Every photographer has their ‘statement’, a certain favourite theme that they enjoy the most. Nature, architecture, landscapes and a bunch of amazingly diverse categories.
Mine is Live Music Photography.
Before I begin I’ll say a few words about myself. Starting back in 2013, I photographed my first ever gig at the beautiful Digbeth music venue The Institute, for an American band called ‘Imagine Dragons’. Since then I’ve shot numerous shows, grown a wall of photo passes, had a fair share of beers thrown over me (accidently!), became the in house at both the Institute and the Academy, and generally had a blast!
When shooting a live show the majority of the time you’ll have access to the pit, a large gap between the crowd and stage, along with many others who may be shooting for local papers, websites and music magazines. Sometimes you can be there all alone, other times it’ll be 10 people deep, tripping over legs to get the best shot. There are two main rules, you only get 3 songs and no flash.
At most venues in Birmingham (and pretty much everywhere) this is the norm and is due to the disruption caused by photographers bobbing back and forth in front of fans blocking their view. 3 songs equals to about 15 minutes maximum, obviously longer songs are definitely better.
Let’s talk about lighting.
Stage lights are constantly in flux. From harsh red and blue backlights to perfect white spotlights. Generally good lighting setups will work wonders. From my experience, the first song is usually dark, with the second and third gradually getting brighter. One of the main things I do when shooting is try to listen to the music, it sounds strange but you honestly won’t notice in the moment. Most lighting is programmed to blend with the drum beats such as at Tame Impala shows where the lights only light up the stage on the bang of the drum. Timing is key so do take a few moments to take a listen, then click the shutter button when you think the time is right. You may get a show where the lighting is like a candle in a cave, aka near impossible to shoot so a high ISO is a must. There isn’t ‘set’ settings you can use for live music events, as each show is different, but here are a few tips that may be handy.
1. Variety. Get shots of the Vocalist, Drummer, Guitarist everyone in the band. Go for wide shots, close ups, dramatic angles it’s good to get a mix.
2. Watch the crowd. Crowdsurfing is illegal in venues but it doesn’t stop fans from doing it, and this makes for great shots.
3. ’Moments’ this is when the artist will do something different. Reach for a fans hand, jump in the crowd, do a backflip. These are moments that will make your photos stand out.
4. Business cards. Give them out to fellow photographers, go network!
5. After the show. Edit your photos (watermarking is important), and post to social media tagging the relevant artist and venue. They might repost it!
6. Be confident. It can be a bit nerve racking when you’re in there, but don’t panic. Embrace the energetic atmosphere, and go for it!
7. Remember 3 songs / No flash! They can give you a warning or even kick you out if you don’t comply.
Everything included, live music photography is incredibly fun! There’s nothing better than walking into a room where hundreds of people from every walk of life are enjoying singing their hearts out to their favourite band all in one big collective for one night only!
Words and images by Rachel Mason
Rachel Mason is a Birmingham-based photographer. Check her work out at @heyrachelmason on Instagram, or on rachelmasonphoto.tumblr.com