Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How to photograph a rock concert - The Eagles, Sara Evans, and Scary Little Friends

Let me start this out with this disclaimer, I am not a full time concert photographer, but I love the challenge of shooting something new and different. I know many people who shoot concerts exclusively and do an amazing job of capturing musicians in action. I, like many of you, don't do this all the time, but have the chance once in a while to photograph concerts. And, if done correctly, this can yield some really cool photos.

In my experience, I have found that there are certain camera settings and planning logistics that help to get the killer shots. So...with that in mind, I am going to show you some of my photos and explain what I did to get the shot, and the camera settings I used.

Canon 5D Mark II, 24-105mm lens at 67mm, ISO 2500, f/4, 1/125 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
I was asked to shoot The Eagles in concert back in 2010. Not knowing much about concert photography, I planned on staying for quite a while and shooting lots of the concert. That was my first mistake! Most of the big name bands today have a "3 and out" rule where photographers can only shoot the first 3 songs. At that point, you are escorted out of the venue or to a holding room until the next band comes on. And, if there is only one band, you are escorted to the exit of the building and given the swift kick in the pants. Not very glamorous, I can assure you!

The other mistake I made was, I brought a wide variety of wide lenses with me, assuming that I would be shooting from the pit in front of the stage. But, the band also makes the determination of the photographer's shooting location. The Eagles did not want us shooting from up close, so we were only given the option to shoot from the sound boards in the rear of the arena. Luckily, I did bring a Canon 100-400 lens so that I could shoot some tight shots, but as you can see from this image, I liked the wide shots better. do you get better access and better photos? You go to smaller shows or concerts that are less restricted.

And now we fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I shot a Sara Evans concert in LA and then drove to Northern California to shoot another concert the following evening.

The Sara Evans concert was at The Grove, which is a really small outdoor setting, where I could shoot as long as I wanted and with freedom to move almost anywhere I wanted. I could not bring much gear with me, so I chose to bring my Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 28-300mm lens. I figured that with the high ISO capabilities of the 5D Mark III, I could get away with the slower lens. And it turned out to be the right call. This first shot was taken from the middle of the crowd at 70mm and shows the entire stage setup (Aperture Priority, ISO 1600, f/5, 1/200 sec).

Standing at the same basic location as the first wide shot, I zoomed in as far as I could, at 300mm, and shot this photo of Sara looking right at me (ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/100 sec). I typically put the camera in spot meter mode so that the exposure is correct on my subject. This is really important since the stage lighting is constantly changing, making it very difficult to meter. Many times I will lower the exposure compensation to make sure I am not blowing out the highlights.

Even though I liked the photos of Sara straight on, I moved to her left and really liked these images even better. (300mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/60 sec)

When shooting sports, people tend to forget that there are great shots in between the action, when the athletes are on the sideline or celebrating. The same is true when photographing concerts. I took this photo when Sara was not singing, instead she was interacting with the crowd. You can see the true smile in her face. Love this! (300mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/100 sec)

Towards the end of the concert, I grabbed this shot of Sara belting out a tune. I really like this shot, but would like it even more if there was some light on her left hand, which unfortunately falls out of the spotlight and into darkness. (235mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/500 sec).

As I mentioned, the next morning, I traveled from Southern California to Northern California to shoot a concert for a friend of mine. They have a band called "Scary Little Friends" and they were playing for a sold out crowd in Santa Cruz, CA. This was the largest show they had ever played, and not having any quality photos of their gigs, they asked if I would do the honors.

I got home from the 7 hour drive, changed cameras and lenses, and ten minutes later I was in my car making the hour long drive over the Santa Cruz mountains. (For this shoot, I brought my Canon 1DX with the 70-200mm 2.8 lens, a Canon 5D Mark III with the 28-300 lens, and a 16-35mm wide angle for close shots.)

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the best part of shooting lesser known bands at smaller venues, means that you have more freedom. In this case, I had complete access to the band, including shooting up on stage. But the one shot that the band wanted, was a photo of them playing in front of a crowd. So, I stood towards the back of the venue and shot from the sound board area. And in this photo, I even took the liberty of popping a flash (bouncing off the ceiling) to subtly light the crowd, otherwise they would hardly be noticeable against the lighting on the stage.

I saw this lighting down the aisle of The Rio Theatre and thought that it would make a cool photo. I used the leading lines to draw your attention to the stage area. (Also notice how dark the people are, without the added light from my flash, unlike the first shot.)

Once I knew I had the crowd shots that they wanted, I started moving around to get images of the band from different perspectives.

Here is a shot of Chris Jones, the lead singer and guitarist, from the side of the stage.

...and a shot of Charlie Knote, the drummer, from the very front of the stage.

I mentioned that one of the lens I brought with me, was the Canon 16-35mm. For this concert, I knew that I would be able to shoot from the front of the stage, an ideal spot for a wide angle shot. I stood right in front of my friend, Jon Payne and shot this wide shot of them.

Having complete freedom to shoot from anywhere had it's advantages. For this shot, I went backstage and snuck into position behind the band. Trying my best not to be seen, I pre-focused the camera on the drum set, and using the 16-35mm lens at 20mm, I reached my arm up and grabbed some no-look shots.

I wanted to include this photo on the blog so that you can see what happens when you tilt the camera. Notice how different the image looks when you add dramatic movement like this.

Another thing to keep in mind when photographing concerts, is to watch your depth of field. For most of these images, I was shooting wide open at f/2.8. This is great for isolating one person, but can prove difficult when trying to capture numerous people in focus in the same shot. For this shot and the one below, I purposely shot at f/2.8 to isolate my main subject. Jon was the subject in this shot and Chris in the one below.

This is a classic "rule of thirds" photo, with the band off center in the frame. I shot this as a closing shot, to show the guys in the band, but also the crowd with a small bit of light falling onto their faces.

I hope this helps any of you out there looking to photograph a concert. It is a ton of fun, especially if you have a venue with professional lighting. Throw in a large memory card and go have some fun!


Unknown said...

Great write-up Jeff. Fascinating. I would like to shoot more shows at some point. Very uplifting post!

Unknown said...

For the Sara Evans concert, were you using a monopod? The shutter speeds seem pretty slow for handheld. Thanks for sharing your tips and advice.

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Vic - I was not using any support system (other than my body). Everything was handheld. I guess I am pretty steady when shooting. :)

Anonymous said...

Are there any pros that use crop sensors like the 7D? Are there any advantages to using a crop sensor besides the extra zoom?

c21jim2 said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to help us newbies out. Enjoying your work from Sochi.
Jim Drews