Advice for Larger Gigs

I’m often asked for tips by people who are off to shoot their first large gig (Arena, Stadium, etc.).
If you look back at my earlier tips, you’ll see that I heavily recommend starting small with a local venue and building up slowly. For whatever reason, people often don’t do this before having an opportunity to shoot a big-name band.

  • If possible, get the phone number of the tour manager in advance. It’s common for mistakes to happen such as your name not being down for the photo pass you were promised. A quick call to the tour manager can help. Also, make sure you have a record of who promised you the pass. A printed email can really help here.
  • It’s the tour manager who decides the conditions of your shooting. If you are allowed 3 songs no flash, that’s decided by them. If the tour manager has agreed to anything unusual such as flash, or more than 3 songs, or getting on stage with the band, you must make sure that the tour manager has told the head of security. If you’re allowed on the stage, you must also check with the main sound technician.
  • Be friendly to the security team. If you do this a lot, you’ll start to recognise the same faces at many different venues and events.
  • Don’t be intimidated by the other photographers. Just focus on what you’re doing. Don’t feel you have to be where they are, use your own unique vision.
  • If one of the performers goes to the side of the stage, all the photographers tend to follow in a pack. Sometimes, it’s good to just go to the other side away from all the other photographers to wait for the performer to come to your side. You’ll then have a prime spot.
  • Don’t be afraid to chimp (keep checking your histogram). There’s nothing worse than getting home and realising you’ve overexposed everything. Don’t look at the photos though, just quickly check to make sure your exposures are good and make sure you do this when nothing is likely to happen on stage for a few seconds.
  • Make sure you have a fresh battery and a fresh card. Have backups of both just in case.
  • Backgrounds are everything… keep moving yourself so the background complements your composition. Look for parts of the backdrop which will look good in the shot, and try to get your performer with them. Try to avoid scaffolding, or anything which makes the composition look too cluttered.
  • Bring out the lighting. If there is a particular spot on the stage where the face is lit well, make sure you’re ready every time the performer goes near that spot. Good concert photography is about good lighting, make the most of it. Lights behind the performer (especially behind hair) create lovely backlighting effects, but you usually have to run about and anticipate this.
  • Sometimes at festivals you’re allowed stepladders. Keep one in the boot of the car. They’re invaluable with high stages and shallow pits. Otherwise, find something to stand on. Some photographers stand on a flight case.
  • Start the gig with spot-metering. Meter off the skin tones. F2.8 for shallow depth of field to isolate your subject. Aperture priority. Keep an eye on the shutter speeds. Ideally you want about 1/160 to 1/200. No less than 1/125. Keep adjusting your ISO to match these speeds. When you have a reasonable idea of the lighting, switch to manual exposure.
  • If you’re shooting JPEG, saturation contrast and sharpening should all be on -2. JPEG vs RAW is a big topic, I won’t cover it here!
  • Don’t keep putting the subject in the middle of the shot. Be imaginative. Use rule of thirds, especially with the eyes.
  • Always focus on the eyes. Get a focus lock, and very quickly recompose the shot. If the performer is really moving very fast, I occasionally set the camera to continuous auto-focus and move the focus point to the side so I’m not constantly putting the subject in the middle of the shot. Otherwise, I always set the camera to use the centre auto-focus point.
  • Get NeatImage or similar. This is software that reduces the noise caused by high ISOs. I couldn’t live without it. It should be the first step in your post-processing at ISO 400/800 or above.
  • Shoot moments with special chemistry. Many people take photos that look like they could have been taken at any point through the gig. It’s all about timing. That special smile, that grimace at the end of a solo. That gesture at the beginning of a song. The look between 2 performers when they’re really getting into it, the scissor kick, the hand in the air… these are the sorts of things you need to look for. Don’t just grab any old shot.
  • The performer should always be looking into the frame. Don’t put them on the edge of the shot looking out of the photo.
  • Don’t obscure anybody’s face with a microphone. Move yourself until you can see the whole of their face. Or wait until they move away from it. Sometimes you can only get this in-between songs. Be ready.
  • Don’t chop the hands off. If you’re going to include the arms and hands, it’s really painful to see the edge of the hands or the fingers missing. Hands are very expressive and it’s worth staying conscious of how they affect the composition of your shot.
  • It’s not just about the performers, take loads of photos of the audience and show the atmosphere. What kinds of people are at the gig? Are there lots of ‘characters’? Show some context.

3 Responses to “Advice for Larger Gigs”

  1. DJ Says:

    Some good advice there bob.

    Care to add it to the wiki?

    Cheers DJ

  2. daniel Says:

    Yep, sound advice right there.

  3. u l a n Says:

    hello :) thanks for sharing your expertise! i try to always keep all your advice in mind when i shoot. i’m just a hobbyist, but it’s nice to get good photos of performers that i like. thanks again. looking forward to seeing more photos (and advice) from you.

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