Not wanting to give the exact year, but the first gig I photographed was Rod Stewart at Birmingham’s N.E.C. Arena, as it was then known. My background is newspapers and the publication I worked for at the time managed to get me into the venue to capture the show. And yes, I was nervous! Miraculously, considering the type of camera I was using and my woeful lack of experience, I managed to get a half decent shot for the paper, along with a few hundred word review.
People often ask why I got into this photography lark and to be honest, the reasons are many and varied. Even now, after all these years, I still get a thrill when I see my work featured in various local newspapers.
I guess it all started in boyhood when my mother put a Box Brownie in my hand and demanded I take her picture, not that she was vein I hasten to add. From those small beginnings my interest developed into what it is today. I have literally captured many things in many situations, though if I had to choose one aspect that was really close to my heart, it would have to be music.
From there things gradually snowballed with the odd review periodically appearing in the paper until I managed to persuade my then Editor to give me a fortnightly music page all to myself. Called Roy’s Rock Page, the journey was now fully in gear. When planning the page I always tried to make sure the the lead picture was mainly of a local band, and if that wasn’t possible, then they had to be British!
As I moved papers, so did the page. Even when I got made redundant, I started a little music fanzine called…well, I think you can guess.
Though I felt reasonably confident at taking pictures I thought a Photographic course wouldn’t do any harm so I enrolled at Chesterfield College and undertook a part-time four year course. Boy, I didn’t realise how unprepared I really was. It’s not all about pushing a button folks, as my tutor and fellow students showed.
Even today, I continue to capture bands from the grass roots level upwards and though camera technology has changed, getting into a Photographer’s Pit is still as challenging as it ever was. Some record labels and picture agencies know me, some don’t, so whenever a tour swings my way I fire off an email and hope for the best.
When shooting, I do try and go for a two shot, that’s two people in the frame, as I feel it gives more interest and shows more action. Band members quite often make eye contact with each other and the whole picture can take on a better meaning.
The pit itself can be hazardous, as sometimes there can be several photographers all trying to get the best angle. And sometimes I’m on my lonesome…
I fully admit that although my photographic skills have improved slightly over the years along with my equipment, I still have stuff to learn from other talented picture takers out there. Shooting bands is always fraught with problems, be it limited space in front of the stage or the ever present issue of light, or lack of it! Still, along with other stuff including a radio show and over 100 D.J. gigs a year, it’s a journey I’m happy to stick with.
Now, look this way…
Most of us enjoy music, no-matter what the genre. We now live in an era where everybody knows someone in a band and most nights of the week we can find a live gig going off in a town or city nearby.
If you fancy having a go at shooting live acts then check out what’s happening locally and get in touch with the bands. Most I’m sure will have no problem letting you photograph them if you offer them some photos at the end of it.
The main difficulty with photographing gigs is they are usually in dimly lit venues with little in the way of lighting. With this in mind we would advise the use of a fast lens or raise the ISO of your camera. Avoid using flash as it tends to kill any ambience that the lighting may add plus its distracting to both the band and audience.
If you are photographing a band with constant flashing stage lights then use the aperture priority setting on your camera. Set your aperture to as wide as possible as this will give you the maximum amount of light available. Depth of field may be shallow but you could use this to your advantage . If you don’t have a fast enough shutter speed then turn up the ISO. Great advances have been made the last few years in reducing the noise levels in the higher ISO range, so on a modern camera shooting at 1600 ISO should give acceptable results.
If you still have low shutter speeds then all is not lost as this to can be used to your advantage. A live gig should hopefully be full of energy and a slowish shutter may help in capturing some of the movement in the performance. With practice you will develop a technique that gives you results. Great for high energy bands who leap around the stage. With a bit of luck It should add drama.
If you have a lens with Image stabilisation (Vibration control/reduction) then this is a good time to use it. It uses more battery power but will help keep the shot steady. Both wide lenses and zoom are ideal for live photography. A wide lens to get the whole band in and the show lights. A telephoto lens will allow for those close up portraits. For a strange shot use a wide lens close up....the distorted perspective of the image sometimes just works and makes for a great effect.
Think about the lighting and make it work for you. It's difficult to predict modern lighting rigs as they pulse at such a rate and are able to change colour in the blink of an eye. Studying a sequence and setting yourself ready for the shot may help you grab that photo.
Another idea is change your white balance. This is best done in post production but can be used to great effect.
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