Small is beau­ti­ful

Photo op­por­tu­ni­ties abound at small gigs. Two ex­pe­ri­enced band pho­tog­ra­phers share their tips for mem­o­rable im­ages with Ge­off Harris

Amateur Photographer - - 7days -

Two pros pass on their tips for shoot­ing bands

Alot of AP read­ers will be mu­sic fans, and pho­tograph­ing a gig or fes­ti­val can be a great way of com­bin­ing two pas­sions. Sadly, how­ever nice it would be to get a photo pass – right down in front of the band, with no beer-swill­ing gi­ants spoil­ing your shot – you’re un­likely to get one for a ma­jor act just be­cause you re­ally like them and want to build your port­fo­lio. A more real­is­tic op­tion is to build your skills by shoot­ing less well-known bands, who are of­ten ea­ger for pub­lic­ity im­ages – and who knows, that less well-known band might be­come very well known one day.

While shoot­ing a band in a smaller, friend­lier venue can be a lot of fun, it’s also de­mand­ing. Ac­cord­ing to lead­ing gig pho­tog­ra­pher Trudi Knight, the big­gest chal­lenge of shoot­ing bands in smaller venues is un­even low light­ing, or none at all. ‘I re­mem­ber a small gig in Hox­ton years ago where lit­er­ally the only light reach­ing the band was from a fire exit sign above a door, and a street light out­side,’ she ex­plains. ‘Poor light­ing is very com­mon, and the first thing you will need to learn to over­come, along with cramped stages where there may be no an­gle or po­si­tion in which your view isn’t blocked to some ex­tent by stage fur­ni­ture, like mics and mon­i­tors.’

No pit is not the pits

Gen­er­ally Knight has found smaller/in­de­pen­dent venues to be a lot more re­laxed about cam­eras, and reck­ons that most venue se­cu­rity take their cue from the band’s in­struc­tions any­way. ‘I can’t think of many oc­ca­sions in a less-than-200-ca­pac­ity venue that I’ve en­coun­tered sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems. I don’t leave it to chance though and will check in ad­vance.’

So that’s good news, and what’s more, the lack of a ded­i­cated ‘pho­tog­ra­pher’s pit’ found in big­ger venues can ac­tu­ally be an ad­van­tage, Knight reck­ons. ‘The main pro is that no pit means that the show will be up close and per­sonal, and you can get right in the mid­dle of the ac­tion. No ar­ti­fi­cial bar­rier be­tween the band and the au­di­ence usu­ally makes for a bet­ter at­mos­phere, and there’s also a lot of po­ten­tial for get­ting shots of good in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the two. The main con is that find­ing a good spot can be prob­lem­atic, es­pe­cially if the place is rammed and there’s not much scope for move­ment.’

As many read­ers will know, the use of flash is frowned upon at most con­certs as it can be a dis­trac­tion, so most gig pho­tog­ra­phers get by with fast, wide-aper­ture lenses and higher ISOs. Knight’s ap­proach is typ­i­cal. ‘I’m not scared of noise, and with the cam­era bod­ies I use now, I will hap­pily shoot at ISO 6400 if it makes sense (though I al­ways ad­just ISO, aper­ture and shut­ter speed man­u­ally as I go). High ISO per­for­mance has im­proved dras­ti­cally in the past decade, and noise re­duc­tion soft­ware has also come on in leaps and bounds.’ You also need to be com­fort­able

tak­ing con­trol of aut­o­fo­cus and shut­ter speed. ‘I ac­tu­ally switched to back but­ton AF a few years ago, as I found it a lot more log­i­cal – it takes away the frus­tra­tion of ac­ci­den­tally re­fo­cus­ing at the wrong mo­ment. With more ac­tive bands I like to be around the 1/160 mark if pos­si­ble, though I can hand­hold down to 1/60th fairly com­fort­ably if band mem­bers aren’t run­ning around, or if I have some­thing to steady my­self against. If I’m go­ing for a jump shot I will of­ten also use pan­ning if the shut­ter speed needs to be on the lower side, to try to re­tain sharp­ness where it’s most needed.’

Another big skill is prepa­ra­tion and an­tic­i­pa­tion, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to bag­ging those prized ac­tion shots. ‘In terms of be­ing pre­pared, it’s im­per­a­tive to learn to see the ac­tion com­ing and look for clues in body lan­guage, and this gets eas­ier with ex­pe­ri­ence. I al­ways try to keep both eyes open when shoot­ing as you can of­ten catch sight of some­thing good about to hap­pen in your pe­riph­eral vi­sion, be it a gui­tar spin, or a jump, or just a re­ally nice bit of in­ter­ac­tion be­tween peo­ple on stage.’

Stay flex­i­ble – and po­lite

While Knight is full of use­ful ad­vice, she reck­ons there is no ‘one size fits all’ ap­proach for gig pho­tog­ra­phy. ‘Part of the fun is find­ing your­self in a chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion and know­ing how to pull some­thing out of it that you’re happy with.’ That said, she reck­ons there are pos­i­tive things you can do to give your­self the best chance of great shots from a gig or fes­ti­val. ‘It pays to be per­son­able – so build re­la­tion­ships and trust. Chat­ting to venue staff, and to the peo­ple you’re at the front with, is al­ways a good thing, es­pe­cially in venues with no pit – peo­ple in the au­di­ence are gen­er­ally lovely once they re­alise you’re not go­ing to in­ter­fere with their en­joy­ment of a gig, and will of­ten help you to get the shots you want by swap­ping places or let­ting you into their spot for a minute.’

Pa­tience is a virtue, too. ‘One of the great things about smaller venues is that there’s of­ten no time re­stric­tion other than the length of a band’s set, and tak­ing enough time to ob­serve pat­terns of move­ment and light­ing and fig­ure out when the light is go­ing to be in the right place or when some­one is more likely to step away from their mic can make a huge dif­fer­ence to your re­sults.’

It’s also im­por­tant to know your cam­era set­tings inside out, oth­er­wise you’ll waste time fum­bling around in the dark and miss op­por­tu­ni­ties. ‘Never be afraid to ex­per­i­ment, ei­ther, whether it be with an­gle, po­si­tion­ing, or cam­era set­tings ( but al­ways shoot raw). Trial and er­ror is a large part of learn­ing gig pho­tog­ra­phy, and in smaller venues with­out a three-song limit, you have the lux­ury of time.’

Fi­nally, she urges all gig pho­tog­ra­phers to think about eti­quette, for ev­ery­one’s sake. ‘So don’t leave the aut­o­fo­cus as­sist light on so it il­lu­mi­nates a per­former’s face, don’t un­nec­es­sar­ily block peo­ple’s view or hog space, fail to sup­press on-cam­era flash, and gen­er­ally act like you’re more im­por­tant than the peo­ple who’ve paid to see the band!’

‘Be pre­pared – learn to see the ac­tion com­ing and look for clues in body lan­guage’

Trudi em­ploys a wide aper­ture and higher ISO to nail the dy­namic live show of Sta­cie Collins & the Al-Mighty 3 Nikon D600, 14-24mm, 1/160sec at f/3.5, ISO 3200

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