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Live Music Photography

Lesson 2 from: Getting Started in Music Photography with Red Bull Photographer Todd Owyoung

Todd Owyoung

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Lesson Info

2. Live Music Photography

Next Lesson: Camera Settings

Lesson Info

Live Music Photography

In this section, we're gonna dive into the nitty gritty of music photography, including how to get access as a music photographer, how to get started shooting in small venues, working your way up to bigger venues, doing tour photography. We're gonna cover the camera settings you're going to use, gear, and everything else. So, music photography. What is music photography? I think a lot of people might say, "Oh, it's just live music. It's just shooting bands on stage." That's really only one component of it, I feel. That certainly there's concert photography, there's bands on stage, in the lights, with you know, a crowd in front of them. And that's a big component of it, and I think that's the first thing people might look to. But in addition, there's music portraits, there's artist portraits, that might be used for press or promotional aspects. You know, album arts, there's all kinds of music photography that involve photographing musicians not on stage. In addition, there's documentary...

and BTS footage. So this is Howard of the band Disclosure, photographed at Lollapalooza, for example. And it's just a candid moment where he's signing a guitar that's given away for kind of a charity or raffle. And that's another component of just documenting bands, again, and not on stage and something that might be happening backstage on a tour bus or just at a venue before the show. In addition there's lifestyle photography, and these are kind of all the elements that, again, are not just the performance, they're not backstage, but it's the fan experience and capturing what it is to see a concert. What it is to go to a music festival, and all these different aspects of the experience of live music that isn't just a band or someone with a guitar or someone even that's famous. It's something as simple as capturing what it's like to go to one of these shows, and the excitement in everything that's involved with music. So live music photography, a huge portion. For me, I love live music. I think that there's something, again, that's electric and something singular about live music because, you don't get a second chance. Even with tour photography, it's always different. There's always something different to the performance or whether it's the venue, the lighting, even though the production is the same, you might have the spotlights being a little farther away in one venue than another, or they're higher up. Or maybe it's really windy at an amphitheater and the haze is blowing around and giving it different treatment. The notion that you can get one opportunity to capture it is...really captivating. And it's a huge challenge so it feels like it's this opportunity to capture something iconic as well, because something, a performer might do something that is never going to be, you know, reproduced or happen again. Whether it's a guitar smash, or they're going into the crowd, or you know, something happens. And kind of being on edge and kind of being up to challenge of doing that in a live music setting is something that I love doing. So, live music photography. And what I love about music photography is that it combines technique, emotion, and decisive moment and luck. It's all these things, it's technical if you want it to be. But, at the same time, it's about capturing emotion which is something that is maybe a little more messy, it's a little more raw, and so, all these different elements combined where you're kind of given an opportunity and you have to prepare for it, but obviously, there's a huge amount of luck involved. You have to be good and you have to know your camera, you have to know your settings, be dialed in, but obviously, it is way better to be lucky than it is to be good. If something comes across your camera, in front of your lens, and you can capture it and maybe you just have this this opportunity, and all the preparation in the world might not prepare you for. But if you can press the button, you frame it up, the exposure's okay, you can make something that's really special, I feel. And with music photography, my intent is always to make you feel like you're at the show. To put you there, to give you the best seat in the house, the front row seat, but also to show you what you might never see as a fan. Kind of behind the scenes, what it's like to be right next to the drummer, or the reverse shot behind the singer, in the spotlight even. And if I can kind of make you feel like you hear the music, I feel like I've done my job there. And the fundamentals of a great music photo, it's really the same thing as the fundamentals of any great photo. You have lightning, composition, and timing. And these things are universals that are not going to go away regardless of whether it's music photography, or sports, or portraiture, or action photography. If you're attuned to these things in photography in general, they'll make you a better music photographer, absolutely. What makes a great music photo? Epic moments. This is pretty obvious, you know. Those rock star moments where it's the guitar solo, and you know, the guitarist is kind of leaning in over the stage into the photo pit. A singer at the height of their solo, you know, they're kind of wailing in the chorus, or whatever that is, those moments are always going to translate into epic moments and epic photos because it's the height of their performance so, that's kind of a given. Those rockstar moments, it's something that obviously you always want to capture, and that's kind of an easy kind of check list element right there. And here's an example, this is Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. And this was the tour opener in the 2009 tour and for this set I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Had a Nikon 14-24, on a Nikon D3, and I was kind of at the furthest part closest to the thrust where Steven was, and he for whatever reason singled me out, sung right into my lens and this is an example of kind of an element where, you know, it's one of those, again, those rockstar moments where you press the button at the right time- you're gonna nail it. Another example, this is the band X Japan. This is at Madison Square Garden and this is during the finale, so the confetti, you know, confetti bomb, huge burst on stage shooting reversed and it's an instance where this is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. It's pretty, you know, as long as you're there in the right place, I knew that this was going to happen, and just getting that one shot using a wide angle to capture the, kind of, enormity of the performance. You know, another instance of those epic moments in music photography. Expression and emotion. These two things we capture those in live music, I think it's a huge element because a lot of times, these are these fleeting gestures that a performer might have, and you could very easily miss it, not kind of get that connection. So capturing emotion and expression in a performance is something that's huge to me, and if you can kind of do that, it's always gonna translate into a powerful music photo. This is the singer for, this is Matt Berninger, of The National. And in a moment that's not necessarily the height of the performance, it's not the peak, but it's a moment where he's you know, kind of, he's in the moment and I feel like it's kind of this moment of peace, in this little, a fleeting moment you might miss if you weren't at the show. Or even if you were, maybe you might miss it because it happens for a split second. So capturing these kind of quiet moments is something that I love to do too. And by the same token, this is is Lorde, shot at the iHeartRadio Festival. And again, this is, she's not singing, she's kind of in this mid way, kind of interstitial segue, between singing, dancing, but for me I love it, because I feel like it captures a little bit of her personality and her character. So, the best seat in the house. This is again something that I'll always try to do to give the viewer of my photos the feeling, that they have that front row seat. This is the band Dillinger Escape Plan, shot it at a tiny venue and I was crammed over the stage, this is actually an example of off-camera flash. But it's really kind of if you can capture those in your face moments, this is again, shot with a Nikon 14-24, I love shooting with ultra-wide angle lenses for instances like this because it gives you that high impact kind of shot where you feel like you get to reach out and touch these performers. And even in an instance where you're including the fan, kind of perspective, where there's a fan reaching out. This is Usher, photographed for iHeartRadio, and an instance where, you know, I'm in a spot where it's the photo pit is basically in between the stage and the barricade that keeps the fans back, and so I feel like I'm in a really privileged position where I'm the closest practically of anyone to these artists where you could reach out and you know, touch his shoe if you wanted to. So capturing images that really speak to that and kind of give you that point of view is always something that I try to do. Uncommon Perspectives. So in contrast to giving people a view that they might pay for, they might pay a lot money for that front row seat, I love to make images that give people views that they would never be able to see. So for example, shooting on stage, right up close to the drummer. This is Rich Ribbon of Jason Aldean's band. This is shooting with a 50 millimeter fisheye, the Nikon 8-15 millimeter. And it's the lens I love using because you can get really close in, it creates huge, kind of sweeping distortion that really draws in the eye. Where Rich, I'm probably maybe three feet from him in this, kind of putting the camera through his drum kit, but you still get, you know, the cymbals and kind of his kind of s-shaped curve in his arms. And I love using ultra-wide angle lens and fisheye lens like this to create that kind of otherworldly, unreal perspectives. And here's another instance. This is Jason Aldean, and this is on the thrust right behind him. And as a fan, you're never going to have this experience of being on stage, with a country singer like this, but as Jason's tour photographer, with my brother Chris, we are charged with shooting images and kind of capturing these kind of images for Jason and his management. And so it's my job to go out on stage, it's not that I want to be part of of the show, but capturing images like this, and giving fans this kind of very privileged access is certainly part of making a compelling, you know, music photo and being a music photographer. And certainly doing tour photography for artists when you have that kind of respect and that access to do that. Another thing that I always try to show in my live music photography is scale and atmosphere. And this is an instance where you're photographing not just what's on stage or you know, these kind of rock star moments, but you're photographing things that set the mood, and set the stage for what it was like to be at that concert. So this a photo from Jason Aldean's performance at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, Georgia. And this is a shot from the nosebleed section, this is up, pretty much in the upper deck, and what it's like to have those tickets and see the stage from there. You don't, you're not necessarily seeing the performers, but it's setting, you know, the stage, it's showing the scale of what it's like to see a concert in a sold out baseball stadium. This is a shot, this is Terminal 5 in New York City, this is Tiesto performing, for his album release party. And again, this is an instance where you're kind of trying to tell a story of the show. And you don't see a DJ, you don't see a stage, but you see a sea of people. And for this show, they had these bracelets that were tied to cues in the music so that during crescendos they would light up or turn different colors. And so this is kind of establishing, you know, again the story telling of what it's like to be at a show, and setting the mood for that. And related to that, the fan experience is something I always try to tell when I'm shooting live music. If you can capture the energy of the fans, that means capturing a huge part of what makes live music so special. These are fans at a Rusko performance, and just being into the barricade. Sometimes the best shot isn't what's on stage, you have to turn 180. Turn around, capture these fans going crazy on the barricade and it's a huge part of, you know, telling the story of live music. Because if it weren't for the fans, there wouldn't be a show. These are the people that pay the money, that put on the productions that pay these performers to have this experience, and it's something, you know, if you're a live music fan, you love. And it's something you're so passionate about. So capturing live music, you know, photographing the fans is part of that- a huge part of that. And again, here this is during Major Lazer's performance at Leeds Festival in the UK. And I'm not very close to the stage, I'm at the back section of this pit. This is in a huge tent venue, on one of the stages. But this is during a section where Diplo asks people to throw their shirts up in the air, and so like hundreds of people did this, in this for this show. And they never got their shirts back, but this is part of the thing, is this craziness of live music where like, okay, I'm gonna do this and just a special part. So being, you know, back of the pit I can capture that kind of moment and it's not being close, you don't, you can't even see the performers in this shot but it tells you part of that story of what it's like to be at a major festival like this for, you know, one of these major acts. So rare opportunities. These are instances where you might have a guest appearing that was not planned or something where someone does a guitar smash, for example, or any kind of unscripted moments. So an instance of this might be, you know, you have Jim Marshall and Johnny Cash backstage. At like, you know, San Quentin and like that's gonna be it. A photo that's rare, you have rare access, and an instance that is gonna be really special, maybe historic. And I don't put any of my own photos in here because I feel like I'm still chasing that kind of iconic moment, it's not up to me to judge whether my images are those kind of iconic, historic photos, but I would say, that's something I'm always chasing. So if you have access to an artist, and that no one else has, and you have a little moment, I think there's an opportunity where you can if you're lucky enough, if you do everything just right, the lighting's right, the moment's right, you know your camera, you press the button at the right time, you have an opportunity with the right access and the right kind of rarity of the moment to capture something that maybe someone looks back on and says like, "Oh. That's the defining shot of so-and-so's career," or, "That's the shot of that moment."

Ratings and Reviews

Alexandra U

I highly reccomend this class for any one who would like to get started or dip their toes in the concert photography scene. This class has many useful tips and trick for any level of photographer, not just beginners. I have been in the music scene for over 10 years and I was able to gather so much information in every chapter. Watching this video boosted up my confidence as a photographer because it validated that I am already succeeding in my concert career. Thank you for this amazing stream. It sparked my creative soul once again.

Kris Comer

Wow, this was awesome! I have been a concert photographer for almost 3 years now and I still learned some great tips! I loved that he covered different ideas for promo shots which is one of my weaknesses. Any beginner should definitely check out this course! It is straight and to the point with all of the most important steps.

Mark Balmer

This is a really great course! I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in this type of photography. It is presented in an easy to understand way. Todd gives clear and informative tips and shows how to set up lights, poses etc! I found it very helpful, and will definitely put what i've learned to work. Thanks, Mark

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