Head backstage with a rock photographer
Music shooter Kevin Nixon got up close and personal when he followed Aussie rock band Airbourne behind the scenes of their latest tour
Classic Rock magazine commissioned me to shoot an ‘access all areas’ series of the Australian heavy rock band Airbourne, to accompany an interview that would show a typical day on the road with them. A journalist came on the trip and we worked together during the day to ensure that we covered all of the aspects that the magazine was looking for. Ultimately, they wanted a behind-the-scenes look at the energy and craziness of an Airbourne gig.
This gig was in August 2016 at the Limelight in Belfast on the band’s current world tour. It’s a much smaller venue than they normally play and that allowed me to get very close to them. I flew over from London in the morning. Once at the venue, I arranged a quick portrait sitting with them, then shot the soundcheck, the gig and them in their dressing room afterwards.
Before I started shooting I did a quick recce of the venue, which was pretty visually uninspiring to say the least! To get round this I shot them against a wall backstage, and then in front of their kit on the stage. Quite often in this scenario you only have minutes to grab the shot, so there’s rarely time to experiment with different lighting set-ups. It is definitely a case of thinking on your feet – keep it simple and don’t panic!
The lighting on the night wasn’t great, but it was good enough to get the shots. For portraits, I normally use a quick off-camera flash set-up, but on this occasion there were some time constraints. I only had a few minutes to shoot the band, which seriously limited my creative input.
I used a Nikon D4 and Nikon 24mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lenses, as this was a relatively small venue and the stage wasn’t too high. As always, I shot in RAW and in Manual mode. Auto settings don’t really cut it for live music because the strobes and lights can send the camera meter haywire. I started with my camera settings at 1/250 sec, f/3.2 and ISO3200, adjusting from there depending on the quality of the light available. For bands that move around a lot I’ll shoot with a minimum shutter speed of 1/400 sec.
I knew from experience that Joel O’Keeffe, the lead singer, breaks cans of lager open against his head mid-set, causing the beer to spray all over the stage and the audience. I really wanted to capture this event close-up and managed to get a series of shots, although my camera (and clothes) got absolutely drenched in the process. It was worth the sticky lager shower, though, as my favourite shot ended up being used as the lead image for the magazine feature. I spent a fair amount of time working up this image in post-production, mainly using Lightroom and occasionally Photoshop.
Meeting the brief
I knew from experience that the lead singer breaks cans of lager open against his head mid-set, causing the beer to spray all over the audience
In the whole day I shot over 1,100 images, which I edited down to around 125 retouched pictures. I converted the portraits to black and white, along with the occasional live shot if it added something. I think rock and roll images have a timeless quality in mono.
I think I captured the essence, excitement and pure fun of an Airbourne gig. I didn’t know the band personally, but had shot them live several times before. They’re very energetic on stage and great fun to shoot. I was working with a brief in mind, and the band and their management were really cooperative in sorting this out. They were great guys, totally up for it. Even back in their dressing room after the gig, when they were saturated with sweat and beer, they still had time to pose for a few shots.
1 1 rock hard Kevin had access to shoot the whole gig. Before meeting up with the band, he scouted out the location to find a selection of suitable backdrops for the group portraits 2 tough gig Light levels were low at the gig, so Kevin had to boost the ISO to 5000 in some images 3 Spray AND PRAY This was Kevin’s favourite shot of the night, and it was used as the lead image in the magazine feature