This is pretty obvious: it’s a lot of fun and you get to see amazing artists perform with the best view in the house, for free.
It’s great to capture a moment in which the people you’re shooting are doing something they love. You often capture some very exciting situations that translates very well into some awesome photos.
Event photography takes low light conditions and embraces it. Being unable to use a flash in most cases means that you get to use the lighting that was designed for the event which works best and often creates some very dramatic shots.
If you’re planning on shooting at a gig, consider these points below.
First thing’s first, what sort of venue will you be shooting in?
Big venues have distinct advantages: they pull much bigger names and the whole production is a lot more impressive to watch and capture. If you’re at a large festival site on the main stage, remember that you’re going to be a lot further away than normal so use a telephoto lens.
Small venues are great because they have a better atmosphere and you can get a lot closer to the artist performing. The main disadvantage is that the space you have to share with others (photographers and security) is very small and the lighting can suck.
Have a look at the photo below taken in a small venue, I was standing on the barrier because it was so packed, but at least I got a good angle compared to looking up like I usually am.
As I said above, lighting in smaller venues tends to suck. You’ll sometimes find that all the lights are behind or to the side of the band with the bare minimum actually lighting them up from the front. This can look pretty good, but silhouettes tend to get a little boring after a while, especially when you’re trying to capture the artist, not just a shadow. Have a look around when you get into the venue for spot lights, these will dramatically improve the available light you have without taking from the lighting designed for the show.
If you have a photo pass you’ll be allowed to come in and take photos of the support acts as well. Even if they are of no interest to you, I strongly recommend this as it’ll give you an idea as to how the show will be lit.
The most important thing to remember is that the lighting will be constantly changing so the light meter in your camera is basically redundant and you will have to be quick to adapt. You’ll end up with a lot of dud shots on your memory card by the end of the night, that’s unavoidable.
In about 90% of cases, you will not be allowed to use flash; be prepared for this and bring the right equipment. Flash photos aren’t really that interesting at gigs anyway. They can work well but spoil the lighting of a venue and cast ugly shadows.
Camera & Lens
The first thing you’ll notice is that you’re in low light conditions. This means that you’ll need a wide aperture and a high ISO – newer cameras handle ISO a lot better than older ones so bare that in mind when purchasing a camera.
The widest aperture lenses typically come from prime lenses so make sure you invest in a cheap yet effective f/1.8, and go for the 35mm over the 50mm if you’re shooting on a crop sensor and can afford it. As we discussed on the aperture tutorial, the wider the aperture = the lower the f number = the more light it lets in.
Shoot in RAW, this will create the best quality photos to work with in post production, giving you more control over your image. Leave your white balance in auto as it’s impossible to get it right with a grey card and it’s somewhat irrelevant too as you can play with the colour to your liking in post as the colour cast is really up to you.
Put your camera in high speed burst fire mode if you have it; it’s hard to predict when a flash of light is going to enter the frame so the more shots you get, the better.
If you camera has an ‘AL Servo’ mode (AF-C for Nikon users) switch to it. This will keep focusing between shots as the artist moves about on stage. It’s also important to remain sober when you’re shooting as everything will seem out of focus if you’re drunk.
If the artist you’re shooting is particularly exciting to watch, they’ll be moving about a lot on stage and therefore require a fast shutter speed. Don’t completely disregard slow shutter speed though, as this can give some pretty cool results – have a look at the photo below, shot at 1/4 of a second.This moves us nicely onto shooting modes.
When I’m at a gig, I use manual, shutter speed priority and aperture priority, all for different reasons:
Manual is good if the lighting is consistent and predictable but, as you’re in low light, it’s a compromise to stay on it.
Shutter speed priority I use when I can tell there’s going to be a build up to something big. This usually results in an artist moving very quickly and slower shutter speeds will just result in a blur.
When the lighting is particularly good I set the camera to aperture priority as I know I’ll be able to maintain a reasonable shutter speed while using the aperture I want.
Lastly, pay careful consideration to the framing of your shots.
Prime lenses that can’t zoom often leave you stuck with a framing that doesn’t suit the shot. If you can afford it, a good wide aperture zoom lens (such as a 24-70 2.8) will help you get the shot you’re looking for.
Have a look at the photo below, it would have been much better with all of the limbs in the shot but I just wasn’t ready for it – had it been a wider angle, I could have cropped it to my liking.
Think about who people want to see when they go to a gig – if you’re not familiar with the band, aim for the frontman as they’ll be the most recognisable and often the most interesting to shoot.
Are they right or left handed? You don’t want an arm blocking most of their face and torso, so make sure you’re standing on the correct side. They’re also much more likely to make you money as people will want these images the most.If you’re planning on selling your images through companies like Getty images, you’ll find that they want simple head and shoulder shots with multiple uses.
Three songs is all you’re getting.
That is usually the most time you’ll get with a band – about 10 minutes. Make sure you’re prepared and know what you’re doing by following the steps above.
You’ll sometimes come out of a gig and, for whatever reason, your shots are no good. Unless you’re a crappy photographer, this isn’t your fault – gig photography is tough and high pressure so this happens all the time.
It’s also worth remembering how loud gigs are. For that 10 minutes, bring earplugs – the sound right at the front usually sucks and ringing ears are no fun. When you’re kicked out of the pit, have a walk around and take some photos from elsewhere, you can still get great results.
When you’re in the pit taking photos, the security’s word is law. Don’t piss them off as they won’t hesitate to kick you out. There’s also going to be plenty of other photographers in there with you so be respectful of other peoples’ shots and don’t get in the way or hog the best positions.
Finally, don’t wind up the band. If they say no flash, that means no flash.
How to get Started
This is probably the most important step to taking good gig photos – actually getting through the door.
You could try to find yourself work with an agency who will source it for you but this can take time and a strong reputation. Becoming the in-house photographer often produces the same hurdles.
I’ve found that contacting promoters directly is not a good idea either as they want to sell tickets, not get photos – you’re barking up the wrong tree.
The best way to get started is to find a local magazine or newspaper and offer to be their event photographer. You’ll have to give them a good photo from each night but you can keep the rest and they’ll get you into a lot of gigs.
Some magazines will already have a photographer but be persistent: there will be times when they need two. Make sure you have an online portfolio you can show them.
If you have to contact the band yourself to ask to take photos, contact the manager or the tour manager – they’re the ones in charge of checking to see if you can take photos. Find their details and email them with a short, concise message with the following details:
Who you shoot for, where the images will go and how many people will see them.
It’s not a bad idea to include your portfolio too. High profile bands will always want to be in control of their images and you’ll be given a contract to sign dictating what you can and can’t do with a photo you take of them.
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