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Concert Photography Tips

By Naomi Whatley Sharek on May 2nd, 2013
Naomi Whatley-Sharek

When Naomi Whatley-Sharek contacted the school, she politely asked if we could help her gain access to a concert that was going to take place in her area. She was clear in what she wanted to do and why, and it was our pleasure to help her. As you read her story, take note of how she made the right step at every turn. A polite request, a respectful follow up when the band's publicist did not get back to her (a point where some might give up), research and careful preparation. We're very glad she took us up on our request that she write an article about her experience.

When I contemplate music, my vision is of a team of individuals with a common love of their craft coming together to form a collection of instrumental and vocal perfection. They speak through their music. Their purpose: to entertain their audience; entice them to sing along and to move their bodies. They touch their souls and make them feel good. They deliver memories. To the audience, music becomes a form of escape; a way to tap into an alter ego. It offers them something to believe in and relate to when the rest of the world doesn't make sense.

To me, it is an honor to capture this amazing power in photographs.

I am Naomi: a small town girl and a single mom of 3 with a full time job. I am also a professional photographer and student with NYIP. Looking back, I decided concert photography was my passion with the first big concert that I attended. But, the possibility of following this passion was just a dream until the day I received Photoshop User magazine containing an article on concert photography written by Alan Hess. I emailed Alan a short note of excitement at having stumbled across his article. It was a fateful life event. He answered my email providing me with amazingly helpful constructive criticism on some of my photography. He mailed me a magazine that featured an earlier article he wrote and suggested I purchase his newest book, All Access Pass, Your Backstage Pass to Concert Photography. I call it my "Concert Bible". In his book, Alan does a magnificent job of explaining everything imaginable related to the practice of concert photography.

I took what I learned from Alan and began my journey immediately. My first subject was the band, Theory of a Deadman, scheduled to perform in my area with two opening bands, Aranda and Charm City Devils. This is what I applied to my experience and here is how it came about:

The very first thing you need in concert photography is the passionate belief that this is the road you wish to travel in your photography career. This is important since the next step can be challenging: research, research, research! If it wasn't already, the Web becomes your new best friend. Selecting a band and venue you wish to shoot can be daunting. Through my research, I discovered that Theory just so happened to be coming to town. A favorite band in a familiar venue!

Once you select a band, you must learn as much as you can about them. You need to get to know the band members as people beyond the stage. This will make your photos more meaningful to you, which will be conveyed through your images. Look at prior photos analyzing the approach taken by other photographers. This will give you an idea of the shots that will be important to you.

Next, comes a crucial step: You will need to get in contact with the band's publicist to request a photo pass. A professional, polite and grateful approach is a must in this business. You never know when you will call upon these contacts again so you want to leave a great impression.

Also keep in mind that publicists are extremely busy. Ask for the pass a couple weeks before the show and follow up with a courtesy email reminder if needed. I contacted Theory's publicist and sent an email that was required for an approval. She had a few questions on what I would be doing with the photos as I informed her that they would be used for a school project as well as personal growth, she inquired even deeper. I contacted NYIP's Director, Chuck DeLaney, he then sent an email in regards to an assignment he had given me on concert photography. When I hadn't heard back from Theory's publicist in a few days, I sent a friendly reminder. This proved to be an extremely important step as she hadn't read Chuck's earlier correspondence. With receipt of the follow up email, she approved a pass for me right away.

You will need to make sure your gear is organized and ready to rock and roll (pun intended!) Batteries need to be fully charged (extras are a must), lenses cleaned, memory cards cleared and a pair or two of earplugs should be loaded in the equipment bag. I shoot with a Canon 7D and carry my Canon T1I for backup just in case my 7D malfunctions. It would be devastating to get all this way and have technical difficulties stop you in your tracks! Lenses can be extremely expensive and this single mom can't yet afford to spend $1,500 on the lens I need. Thankfully there are many lens and equipment rental resources online that are very affordable and, for now, this works well for me.

So, we have our band picked out, our photo pass approval in hand and our gear ready. It's time for the show! This may sound redundant but I can't overstate how important it is to be professional and courteous with not only the publicists, but with other photographers, security, the fans and, most importantly, the musicians on stage. When I arrived at the Theory concert, I picked up my pass and headed straight to the security officer at the photo pit. I asked about my boundaries, venue rules and how long I would be allowed to shoot. In this case, I was spoiled in that I was the only photographer there and could shoot as long as I wanted! Many venues only allow the first 3 songs. While I was shooting I tried not to stand in front of the fans. After all, they didn't come to see me. As for the bands, I kept my distance and tried to make myself blend with the crowd as much as possible.

I spent a lot of time on one knee, bending and walking back and forth in the photo pit. Comfortable clothing and shoes are a must. I personally also wear a necklace with all my children's birthstones on it for soul comfort and good luck. It is very important that you are comfortable on the outside as well as the inside because things can get pretty intense.

I learned quickly why concert photography is considered one of the most challenging mediums in the photo industry. Under no circumstance may you use your flash and the musicians are moving all over the stage as are the lights. You have to use a fast shutter speed, low aperture and high ISO. The perfect combo of these settings changes with your situation. Is the concert outside or inside? How far are you away from the stage? What is the lighting like? It makes a huge difference if you are very familiar with your camera and can operate it effortlessly.

As challenging as it is, concert photography is extremely rewarding and a lot of fun. With Theory, the guitarists and drummer gave me a bunch of great shots. When Tyler Connolly, the band's singer, tossed a pick out into the audience and it bounced off of my head, he had a hard time keeping his composure. I couldn't help laughing. In another shot, John Allen, the drummer of Charm City Devils, stuck his tongue out at me and I caught that in a light-hearted photograph. In post edit I noticed a young man peeking around an amp looking right at me, a photo in a photo. Very exciting find!

So now, allow me, the artist, to paint you a picture in words to better convey the intensity of my experience:

Pitch black! Her heart races. She brings her camera up to her eye in anticipation for the show to start.

The drum beats, "Boom, Boom, BOOM". Beams of light in red and yellow swiftly flow across the stage as the guitarist strums his strings and the singer approaches singing. The music from the amps pierces her mind, body and soul. She hears the music but her inner voice is much, much louder. The singer comes all the way up to the end of the stage. She could reach out and touch his shoe if she wanted.

The crowd cheers and screams excitedly. Camera settings fly through her thoughts like neon green words flying against black. These thoughts meld with her actions. Sensory overload kicks in simulating a surreal out-of- body experience. She waited for this moment for a very long time. This is her passion. Her dream come true and she is right smack dab in the middle of it. She savors every moment. She is in her perfect element

And now, a closing note from someone who achieved one of her life dreams: It is a dog-eat-dog world and in life you will get shot down time and time again. But never give up on your passion! If you can dream it you can do it.


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