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Location Scouting

Lesson 13 from: Getting Started in Music Photography with Red Bull Photographer Todd Owyoung

Todd Owyoung

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Lesson Info

13. Location Scouting

Next Lesson: Artist Portraits

Lesson Info

Location Scouting

Location Scouting. Things I look for in locations are spaces that would allow you to create different images with minimal effort and changes as we just mentioned, opportunities where you can maximize the time. So, creating multiple works with just a pivot, or two in just changing lenses, and maybe changing lights, but, ideally keeping the lighting as simple as possible so you can use it throughout the set, but still because of the background changes, get different looks. And in addition, a location that gives you multiple looks for your time, will allow you to maximize you limited time and your limited access. Because if you only have a few minutes with the band, you want to be able to deliver in an editorial shoot as much as possible to the photo editors so they have a choice in what they can present. Things I personally look for in choosing locations are texture, authenticity and again, multiple shooting angles. Now with doing location portraits like this there's no idea, even if the...

re is, it exists in your head, you're not going to find it. You're looking at Plan B and C and D, all the way to Plan F and Z, because you're never gonna find, because it's not a studio shoot, you're dealing with shooting on the street, maybe sidewalk traffic, foot traffic, cars, fans who might be near the venue. All these different things. so it's like a lot of music photography, you're using the elements that you're given. And being able to be opportunistic to capitalize on sub-optimal conditions is really part of the game with these location scouts were shooting, and may have access to them for just a few minutes. So you might be shooting in the green room, might be shooting in their gear trailer or somewhere in between. Things I look to avoid. Distracting backgrounds. Obviously, any kind of pedestrian foot traffic. You don't want hangers on, gawking in the background, certainly. Anything that's gonna be distracting, because for these portraits you're really looking to emphasize the band, whether it's their own style, their look, their attitude, and anything that is not that is gonna detract from the photo. So pre-lighting or just simply lighting, basically, again you're looking to have lighting as final as possible before the talent walks in. If you only have a few minutes, you need to nail those frames and make sure everything is set. So if it means working with a friend or an assistant or having some stand-in, getting everything just dialed in, as if it were a commercial shoot is really important, so you're not wasting the band's time, because the moment you're saying, oh, we just gonna move the light here and it's not quite right and, you know, can you step over here, you're losing the band's attention and their confidence in you and their respect. They're trusting you for all these things. And the moment you're slowing down and losing the energy of the shoot, is when you're gonna start losing the band and the talents. And again every adjustment you make, it's going to be time off your shoots. And some of these instances you really only have seconds to capture an artist. You really just have to maximize your time. I can't really stress that enough. Getting artist buy-in is a huge thing. I always ask artists, how the like to be photographed? A lot of people are never asked that. Do you like being photographed from the side? Do you prefer to be looking at the camera, these kinds of things. And for some artists, it might be like a pleasant surprise. Oh, no one's ever asked me that. So just asking them how they like to be photographed or for different treatments. But it's also as simple as showing them about the camera. Showing them the images you're making. Like oh this is the lighting treatment we're getting. This is the background. This is the moodiness I'm going for. This is the brightness and that helps inform them of how they might pose might or how they might react to how you're photographing them. And getting that artist buy-in is critical. The fundamentals of portraiture are universal and this is something that is gonna be the same whether you're photographing your friend or a stranger or certainly people who are musicians. Multiple setups. Again, it's really stressing optimizing your time and maximizing all of your time, so you can get multiple looks and deliver a more full product to your photo editor and clients. It's really critical. For example, one way of doing this, I might shoot on any given location, I might shoot a lit look. A natural light look. I might shoot with one background and then pivot, 90, 180 degrees to get right there, three different looks here, or four if you can have, maybe there's a mix where you change the lighting and maybe you do a dark daylight look where you're killing natural ambient lighting or then maybe do one where it's more balanced. (traffic passing) We're here at, Neumos and Barboza which are two amazing music venues here in Seattle, and they're both in the same building, which is a two-for-one deal here, which is great because we're here scouting for locations for artist portraits. The first thing I do when I get on location at a venue like this is just to walk around outside, and to look at different options for textures and locations and seeing where I can shoot with depth, shoot against the backdrop. Now when you're shooting on location as opposed to a studio shoot, you can't really control a lot of the elements. Especially if the band is performing and you're shooting portraits before or after their set. You have to take whatever you can get and make the best out of those opportunities. So when I go into a situation like this, I'm always looking for spots that I can get multiple looks from, with just pivoting maybe turning 90 or 180 degrees. Because a lot of the times, the artist only has a couple minutes for the shoot. So you may five minutes in which you have to capture something. And so being able to maximize your time and get one or two or three different looks out of a single spot is really ideal. So we're looking for a spot that maybe I can shoot against a wall, for example and then pivot 90 degrees and shoot down an alleyway or a street. And this way I'm able get a couple different looks, with minimal time in setup and changing. And that way the artist can walk on set, get the shots and then be on their way and everyone's happy. Some of the challenges of shooting portraits, in a location like this would be low ceilings, if it's a smaller venue, very cramped green room spaces. The one challenge downstairs would be that there are mirrors right above those booths. So I think that we'd have look at whether lighting is an opportunity or a challenge where reflectivity would be an issue. For outside challenges might be that you're looking for a space where you can shoot artists where you're not going to have a lot of street traffic. So looking for more secluded areas, alleyways, things that might be more out of the way so that you're having a less disruptive impact on the environment. For individual portraits we might be looking at a space that could be more flat. So outside, for example, there was just a gray wall, and that could be something that while it'd be pretty boring for a group, it might be a simplicity that we want for a single portrait. For full band portraits, we might be looking at an area where we can have an environment. So this could be the green room or a space that has a little more depth to it. In addition, there are a lot of stairwells in this building, and so I think that would be a great opportunity to stagger different band members. A lot of the bands have four members here. So we're gonna be looking at opportunities to have them at different levels and create a little visual interest and depth. There's a wall in one of the green rooms that has signatures from all the bands that have played here, and so capturing those elements in an editorial shoot would be really interesting. The ground, the band's performance or they're being here, specifically at these venues. For example, we might be able to shoot the band on the stage, or against the red velvet curtain. I think both those things would ground the band here in this particular venue and red velvet always photographs beautifully, has a dramatic effect to it. So I think we definitely have opportunities even shooting right here on the stage. I think there's immediately a couple options right here. You have the band, for example, post up on the stage. It's relaxing like that. That'd be a pretty natural shot. Very editorial, if they're performing here, for example. Otherwise, this red velvet curtain would be another option where it's very minimal. You can have the band in front of here and have the light fall off and you know, a curtain like this is always gonna read really beautifully for a portrait setup. And I think that, yeah, this would be two super easy, staple shots for an editorial shoot with an artist. (camera click) A lot of the times when I'm scouting locations like this I'll just shoot test frames so that I can review after the fact. Get an idea for how the location will photograph, even if it's just in the natural ambient light, before we introduce strobes. Even just looking at a plain painted wall like this could be an opportunity to have a nice plain backdrop, almost like a studio effect. Because it's uncluttered, it's clean and just shooting one or two people against a surface like this could work really well for an artist portrait. And even though the paint has a little bit of reflectivity, so it's gonna pick up the light and could be an interesting effect. This is actually even a better wall than the one we just looked at. It's broader, has more surface area, and even just little details like this, it's like white paint against the blue are little details that I actually like 'cause it means it's a real space and it, it feels more authentic and it adds just an added detail that can be a nice touch for an artist portrait. (camera click) On the second floor of Neumos, there all these great concert posters on the wall. I could see an opportunity for an editorial shoot if again, we were grounding the the shoot in the fact that the band's playing here and performing, with all these great bands, that have played here in the past. Tying the current artists to those past performances would be a great thing for an editorial shoot. I think one challenge would be that the glass over the posters could cause issues with reflectivity and it's showing up. You might not want those reflections in the image, so you'd have to light carefully. But I could see positioning of bands either on this bench here or maybe against this wall. It could be another opportunity for a nice flat texture but something that is including a little bit of the space and the venue. (camera click) (steps crunching) Even this is a cool space where, I mean, it's really tight and cramped, but just like the way the stairs are worn. It could be a cool shot. It has a little authenticity. It's a kind of grungy, grimy vibe, which for a band like BEAR AXE, we're gonna be shoot 'em later, could be a good fit. Cool. (steps crunching) And by the same token this set of stairs, it's a little wider. I find it more easy room to work with, and even has a little depth going around the corner, could be something that could be a cool look for a photo, and you could, for example, light the band here and even hide a speed light or a small flash and paint the background and get a little texture in the brick wall. So it could be an opportunity there. And things like this are always cool in venues like this. There's a wall of cassettes. It's very specific. Anyone who's played here, they're gonna know that look and even if you're just a fan who's never been backstage here, it's just a cool little detail that I think would work well for an editorial portrait with a musician. Must be the headliner dressing room, the green room. And this has the most room, so I think for a working space, this would be probably ideal in the fact that you could have multiple members. Four people with no problem positioned here. You could get a little depth and separation from the wall. You wouldn't be shooting right up against it, for example. Having more space also opens up more lighting opportunities where you could pull the people off the wall, have lights that are separate light in the backgrounds, independent of the key light on the band. So overall this is the brightest room we've seen but over the three or four rooms we've seen they're very dimly lit. And so, shooting with natural light, you could certainly do it. And this room would be the best opportunity for that, but in the other rooms, it's extremely dim and so shooting, certainly with a faster prime, if you wanna do natural light, ambient light portraits would be an option. But I think introducing artificial lighting with strobes would probably the best bet to get something. Especially if you're shooting multiple band numbers where you want a little more depth of field, to get everyone in focus. That's gonna be definitely key. And even shooting in a hallway like this could be an opportunity. It's really tight so it would be tough to get four people abreast here. But it has a little depth, which is an interesting thing for a space like this. Obviously, in the artist dressing rooms there's not a lot of depth and room to move around, but here it has a little bit more sense of space so you could maybe stagger members, have them leaning against the wall. It could be an opportunity. you could also have a light coming from instead of just above you could position it in one of these doorways or out of frame. Just gives it different opportunity. All right, so we are on the stage of Barboza, and it is a smaller venue. It's about 200 capacity. It's gonna be a challenge. You can see there's a limited lighting package. There's only a couple of these LED lights. But it's very realistic for what you're gonna be facing shooting in smaller venues like this, where there's limited lighting. The effects, you're not gonna have haze, necessarily or other effects, and you gonna have to work with what you're given in a lot of instances like this. The light is gonna be lower. The backdrop's gonna be limited. There's not a lot of depth and so it's going to look like a smaller venue And I think, with live music photography you really have to embrace those limitations and challenges, as you try to thrive on what you're given and what you can work with. So even here, the stage is pretty narrow, and it's not very deep. You're gonna be limited by the different angles, you can get, and the depth, you can create in those shots. On the flip side, there are positives. Here you have a really low stage, and you're really close, right up to the stage, and you're very, very close to the performers. If someone's here performing a guitar solo and you have an ultra wide angle lens on your camera, you're gonna be able to get a really impactful, high dynamic image. And so it's a great opportunity to test the shooting angles, the lenses you like to use, and to really cut your teeth in venues like this. One thing about shooting in small venues like this where you're maybe shooting local bands or regional bands coming through the area is that you might be able to get stage access. And on a very small stage like this where the band trusts you to be on stage and almost in the performance, it's really important to stay discreet. Because there's very little room to work and like move around here And so staying on the peripheries and out of the show is really critical. Here at the stage for Barboza, again, you could probably see setting the band up on, sitting on the edge of the stage as a possible location. It's got a much more grungy vibey feel, in contrast to Neumos upstairs, but again if it works with the look of the band and the sound maybe it could be a good spot for them. (camera click) In contrast to the red curtains upstairs you have these gold, yellow-colored curtains. They're a little more dingy than the red and might be a different look but it could still be something usable. I think when we're looking at locations like this, you're really looking at any and every possible opportunity of what could be your Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and so forth. Because you're limited in your options you wanna have as many choices as possible, of what you can fall back on, if either the band doesn't want to go to that location outside or they just want to stay in the green room or something like that, just having more options is always gonna be better when you're limited in what you could control in a shoot. Here we are outside of Neumos and Barboza and is right on the sidewalk. And this is pretty much the first place I would start looking for locations to shoot an artist portrait. Here's a great mural that has some Neumos branding. The downside being it's right on the sidewalk and it's right where doors would be for the venue. So we if you're gonna have fans lining up before the show, it's probably not a great option to have the artist come out, shoot a portrait. Even if it's for a few minutes. We'd probably want to nix this, even though I think it has some interesting options in placing the band right at the venue. But it's something we'd probably skip, just due to logistics. (camera click) The reason I like a situation like this is because instead of just a flat background there's these sides next to the doors, where you could have a banner or post up. And it's some more interesting framing that allows a band to be a little looser and feel like they're maybe able to relax a little more than just if they were in front of a flat wall. Here's an auto shop, that's about a block away from the venue and I think it could be a cool spot for the portrait. There's this graphic element of the racing stripe. I like these stickers, there's this texture that'll have a little detail on the shot. And it's a more environmental shot where you can probably get a little depth shooting down the sidewalk, and I think it's gonna add a little interest to a location portrait. (camera click) This a good instance of location having a couple different looks. I like that I could have the band, be seated on the sidewalk here posted up. They could be sitting like this, band member here, put another band member sitting on the sidewalk, And get a flat look shooting into this wall. But I could really easily pivot, as well, and then shoot down the sidewalk. And you'd have someone positioned, leaning up against here, there to maybe here and it's now something that's more more natural, spread out and getting a little more depth shooting down the sidewalk as opposed to into a flat wall. Here's another shot that we saw that could maybe work location, and it's not ideal, again, but I like the foliage is coming down. This could be an interesting gradation in the background between the white, and then the green of the leaves. It breaks from the background and yet isn't so specific that it's gonna place the band. It could be really anywhere, which is what you might want in a press shot, where it's providing texture and detail and it's a real space, but it doesn't look like it's you know overly manicured. And it's very different than the studio look. So one thing I like to do when I have access to do artist portraits, whether it's on an editorial shoot or before, and obviously, it's to scout location as thoroughly as possible beforehand. So for an editorial shoot where you're shooting for a publication and you get access to do an artist portrait. You might have a small window. let's say the band has soundcheck at three or four, and you might get a window where it could be five minutes or half an hour before they're on to the next thing. And often an artist's schedule is really busy where they're doing soundcheck, load-in. They might have a meet and greet. They might have other press aspects like interviews to do onsite and so you've really given a limited window. But if you have the opportunity, I like to get onsite as early as possible, even before the band's available so I can look around, see what the options are for a location portrait like this, and explore all the options, even if we don't end up using any of them, or only end up using a few for the actual portrait.

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.

a Creativelive Student

I have been taking Creative Live classes since 2010 and this is at the top with the best classes t I have taken. This may have been the first time Todd taught a class, but you would never be able to tell. He doesn't just brag about the high profile clients he has shot, he also makes sure to relate to the photographer just starting out. I really enjoyed the two live shows as well as the additional portrait shoots. His concepts on location scouting, playing with distortion, multiple poses in one spot, speedlights, etc. can be applied to all kinds of photography, not just music photography. Highly recommend!

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