I have two great passions in my life. For me it’s the love of live music and photography, both of which stir up memories and emotions. It’s a rare thing when you have the chance to combine the two, but recently I did exactly that.
Ride and The Vapors are two bands that have had a massive influence over me during different times of my life and recently both reformed and gigged at two small venues. The gigs were a throwback to the when they both first started playing to a few hundred people. You could work your way to the front through mindless bouncing up and down and getting up close and personal with the band, happy days!
Gig photography is notoriously known as one of the hardest forms of photography. I didn’t want to go in blind, so I did the best thing you could do in this situation… research! Luckily I found everything I needed to know in one place, Matthias Hombauer’s ‘How to be a Rockstar Photographer’. Yes, can you believe it! He even has an Instagram community based around the #htbarp hashtag!
I took influence from the music photographers of the late 70’s and early 80’s with their images of the punk and new wave music scenes. Pennie Smith’s famous image of Paul Simonon smashing his guitar at the Palladium gig in 1979 has got to be one of the greatest rock’n’roll images of all time. You may recognise it from the front cover of the Clash’s, London Calling album.
Image Credits: Pennie Smith
This style of stark contrast between shadows and highlights (almost like a photocopy of the early fanzines) with the warmth of heavy film grain, was what I was after. It captures the raw atmosphere of a hot, sweaty gig with the band and their adoring crowd lost in the moment.
With a collection of ideas, some great tips and lots of photos for reference I was ready…
Image Credits: Sho Kikuchi
The first gig was RIDE at the Concorde 2 in Brighton. I wanted close-ups and shots from amongst the crowd and used the support band to test lighting and position. I was shooting with only a 50mm prime lens with a wide aperture of f/1.8 for maximum light. I threw myself in at the deep end and shot everything using manual exposure, ignoring all the starter recommendations of using the camera’s aperture setting, leaving me to sort out the shutter speed. I very quickly realised (I was warned) how the fast pace of the changing light conditions affects the camera settings. Mistakes, I made a few (I did it my way), over and under exposed images, out of focus, complete white light and the odd black hole. It’s amazing how fast you adapt and learn. Once settled into my surroundings I was able play with a base ISO setting to recreate the graininess of those early influences.
A massive learning curve only fuelled my drive to better myself, with The Vapors gig coming up at Dingwalls in Camden, I sat down for more research and got myself a new lens. A 24mm-70mm f/2.8 lens helped to cover all the required ranges for those wide angles and close-ups as I don’t have the luxury of a two-camera setup with fixed primary lenses.
Armed with my new ‘go-to’ lens, I was ready for round two. Again, I shot from the crowd, reportage style, eye level shots as if a ‘blink of an eye’ had captured the image. Still fighting the odd over exposure, I purposely used a high ISO with narrow depth of field for that grainy, raw, punk feel to the images. I even managed to blag side stage access and take photos alongside Rock Photographer, Derek D’Souza, who has taken photos of The Jam, Paul Weller, and Noel Gallagher to name a few.
Stage pass thanks to: Sean Fletcher, Modern Media
Another gig over and what remains are memories and my images. I sort through the hundreds of photos and get to my selected final few. Converting them to black and white is the next art. I set myself some rules. I wanted to establish my own ‘digital darkroom’ and limit the use of the software; I use the image crop straight out the box, correcting the odd horizon here and there, and use the same set of Lightroom presets to keep the consistency in my style… oh, and no image manipulation in Photoshop! What’s left are my final photos that I’m pretty proud of.
Let me know what you think and check out my Instagram channel for more of my photography based adventures.
Life is like a photograph, just many of them stitched together with the odd still capturing a moment in time.