Thanks to Rory Tyer I was able to get all access to Metro Chicago to take some shots of Rory Tyer Band playing for their second time at this venue. I wasn’t the primary photographer this time, so I had some freedom to just relax a bit and enjoy their great performance. I took a few pictures at the front of the stage, and then headed up to the balcony to grab a few shots. It was a great night of music. I love the venue and it was fun to get a few shots.
I’ll explain a bit of my photo taking process at a show like this, and parts of the joys and challenges of shooting concert shots.
It was good to see a line waiting outside of Metro Chicago when I arrived.
Some of my personal favorite shots are often of bands before they even play. There is a sense of anticipation from the crowd and excitement from the band as they set up. Here Rory holds their set list for the show.
There’s plenty of emotion shown throughout a band’s performance. I love to capture the moments right before the first notes are played as well. Here, moments before their set started, Rory seems lost in thought. The black and white seems to fit the mood of the shot. Not all of his face is seen, and there’s a bit of grit in the picture, which seems to fit well.
I am typically partial to black and white shots, especially portraits or concert photos like this one. For me it lends itself to less distractions. It draws you entirely to the person in view. It tends to lend itself for the picture to be felt, at least for me. I love the old shots of smoky concert halls with a single spotlight on someone like Bob Dylan. I think that’s why I often prefer black and white.
But black and white shots have an aged feel for them, for sure. Probably because it’s really hard to get good color photos at concerts because of the harshness of the lights as well as the ever-changing colors. Sometimes a good shot can be a challenge. But thanks to our modern day DSLR cameras being so good, and having the ability to practically take as many shots as we like, it’s no wonder why we see so many more color shots of concerts today than in the days of film.
I like the intensity of Rory’s face in this shot. And the shadow on the wall. This is actually one that I think I prefer the color shot over the black and white one.
Here you can begin to see the challenges of concert photography. If you notice the white light above Rory’s shoulder, it is overexposed – completely washed out. Everything around Rory is hazy and has a red and blue glow. In a black and white shot of this picture, the white light over his shoulder would not pop out as much and therefore not be as distracting. But because of the darkness of the stage, I chose to have the shutter speed at about 1/80th of a second for me to be able to have enough light to capture the detail of his face, yet fast enough to not blur the picture.
In this picture of Danny, their bass player, you see all sorts of reds and magentas. Personally, I find these colors to be the hardest to work with because they don’t seem very natural, as opposed to yellow and blue, and even sometimes green. Most of the pictures I end up liking are not the ones which have a lot of reds and magentas in them. It sometimes seems over-saturated and hard to compensate for even with good post-processing programs like Lightroom.
Here’s my attempt at one of those old Bob Dylan single spotlight shots from the 60s. For me, this type of shot screams to be in black and white.
One of the hardest aspects of concert photography is deciding on shutter speed. There is always a trade off. The faster your shutter speed, the better you can capture images with motion in them, but you also need more light or else you’ll end up with a grainy picture. So a photographer often has to choose – grainy or blurred? I typically choose grainy, because it can add character to a shot, and it allows you to capture some neat moments in the show. This particular shot is a bit grainier than I’d prefer, but I chose to do this because of how much Dave (their guitarist) was moving.
Here’s an example of trying to find the right balance between grainy and blurry. I had a fast enough shutter speed to limit Rory as he danced around stage, and just enough grain to add character, yet not take too much away from the quality of the shot.
Drummers always get the short end of the stick (pun intended?) in concert shots. They’re usually tucked away in the back, poorly lit, and moving incredibly fast – all aspects which don’t lend themselves to good pictures. As a drummer myself, I understand this issue and try to get at least one good shot of the drummer each concert I go to.
Here’s a wider angle shot to show where I was standing for the pictures I’ve already shown you. It’s nice to be able to have free access to the band so close. But it does limit the types of shots you can take. (And I kind of feel bad standing in front of someone to take a picture. That’s something I’ve been told I need to just get over as a photographer).
I moved out of the front part of the stage and into the crowd to capture a few shots. Here’s a shot with red spotlights. Sometimes the challenge at this distance is knowing whether or not your shot is really in focus. I typically use a manual focus lens, making things that much harder for myself…
Yellow light looks so much more natural and tends to give me better pictures.
Here’s a picture that gives you a sense of the the stage and venue. The best pictures at this distance really are more centered. The place was decently packed out at this time, and because I wasn’t the main photographer of the night, I didn’t ask people to move to get a more centered shot.
I went up to the balcony to get some different angled shots. Some of my favorite shots are often not the ones in which I’m only a few feet away from them. It is much harder to see whether or not they are in focus, which just means that you need to take more shots, changing up the focus and shutter speed (and ISO) every so often.
Sometimes it’s hard to get shots of the whole band, so I try and get a couple members at a time. I like this one because of the shadow of Rory on the wall.
Various musicians will play more than one instrument, so it’s important to try and capture them playing all their respective instruments throughout the night.
Sometimes what the band is wearing changes midway through a show, and so even though you already have plenty of shots of the band at a certain angle, you want to go ahead and get more. Here Rory had taken off his fedora, so I grabbed a few shots.
I used two lenses during the evening – a 17-70mm lens and a 50mm lens. Sometimes when you are using a fixed focal length lens you are stuck with a shot that doesn’t allow you to fit everyone into the frame like you might like. I would have really liked to have gotten all of Danny in this shot. Hey, but at least I got Dave, their drummer!
I noticed more movement and bumped up the shutter speed. For me, more noise means a transition to more black and white shots.
Another shot in black and white, this time with a much faster shutter speed and therefore a darker picture.
Another example to show that even though a shot of the entire band is nice, a centered shot seems about ten times better. The center of the balcony was packed out, so I didn’t push my way in for a shot. But looking back at it, I usually regret that I’m not more aggressive during a show, especially if it’s only for a few shots.
Action shot of Danny, high shutter speed = more grain. But worth it for this shot not to be blurry.
Like I said, I prefer black and white shots when there’s quite a bit of noise, but here’s one in color of Danny.
And sometimes using a fast shutter speed will get you a shot like this, in which Rory seems to be mimicking some variation of a dance by a Bird of Paradise.
Ending moments of a show are full of energy, and generally mean having a decently fast shutter speed. Here Rory is winding down after moving all about the stage.
Final moment of the shows are always one of my favorite moments to catch. Here is this night’s last moment. Notice this is decently centered. I ran over and held the camera over everyone’s heads and prayed for a good shot.
And the band thanks everyone for coming. It’s a bit deceiving because it makes it look like the place isn’t very full. But there were plenty of people behind those true fans at the front barrier.