Photographing live music is better than most things.
As a â€œmemory preserverâ€ I was once that annoying person who wastes time watching the whole concert behind the screen of a compact digital, iPhone screen or now, iPad. Or I was the really short person stuck behind some idiot doing that.
But now, I am lucky enough to be right up in the nitty gritty, I get to be in the same breathing space as my favourite musicians and I get to photograph and capture them right in their element. I freeze the time they sing your favourite songs, my favourite songs and itâ€™s just amazing.
Live music is a special thing anyway, but being able to do what I do has made me feel so lucky and has changed my life long pity party. Itâ€™s a challenge; itâ€™s a chance to be artistic, a chance to party while working, dance while working. Itâ€™s fun, itâ€™s always different and every time just opens up opportunities and experiences. I could write wedding vows about music photography, itâ€™s that great. I get to listen to music I love while doing a craft I love. And ehmergerdâ€¦ famous people.
Sometimes it is difficult and sometimes it is disappointing. But itâ€™s almost always rewarding. Iâ€™ve only been doing this professionally for seven months and have developed my own style. So Iâ€™m not up there with the big boys but I know the fundamentals and am going to give you a list of tips if you get into music photography.
How Do You Get Into It?
A few people have asked me how I got to where I am. George just lucky I guess. [George â€“ George of the Jungle, 1997]. I got there from always taking my camera to my friendsâ€™ gigs. Always. Then my images were noticed and I luckily worked for Splendour in the Grass and now contribute to AAA-Backstage. If you want to get into gig photography, I suggest you too go out and photograph a lot of local bands. Contact them and offer to photograph their gig for free in exchange for free entry. Or just take your camera. Do what you can to build a portfolio and then apply to a publication. You need to put in the work to be noticed. Put yourself out there and you will be rewarded!
What is the venue like? Will you be shooting from the pit*? Or are you at free reign to fight the crowd to the front? Do you have to shoot from far away? Knowing these things will help your decision as to what equipment to take. Mostly, there is a pit*, and thank the lord for that. If youâ€™re miniature and a bit of a push over like me, you will have trouble fighting to the front. Shooting from the pit means you donâ€™t have to worry about crowds, you can move around (depending on other photographers) and youâ€™re up all in the artistâ€™s grill so can get good shots.
Lens, lens, lens. Pick a lens with a large aperture â€“ remember this is a smaller number. This lets more light in and is primo for the low light situations you will face; making photos sharper. Focal length is personal preference, as well as what situation you are in! My favourite lens is generally my 50mm f/1.4 but I do find a wide-aperture zoom lens handy to get different angles, close ups and those hidden drummers!
Lighting situations are what makes or breaks. In a perfect universe, each gig would have stationary white light, then the photos would turn out sharp and with proper colour every time. But then again, that would not pose a challenge, chance to be artistic, and not as fun for your viewing pleasure. Sometimes, it is this way, or sometimes itâ€™s a coloured light bad for photography, sometimes thereâ€™s hardly any light like the psychedelic Tame Impala who pretty much played in the dark with a swirly projection. Sometimes thereâ€™s rapid retina burning strobes that you donâ€™t know when the photo will actually work! Like when I photographed Primal Scream and Hot Chip. Â But when you get a good oneâ€¦ itâ€™s totally worth the damage to your vision! Understand that itâ€™s always changing and you have to adjust to each situation. Some photographers deal with this by shooting in Shutter-Value or Aperture-Value mode, so that the camera automatically adjusts to the changing light. I personally shoot in manual so that Iâ€™m constantly thinking of what to do in each situation and each image is purely a product of my brainpower.
At Splendour in the Grass, I was a â€œn00bâ€ in the pit. Apparently it showed. In the headliners, I was pushed around and didnâ€™t really get shots I was happy with. i.e. Jack White and Bloc Party, I was pushed to the back of the swarm of 50 photographers in high-vis. Because I let them. A very, very friendly photographer saw me and grabbed my hand and pushed me in front of him and told me to stay there. He told me I looked like prey; and others would take advantage. I love him for that. This is me pushing you in front of me. The pit can be hectic. Everyone wants a good shot. Everyone wants the same photo of the singer balancing on the edge of the stage, the guitarist jumping in his solo; you just have to stand your ground. At the same time, itâ€™s nice to have a bit of etiquette and share the space.
First three, no flash
There is a rule in professional gig photography; first three, no flash. You can shoot the first three songs, and the first three only, and you cannot use flash. Itâ€™s a bit frustrating as itâ€™s generally the last three when the band is really amped up and putting a lot into their performance. The first three is a warm up. But, what can you do? So shoot your little heart out in the first three and then go and enjoy the rest of the show. Or get some crowd shots.
The digital revolution gives the chance to take hundreds, if not thousands of photos very, very quickly. Iâ€™m sure you have got many good ones, but cull it down to your best 20 or so. This is where I struggle; Iâ€™m the worldâ€™s most indecisive person. But if you want your images to be noticed, just pick a few so that you maintain your audienceâ€™s attention. They probably donâ€™t want to look at 70 photos of the same thing with only an eyebrow raise differentiating them. Bands, promo companies and publications want a quick turnover of your images. And finallyâ€¦ black and white is always a saviour.
I hopeÂ I’veÂ helped a bit! Instead of blabbering on about how much I love my job and all my favourite experiences, I thought Iâ€™d help you out and prepare you. I hope to see you in the pit one day!
*the pit is the section in front of the barrier; between the stage and the crowd