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I suck at concert photography

I went to the Steam Powered Giraffe show in Balboa Park on Saturday with my sweetie (somewhat to make up for the fact that we missed their show at Queen Bee's on March 16th due to there being nowhere to park). I brought along my camera, got permission from the band to photograph them while performing, and proceeded to do so.

Apparently, I suck at concert photography. Of the two or three dozen photos I snapped, I got two that were usable, and one of them was a "salvage" job that required severe cropping and editing in Photoshop.

This is going to be a big hindrance in my pursuit of clients for my photography business. It's got me a bit discouraged, too.

However, I'm not giving up. I've contacted two concert photographers I know and asked for their advice . . . which, as yet, they have not responded to. So I'm opening it up to everyone who can read this: If you have experience as a concert photographer, do you have any tips, tricks, suggestions, required equipment lists, or other things you can tell me so that I can improve my own concert photography skills? Thanks.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 2nd, 2012 07:11 pm (UTC)
Practice makes perfect. At least you got a couple of good photos. I really like the one at the top.

I remember the professional wedding photographer we hired for our wedding took many hundreds of photos, only some of which were good enough for the album. I think when you have live, moving subjects you just have to snap a lot of photos to get good ones.
Apr. 2nd, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that part I know. But when I have resources such as Steve Covault and Richard Rasner (both excellent concert phtographers) to call upon, why not do what the wise man says to do and learn from other people's mistakes? ;-)

But thank you. I am actually very pleased with the top photo, but it's about, oh, 10% of the original image. Fortunately I was shooting in VERY high res, so cropping to that size didn't make for a ridiculously small image.

Edited at 2012-04-02 07:30 pm (UTC)
Apr. 2nd, 2012 07:16 pm (UTC)
When I took my first photography class, they told me that you will often get only one good shot out of a roll of a film. Remember, film, that expensive stuff? So yeah, not every picture is going to be a masterpiece.

From my personal experience, I had a wonderful model back in college which I bribed with copies of my work with her to give to her boyfriend. I did one double exposure where she was looking at a mirror image of herself. And one where she was in a tree looking longingly out. Both of which were incredible but ONLY because I carefully posed her in the exact position and chose my angle just right. Another one I did with a different model, she absolutely HATED having her picture done because she froze up anytime she even saw a camera. So I talked to her with my camera around my neck (yes, I lied and said there was no film in it) and at just the right moment, she laughed and I pressed the button without even looking. Long story short, she loved it.

Kinda got sidetracked, but the point is, it's two different skills: there's the skill when you control everything and the other when you do your best to capture the fleeting moment before it disappears. I bet you learned a lot from this photo experience and next time will be even better.

As Thomas Edison supposedly said, "Discouraged? No, now I know a hundred ways NOT to make an electric bulb."

Edited at 2012-04-02 07:17 pm (UTC)
Apr. 2nd, 2012 07:35 pm (UTC)
How weird. LJ ate my first comment. Oh, well.

Anyway, thank you for the stories. They actually do help. I know that posing a subject is a very different skill from capturing anything candidly, but ... well, I guess I was hoping that more of the skill in one carried over to the other. C'est la vie.

And yes, I remember film. I was shooting in film almost exclusively until December 2008, when I got my DSLR. If I do more shoots for the UnCommon Women project, they'll be on film as well.

And no, I'm not discouraged, but I am ... a bit disappointed. And I'm not sure if what I learned from this shoot is applicable to all concert photography or just to outdoor, "concert on the green"-type situations. Which is why I was hoping that someone with concert photography experience could help me. But thank you for the encouragement. It does help.
Apr. 2nd, 2012 09:27 pm (UTC)
Not bad...
My father was a professional photographer for much of his life. He was in advertising, but this is hardly the bottom end of the business; he would be quite happy to shoot a roll of film and get one or two good shots. I learned from him, and would expend several rolls of film to get what I would consider a good shot or three. Of course, this was over forty years ago.

With the newer digital cameras I'd expect to take even more shots, expecting to delete all but perhaps 1 in 30 or 40 (the equivalent of AT LEAST one roll of film, old style). So do not be disappointed or discouraged at "only" getting two decent shots out of three dozen. You'll learn...
Apr. 2nd, 2012 09:29 pm (UTC)
I rather like the first of the two shots that you posted. The second, I'd delete, but the first is ... interesting. Take heart; Rome wasn't built in a day. Just keep looking for good photos (more than just at concerts), and it will come to you. It just takes time...
Apr. 2nd, 2012 09:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Commentary...
Thanks, my friend. :)
Apr. 3rd, 2012 01:54 am (UTC)
National Geographic photographers take hundreds of pictures for every one that makes it into the magazine. Even when you think everything is perfect, once you get into the lab / production, little things you didn't notice before become make-or-break points. Sometimes a tiny detail you didn't see before suddenly becomes the focus of a shot and you get to crop out 90% of what you thought was a good shot to begin with, and sometimes you realize that the one wrong detail in the center means you have to throw out an otherwise perfect shot.

With a digital camera, don't be afraid to take as many shots as your memory card will hold. Even if you only get to use one or two percent, you'll come out ahead in the long run.
Apr. 3rd, 2012 03:51 pm (UTC)
Yeah, do you have a point there. I was hesitant to take more or move around much more because I didn't want to make a nuisance of myself. But perhaps if I invested in a good zoom lens...
Apr. 3rd, 2012 02:21 am (UTC)
Well, I am no professional, but I take amateur pictures at my sister's dance concerts and Saul's sporting events, and I have learned a few things. First, TAKE MORE PICTURES! You took 2-3 dozen and got 2 usable ones; get some extra memory cards and take a couple hundred. Snap shots continually from different angles and at different zoom levels. Variety is important; don't take the w same photo over and over unless you are experimenting with or adjusting your camera's settings. Don't try to take masterpieces, things are moving too fast! Take shots with space around the edges; this allows the performers to move unexpectedly without moving out of frame, and the extra space can be cropped out later. Also, fiddle with the settings. My little amateur camera takes some really stellar photos in weird conditions... but only if I figure out which setting best fits the environment. It isn't always obvious; for example, in overcast weather the 'dusk/dawn' setting is usually better than the 'low light' setting. And you never know when a setting might give an artistic effect you really like. :)
Apr. 3rd, 2012 03:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks. All very good suggestions. I'll try to take them to heart. My problem at this show was that I didn't want to make a nuisance of myself, but, as I said above, perhaps an investment in a decent zoom lens would help with that.
Apr. 3rd, 2012 04:16 am (UTC)
My photography skills are, I suppose, okay. All things considered, I take a ton of crap shots compared to good shots or Epic Images. Sift through the pages here; the hummingbird shot on page one is, in my mind, an Epic Image because I caught the feathers/wings in a lucky moment: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33380303@N05/

That first one is amazing. I like that I'm getting sucked into the details in their face-paints because your shot picks up on that.
The second one is also good--but then again, I see it as being able to be made into a very contrasting shot. Silhouettes of the band with only the crowd in colour... Those sorts of shots are interesting (to me, at least).

Keep at it :)
Apr. 3rd, 2012 03:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks. :) I hadn't considered doing a silhouette thing, or a desaturation thing, with the second one, but I might give that a try.
Apr. 3rd, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
I usually have my thumb in front of the camera, or shake it, or hold it upside-down, so they look OK to me! :)

(Of course, Mrs. Tanuki is the photo expert in our house, and probably would be able to offer more constructive comments, as opposed to goofy humor.) :P
Apr. 3rd, 2012 03:54 pm (UTC)
Heh. Well, humor is almost always welcome, so thank you. :)
Apr. 3rd, 2012 10:44 pm (UTC)
A narrower field of focus would make the latter shot much nicer. Blur the crowd a bit -- because the backs of the bandmember costumes are actually an interesting choice of focus.

Just ... take many-many shots, expecting 99% to be unusable. Many different levels and angles.

My photojournalism prof said if I go out on a shoot and my clothes aren't messed up when I am done I am doing it wrong: kneel, climb, crawl on your belly.

Take the risky shots. The "this probably won't work...." shots.

Take shots from ridiculous distances. Take shots too close to be comfortable for the subject. If you are fast and professional of demeanor, you can "get away" with such things without actually interfering with the performance.

Almost every shot can be improved by the right crop. You cannot always get the perfect composition in-camera.

Shots with camera held at arms' length and you can't see the viewfinder are good risky shots. Mostly, they'll be useless, but sometimes....

Remember, zoom lenses are great, but a close-up is not identical to a zoomed-in shot. Don't worry about being a nuisance, just be professional.

This has all come out a bit scattered... oh well, pick the gems from the dross, and develop those.
Apr. 3rd, 2012 11:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks. They're all good suggestions. I will definitely work on them.
Apr. 20th, 2012 05:39 pm (UTC)
Selecting Photos
Don't limit yourself to the ones you like, let your clients see a range, even the ones you think don't quite make it and see what they select. They may see something in a shot you don't quite like.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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