The last time I sat down and wrote something in regards to advice about music photography, it was a big hit. I thank you all for reading that initial post, which can be found at http://www.dsmithscenes.com/blog/2015/10/6/i-want-to-be-a-music-photographer-what-do-i-do. As a result, I've been thinking about another topic to discuss. The natural progression of things resulted on how to handle an actual live music photography shoot.
Where as that original post dealt with just breaking into the field of music photography and things to know, I wanted to talk about some things to keep in mind when you are actually going to photograph a live performance. There are so many variables and moving parts at play that can overwhelm newcomers.
This is mostly for people doing shoots at local venues on a regular basis. When it comes to festivals or other big events like that, things can be very similar but there will be some changes. I will probably do a special festival post later on down the line.
The first thing I recommend, for anything, really, is research
Research the band, the venue, the area around the venue, and everything in between. Do not leave anything to chance. Know exactly how shows from that particular band have been going in the past. Know their set list. Setlist.fm is a great resource for that. Look up photographs from their previous performances. This helps you get an idea about the lighting and stage production. Learn anything you can about the operations of the particular venue. Who books its? Who runs it? When do doors open? What's the procedure for checking in?
All of this is vital in making sure you have a smooth shoot. You want to make sure your shoot goes as, for lack of a better phrase, uneventful as possible.
Make sure your gear is prepped and ready for the particular shoot
This means charging batteries, getting memory cards ready, and assembling the correct combination of lenses. Do you need a wide angles lens? Do you need a zoom? Again, this is where pre-show research will help you.
Confirm your credentials with the representative from the band
Send a follow up email making sure everything is good to go for access to the show. Always be respectful and courteous when dealing with a rep because you'll possibly be dealing with them in the future. I'll talk about that another day. Make sure you have a copy of the message on your phone or on a piece of paper for when you check-in at the venue. If you can get a phone number for an on-site contact, do so. All of these things will, again, ensure your shoot will be as smooth as possible.
Get to the venue early
This will help you for a variety of reasons. If there is trouble at the door with check-in, you'll have plenty of time to handle it. You'll also have time to talk to people in line to get a feel for the atmosphere of the paying fans. Another big thing is that if there is no barrier at the stage to form a photo pit, you can get a close spot to the action, if so desired. You might have to wait in the crowd for a couple of hours, but that is something you're just going to have to deal with if you want to do your job effectively.
Security and other venue workers can and should be your friends
Make time to talk with all the people working the door and inside the venue. Introduce yourself and shake their hands. Thank them for what they do. They are performing a vital operation and can help you a great deal. There is a great chance they'll look out for you if you look out for them. I cannot stress this part enough. In fact, I want to take this time to, once again, compliment the great staffs at Iron City and Saturn Birmingham, two venues where I shoot a lot of shows.
Find the other photographers in the venue and introduce yourself to them
This is important, especially if you do not know anyone. Local photographers can be a wealth of information in regards to how the venue operates and how your particular scene is structured. Most will be willing to talk and help someone out. Take the time to listen and ask questions before the show. When it comes time for the show, though, be mindful of that and don't get in the way of someone doing their job.
Music photographers can also be bitter individuals, who act like they don't want to be there or that you shouldn't be invading their turf. It's best to see both sides of things so you can get an accurate understanding of the craft. A bitter photographer can give you ample information and knowledge of what not to do in a situation. I can recall a conversation I had with an older photographer early in my shooting career. As he talked, all I could think of what "This is the guy I never want to become".
Remember to give the accurate level of respect that has been given to you
You are there to do a job for whoever assigned you to the position. You are not there to kiss the rings of anyone, no matter who the are. Don't ever let anyone try to discourage you or intimidate you from doing your job.
When it comes time for the actual performance, be mindful of the rules of the band, the house, and other photographers
Move behind people, if possible, instead of in front of them so you don't block a shot. Put your bag on the ground and away from traffic so you don't take up any more additional space. Don't lift your camera overhead and block the view of anyone. You shouldn't be shooting like that anyways. After the song limit imposed by the band is done, gather your things and exit quickly. Don't linger or try to bend the rules. You are in no position to try and risk things like that. These are common sense suggestions, but they need to be said often to hit home the point.
Another big thing to keep in mind when shooting is careful shot selection
Once the show actually starts, don't just hold down the shutter and spray around, hoping for the best. That's wasteful and accomplishes nothing. Look at the lighting and atmosphere. Determine if it will make a good shot that can be salvaged, if needed. If you are dealing with a wall of dark blue background light with no front light and heavy fog, you're not getting a good shot. Trust me. Saying you took 4,000 shots or some ridiculous number impresses no one, especially if 99.9% of them are trash.
I'm going to finish the post with that as I'll get around to talking about what to do with the images after the fact in another post. I still have to talk about marketing, rejections, and other topics. In the mean time, and like always, I'd love to hear what you think or if you have any questions about what I mentioned today.