Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A new first... pro concert shooting!

Seems that I'm enjoying firsts... first maternity shoot, first studio shoot.... now I can add a first pro concert shoot! Maybe the word "pro" is a bit of a stretch, but I have joined up with a concert photography group that work at promoting shows for local venues. The group is pretty new, but we are working out way to providing great music and event coverage. They called Production Iris and you can view the work at

My first gig was shooting Scala and Kolacny Brothers. When I signed up to shoot them, I was under the impression that they were a two man jazz group. I figured should be an interesting and pretty straight forward shoot.

A few weeks before the show, I decided to do start some preparation work and looked them up online. Turns out they are a choir of up to 25 Belgian women who sing modern songs. They have an excellent version of Radiohead’s Creep, which was actually featured as the main music for the trailer to the movie The Social Network. Their music is haunting...

To top it off, the brothers (one is the conductor, one is the pianist) wanted to review the images before they were posted. Can you say stress? How the heck am I going to make 25 women standing in 3 rows exciting and interesting? My mind got working on various shot ideas, but really, it was going to be a fly by the seat of my pants type of thing, especially considering I am only allowed to shoot 3 songs.

So fast forward to the day of. My gear is ready, I head on out to the venue, pick up my press pass, I'm feeling pretty good. Check out the stage, chat with security and the people sitting in the front row to ensure they know I won't be there for the whole show, 3 songs and out. Chat with the other photographer who is covering the event, she seems only a wee bit more confident than I am in what shots we are going to get.

Lights go down...the group make their entrance on stage. I get ready for lights on.... and bam! The entire stage is flooded in a blue light. Great for mood, but man, this is the worse light to shoot in as it totally washes out skin tones. My camera's sensor doesn't like it too much.

I spent the first 30 seconds of the first song adjusting my exposure. In order to shoot at higher ISO on a camera, you need to nail the exposure. I was struggling finding the right mix, considering the lights on stage were horrible for photography.

First song over. What?!? Already? Man, I barely got a few usable shots out of that. Alright, change lenses; go with some closer in shots. I was hoping using a longer lens would cut out some of the massive amount of blue light flooding the stage.

Second song starts. The lights are no longer blue, but a great red and pink wash. Oh joy! Shoot, shoot shoot. I'm starting to feel the stress now. I'm half way through my 3 songs and I haven't been seeing the results I was expecting.

Don't get me wrong, I've shot concerts before. I've shot in dimly light bars. I pulled off some nice things, on a pretty consistent basis. The difference? I had the entire set! Not the 12 minutes from 3 songs and out, but more like 30-60 minutes.

Towards the end of the second song, I started feeling the grove. You know how athletes need to warm up before their sport? Same for a photographer (or at least for me), I need some time before getting into the grove.

Third song starts. I make the mistake and change lenses in the middle of the song. Bad idea, as the 10 seconds it takes to change lenses, I'm not shooting! I know I had some wide shots, some close shots, so I focus on more angled shots and getting shots of the pianist, one of the brothers, who wasn't there for the first two songs.

Third song done. The other photographer and I make our way to the back. As I’m in the back of the venue near the bar, I get a great view of the entire stage. I lift my camera, smile at the bouncer (a great and friendly guy) he just smiles. I manage to get off some shots of the entire group from afar. I wanted group shots, but going from the front of the stage to the second floor or the back kills precious shooting time. I got lucky I guess. I like to think I networked for it. ;)

At the end of the show, I had some slight adrenaline running in my veins. It was pretty intense. I didn't want to look at my images, I wasn't happy with how things unfolded. I texted a friend a few times about the experience on my way home.

I uploaded the images on my PC and started working on them right away as I need to turn them around asap, as the buzz of the show runs out quick, so you need to turn images quickly or you miss the boat.

Here are some of the images that were sent to the group.

I got good comments from the editor of Production Iris. A few days pass and I hear back from the group and they loved the images. They ended up buying some of the images to be used in their press section, which are offered to general press writing stories about the group and who need images to accompany the stories.

Made me feel pretty damn good.

Here is a quick list of do's and don’ts that I had to learn quickly:

- research your client ahead of time
- network with staff and security at the venue
- keep on shooting even if you aren't feeling it
- have a game plan for the shoot, but be ready to switch it up
- have appropriate gear to produce good images. Gear doesn't make the photographer, and shouldn't stop you from shooting a gig, but be aware that higher end gear will make it that much easier.

- change lenses during a song
- get too worked up about what others are doing; focus on you and your images
- think you own the front of the stage. There are other photographers and paying customers there.

I learned a lot and keep on learning. I've shot a few more shows since then and things are going smoother.

Thanks for reading!

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