Shooting live music events is one of the trickiest disciplines in photography. Subjects move a lot, often lighting changes constantly and in general it can be a lot of hard work. With that said, live music events have passion by the bucket load and if you can capture that in a single frame it makes for some exceptional images. It could be a front man working the crowd, the guitarist tearing up a solo or people attending having the time of their lives, whatever it is, the subject matter can never be accused of being dull.
In this blog, I’m going to get a bit technical running you through the kit I use to shoot events and the reasons behind it. Also, we’ll cover what to look for when photographing live music. Enjoy!
Right, let’s jump straight into it by running you through my usual kit for shooting live music and festivals.
I usually take two camera bodies with me. The reason I do this is so I can use two different lenses and change quickly between them. My preference is the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and the Fujifilm X-T2 with the battery grip. Overall, the cameras are similar in terms of feature set but the build and handling of each make them serve a different purpose. The battery-gripped X-T2 has several advantages – Firstly, it allows me to shoot all day without needing to change batteries over. Secondly, I can switch to portrait and landscape orientation easily and lastly, the joystick for positioning the AF point is incredibly useful for accurate and quick focusing on specific subjects.
While the X-Pro2 is more than capable of shooting a live music event or festival, I like to keep the X-Pro2 free to shoot images of interesting people. These days I shoot with the X-Pro2 almost exclusively for my street photography, so bringing it to a festival makes a lot of sense for me. I’m taking my ever-faithful street photography setup and just applying it to a slightly different environment. For me, the main benefit is the rangefinder style. Unlike the X-T2, the viewfinder is off-centre and when you point it towards a subject, it doesn’t look like you’re aiming directly at them. This means people are far less likely to close up and act differently. Pointing a huge camera directly at a person usually means they’ll pose for their picture, but my aim is to capture the more candid, natural moments instead.
With a lot of events, you will be firmly planted in what is lovingly referred to as ‘the pit’. This is the area at the front of the stage where you can see the performers and have the opportunity to take shots of them. For this, I will opt for the XF50-140mm lens. Its focal length suits subjects that are quite far away and it also allows me to zoom in enough to get a tight shot should I want to capture that. It’s also very useful for capturing people in the crowd on each others shoulder too.
With the exception of the Fujinon 50-140mm XF lens, I mostly shoot with prime lenses. My kit bag usually comprises of the Fujinon 16mm f/1.4, Fujinon 23mm f/2 and sometimes the Fujinon 90mm f/2 lens too. I like to have the have fast, wide prime lenses, especially in low-light situations. I will alternate between the 16mm and the 23mm often and occasionally draw upon the 90mm when I want to capture close-up portraiture or to shoot a subject I want to isolate from the background.
In general, I use primes as I just love all the characteristics they give. However, there are a couple of zoom lenses which are incredibly sharp and suit shooting events perfectly. Firstly, the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 is a fantastic lens. It’s wide enough for big stage shots, capturing crowds and potential to get very creative too. Another great lens is the XF16-55mm f/2.8 this serves the purpose of all of the primes and it’s a bit more convenient not having to switch out lenses.
What shots to look for
Many moons ago I shot club nights and festivals week-in week-out but these days I’m not shooting for a promoter or club, instead I’m shooting for myself. My brief is set by myself so I’m trying to look images that excite me. It’s all about capturing the mood and telling a story of the event.
Here are a few of the key shots to look for when shooting an event.
1. Performer shots
Capturing musicians in action is quite tricky. If they’re moving fast in low-light in can be incredibly difficult. The important thing to remember though is what the viewer is going to want to see – that’s the musician and possibly some environmental context if it adds to the composition. If the subject is the main focus I prefer to shoot wide open and isolate the subject. If there’s something interesting like a DJ with their decks or a rack of guitars I might stop down the aperture or shoot the scene with a wide angle lens to give a sense of the environment.
2. Crowd shots
If you’re shooting from the stage or in the pit, it’s always worth spinning around and checking out what the crowd are doing. A well timed pyrotechnic or a person on another person’s shoulder makes for an amazing picture. Sometimes I walk along the front row and pick out a group of interesting people.
3. People shots
Interesting people and music events go hand in hand. The crowd shots are always good, but I love to get into the crowd and capture the people having fun. Essentially, I take a street photography approach to this. I want people to be relaxed and natural around me, so before I start taking any pictures I walk around in the crowd, blending in and just enjoy myself. Once you’re in there amongst everyone you can begin to capture what you see in front of you which will be a unique perspective.
4. Capturing the atmosphere
You simply can’t stage atmosphere – It’s either there or it’s not. The shots that I find myself looking at time and time again are the ones that tell the story of what the festival was like. It’s all about capturing the moment and the soul of the event. Now, there’s no hard and fast way to capture this kind of scene but if it sounds good, the crowd are noisy or the hairs are standing up on your arms, shoot what makes you smile!