Well here it is. December 2012. If Mayan conspiracy theorists are correct we have less than three weeks until the end of the world, so I might as well get this posted while there’s still time :-) 2012 has been an amazing year for concert photography, I was fortunate to scratch a large number of rock stars off of my photographic Bucket List. And since this is my column I’m going to focus only on photos I have taken. So there :-p
I get many emails asking for tips on shooting better concert photos so in addition to my “Best Of” I’m going to take a little time and go into some of what I’m thinking and doing so that you, dear reader, can improve your own concert photography. In a nutshell, you need fast lenses, faster reflexes, and a keen intuition for how musicians move to be able to get into position to get “The Shot”. By fast lenses I mean those whose apertures are at least f/2.8 or better for small club acts, f/4 for stadium/arena acts. Another thing to consider is your ISO settings. I start at 1600 and make adjustments from there. Arena acts usually have enough light to adjust down to ISO 800, or in the case of KISS, ISO 400!
Shutter speed is another factor that needs to be considered. Musicians tend to move fast and if your shutter speed is too slow, no matter how great you frame the shot it will be blurry. And you can’t “fix” blurry in Photoshop. I start at 1/200th, which is fine for 90% of artists. If you have an act that is very active and jumping around a lot, bump it up to 1/400th if you have enough light. If not, just do your best to time the shots when they are less active like at the mic singing etc…
It also helps to study the photos of the band you are planning on shooting so you can see if there are any situations of note to focus on. For instance during Roger Water’s performance of The Wall, during Another Brick In The Wall, a group of local school children would come on stage to sing with the band, and Roger was always stationed on the right of them (your left), so I positioned myself even further down the line so I could get photos of Roger and the kids in one frame. For KISS, I got a tip from my friend, Austin TX based photographer Gary A. Miller that they make their entrance being lowered from the rafters, so I positioned myself right smack in the middle of the pit with my wide angle lens ready and was rewarded for my efforts. The bottom line is be prepared, and be prepared to change your plans on the fly when plans A and B disappear in a flash :-)
2012 Year in Concert Photos, by Daniel Knighton
Rush is always a favorite, and when they brought their Clockwork Angels tour to San Diego’s Valley View Casino Center in November they didn’t disappoint. Fantastic lighting and even more amazing music! One thing about arena shows with “Larger Than Life” bands such as Rush is the elaborate stage setups. Rush has been on a Steampunk theme the last few years and this was no different. Having shot last year’s Time Machine Tour I knew they had ample lighting so I started at ISO 800 and that worked out just fine. With these stage elaborate productions you not only want to focus on close ups, but wide angle shots to show as much of the stage as you can fit. I used my 17-40 for those, and positioned myself carefully to make sure and get all three members in one frame. Since Geddy and Alex are on opposite sides of the stage and don’t come together during our short time in the pit, this took some patience but it paid off with one of my favorite photos ever.
KISS was one of the shows I wasn’t sure I would enjoy, as I wasn’t a fan of the band when I was younger. I’m so very glad I did though, as these guys are pros when it comes to making sure photographers get the shots they need and the fans get a show to remember. I started at ISO 1600 but brought it down to ISO 400 after the entrance, you never know what you are going to get (lighting wise) before that first song. Once the entrance was out of the way, I grabbed the 70-200 for tight shots on Gene and Paul. Motley Crüe opened the show, and photographers were forced to shoot from all the way back at the soundboard, which makes getting unique shots impossible as every photographer is positioned at the same spot. Even though they were using the same lights as KISS, the effect of being so far away diminished the ability of those lights. Also, since I don’t own the $8,000 Canon 400mm f/2.8 lens, I had to use the $400 2x Tele-Extender to convert my 70-200 into a 140-400. The downside of this is it also converts my f/2.8 lens into an f/5.6 lens, losing two full stops of light. So, the full effect of being relegated to the soundboard for Crüe resulted in having to shoot at ISO 3200 instead of ISO 400.
RAMMSTEIN. Yes, I capitalized it on purpose. If you ever get a chance to see Rammstein, do not miss it. What an incredible show. Whether you call it Industrial Metal, Nü Metal, or whatever, this German metal band has earned their place in history as one of the most amazing stage shows ever. It’s not for the feint of heart though, as they can be a bit obsceneJ. The biggest problem with this show was the number of photographers in the pit. But on the flip side, it was the biggest pit I’ve ever been in! I wasn’t able to find many pics online to study the stage, so again I had to wing it. I knew singer Till Lindemann is extremely animated in his performance, but knew little else. I planned ahead for the huge stage and brought my 8mm fisheye, which also worked extremely well when Lindemman and guitarists Richard Z. Kruspe and Paul H. Landers came together right in front of me (and 15 photographers immediately crowded around behind me!).
Scorpions also had amazing lighting, probably brighter than KISS if that was possible but I kept the ISO at 800 because I wanted a smaller aperture (f/4 to f/8) to keep as much of the stage in focus as possible. Rudolf Schenker seemed to find amusement in playing to my cameras, pointing at me at every opportunity. Scorpions had one of the longest Ego Ramps I had ever seen, extending almost half-way across the arena floor at Valley View Casino Center. This provided some amazing photo ops, when Rudolf would come out to the end of the ramp allowing me to get a nice close-up of him and still get the whole stage production behind him. Also on the bill that night was Tesla, who took advantage of the great lighting and Ego Ramp to yield some great pics!
Roger Waters, as I stated above, was a very intense show. Knowing a bit about it beforehand really helps, like where to stand when the children come out during Another Brick In The Wall, and making sure to run to the other side of the stage after getting those shots so you make sure and get shots of the kids confronting the giant inflatable Teacher with the glowing red eyes!
Peter Gabriel has been on my bucket list since I started in this business many years ago, and on October 8th I got the chance. The difficulty with this show is, most of the lighting was tight LED spots, creating a very dark stage with little to no overall stage lights. This had the effect of isolating Gabriel and the other band mates in the darkness, and to add insult to injury they were all dressed in black… Still, I came away with some decent photos and hey… it’s Peter Gabriel for crying out loud!
Ringo Starr (another bucket list!) with his All-Starr Band provided another challenging photographic situation. Photographers were instructed by Ringo’s management to stay mostly on one side or the other and to only spend a few seconds in the middle area, so in order to get “The Shot” of Ringo on drums, I had to time my trip into the center area exactly, meter/frame/shoot as many pics as possible before moving on to the other side of the stage. Once on the other side, I hit pay dirt again when Todd Rundgren and Steve Lukather got together and traded licks on my side of the stage!
Styx was another band where studying photos from previous shows paid off. During the second song, Tommy Shaw, and Ricky Phillips get together center stage and play nice for the cameras.
The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour came to town, and though there weren’t enough pictures online yet to get a sense of the stage setup, it didn’t take long to figure things out once I got there. That giant white grand piano stage right was a dead give away to where the reclusive Brian Wilson would be stationed! I made sure I was first into the pit and staked out the spot I felt would yield the exact shot I had pictured in my mind, and I got that exact shot using my Canon 7D and 17-40 lens. Brian sitting at the piano, smiling at the crowd with the 50th logo behind him. However, Beach Boys management would not let us shoot from center stage, so I didn’t get too many shots of the rest of the boys. I did get shots, but they didn’t make the cut for the Best Of list…
Crosby, Stills, & Nash was yet another bucket list band, but once again we were not allowed to shoot center stage so the pics were less than stellar. But I included one because they are a bucket list band! Several others that made the list were Dave Matthews Band, Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, Hugh Laurie (House), Buckcherry, Lit, Joe Walsh, and the amazing Willie Nelson (yet one more off the bucket list!).
Since Examiner only lets me post a few photos in my slideshow, please visit my Facebook Fan Page, click LIKE, and check out the entire set!