8?

  5. chris

    Kyle, Thanks!

  6. chris

    Chris, while I can take some credit, Erykah Badu is an extremely expressive performer. It’s hard to take a bad photo of her.

    In answer to your question, I try to go up to f/4 as much as possible, especially when shooting the Canon 70-200mm. This is for two reasons.

    1)The lens is quite soft at the 200mm end and I feel that stopping down, even a little, helps resolve more detail

    2)I do not trust the continuous focus (AI-Servo) accuracy of the Canon 1D Mark III. I’ve shot with the body/lens combination before and it has regularly failed me when at f/2.8. The greater depth of field achieved by f/4.0 compensates for focusing errors.

  7. That’s interesting — I sure am learning a lot from you and Todd combined. Why don’t you shoot in just single AF mode, and lock on with an AF point and lock it and then compose the shot? I mean, I’m sure that’s something you do, but I would think shooting in continuous mode would throw off the focus??

  8. chris

    Hey Chris. It’s important to mention that I activate focus not with the shutter but with the rear AF-ON button on the back of the camera.

    This allows me to activate focusing separately from shutter release.

    So, I can focus using continuous, let go of the button, recompose, shoot, and then go back to tracking the subject.

    I find it very useful to focus in this manner especially when trying to shoot constantly moving subjects like Erykah Badu.

  9. That is a great point — something I wish I could do with my camera. Damn you, Nikon D80!!!

  10. chris

    Hey Chris, I’m 95% sure you CAN do this with the D80. The AE-L/AF-L button can be set to work as an AF-ON button in the menus. Look into it!

  11. Holy cow, you’re right! Me and my friend, Keith, were talking about it and we didn’t think you could until the higher end nikon models — I guess I just sucked when I googled it, and maybe he was just mistaken. Plus we were both looking to apply it to the custom function button — now I’m all excited!

    What is the main difference between using a button to focus, recompose, and shoot, and focusing with a slight press of the shutter, recomposing, and shooting — just a slightly quicker release of the shutter when it comes time to press it??

    Sorry I’m asking so many questions on your Erykah Badu set — we can move this to email, if you’d like… (although I think most questions may be answered?? haha)