Crazy lessons learned from taking photographs at rock concerts
I thought I would share my POV of what I and the other photographer's experience
What happens is about 15 mins before the band comes on we gather stage left and have a natter with each other and the security. The security people are hard staring professionals who are quite friendly but you know they would pin you to the ground in micro-seconds without spilling their cup of tea if you did something naughty.
A few mins before the band goes on we are let into the photo pit, this is the gap between the stage and the crowd barrier, it’s quite wide and during the NIN gig was where the crowd surfers were deposited.
You can tell the hardcore, pro photographers as they have the best and most expensive gear. Even lenses are worth a few grand on their own and some have two cameras, you can easily be carrying £20,000 worth of gear. You have two cameras so you don’t have to faff around with a lens change and can quickly get wide and telephoto shots.
My gear is nowhere near as expensive, but can still take a pro picture. My next camera is going to be the Nikon Z7 II if you are interested in such stuff.
Once let into the pit we all find a starting spot. The band walk on and we enter a different mindset. We are only given 3 songs which we can photograph, although I did the whole of the Black Grape gig as I was designated as their “official photographer”. Being the first gig I shot, it was kind of weird and will tell the story sometime.
3 Songs go quick, especially if you are a fan of the band as I am and you start singing along as you take photos. You know this moment is not going to be repeated so you get hyper-focused, blasting away with your camera. You move around a lot, getting different angles of mostly the lead singer. When you move you are constantly aware of where the other photographers are and you absolutely do not get in the way of another photographer’s shot.
I like to take a few pics of the crowd and each crowd is different. The Nine Inch Nails crowd were fantastic visually and those who dressed up were chuffed to have the camera pointed at them.
As I am a freelancer I am free to take any kind of shot I like and try to get something different, something that tells a story. All this has to happen in split seconds, your camera settings have to be set up in advance. I saw one tutorial that recommended you go full manual when shooting a band, which is nuts as the lights change so often you need help. I chose aperture priority and go for the smallest f-stop, the camera chooses the speed and ISO.
After the 3rd song, the security invades the photo pit and hustle you out and give you that stare that says, go now or I hurt you.
Oh and the ear plugs, you would think as I like the music I wouldn’t bother with them, but in the photo pit is the bass bins and as you pass them your body physically vibrates as the sound the band puts out rearranges the atomic particles holding your body together
The whole experience is so intense it gives you a real high. I never bother with drugs as this kinda stuff does it for me. Although a few days after you come down and you look at your pics and notice all the ways they could be better and if you zoomed out a bit here you would have….. blah blah blah.
But that’s just the creative process and you simply have to learn and move on to the next project. People tend not to notice that stuff and you have to remind yourself not to moan about how the photo could have been better when someone has told you it’s “fantastic”. You have to keep that crap inside and add it to the blackness that you keep in a box, deep within your soul.
Live music photography is fun, intense and very challenging. The problem is there is not much money in it unless you are hired to go get pics, and even then the money is not great.
Fortunately, I do other stuff like property and product photography with a few other bits here and there.
I was a professional writer, and now I’m a professional photographer and both are about telling a story and creating an emotional experience for the viewer. So not too different.