16 Mar 2008

Photographing live gigs- part 1

Want a challenge? How about shooting a live stage performance? The lighting will be tricky, but the results can be great.

Whenever I think of really difficult light conditions I think of live stage performances – especially of rock music. Few situations present the photographer with more challenges than a live pop concert. Everything is difficult – for a start, the amount, contrast and colour of the lighting is likely to change every few seconds and the performers will be moving or jumping around the stage. You will be working immediately in front of a sound system so powerful it can easily damage your hearing, and behind you the paying audience will not be at all pleased if you block their view of the stars on stage.

I was reminded of all these problems at the weekend when we went to enjoy a gig by a fantastic local band here in SW Scotland. I was not working – just there to enjoy myself, but at the band’s last gig in the same theatre, I did take lots of pictures. Singer Mary Barclay and her husband lead guitar Doug Carroll, of the ‘The Sensational Mary Barclay Band’ are personal friends of ours, so it was a job done with real pleasure.

If you decide to try this type of assignment yourself, it will really test all your skills in timing and camera craft. The result can be great set of pictures and a tremendous sense of achievement. Most rock groups and musicians, except famous professionals, will be only too pleased if you approach them and ask if you can photograph one of their live gigs. However, it’s always best to check with the theatre manager well before the event.

Who knows? the band may become famous one day and then your pictures might be worth a small fortune. In the case of The Mary Barclay Band, they really do deserve stardom and fame. Mary has a fantastic voice and Doug is one of the finest lead guitar players in the UK – if not beyond. The band now write and produce much of their own music and songs.

If you don’t fancy rock music, there’s sure to be an amateur dramatic society putting on live theatre somewhere near where you live.

I’ll go into the technique side of photographing this type of subject in part 2. Meanwhile I can recommend you listen to some of the band's music at…



Top photograph
This was real hard rock number and I was just about to move position from the stage wings when I noticed that Mary came across to Doug and they stood back to back. The level of lighting had dropped quite a lot and I was down to 1/45sec – not ideal for freezing the action, but by firing the shutter exactly as Mary’s arm reached right up, I was able to get everything reasonably sharp. This is my favourite shot

Time spent working from below the stage and in front of the audience has to be kept to a minimum because you may be blocking a paying customer’s view. Try to work from one side of the stage if possible, but you don’t want to get too close or too low down because with a wide angle lens you will get distortion and the figures will look ten feet tall. Also, you may be looking straight into the glare of the lights from a low angle. This shot of me working in the wings is by John Scott

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