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Photographing Drummers

Lesson 11 from: Getting Started in Music Photography with Red Bull Photographer Todd Owyoung

Todd Owyoung

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Lesson Info

11. Photographing Drummers

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Lesson Info

Photographing Drummers

Now we're gonna get into photographing drummers. And again, photographing drummers, it's one of my favorite things to do as a music photographer. I think that photographing drummers are some of the most rewarding subjects, the most dynamic and energetic subjects you can possibly have on stage. Now, the challenges of photographing drummers are constant motion, limited angles, distance, and readability. And by readability, I mean the fact that they're often surrounded by drum kits. You might have cymbals and other drum heads in the way, and so they're often, there's like a wall of kit in between you and the drummer, and so finding the angles and the spaces in the photo pit that read well is really a challenge when you're photographing these musicians. Now, advice for photographing drummers. One, use the right lenses. Two main lenses I'll use for photographing drummers if I'm shooting from the photo pit, telephoto lens, the 7200. It's gonna help you close that distance or even maybe a 300...

mm if you really want a tight shot of just the drummer kind of poking through the kit. Otherwise, if you have stage access or otherwise can get really close to the drummer, an ultra-wide angle lens is something I love to do. Again, it's gonna give you that distorted perspective. It's going to kind of exaggerate the distance between the drum kit, the drummer, the sticks, and everything and kind of pull out the interesting elements of that, you know, play with perspective so that if their hands are farther away, the drumstick is in your face. Just playing with that depth is really something that's fun to do. Here's an instance of, this is the drummer for The Fray, and an instance of using a telephoto lens to get a tight, tight shot on them. And this is shot with the 70-200. In contrast, this is my friend Rich Redmond again, using that Nikon 8-15mm fisheye and really just pushing the lens through the kit and creating a really exaggerated look for him that you're not gonna get as a fan or otherwise experience. Second tip is to pick your angles carefully. Drum kits really create a wall around the drummer, and so shooting at the precisely right angle and finding those openings in the wall is going to be critically important. Here's an instance, this is the band British Sea Power photographed at Leeds Festival and an instance where it was really fun to play with the openings in the drum kit. And you can see all the way in the upper right, there's that opening where you can see the drummer and the face as well as capturing that band/drummer interaction, and so kind of picking this more unique angle which is made possible by all access. So in terms of freezing motion, I like to shoot 1/800th of a second or better or even better, 1/1000th of a second or higher to ensure crisp images of drummers. And this is an instance, this is probably shot at 1/1000ths, this is Rich again, and there's a tiny bit of motion blur on his right-hand drumstick, but for the most part, it looks pretty crisp. Again, it's kind of a personal preference where I like to have that technical execution where it's a super pristine shot. But on the opposite end, you could also shoot for more exaggerated motion blur, so you're getting kind of a range of motion, and that's something you can also play with working with speedlights. You could drag the shutter a little to have a slower shutter speed and show motion, also freezing with a speedlight if you're mixing ambient and flash, for example. Fourth, compose for movement. Drummers, they're moving. They could be everywhere from playing low to smashing a cymbal or going above their heads. Anticipating the kind of movement you can expect is gonna allow you to not cut off drumsticks, the tip of the drumstick, or even hands. Keeping a little bit of a looser framing and knowing how the drummer is performing is gonna allow you to compose the way you want without cutting anything off, which can be, for me, is a pet peeve. I feel so disappointed and let down at myself whenever I cut a guitar neck off but especially a drumstick because you can anticipate these things, you can plan for it, you can adjust. So this is an instance, here's Rich again. And his arm, this is probably the height of the movement of what he's doing, but if I'd had the camera tilted a little lower, his drumsticks would be cut off, especially with a wide angle lens here. With a fisheye, any tilt is gonna be more dramatic than a conventional lens. So a little bit of tilt can mean gaining certainly even inches or a foot of visual space above the drummer like that. Next tip is shooting drummers in context, not just shooting the drummers in isolation, but looking for moments when the band is interacting with them. This is The Devil Wears Prada and a shot where Mike Hranica is interacting, he's putting his foot up on the drum kit and an instance where it's not just about the drummer, it's about the more full band experience. Next is if you can get elevated, it's going to produce shots that are different from everybody else. If you're not just shooting from the photo pit, if you have an opportunity to shoot from the balcony, or to get above the stage, you can get access and this vantage point that'll let you produce more compelling images. This is a shot of The Strokes drummer, and I was shooting from the balcony for this shot, and it alleviates a lot of those issues where you might be trying to pick an angle and shoot through the drum kit. But here, because I'm shooting above the drummer, I'm pretty free and clear of a lotta the competition. It's above the cymbals, the microphones, and a lotta the drum heads. And so I can get this clear shot that is a little bit unconventional for a drummer. Now, obviously being patient in music photography is a huge thing, but also for drummers, it's especially critical as well. This is the drummer for ZZ Top and an instance, kind of like that shot of DJ Tiesto earlier when I was waiting for Tiesto to raise his hands, I was waiting for this drummer to raise his drumstick above the height of this huge, this is probably the biggest drum kit I've ever seen to be honest. And he was playing pretty low for a lotta the portion of this set, for these three songs I was shooting. So just having a little patience so that he's gonna hit the hi-hat, the cymbal, whatever, so you can get that readability. I always like to photograph drummers where you can see at least one drumstick or hands. Two drumsticks, two hands is probably the ideal for readability, but at least one so it looks like they're not just sitting there. Catching facial expressions. You know, drummers are some of the most expressive musicians you'll ever see because they're whaling on this drum kit. So this is Lars from Metallica and just capturing this little moment where he's going for it and these little fleeting moments that you might not see as a fan, might not pick up on, but as a photographer, you can freeze and kind of immortalize, you know, it's a really, something special. Watching for drummers at finales. You know, theatrical finishes are very common in music photography and in performances, I should say, because these are the instances where they're silencing the cymbals or the drummer's standing up. And so if you can anticipate these moments, you can capture images. This is Brian Viglione of The Dresden Dolls and this is at the finale of a song where he's silencing the cymbals, he's standing up, and kind of has this very signature look and kind of something that's not just him at the kit sitting down, something that's more athletic. And so, if you can anticipate these moments, the end of songs or the end of kind of a crescendo, and certainly the end of a set, the encore, the finale, you're going to have these moments where the drummers are at their peak and they're kind of showing off.

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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