6 essential tips for getting the best shots!
Capturing the moment: Going from good shots to awesome shots.
What’s the secret formula to getting the ‘money shot’ of the night when it comes to concert photography? Well, there’s no specific equation since all concerts are different for each performer, yet somehow follow a rhythmic pattern universally. This segment of concert photography journals will give you pointers to enable you to tap into those specific moments where timing is everything and you can go home that night feeling accomplished.
Before any big show, it’s essential to do your research online of a band’s performance. This could be in the form of going to youtube and watching current concert tour videos, or browsing flickr for the latest tour shots. This will allow you to study their lighting in other photographer’s shots, see what backdrops they’re using, what stage antics are going on, and so on. Study close and while watching videos, be sure to allow your eyes to see the patterns in lighting and performance. Be prepared for the moments when the guitarist is jumping in the air, etc. The flickr concert photography forums are a great place to research other photographer’s experiences of shooting a specific artist as well (just don’t allow any negativity coming from specific photographers to affect your attitude towards a upcoming show. Use your own experience.)
In addition, listening to a band’s latest cd streaming online can help you gather an idea of what a performance will be like based on the patterns in the songs. If a chorus of a particular song you know will be performed is powerful and intense, expect to prepare yourself to get a good shot then, as lighting and stage performance follow the patterns of song structure. Make sense?
2. Timing Is Everything
An awareness of rhythmic patterns in his performance and timing allowed me to capture this photo of Dom Howard of Muse.
Through experience, you can gain a knowledge and awareness of the patterns in which the lighting and musicians play. Every band is different, however, lighting techniques follow a similar pattern in most concert performances. It takes some time to become savvy in this awareness, but if you notice how a musician performs in relation to the lighting patterns, you can start to anticipate making a great shot with your finger on the shutter. Please take into account that some musicians are more “photo/audience friendly” than others, and that’s just based on their personality and performance. Once you know what you’re looking for (see tip #1), you can anticipate it. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen perfectly at first, because sometimes it just won’t with the unpredictability of concert performances. In contrast, because of the unpredictability, there will be times when you have “happy accidents” or half happy accidents, where you’re anticipating a shot and it just so happens the performer looks right into your lens (see the photo of Dominic Howard of Muse I took above). Some may think that was signaled by a photographer, and sometimes it is. However, in that predicament, I was using a 300mm lens from the soundboard, I’m not sure how it happened, but it’s best to not question it and feel happy it did. During these happy accidents you shouldn’t feel dissapointed that it wasn’t entirely conducted by you, the photographer. Sometimes, magic just happens.
3. Take Note Of Rhythms & Patterns
As noted before, the subtle rhythms and patterns that take place in concert photography are essential in relations from music to lights to physical performance. As an example, if you’re shooting a metal band and the chorus is especially visceral, it’s almost expected that the lighting will be brighter and may even feature pyrotechnics or flare ups from the white lights. In addition, the singer may start head banging or the guitarist may do a jump/kick off of a platform. This tip directly relates to the number one tip of research. Watch for those signature moves in relation to the rhythms of the performance and lighting, and you can immediately become more aware of how the performance works and compose a compelling shot that will wow your viewers and potential publications.
Dominic Howard – Muse live @ United Center in Chicago by yours truly
By the power of grayskull, take it and run with this one! I can’t emphasize this enough! Most of the time, photographers tend to forget the drummer because they’re too focused on the foreground band members and lead singers. While that is important (see tip #5), take the time during those first 3 songs to watch the patterns of the drummer. It’s not always easy to shoot the drummer and in fact, may be the hardest band member to shoot due to bad lighting, all the metal they’re surrounded by, and especially if they’re head and arms are all flailing about. However, with your fast lenses, get ready and frame your shot. There’s bound to be some backlighting you can at least frame your drummer with. Make sure that if he or she is in the midst of drum thrashing action, anticipate a good shot of his or her face as you watch the pattern of their drummer a few seconds before. I try to get at least one or two good drummer shots of each band I shoot. Don’t exclude them just because they’re towards the back of the stage.
Most bands really appreciate it when you include shots of their drummers because they so often are looked over. Make sure your path is clear to get a decent close up with a zoom lens and the bassist or any other band member isn’t in the way. Occasionally you can also get a great shot of the singer hanging out by the drumkit as well.
5. Follow The Leader(s)
Now that you’ve learned in the last few journals how to properly use your camera’s settings and lenses, you can start to analyze the performance of the singer in order to capture some of the most amazing images of your portfolio. Develop an awareness of how they express their emotion during verses and choruses. Do they have certain facial expressions they use during certain lines of a song? Do they show animated facial expressions? Do they have signature moves? Are they particularly known for their showmanship and stage presence? Do they interact with the crowd and pull fans onstage or reach out to them? Whether it’s a backbend by William Beckett, a kiss to the audience or bum shake from Gerard Way, a leggy kick from Justin Tranter of Semi Precious Weapons, or a crowd surfing moment from Peaches, studying the stage performance behaviors from an artist/lead singer can capture their emotion and individuality in your concert photos.
6. Composition & Framing A Shot
Composition of a photo is just as important in concert photography as in any other photography. Be aware of background and foreground clutter and see if you can make sure to exclude the extra speakers, platforms, cables, among other stage props. These can sometimes work to your advantage if they’re part of the backdrop or scenery, but most of the time it’s best to keep these out of the shot. As an artist, I try to compose for form in getting a clean, single shot of a performer whether it be the singer or the guitarist. It’s much like a form of art to me when I’m out there looking through my viewfinder. Take into account whether a singer stands particularly close to the microphone, and whether or not they hold it in their right or left hand. You want to try not to get their hand in the way of their mouth or nose or shadowed by their hand or front lighting, so positioning yourself in the pit just right is essential. This isn’t always easy, of course. It takes much practice to develop the ‘eye’ for getting clean shots. If there is a shot that’s particularly great that you love but there’s a speaker or a guitar neck in the way, use your best judgement in whether to crop it out or not with post production software. Work with the side lighting and backlighting as well, as they can be useful for creating some solid silhouette photos (publications may not like this especially but it will look very aesthetically pleasing).
In addition, try to look at the instruments as performers as well. Guitars and bass guitars can look great from a particular other and less than great in others. If you’re underneath a guitarist during one of their solos, you can work the angles to make the instruments look just as incredible as the person playing it. Framing a photo just right are subtle changes but can make the most impact in composition of your photography.
A Showcase Of My Favorite Epic Shots Taken By Buzznet Photographers
In addition to the shots used by other photographers in this journal, these are some of my favorite epic shots that fellow concert photographers have taken and are a perfect example of the principles taught that you’ve just read about.
I could probably add endless photos to my favorite concert photos but I wanted to show you a perfect example of how these tips can be executed properly to produce amazing shots! Until next time when we talk about the photo pass among other things, I appreciate your feedback. Have a great week!