The Sight of Music

Ahh, music and cameras—two things I love immensely—what combination could be better? Actually, it can be a tough combination. Photographing concerts is a challenge for several reasons:

  • Pictures can’t capture the main point of the concert—music.
  • Hoards of people who don’t want to be distracted by your flash.
  • Singing people make funny faces.
  • No control over the venue: lighting, placement of the subjects, background, etc.

This is a cool photo except for the mic in front of the performer’s face! Microphones may be the most common intrusive object I encounter in my photographic endeavors.

Despite these, I love photographing concerts (provided I won’t get in trouble—I ought to advise you, before we go further, to be respectful of your venue’s rules). I gravitate toward the challenge of shooting a situation I can’t control. Here are some things I’ve learned from shooting concerts:

  • I can’t control the background, so I must be careful to shoot from the right spot. Once, at a classical performance, I didn’t notice a light fixture on the wall behind the singer. I got home and found that the fixture was right behind my lovely main subject, and if I had sat a few feet to one side or the other, I could have avoided giving her Mickey Mouse ears in half my photos! Move around until you get a good background.
  • Even if the background is good, the subject’s face is constantly changing. Many singers and musicians express the emotion of their music in their face as well as in their voice/instrument. Take as many pictures as possible to increase the chances of getting good facial expressions. For singers, focus on words with “ee” sounds, as they make the singer “smile,” in a way. Also, don’t miss the moment the song ends, as the performer will smile for the applause!
  • I wrote about flash not long ago, so I won’t dwell on it in this post. I’ll just say it’s your own, individualized judgment call. Flash appears more intrusive in some venues than others. It can distract performers, which is why it’s sometimes not allowed at certain kinds of events (like figure skating shows). It may also be useless if you’re not close enough to the stage. As I said, your call. It depends on the individual event.

Photography can’t capture the heart of a musical performance as well as an audio recording, but concerts are fun to shoot and can afford lots of fancy lighting, costuming and facial expressions to play with.

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