Music Photography Explained 003

Right then! Part one was "Why D'you wanna"

Part two was "How you gunna?"

And today I thought I'd tell you what happens, from the minute you decide to shoot a gig… Who you contact and what happens if they say yes!

Dave Matthews Plays Piano

It's exciting, that decision to "Step it up" you've been shooting bands at pubs and free gigs, that sort of thing, but you think you're ready to take the next step - to up it to the next level of amazingness, you're ready to step into the ring, so to speak… So, let's walk you through the steps of my Dave Matthews Band gig - that was pure amazing, standing literally inches away from a musician that has inspired you, musically, to better things… There's no real way to explain the energy that flows off stage, through the pit and out into the crowd… These guys play music because they love playing music, the live it… And that's what you're there trying to capture - you have to show those shots to the world and hope that they can live it through your eyes…

So, the gig was to be held at Brixton Academy and it was to be promoted through LiveNation (LN) who you've no doubt heard of. With LN there is a snazzy website that handles mostly all of their gigs, you sign up and with some luck you're approved as a members… What the site allows you to do is apply for press passes to gigs as a reviewer or a photographer.

I go onto the site weekly and see who has been added to the list and I apply, in most cases, for everything and anything - it's all good experience right? More on that later...

so, we've signed in to the press website and selected the DMB gig - you choose your type of pass and you enter your details - who you are, who you're shooting for (We'll come to that later) and send it off to be approved, or as is mostly the case, knocked back - more on THAT later, too...

It was Thursday, the gig I'd applied to shoot was the Friday gig… However, Thursday night we were there at the gig, Tom and Amber, Nathan and Jodi and Michelle and me (With Seb in his unborn state!) and the gig, strangely, didn't go as planned… it was all the new stuff from the new album… It was a technically brilliant gig, the sound was a bit odd, as Brixton usually is very good - It just didn't leave me with that amazing post-gig feeling… Anyway, the Tube was cancelled and we had to find a bus to get home… We're on the bus when the text came through "Michael Jackson's Dead!" -- All in all it was a weird night!

Dave Matthews Band - Crowd 2007

So, feeling a bit flat I wander in to work the next morning and nothing notably exciting is happening… Then an email arrives from LiveNation with the subject line "Press Pass Accepted" and I tell you what, I nearly screeched!… Sure, I had to run around like an idiot to pickup my cameras and stuff, but hey - who cares!! The other amazing thing that happened that day was that I got an email from a photographer friend who had been accepted as well - he couldn't make it and asked if I wanted the pass… I said no, but that I knew someone that did - Having a wingman at a gig like that is awesome - try it sometime!

Just a note here… I've had a couple of people ask "what do I wear?" --wear whatever you're comfortable in-- you don't want a tight jacket that doesn't let you bend your arms, you don't want to be too hot, you don't want to get wet if it's out-doors -- don't dress to impress if it's just pit stuff, dress functional. (If you wear those trousers with big pockets to put things in you will look like a tool, but you will be able to stick a lens in or something… you'll still look like a tool!)

So, with our gear and confirmation emails we headed off to Brixton Academy in London and I have to say that there was much excitement in the air!!  When you arrive at Brixton academy, in 95% of cases you walk down the side alley beside the venue to the backstage door where there's a small press / vip ticket box - that's where you pickup your pass, which as I sad yesterday is a sticker most of the time and as I said yesterday, it's sort of cool to keep your passes - you should see how many Todd has! I have a lanyard with a plastic pocket that I use for mine…

Lenny Kravitz at Brixton AcademyArriving at the press box office you introduce yourself and the person either looks at you weird or hands you your pass - in some cases they will go over "Three songs, no flash" or they will give you other instructions, for example, Alice in Chains at Scala was five songs (another truly amazing gig!) in some cases they will have you sign something that says you're not going to do anything evil with the images - Lenny Kravitz "people" had us sign an agreement that said that we wouldn't do anything with the images other than submit them to whoever we were there shooting for… Largely this isn't an issue - it's mostly because the artist / pr / management want nice tight control over where images go… So, your pass is collected and into the belly of the beast you go! At Brixton you head through the little door, down a corridor and into the side of the stage - very easy! no beer swillers to dance with, no skinheads to juggle… all good!! So you're in the pit!!… The first thing you should do is breathe it in!! suck it up!!… It's amazing at a place like Brixton with such a pumped crowd behind you… The dull roar of the crowd as they chat about nothing whilst waiting for the band… Look around the stage, note the setup, have a look and see if you can workout where the light is going to come from. Decide where you want to be "Is that the lead singer's mic, or is it this one?!" -- A lot of the time you want to be off to one side or the other of the lead singer's place - otherwise all your images are going to have a darn lovely Shure SM58 smack bang in the middle of them - and whilst some people like photos of microphones, I'm sure Shure do, it's not always nice to have them in your shots obscuring someone's face - I didn't learn this until late in the piece because I liked the interaction between the person and the mic - it was like a micro-love affair between the singer and the mic… anyway… left or right of the singer's place… Get your gear ready and check check check it if you have time - take a couple of shots and make sure they're saving OK, make sure your ISO is set where it should be, make sure you're not at 125th / f/11 from that fashion shoot the night before!! -- A lot of the time, I used a nice high ISO (That's like film speed) with my 5DMk2 as it has what they call "Good high ISO performance" which means that when you bump up the ISO it doesn't turn your images into super noisy cess pits of darkness… So, I am anywhere between ISO 1000 and 2500 depending on the venue, and sometimes, I'm down at 400 or even 100 in some cases depending on my lens choice, the venue and the light.

I use spot metering (as I said yesterday) I will try to get a decent'ish reading from the performer's face, after all that's what I want exposed correctly in most cases… Yeah, you want everything nicely exposed, but with concert lighting as bright and varying as it is, you're not going to be able to achieve this in 80% of cases… Check your CF cards are ready and try have them formatted and ready to go before the gig - always format them in camera before use then take a shot or two, like you would at the start of a roll of film - you don't want to pull an error as the band springs to life and you have to format the card and miss the first explosive twenty seconds!! If you are going to change your camera lens during the set, make sure it's ready and at hand - either in the front of your bag or your pocket - some people leave the back cover on, some people take them off - I leave mine on as a £1000 lens full of beer is a mug, not a lens. I use two camera bodies, I use a 30D as well as my 5DMk2 so let's talk about that for a second - it's NOT good at high ISO stuff, so I don't go over ISO 800 with her… Grainy Noisy Jumbled yuckyness… But in 70% of cases is just fine at ISO800 with the lens "wide open" (wide open? - if your lens is an f/2.8 lens - 2.8 is called wide open - allowing the most light in through the aperture per shot) A lot of the time, I find myself with the slower 100-400 f/4.5-5.7 lens on the 30D and the 24-70 f/2.8 on the 5DMk2 WHY? well, I use the long lens for face shots, expressions, stuff like that and, when you're tight in on a face it's going to be a lot brighter than a wider scene with backgrounds and stuff… so it seems to handle this duty just fine…

You're there, you're doing out… How does it feel? Make sure you take a minute to look back at the crowd watching the band - it's electric!!

Walking out from behind the stage at Wembley to photograph The Prodigy, the crowd thought we were the band and went into a roar - it was mad, amazing and gave little insight into what it must be like as a muso… (I've been on stage as a bass player in front of a few thou and that's mad!)

And as soon as it's started, it's finished and the third song is played - you're done!! Most of the time you collect your bag with your camera still hanging around your person and head off to the side of the stage or out a door somewhere to stop and pack your kit… You're going to be buzzing like a fridge so MAKE SURE you have all your gear, your lens caps, your jumper… etc!... They won't let you back in!!

Once you've left the pit, depending on where you are, you may be able to stay for the gig - in some cases you have to check your gear into the cloak room, sometimes you can just go into the crowd (but don't shoot) and sometimes it's a free for all... I think this is largely different day, different security, different rules... Once I was booted out of Wembley straight away, whereas for U2 they let me take my kit in to the stands and sit down... Suck it and see!

A few points that helped me out, a lot, when you start - the best thing you can do is take a look at the images on your screen a few shots in and see how they're coming out! Checking your histogram can help sometimes, but remember, because of the concert lighting and the typically black / dark back of stage you're going to be seeing some blown out areas and some well under areas… So just check your display and make sure you're looking at something nice.

Your first live gig - how was it?

Tomorrow we'll touch on what to do with your images after the gig, who to send them to, what about getting passes and who do you ask to "commission" you… More on that tomorrow, or, as my mother in law has arrived today it may be in a couple of days - we shall see!