Whatever our genre of art, we always strive to improve our skills. We rarely think that photographing family and friends is an exercise of our best abilities. If the techniques have become second nature from practice, our photos even in everyday situations will show our “talent”.
“Concert Photography”, especially at the many festivals, can be a great way to hone our skills of photographing people. I make it a practice to pick one or two artists to use a subject for an “assignment practice”. What kind of photos would the performer want to use in her or his portfolio? Maybe photos to illustrate past gigs or to use for publicity?
Performers are quite a challenge. Unless you know them very well, you don’t know what moves they will make next, what expressions to expect. You can’t ask them to pose, they are not there for just you. You have no control over the lighting, there is nothing you can do about the background, you have just a limited range of angles. See, it calls for being alert, attentive, and quick. You have to be very observant.
I try to get some images that show enough of the environment that the photo says “in performance at …”. I also try for some shots that show the performer in a more generic situation, photos that could be used for a cover.
At the Johns Creek International Festival I “picked on” David Court, a one-man-band with mouth organ, dulcimer, and foot percussions. The photos here are my “take”.
Now for some tips.
► Shoot at as high shutter speed as you can. I like 1/250 sec or faster, although one of my shots here is a 1/125 sec. That “slow” photo was necessitated by the daylight stage in full shadow.
► Use an appropriate aperture. A low f-stop, wide aperture, will give shallow depth of field and separate the performer from background and other objects, even other performers. A smaller aperture will make sure that you still get a sharp image even if the distance changed due to dynamic motions. My photos here are all shot at f/11.
►Be mindful of the background. That proverbial “tree growing from the head” does nothing for performer photos. Stages are full of distracting artifacts. You may be able to move a little right or left to get a better angle.
► Singers and musicians are notorious for closing their eyes to concentrate on their work. I find about half of my performer photos are marred by closed eyes.
► Expect sudden moves. It may be a jerk of an instrument, a quick hand gesture, a shake of the head. Performers are mindful that they are entertainers and they want to present a show. Try to capture the spontaneity of the moment.
► Allow “breathing space” and “head room” in your photos. I always shoot wider than I expect to use. This allows me to use spot focus and gives be the ability to crop for best effect. All of the photos here are cropped.
► If you have some decent photos, share them with the performer. Don’t expect the artist to use your photo for the next CD cover. The performer likely has a regular photographer who knows the artist well enough to be able to bring out the character and craft much better than you can, but your images may be a pleasant memento and will be appreciated.
When it comes to camera bags, everybody has their own unique collection of gear and supplies. Four of my items may seem rather unusual to you. They are not photo gear or accessories but to me they are essential:
A towel – Actually many times I carry two of them, a small white towel and a fancy compact one. Summer heat in Georgia, and I’m sure elsewhere, can lead to perspiring hands. There is always something that needs to be wiped.
A white umbrella – It is useful in inclement weather, makes a fine light diffuser, and can serve to minimize wind for close-up photography. This may be my most important “accessory”.
A large garbage bag – This is useful as a kneeling pad in damp or muddy conditions. It can also be used as a poncho should a sudden rain squall hit.
A white t-shirt in a kid’s size – This makes a fine backdrop in close-up work, but more importantly I use it as a cover for my camera. The hot summer sun can be brutal. A hot-to-the-touch camera is uncomfortable and I image that the innards can suffer as well. My illustrations below show how I cover my camera. The neck straps go through the sleeves. The shirt can remain on the neck strap and the camera can still be used. It can be positioned so the viewfinder is accessible through the neck hole while the lens looks through the bottom of the t-shirt.
Those are just four of my essentials, others are likely similar to what every other photographer carries.