Quick Guide to Gig Shots

When asked to go down and take shots of your mates band make sure you do it justice. Every job you encounter will take you on to the next, so make sure it’s correctly executed. You can be sure that if you’re last shoot was a little lazy then you will only get half the cash for the next one if anything at all! You should be aiming to increase your income. Not eventually be that guy who works for free but it’s ok because he’s not that great. Even if it is your best pal’s first live performance do the best you can. I have to make it clear though, some free work is never a bad idea if you know it may lead on to another project.

  • In order to set up your camera correctly to allow for all available light in the venue, you’ll have to get down there the day before and check for yourself.
  • I usually bump up the ISO to 800 or 1600.
  • Change mode to monotone (Most will tell you not too but I get faster, clearer, sharper images when the camera doesn’t have to process colour).
  • Use a fast prime lens like the super reliable 50mm. Best investment I ever made and not a great expense either. For Canon. For Nikon. The 50mm prime lets in a whole heap of light with its shallow depth of field. This allows you pinpoint the exact location of your viewer’s attention.
  • Try to leave your flash at home. Good flashes are not cheap and this will ruin your hot-shoe connection if someone knocks it, trust me. Fixing your camera’s hotshoe and a broken flash will destroy your insurance policy.
  • Get to know the whole band, not just the lead guy, to the point that when you’re snapping away, they will not be distracted by your presence during a song. And when you want them to turn and face you, all you have to do is gesture slightly. Do not take the attention away from the stage!
  • Do hand out business cards. It’ll quickly get fans to leave you with some space to work if they think they are helping you promote their favourite band. Speaking of which use the Security guys if things get out of hand. Equipment damaged by beer and elbows quickly adds up. Think about insurance.

I think I’ve covered all the technical aspects, now it’s up to you to get out there and capture what makes this particular band special using nothing but imagery. As always I’ll leave you with a wee example. This is Worth and Bondi. I’ll stick a video at the bottom of the page for you. See if you can tell me what the drums are..

Here are the shots.

I’ll leave the comments open to you guys on this one.



Shuttermaniac Productions Avatar

5 responses to “Quick Guide to Gig Shots”

  1. michaelaalex Avatar

    Very good good one Lee. Appreciate sharing your ideas.

  2. oneshotbeary Avatar

    nice one Lee, great read….might have a chat with you as i need advice on this subject! took a few at a mates gig (Grandmaster Flash gig on my blog)… no processing done on them so no cropping or effects on anything although i have the RAW file as well as the jpeg’s i posted… would love some advice!

  3. Geordie Avatar

    Nice pictures. Really interesting looking subject.

    Big chap, I’m going to disagree on a few of your points, but as you know there is more than one way to skin a cat so I wont say one is right or wrong (except that I’m right…)

    Getting to a new venue just an hour before the artist is due on is usually fine. You can have a quick look at light, have a word with the promoter or venue owner who are usually happy to give some quick advice on photography if you are friendly enough. If you head down the day before, you do have the advantage of seeing it dead empty, which is usually better than seeing it half full, but 95% of the time you’re in front of the barrier at the stage so it doesn’t make a huge difference. Even if you go down the day before, the lights might not be set up as they would be at the gig (the bigger the band the more of their own lights they have)

    Using monotone immediately cuts out the chance of any colour shots which can really be great to capture. While it might be quicker, I’d rather bump the ISO up to 3200 and get the shot with a bit more noise (then NR in lightroom) then miss out. You can always grey scale it later.

    The 50mm lens is a must at a gig if you are carrying two cameras. They are usually quick, crisp and produce great shots. Using a standard lens (mine is 18-105) gives you a chance to reframe quickly if, for example, a muso changes stance or does something interesting. A 50mm is almost useless when photographing a more active band like a punk or metal outfit. It’s just too hard to get the shot framed.

    Leave the flash at home! Like you say, one knock and it’s game over. Not only that, there is nothing worse than being a punter at a gig and some prick who thinks he is a photographer is flashing his camera every 5 seconds. It’s distracting to the muso and audience (who have paid good cash to come along)

    Good advice to get to know the band. Make sure you are taking photos of them all. That ugly bass player who often gets ignored for the handsome lead singer will like your work a lot more if you’ve got a nice picture of him in mid thrash.

    I’d also add that it’s best to use spot metering, focus on the area you want to be of interest and reframe to get the lighting correct.

    Also, always, always shoot in RAW! If you are going to be doing a lot of gig work, it’s worth investing in a 45mbps or higher card. It really makes the difference (and means you dont need to shoot in monochrome!) when you have a good shot that needs a bit of recovery or a white balance change (usually for an unwanted colour cast from a light)

    Another tip is that most bands will let you take photos for the first 3 songs (you’re a distraction after that) then you’re out of there. Keep that in mind and dont be afraid to take a few hundred shots in that time. You’ll get one good picture by hook or crook.

    I shoot gigs on high burst mode. It means I’ve got to spend a bit of time culling when I get home, but it’s been worth it!

    I use Lightrooms under expose brush to underexpose any black areas, usually by up to 4 stops. It helps even out the blacks and gets rid of a lot of the noise.

    Final tip, find out if the musos are left or right handed. That way you can position yourself correctly and you dont get a guitar head or microphone in the way!

  4. shuttermaniac Avatar

    Due to the pressing workload in college I forgot that my good old friend Geordie left such a comprehensive reply in response to my post. Even though he disagrees with a few points I made I am delighted that in this particular field there are so many ways to achieve the same or better results. There may be a time in the near future when Geordie and I will pair up to venture into an already competitive market and as I’m sure he will agree, although we disagree on many things this may well be the best way to approach our photographic career. Just like old times my friend. Cant wait to cross international waters to see you guys. 😉

    1. Geordie Avatar

      It’s true that there are many paths to a beautiful picture! If we were the same, we’d have nothing to debate about and the world would be a boring place.

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