Concert Photography Lesson 6
In the last lesson, we looked at the drummer and how to shoot him, today we will be looking at three different shots but they are all related to each other, we will look at the hair flick, the jump and the stomp. All three shots share the same mechanics to shoot them so we will cover all three in this lesson.
So let’s look at some general settings and advice when trying to shoot all three shots. First off, you absolutely need a fast shutter speed. When I am going for one of these types of shots, I am always shooting with a shutter speed of 400 or faster. Slower shutter speed will give you motion blur as these types of shots happen very quickly. Blur in any of these kinds of shots will usually mean you missed the shot. Secondly, when shooting these shots, it takes some practicing to get the timing right, each shoot needs to be shot as exactly the right time to nail it. Shoot too early and you missed it, shooting too late and you have missed it. Timing is everything. You could try and machine gun the shots to get it but that will only slow you down in your editing. Remember that you got to edit and deliver your images quickly, you don’t have time to shoot thousands of images, so timing the shot is your best option. The final thing that you need is some research and luck.
Before any performances that you can shot, you should research the band and watch some of their live videos, you should be watching for hair flicks, jumps, and stomps. If they do any of these, try to remember which songs they do it in. Most bands will play from muscle memory, it is a well-rehearsed set that they perform each night, so you can predict when these shots will happen again.
Now when shooting a show and you are looking the hair flick, there are signs on the stage from the artist that you can read that will let you know that they are about to do something. When shooting in the pit, even though you have got your earplugs in, you have got to be listening to the music. The music will key you into when something is going to happen. When the guitarist or bass players are in jamming away in a song, they are not going to jump or stomp, they have to play so you can rule out those shots. But they can and will hair flick if they have long hair. The keys for the hair flick is watching their bodies and their heads. If they are close to the microphone, then nothing will happen. Their hair will hit the microphone in a flick, so you can relax. Before they do a hair flick, they will always move a step or two backward from the microphone or a step to the left or right. But these movements can be hard to spot because most musicians move around a lot on stage, so you have to always watch their distance from the microphone. The second key aspect is that the will dip their heads as if they are looking down and they will try to get all their hair in front of the guitar. You usually have some time to prepare for the flick. But once you see the head is down and the hair is dangling in front of the guitar, you know the flick is coming,
Once their head is down and their hear is hanging from their head, then you should be focused on their stomach or chest, don’t focus on their head as it will move very quickly and your auto-focus may follow their hair and if your depth of field is shallow, then their face may be out of focus. So focus on their chest or stomach and get ready. Let them play and wait for them to really make an aggressive movement down with their head. The aggressive movement down with their head is the indicator to shoot. If you shoot as you see the head dip down aggressively, you should nail the shot as the hair reaches its apex in the flick. I never machine these shots, I just wait for the aggressive head movement down and I take a single click and 99% of the time I have the shot. This is the one shot where you don’t have to worry too much about the eyes, as they will almost always be closed in this kind of shot. It takes a little bit of practice but if you shoot a rock or metal band, you will get many opportunities to get the timing right. Make sure when you are composing the shot that you leave lots of headroom in the shot so you do not crop the hair. The longer the artist’s hair, the more headroom you need to leave in your image composition.
To get the best hair flicks at night, you want to try and line up the stage lights to catch the hair as it flies in the air, but this is not very easy to do as you are basically guessing where the hair will go and it will take a lot of trial and error to get it right.
Next up we will look at the jump shots. All music photographers love the jump shot, it is almost the holy grail of music photography and many of us chase the shot. But once you have gotten used to shooting the jump shots, it is really not that difficult. Your position in the pit is critical when shooting this shot. You want to be on either the left hand or right-hand side of the artist you are shooting. You don’t want to be straight on to the artist unless you are shooting the lead singer and he has no musical instrument. During this type of shot, you want to do your utmost to avoid the microphone stand in this shot because it will more than likely hide the artists face or be distracting in this shot and your shot will fail. Remember that the microphone is your enemy in this shot. You got to hide the microphone to make this shot work.
Now, what is key to shooting this shot is the understanding that most musicians only jump in a break of playing, usually, the music will build to a peak and as the music reaches that peak, they will jump. The break in which they jump is very short, less than one second, but once you have been shooting a lot of shows, you will be able to tell when a musician can jump and when he cannot. Always remember that when they are deep into a song and really jamming away on their guitar, they cannot jump. They are too busy. It is always at a time when they stop playing, that is when the jump can happen. Doing research on a band and listening to their music helps a lot for this shot. If you can watch a video of their live performance, then you will know what songs the musicians like to jump in and you can watch out for them during those songs.
Now once you got the composition right for the shot, the next thing you got to think of is the timing. You want to shot the shot right at the peak of the jump if possible. If you shoot the shot a little late, the feet will look like they are coming down. Look at the photo above, I was late on the shot and his feet are coming down already in the photo. The impact of the shot would have been much better if I had gotten the shot a split second earlier. Now the way to time the shot is by watching the artists body, and their body language, almost no artist will just jump, they will always have a pre-hop, if I can call it that, they will first have a light bounce or a bending of the knees and then a small squat down to generate high for the jump. So the jump is really a two-movement shot, and you want to use both movements to get your shot. When you see the first pre-movement, or the pre-op as I call it, you want to focus on his stomach or chest. You want your focus locked in and as the artist goes down for the second movement and into the squat, you want to fire the shot as soon as his feet leave the ground. Now, this all happens very quickly, you got to be able to get focus and shoot in less than one second. The time from the pre-hop until the peak of the jump happens in a blink of the eye. This is one shot that takes a lot of time to get it right, but once you are comfortable shooting the shot, it becomes remarkably easy. You learn to shot the shot on instinct, you can feel when the music is right for the jump and you set it up, you get into position, get your focus and wait for the feet to leave the ground and hope you nailed the timing. Now you could motor drive through the shoot and shoot 20 or 30 frames to get the perfect timing, but that is 20 or 30 frames you got to scan through later when editing and you will not have time for that. Shoot fast and shot smart.
Shooting the stomp is exactly the same as shooting the jump shot. The mechanics of the shot works exactly the same. Most stomp shots happen as the music peaks and the musician is about to stop playing for a millisecond. Instead of jumping, he performs a stomp. There is nothing else really different from shooting this to the jump though. Just make sure you got an angle clear of the microphone and watch your composition. When an artist stomps, they will do it to one direction and they can cover a lot of distance in that split second, so make sure you leave enough room in your shot so that you do not crop off his foot. If you crop the foot in the air, you don’t have a shot.
My final advice for shooting these kinds of shots is that don’t tend to sell well to traditional media outlets, most of them want the basic 3/4 length portraits of the musicians on stage, but online galleries and social media love these kinds of shots. So remember that when you are shooting, They are fun to get, it is like hunting and it can be addictive chasing these shots at each show but they will seldom pay the bills. Remember to cover your basic shots first before you go hunting for one of these shots. Timing is everything when it comes to music photography and managing your shooting time in the pit is also critical. You only have a short amount of time to shoot, in most cases, so pick how you use your time wisely. If you nail one great jump shot but have nothing else for your publication to print, then you will most likely be losing your gig with that media outlet. So shoot smart, our field is extremely competitive and there will be 100 photographers waiting to take your place in the pit if you mess up.
That is all for this week. We have been talking a lot about what you should do in the pit, so I thought next week we will discuss pit etiquette and what not to do while shooting.
So until next week, happy shooting.