So you’ve got the right gear to shoot live concert photos… Your camera body is capable of shooting at high ISO without excessive noise. You have fast lenses with maximum apertures of 2.8 and wider. You know your camera like the back of your hand, meaning you can change settings in the dark without taking the viewfinder away from your eye. You are able to get your camera into the gigs by either knowing the band personally, or actually obtaining a photo pass. So how do you get killer pictures where the band members look their best?
Easy…. They have to look their best when they go on stage. You are simply recording how they actually look.
I recently read a blog post by Jesse Hildebrand, a freelance photographer in Ottawa who has been shooting bands, events, festivals and the like for over a decade. Below are a few paragraphs from his blog. The photos here were taken by me as I don’t want anyone to think that I’m swiping someone else’s work. So here is some advice from Jesse:
Advice From Behind The Lens: How To Look Good On Stage
“I’ve been shooting bands for almost a decade now, and while looking back over thousands of performance shots last week, I realized that all the bands I’ve photographed fall into two categories: “That show was amazing” and “Wow, I don’t even remember taking these pictures”. I know that’s a pretty obvious statement; of course I’m going to remember some bands and forget others. What wasn’t obvious at first, however, was that the more I thought about the bands I had forgotten shooting, the more I realized musical ability had very little to do with whether I remembered the show or not. I had shot some amazingly talented musicians but had completely forgotten their live show, while I could remember in detail some four song sets of the smallest and off-key garage bands. When it comes down to it, the common denominator is that some bands forget that when you put out a CD you’re a musician, but as soon as you go on stage, you’re a performer. If you want to be remembered, you have to put on a show, be larger than life.”
“If you took the stage clothes of Elvis, The Beatles, David Bowie and Liberace and put them on a mannequin, most people could play “name that band” successfully. This doesn’t happen by accident. These performers didn’t wake up in the morning, throw on jeans and a tank top, go to work at Starbucks then head over to their gig later on that night and perform. Their image was something they worked on and cultivated. Some bands might think that working on their look is something to worry about once they get famous, but cementing an image in the minds of your fans early is part of how you get there. Get together as a band and decide what you want to look like when you perform. It doesn’t have to be an outlandish costume, it can just be a theme or color scheme, but make sure everyone’s on the same page. If you’re going to be taken seriously as a band, try not to go on stage wearing the same clothes you bum around all day in. Even if you decide to go the jeans and plaid shirt grunge direction for your look, dress it up a bit. Wear your best plaid shirt, wear a funny or interesting t-shirt underneath, throw some pins on your guitar strap or throw some patches on the knees of your jeans. Wear clothes with textures or patterns, accessorize, wear a ring or two or a necklace and stay consistent gig to gig.”
Now this made a lot of sense to me. Some bands have a look about them that just tells you that they’ve got it together. But looking the part and playing the part have to come hand in hand. If you nail your shoes to the stage prior to putting them on, it’s going to make for a boring and forgettable performance. When you’re not singing at the microphone, don’t be afraid of a little showmanship. Move around, interact with other band members or maybe even the audience. If you get them into the show, the energy will be through the roof.
Back to Jesse’s thoughts:
“The second big part of being remembered is putting on A Show. You’re not in the studio any more; you’re on stage performing for a live audience. I shot a band a year or so ago that got up on stage and played their latest album, start to finish, flawlessly. They stood in front of their microphones for an hour and change and pumped out sonic gold… I’d tell you who they were… but I can’t remember. The only memory of that night I have is the thought: “Wow, this sounds amazing, but I just bought the album… Why’d I just pay $20 more for the same experience I could have got at home, minus the smell of spilled beer?” If you stand stock still in front of your microphone the whole show, you’ve limited the number of interesting pictures I can take of you to a maximum of one shot per band member and a group shot, and given that you’re standing still, they’re probably not going to be the most interesting pictures. Move around, jump around, get down on your knees, get up on an amp, jump on your bass players back… anything, don’t just stand there. Granted, some bands will suit doing this more than others, but that’s just one way you can make yourself more interesting on stage. Putting on a good performance can be even more important that playing good music. When I was asked to shoot Skull Fist, a Canadian metal band, I was hesitant because after listening to a couple tracks I could tell it wasn’t my type of music, but I’m so glad I went. They put on such an energetic show it made me love the music. I’ll probably never listen to them on my iPod, but for an hour I was a hair metal fan. And get the audience involved in the show; if you just stand there, chances are so will they.
Talk to them in between songs, tell a joke or an anecdote, or have a song that the audience can sing along with. During Wax Mannequin’s last show in Ottawa, he had the whole audience singing along to “The Log Driver’s Waltz” and did his encore of “The Price” while walking from table top to table top. The crowd loved it and it made for great photos. Use your face to your advantage, be expressive and exaggerate the emotions of the song. If you hide your face behind a mic the whole time, again, I’ve got pretty much one shot to take and I’m done. Try playing in front of a mirror and ask yourself, “Do I look as into the song as I want my audience to be?” Energy is contagious. If you look like you’re into performing, the audience will get into the performance. Look at your audience, don’t spend the whole time looking at your mic, your guitar, the ceiling or with your eyes closed. A look instantly forms a one to one connection, whether it’s with someone in the crowd, or my camera. Speaking of cameras, if you want really good stage portraits, try to integrate subtle posing into your act. Know where the photographers are in the audience and throw them a look, a smile, a wink or a pose… and try to hold it long enough for them to grab the shot. About 2-3 seconds is usually long enough for me to realize you’re posing, focus, frame and shoot. With practice it can be done seamlessly without anyone knowing you’re intentionally posing for the camera. Or if you don’t think you can make it look natural, have some fun with it.”
So I hope that this helps some of you shooters that are into the live music scene. And if any band members are reading this, be sure to check out Jesse’s entire post at www.jbhildebrand.com and also take the time to check out some of his amazing photography.
As usual…. Thanks for stopping by. And remember to like Coda Photography on Facebook
And a special thanks to Jesse Hildebrand for allowing me to reproduce his words here on my blog.