One of the things I love about my job is that it occasionally allows me to shoot concerts. Some I want to see, like The Mynabirds, and others aren’t my style, such as Cher.
I want to clear up two questions I always get: Yes, it can be fun, but it is really hard work (more on that later). Also, I do not get to go hang out backstage or even meet the band on most occasions.
For most big concerts, you’re only allowed to shoot photos during the first three songs. You’re escorted into the pit (the area between the stage and the crowd where security is), then escorted out out when your three songs are done. The major tours of the year make you sign contracts about what you are allowed to do with the photos. Some bands will try and make you sign away ownership of the photos to them (I NEVER sign those).
I prefer local musicians and smaller venues because they allow more access. It’s much easier to take a creative risk when you don’t have the three-song limit ticking away in the back if your mind. I have time to take my “safety” shots and my “artsy” shots.
Concerts are full of emotion and movement, and my job is translate that into still images. Some artists have better stage presence than others. A charismatic musician makes that part of my job easy.
If it is an indoor show at a small venue, light can be scarce. This forces me to use slower shutter speeds and high ISO speeds, sometimes not the most appealing options. Some shows have frantic displays with lights that flicker. The amount of light falling on the subject can more than triple and go back to dark in less than a second. I have time time my shots with the light show while hoping the musician is doing something photogenic in that minuscule window of when the light is just right. I have used a slower shutter speed to my advantage to convey the fury of Cully Symington of Cursive.
Smaller concert venues are known providing intimacy between the musician and the audience. When the kids rock out to the song, they often pulse with the beat. If you are standing in the middle of them, it can make the task of shootings photos very difficult. I made this short video of what it was like to shoot a Cursive show at The Waiting Room standing near the front of a frantic crowd.
Now imagine me holding two cameras and having a fanny pack strapped to my waist as all that is going on.
A common mistake young photographers make at concerts is to ignore the audience. There are wonderful images to be had by turning the camera the other direction. I like to think of it as snapshot of pop culture at that moment in time.
Photographing musicians doesn’t even have to happen at formal concerts. I ran into Randal Turner in the Old Market for a story on street musicians in Omaha. It was a steamy August evening and his sweat glistened as the sunset’s light filled his face.
Another standout show for me was the Omaha Girls Rock! camp last summer. The weeklong camp teaches young women in Omaha music and self-expression. The week culminated with a showcase of the girls playing a concert at the Slowdown.
Some of my favorite shows from recent years:
Cursive (January 2011)
Concert for Equality (July 2010)
Aerosmith (August 2010)
Dave Matthews Band (September 2010)
2010 Maha Music Festival (July 2010)
Red Sky Music Festival (July 2011)
Throwdown at the Slowdown (December 2010)
Omaha Girls Rock! camp (July 2011)
2010 SBA Marching Band Competition (October 2010)
Be sure to check out The Omaha World-Herald’s music blog, Rock Candy, at rockcandy.omaha.com.