Music Photography – Ray Spence FRPS
Photographing live music events is seen by many as glamorous, exciting and cool. It can be all those things, but it is also hard work, technically demanding and extremely competitive. As with any specialist area of photography, to be successful it is a great advantage to be passionate about the subject matter and have a depth of understanding which goes way beyond the merely interested. Live music events take many forms and each has its own ‘rules’ if you are to be successful in recording them. There is a great deal of difference between taking photographs with a seated audience watching a solo acoustic set to fighting with the mosh pit at a Prodigy gig. You will be faced with restricted access, use of available lighting, competition and time deadlines. The great thing about live entertainment is that each performance is unique and there is always the chance of getting that special shot. You need to know your subject and camera gear inside out to be ready to take advantage of such moments. Whatever your musical tastes try to get experience of as many genres as possible, from local pub gigs, street entertainers, church recitals, festivals to major dance and music venues. You will need to be good at communicating and dealing with artists, road managers, venue staff and security. Hours will be unsociable and payment may be erratic. However it is a great buzz to be present and photographing your musical heroes and to produce new and exciting images.
1. Research the musicians you are to photograph. Look for video on the internet. Who are the major players? Do they have any recognisable or repeatable actions that would make good photographs?
2. Research the venue. Where can you take your photographs? What is the lighting? Can you move around?
3. Permission. You need permission from the venue and possibly the artists. You may need to be issued with a photographer’s pass.
4. Ear plugs. Consistent exposure to loud noise will damage your hearing. Always wear professional earplugs if close to the band.
5. Equipment. You will be working in low and variable light. You will not be able to use flash. High ISO settings are inevitable (around 3200 ISO is common). To reduce noise you will need to aim for a top end digital SLR such as the Nikon D3. With low light, your lenses need to have wide maximum apertures – f2.8 in most cases. This can of course be expensive. Short and long zooms are advisable to make the most of framing. Two bodies are therefore advisable.
6. Shoot at the highest shutter speed you can for sharp images, though don’t be afraid to experiment with slower speeds for effect, especially if you can get away with slow synch flash.
7. Check exposure – very often it will be a good idea to set exposure compensation to minus 1-2 stops to prevent burn out on faces.
8. Have plenty of memory cards. At least 2 or 3 cards about 4GB should do unless it is a festival! Raw files are best but you may have to resort to JPEGs if you run low on memory or if you need to send images very quickly to an agency or magazine.
9. Have plenty of batteries which have been charged just before the concert.
10. Insure your equipment and keep it with you at all times.
11. Look for peaks of action and emotion. Be ready for unexpected moments.
12. Photograph the environment and audience to get a greater feel of the event.
13. Don’t interfere with the performance or enjoyment of the audience.
14. Don’t get on the wrong side of the security staff – make them your allies!
15. Enjoy yourself
The comments section is for you to leave suggestions, ideas and even a description of projects you have done that might interest others.
Unfortunately we are unable to answer queries but you might like to visit our workshops page or go onto the RPS forum.