Concert Photography Lesson 4
In the previous weeks, we have to look at the mechanics of shooting a show, today we will go through the entire workflow for a single days shoot.
A shoot day always begins a day or two before you have to go shoot. This is the time where you research the bands that you will be shooting. The research can be skipped if you have shot the band before but I tend to do this for all the bands I work for. I usually will search for videos on YouTube, for any band that I will work with, and I will watch as many of their live shows that I can.
While you are watching their performances on the internet, you should be taking notes about which hands they use the microphone in, what is their open or closed sides, you need to be watching if the guitarists are performing any hair flicks, stomps or jumps and which songs these happen in. Most artists perform from muscle memory, so it never changes, so doing the research helps you be prepared for the potential good shots. Pay attention to the drummers in the video, some of them can be extremely animated, if you see the drummer is very active or lively, then you know you should try to get some good angles on him in the pit. Before you step into the pit to shoot the show, you should have a rough idea of what the band will do and the kind of shots you hope to get. Once you have done your research on the bands, then it is time to research the venue if you have never shot there before. You want to try and find a live show that took place at the venue before or some photos of previous shows. This will help you get a feel for the lighting that you will have to deal with. After all of the research is done, then it is time to prepare your hard drives for the show.
All my hard drives are prepared ahead of time to save my files for quick editing. I use a file structure that has worked out great for me over the years. I usually name the root folder with the date first, starting with the year, then the month and day followed by the country, city and finally the event name. For example, If I was shooting a show today in China Shanghai and the show was AC/DC concert, I would name my folder for all the images like this ” 2016_03_06_China_Shanghai_ACDC_Concert “. That structure lets me quickly search for a shoot in either date or location by just glancing at the folder structures in Lightroom. From this main folder location, I will include subfolders for each band that I will shoot in the day, as well as a folder for the crowd as well. Each type of category that I will shoot will have its own folder to go to. Once the hard drive is set up, I will then create a Lightroom catalog for that show. This Lightroom catalog is a temporary catalog to shoot the show with. You will import and do all your editing from this catalog, but once you are finished with the show and you have delivered your images, you will import this catalog into your main Lightroom catalog for archiving. If you are shooting a festival though, this folder setup would change a little. At a festival, in the main parent folder, I would create a subfolder for each stage that I was shooting at and in that stage folder, I would include all the bands from that stage.
We have to shoot, edit and deliver photos quickly now in the music photography industry, so having good file management is critical to being successful. You may be able to take the best music shots of all time, but if you deliver them late, no one will care or pay for them. Time is money, time is money, time is money. Never forget this. Once you have prepared this, then it is time to move on to the next step.
The next step is to charge your batteries for all your cameras and format all your memory cards. Make sure you format your cards before you go to the show. You don’t have time to do this at the show. If you get into the habit of preparing your camera before a show, it will become second nature to you very soon.
After all of this, you need to clean your lens and pack your bag. Triple check that you pack your earplugs in your bag. They are the most important piece of equipment that you can take with you.
Once the day of the show arrives, make sure you get to the venue early. You can to collect your pass and get into the pit to look at the lighting setup.
You should walk around the stage, meet the security, and make sure everyone knows you. I always go looking for the stage manager and the lighting engineer and have a chat with them. You always want to be very friendly to everyone at the venue because the music industry is a small world and you never know who can help you in the future. Who you know is more important than anything else in this industry. Dickheads very soon find it hard to get passes to shoot.
So you are at the show, you have your pass, everything is set up, all that is left is to shoot the show. In the previous lessons I spoke about how to shoot the show, but I will add that while you are in the pit, you should have absolutely no downtown. You should consistently be shooting something. If you got your shot of the artist, shot the crowd. Always shoot and move, shot and move. Don’t waste your times shooting the same shot over and over.
Once the shows end, there are still a lot of things to shot. I always stick around after the show and shoot all the fan clubs and even some of the volunteers at the show. You will be amazed at how many times the different fan clubs have helped me in China during a show. Sometimes they will bring you something to eat or drink, sometimes they may even be able to get you a pass. They are hugely important and often forgotten by music photographers.
Once the show is done, now starts the difficult part, and that is outputting all the files as quick as possible. Usually, if you are shooting for some websites, they will want 10 to 20 photos to upload right after the show, newspapers generally want images before 1 AM and magazines will give you a few days. Depending who you are shooting for will determine how much of a rush you will have in your post-processing.
Once you leave the venue, you should be copying the raw photos into the folders for each band. Once you have all the photos into the correct folders, you can open up Lightroom and import the photos into Lightroom.
Once all the photos are imported into Lightroom, the next step for me is to find one photo that I like for that band. It does not have to be the best, but it must be a shot that is a little usable. I select this photo very quickly. I then edit the photos in the following order. This is just my preference for editing, you can edit the photos in any order you feel comfortable with. The first thing I do is set the white balance of the shot.
After you have a white balance that you are happy with, the next step is to do the lens corrections in Lightroom. These two steps should always be the first thing you do when editing any photo in Lightroom. Once that is done the next step is to get the correct exposure. You do this by adjusting the highlights and shadows but remember that the higher the ISO that you used, the less room you have to edit the file. You can add some noise reduction if you like, but it does tend to soften the image too much in my opinion and I seldom use it. You just want to get the photo to a rough state that you are happy with because you will use this photo as a template to all the other photos.
Once the photo is almost perfect, you should then select all the other photos and sync the same setting to all the photos for the band. This will set up all the files to be roughly edited. Now begins the process of selecting the photos that you think are good.
No, after you have done this, now comes the hard and boring part of selecting which photos to work on and edit for delivery. My process for doing this is simple. I will go through all the photos quickly, giving each photo that I like a 2-star rating.
If I shoot the entire set of a band, I usually end up with about 300 photos for the set which include crowd shots. After I do my first round of selecting photos, I ended up with 96 photos that I really liked but 96 photos are still way too many to edit quickly, so what I usually do is go through my selection of photos again and this time, any photo I am not sure about or I think it is similar to another photo already, I will change the photo rating to one star. I will continue to do this until I have about 40 photos to edit.
Generally, 40 photos are the number of shots I like to deliver to a client unless he specifically asks for more or fewer images. I also know that I can generally finish editing a photo within one minute, so I can edit and render the jpegs within one hour. Time is money so you got to be able to do this process as fast as possible.
Generally, as I am editing after I finish editing each photo, I usually give the photo a green color label for done and if I am editing a photo and I don’t like it for some reason, then I will assign the photo a red color label. This will help me in the end when I need to export the photos. Any photos that I take into Photoshop, I always change the original raw file to a red color label and the tiff file from Photoshop gets the green label. You don’t need to export two of the same files with different names. With regards to Photoshop, I seldom use Photoshop unless I am cloning out water bottles. There tends to be a lot of water bottles on the stages in China and I hate them so I clone them out if I have the time. But usually when I am shooting on a deadline, I don’t have the time and then they have to stay in the shot.
Editing out the god damn water bottle. I seriously hate water bottles. I have edited out thousands of water bottles in the last few years here in China.
I hate water bottles. If I am friends with the stage manager, I always ask them in a nice way to keep the stage clean because going into Photoshop is a real pain when you are in a rush.
This last part of the job is to export your files, I usually do two exports. The first export is the files that go to my clients for printing, the second exports get my watermark and are intended for the web. I usually export my second set of files with my watermark to be much smaller in size, only 2mb in size. I send those files off to any websites that will use them and I use the same files to update all my social media sites at the same time. Once all the files are emailed off and all the social media sites are updated, the last step that I take is to copy all the raw files onto a backup drive and then it is time to sleep.
In today lesson, we went over the basic shooting routine and editing routine for a single show. I basically follow this routine for each show that I shoot. Let’s review the steps I take with a quick summary.
So in chronological order
- Research the band or venue that you will be shooting.
- Prepare your hard drives for the files
- Charge all your camera batteries
- Format your memory cards, make sure to format all of them.
- Clean and pack your equipment, making sure to pack your earplugs
- Get to the venue early and collect your pass
- Meet security, stage manager and lighting engineer if possible.
- Shoot the show
- Shoot the fans after the show
- Dump all the photos into the correct folders on your hard drive
- Import photos into Lightroom and apply some sharpening to the photo
- Set to white balance and do general editing on one photo
- Sync the edits to all the photos
- Select your favorite photos and give them a 2-star rating
- Cull your selection down to about 40 photos or less
- Edit the final photos
- Export the photos
- Email photos of to client
- Update social media accounts
- Backup raw files.
This was a fairly long lesson and a lot of material was covered today. I have been using this system for a couple of years now and it allows me to work quickly and get the job done in the small time frame that I have to work within. The last step that I do when I get back home, I import the Lightroom catalog from the show into my main catalog at home. Next week we will look at some more at shooting the drummer at the show.
So until next week,