Sometimes spontaneity is a photographer's best friend. Last week I woke up to an unfamiliar song on the radio and immediately reached for my iPhone to Shazam it. If you're unfamiliar with Shazam it's an app that analyzes music (I assume by tempo, pitch, and structure) picked up by your internal phone mic and matches it to a large database of artist meta information. In this particular case I was welcomed by the new single "I Heard I Had" by Dear Rouge - a Vancouver based husband and wife rock duo.
That morning I decided to dig deeper into the band bio and purchase a few of the tracks. Note how I said purchase.... Please support the artists you love and keep them fed. Downloading tracks off torrents only hurts the artists you love, but I digress - rant over. While researching the group I realized that they were on the tail end of a Canadian tour with three final shows in Alberta. As luck would have it they were playing in Calgary in 4 days! I'm not sure what drove me to contact them (perhaps the fact they just looked like nice people) but I decided to reach out and offer my services for some gratis promotional shots. All I really required was a Press/Photo Pass and a free night.... if only it was that easy.
I contacted Drew from Dear Rouge via email and quickly had his approval to add me to the press list. Given the relatively small venue (a college bar) I decided to purchase a ticket as a precaution. This really wasn't a concern though, as I enjoyed the bands music and was happy to put some gas in their tour bus. As it turns out that ticket purchase is what got me into the show, as the security staff didn't have the press list when I arrived. The downside of said missing press list was that I had no longer had clearance to use my DSLR. They were kind enough to let me bring in my gear but asked me to keep it bagged until their manager arrived. When I finally had a chance to speak with him (an hour after arrival) he filled me in on the official process for press registration and gave me a free pass to shoot as long as I honoured the two song rule. I'm far from being a concert photography expert but this rule sounds like a fairly standard consideration in the industry. It allows you to grab your shots while not interfering with the audience experience for prolonged periods. I'm comfortable with that but it certainly doesn't stop you from cringing when the band gets energetic deeper into their set.... sigh.
Once the bands started playing I shifted into business mode and captured as much as I could within the provided windows. The vast majority of my shots were taken with a 135mm 1.8 lens @ ISO 3200. Let me tell you, I had to squeeze every bit of light out of that venue as they didn't exactly go the extra mile on stage lighting. I was pretty certain my camera (Sony A99) was up to the challenge even though I rarely shoot above ISO 800. Noise reduction becomes a necessity in post but that's to be expected in low light shoots such as this. For the record I used Lightroom's native noise reduction for these shots. I typically use Nik's Dfine but I was pleasantly surprised with Lightroom and didn't feel the need to use another plugin.
By the end of the night I had captured approximately 500 shots. As you can imagine quite a few of them were instantly deleted due to motion blur or exposure drops. It's rather important that you shoot concerts in burst/multi mode as you truly can't afford to rely on single shot exposures. And let's be honest for a moment, capturing someone singing typically results in some pretty awkward looking photos... You need some variety to work with.
As an amateur photographer (and I have no problem calling myself that, as I don't charge for my shoots) I've had the pleasure of experimenting with a variety of different "genres" without losing sleep over paying my bills. I've always had a strong passion for music but never really connected the dots to concert photography. To be honest I'm still not sure I'd pursue it exclusively. I'm more than happy to support local bands with some free gig shots and social media love but I don't see concert photography as a viable career option. Simply put, it's too hard to compete with all the mobile phones and point and shoot cameras in a venue when you're restricted to a single song or two from the band's set. It's still worth it from a personal perspective to support the local artists but I certainly wouldn't expect to earn a healthy wage from doing so. Sometimes you need to make choices that satisfy your soul, not just your wallet.
Here are a couple links to check out the bands referenced in this post.