|Shooting Outdoor Concerts
by Jim McGee
At most big name concert venues today it is nearly impossible to get permission to take your camera in. If you decide to try and sneak your camera in you risk having your equipment confiscated by security guards and being thrown out of the concert.
Outdoor concerts however, can provide you the opportunity to take interesting pictures of artists on stage. Outdoor shows usually do not have the same restrictions as indoor shows simply because they are too difficult to enforce. Other advantages of outdoor shows are that you can often get closer to the stage, and since many outdoor shows are daytime shows you dont have to contend with constantly variable stage lighting and high speed films.
Shooting the Performers
Crop your shots tight. You may want to take some wide shots that encompass the whole stage but the shots that will grab people are the ones that get so close you can see the sweat standing out on the performers brow.
Be aware of the stage lighting. Are the players lit better on certain areas of the stage. Instruments and costumes reflect light. Do the lights on one part of the stage get them to really sparkle. If so try and catch a shot when the musicians are in that area.
Finally look around the stage. One guitar player was constantly changing instruments during the show. The guitars were lined up in stands off the side of the stage and made for an interesting shot by themselves. Look over the stage. Is there anything there that would be interesting on its own?
Use a mixture of film. Experiment with different speeds which will yield different grains in the resulting prints. I used a mixture of Ektachrome 100, Royal Gold 400 & 1000, and Tri-X 400 (B&W) films. Black and white films can be great for concert shots. Try pushing the film a couple of stops to get that gritty grainy look of 60's concert photos. The first band, Soft Parade, covered Doors tunes. If you close your eyes you would swear that Jim Morrison was on stage. Somehow a grainy black and white photo just seems to capture the moodiness of their music better then color.
In a pinch underexpose by a stop to get faster shutter speeds with print film. There is enough exposure latitude in the film to make up the difference when printing. When youre hand holding you want as fast a shutter speed as possible and in a crowd of people you will be hand holding.
Watch your gear. Its difficult to have two cameras with tele lenses hanging off one shoulder and your camera bag hanging off the other. Your instinct is to put the camera bag at your feet. But be careful. In a crowd of dancing, jostling people it is very easy for someone to accidentally step on the bag, or worse yet for someone to pick it up and walk away while your eye is glued to the viewfinder.
Ill place my bag so that it is to the inside of my left (forward) foot. This way my body protects the bag from someone stepping on it, and my foot tells me if the bag moves.
A light hand on the shoulder or arm of someone who is getting to close is usually enough to get them to back up a step. Dont be obnoxious about it. Loaded down with fragile gear youre not in the best position to be aggressive. And dont forget to close your camera bag when you put it down. Spilled beer will roll off the outside of your waterproof bag if its closed it will fill up the same bag if its open.
Be prepared. Outdoor events often feature more than one stage and sometimes more then one band playing at once. Take a look at the schedule. See who you want to photograph and when theyre on. If you can get there a few minutes early you can stake out that prime real estate right up front.
Dont grab a position at center stage. Photos are more interesting if shot from an angle rather then straight on, so try to get a spot off to one side of the stage. When picking which side take note of where the keyboards are located. You want to be facing the keyboards so that you can get a shot of that musician, not facing their back.
Remember to take breaks. If youre there for an all day concert that means that youre going to be in the sun all day. Remember to take an occasional break and to get some liquids.
A personís face can convey tremendous emotion. Thatís the moment you want to capture...
A light hand on the shoulder or arm of someone who is getting to close is usually enough...
When shooting concerts dont forget the crowd
text and photography copyright © 2001 Vivid Light Publishing