- Rock Photography and Concert pictures. Part 1 : Approach and Equipment
Rock Photography and Concert pictures. Part 1 : Approach and Equipment
We've recently updated our blog with 2 guides on live music and concert photography, written by our resident blogger and music photographer Ashley Laurence.
You can read our guides here:
- How to get into concert and live music photography
- Live Music Photography Guide - Recoomended Settings and Kit
Liam Gallagher taken by music photographer Ashley Laurence, originally shot for Brighton Source magazine
Three songs and no Flash. My journey into Rock photography and concert picture
I find if I write on a subject whislt studying it, it becomes easier to cement those new concepts in. Hence this series of articles on my new passion of rock photography and taking concert pictures..
Rock photography is a new era for me and i find it immensely enjoyable. It is the first time I find myself doing engaged in something which promises nothing other than the sheer joy of taking part and a portfolio of concert pictures to enjoy.
I'm recording this journey to rationalise the choices im making while I venture through Brighton and Sussex, going to gigs and filling my memory cards.
For others who wish to dabbe in this area, they may be able to glean something useful and save themselves grief or the occasional wrong turn. I can promise, Low light photography, 3 songs, no flash, with often fast moving performers and getting a well composed set of concert pictures is hard from time to time.
This rock photography article is part of a series of 4, with 2 further, shorter appendices on tips and gear. You may wish to also visit these
The beginner photographer's mind.
... the right attitude and approach for learning rock photography
Unrelated to rock photography, but I'm of the view that if you're going to learn something you need to start off with the right attitude. The world's best martial arts practitioners never stop learning or letting lack of confirmation control their attitude. They retain 'a beginners mind'
Surely this is a good way to learn rock photography as well because taking concert pictures is a subjective and learning how to is often quite soul destroying. There is no way of measuring your progress. Maybe thats why some of them think bigger or better gear automatically leads to better pictures. It doesnt, but the right Gig, Band, Concert and rock photography equipment is important.
So, I start out in Gig, Band, Concert and rock photography, knowing very little.
.... and it'll never change even though my concert music pictures will.
So I want to take this attitude into photographic practices, ultimately because I dont want to become one of those rock photographers who defines themself by the gear they have or the music acts they have photographed.
In my limited experience this can make people like that hard to get on with as they can spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince you of how great their pictures are. If more people could read images and knew what a good photograph was ( I include in that even those who select images asin their job) men with cameras wouldnt feel they have to do this. One thing I've always found distasteful is those who talk about themselves and often even aggressively denigrate the work of other music photographers in the hope of getting any potential recognition or even rock photography assignments.
So let me start by saying ................
............ I am NOT a great rock photographer,
............ I am NOT a good rock photographer
............ or even take average concert pictures and I'm not going to pretend otherwise because as soon as I do I'll mentally stop trying to learn, leading to stagnancy and eventual need for recognition and appreciation.
I feel a respectful knowing that I am no expert yet am surrounded people with more knowledge and experience is key. All I have is a will to learn, improve and remain realistic my abilities. Maybe this will be different in 5 years and I'll know a little more. But i hope to keep a beginners mind regardless of time, work, experience and equipment.
Stop dreaming about concert pictures and start taking them.
Shoot rock photography for free and make some valuable mistakes.
So I'm no Jill Furmanovsky or Anton Corbijn, I have to start like they did, by doing it.. As John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens to you when you're busy
making plans". I've tried the route of 'education' but you can only learn so much in a classroom or studio. Once you know apertures and shutter speeds, how flash functions and how to use light modifiers and reflectors you have to actually get a camera in your hand and have a go. And in rock photography, half of that stuff irrelevant. Three songs, no flash etc.....
Unless you're connected to some strand of rock music royalty, you're not going to get into the photo pit at the O2 or Birmingham LG. Not yet (although I remain hopeful). You have to earn this... So get out there and shoot wherever you can. There are no short cuts. I'm not saying this is the only way because I wouldn't know.... But this is what I'm doing and these are my personal rules of thumb.
Tell the bands you're new and probably a bit rubbish inorder to NOT set unrealistic expectations and put yourself under pressure.
Make valuable mistakes. Don't be afraid of it and don't kick yourself because youget something wrong. I shot an gig at 1600 ISO once in a ridiculously dark pub, when I should have pushed it higher. The result, blurry photos when I'd rather have grainy. I learnt from this. No one was going to tell me about it and I'll not do it again unless I want to for the effect.
When you make mistakes you re-think safe preconceptions you've been working with. Mine is currently an idea I'm clinging onto of shooting at F/2.8 all the time because I like the ' bokeh ' and the faster shutter speeds. But do I need to be worrying about f/2.8 all the time? I'll experiment, mess it up and learn.
I'd be shooting even faster I had a lens like the Canon EF 135 f/2.0. But I can't afford it and I think I like a bit more control over composition, but mainly it's because I can't afford it just yet.
Take your camera to small gigs and start taking concert pictures, its worth it.
....and anyway U2 and Coldplay aren't planning on calling you just yet.
I started shooting local bands, getting in with them and doing what I could. It helps if you like and believe in them.
The simple reason for this is you won't mind giving up your time and you'll get invited along because they know and like you. Leading on from this, shooting them repeatedly helps immensely because you get to know the characters and how and when they move.
Secondly they know you are there. Everyone knows you are with the band and no-one asks you what you're doing or gets in the way.
When you arrive at a gig you can feel uneasy and waste time worrying where you fit in. Without this you can focus on the background, the test shots, get a feel for it and even plan some shots, knowing your subjects.
Thirdly, they might even buy you a drink, give you pizza, spread the word maybe even pay for prints one day. Probably in that order but dont hold your breath on any of it.
Like promotors are (we'll get to that later) bands and managers are incredibly focused on thier thing.You could shoot for free for years and never get any of their time in return.
And once you have your photographs.. keep most of them
Dont show everything. Keep it sweet.
As unkind as this might seem I'm going to say it. No-one cares about your photography, your hopes, your "business", your expectations, your time, your gear or how much you've invested... And they only care marginally more about your concert pictures or even your willingness to help.
Sorry but wth that in mind you can see the importance of making it easy for people to see yourbest concert pictures. So keep your work accessible.
I shot and all day'er for a promoter and the gave them all the good shots... daft. The lovely lady I was dealing with didn't have time to look through them. So she just grabbed whatever.
After you've shot the gig, choose your best stuff and give it to them, similar shots, choose one, stick the other somewhere safe. Simple.
For your portfolio, choose your best 30 or so photographs and get them seen. I post mine online using a flickr pro account so I can hide, show, collect, and manage them saving untold hassle.
You can see the whole set by visiting the Bigmojo Gig, Band, Concert and rock photography portfolio
Below is a random selection of images from my public portfolio. You can see the whole set by visiting the bigmojo live rock photography portfolio
Gig, Band, Concert and rock photography Equipment
Essential gear for good Gig, Band, Concert and rock photography
I can only talk here about what I've opted for based upon the system I had (Canon), plus whatever else I wanted to shoot (fine art), plus what I could afford.
Camera body is the Canon 5D Mkii. I wanted a 5d for years but when I was about to buy, Canon announced the MKii version.It's low light performance makes it a serious contender, plus its size, its ease of use, functionality and programmability.
Importantly, its a full frame camera which counts for an awful lot. At 21 million pixles this is very handy if you need to crop in, caught on an excellent CMOS sensor using Canon's Digic 4 processor (which reduces the time taken to be ready for the next shot and helps with low light). I also has a nine point auto focus system with 6 assist points). Its not bulky which is important especially if you're shooting outside of a photographers pit.
I will soon have a second one hanging round my neck.
Lenses are harder. I had the EF100mm f/2.8 Macro IS USM which doubles up as a nice portrait lens and I'm really pleased with the shots I managed to capture on this lens.
However, a better choice for Gig, Band, Concert and rock photography would have been the
Canon EF135 f/2.0
(NOT the 2.8 soft Focus one). This is due to the wider maximum aperture and the extra length which is just right if you're at the front of the larger than average stage.
For the longer shots I opted for the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, which changed everything about shots in dark dingy environments. Its a longer, faster, higher quality and the best one in the bag.
It was expensive for me to buy and if I had been using it purely for gig and photography I would have opted for the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM. The same but WITHOUT image stabilisation which only corrects hand shake. You're not going to be shooting that slow. Any blur you get if from the excitable lead singer's movements in a darkly lit frame.
Next on the list and used for the wider shots is my Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM . Another f2.8 L series lens and a great walkabout lens to boot. This is just about the right length for practically every gig. A real benefit in the bag.
For what its worth I also have these the "nifty fifty" Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II . A f/1.8 which is super fast, its sharp too and only costs £95. It's also very light, neat and cheap enough to take anywhere you like. If you have a Canon system, just get one.... I don't care what you shoot, you should have this in the bag and I know MANY other people who feel the same way.
I also have an old EF 75-300 from about 15 years ago. It still works fine but the upgraded version of this is the Canon EF 75-300mm f/4.0-5.6 USM mk III or more importantly the excellent and more popular Canon EF 70-300mm f4-5.6 IS USM. I dont use mine in low light because it wont work but but for event photography or gigs in the day in a park somewhere, in good light, these lenses rock, particularly if you can't get close to the stage.
The RAW detail
Give yourself a break
The ONE thing you can be guaranteed of in Rock photography is the ever varying colour temperature. You therefore need flexiblity in digital darkroom post production.For this reason I work with RAW files.
Practically every time you load and save a JPeg you are degrading its quality. And Jpegs dont store the photo information. They chuck loads of it away.
RAW files are another thing. You can often hear people complain about RAW file colours and contrast and how images never seem to 'pop'. But they dont understand. For a better insight into RAW files please read my separate article Introduction to RAW files and RAW workflow.
A short summary of this is when you take a shot the sensor collects the light, outputs to the processor whcih then makes decisions for you based upon presumptions and algorithms. These presumptions look at white balance and more.
The output of these decisions and presumptions is the nice shiny glossy Jpeg that men with cameras like to think they have created... but these presumptions are assuming you are shooting in a normal predictable environment. You are not shooting in a normal environment and this is not what you want.
The RAW file is different. I like to think of the RAW file as the output from the sensor. You load it into Adobe Bridge / Camera RAW and you make your adjusments.
Whats more impressive l is these adjustments NEVER overwrite the original RAW file. They are merely stored as commands which you can undo. They are stored a bit like a text file.
In fact try it out . The adjustments you make are stored as an additional file called an XMP (sometimes these are included within the original file but they are still separate) Get a RAW file (your .NEF or .CR2) adjust it in camera RAW, look at it and while youre doing so delete the associated .XMP file in explorer or whatever the mac equivalent is. It will revert to your original shot.
This flexibility is ESSENTIAL when editing concert pictures Adobe Camera RAW lets you adjust the colour temperature AFTER you've taken the shot.... massively useful.