7 top tips for photographing stage performances at a Heavy Metal Music Festival indoors



INTRODUCTION:

This isn’t a dance photography post, it is a music performance post. Nevertheless, music performance photography and dance photography share the same techniques so it is appropriate to post this photography here, although, probably unanticipated.

THE EVENT: INDIEPG 2017 MAKE IT LOUDER TURN IT ON

On the 20th of May I attended a heavy metal music festival here in Penang: INDIEPG 2017 MAKE IT LOUDER TURN IT ON. This event showcased some of the better heavy metal bands from Penang, and a few from other places here in Malaysia. There was also a Punk band there, Bombräd: reminded me of my Dead Kennedy’s and Sex Pistol listening days. This festival was actually a two-day festival, but I only went one day, and it’s probably good that I did, considering my Ménière’s disease, and how loud-sounds affects my hearing, and in fact, my whole head.


DON’T FORGET HEARING PROTECTION:

Unwisely, I went into the stage area, where the bands were playing, and I was not using hearing protection— that was a big mistake! Concerts in general are very loud, but heavy metal concerts are even louder than you may think. After testing the audible-waters, so to speak, and discovering that it was way too loud for my ears, I quickly got out my ear plugs and put them in, and that quieted down the sound to a tolerable level.

With my ear protection in place, it was time to start taking photographs, and when it comes to stage photography of any kind, I always fight my way to the front to get the photographs that I want.

IT’S EASY TO GET CRAP-PHOTOS IN STAGE PHOTOGRAPHY:

Of course, it is easy to photograph stage photography if you want to get crap photos! That is really easy to do, and here is how: you need to hire someone who’s never done stage photography, EASY, and then, see the results.


IF YOU WANT GOOD STAGE PHOTOGRAPHY HIRE SOMEONE WHO IS EXPERIENCED AT STAGE PHOTOGRAPHY:

Stage photography is a technical type of photography that is only improved upon, and mastered by, trial and error, and also executed by an experienced stage photographist who has good intuition and perfect timing. Your goal is knowing when to hit the shutter button to get good emotional shots, with exciting reactions and postures, of the dancers, singers, musicians, and actors up on stage. Another necessary goal is that you need to be able to capture photographs of these subjects, in combination with quality and colourful stage lighting. Another consideration, and which is also highly recommended, is to get many shots with “pretty good and acceptable focus”.



SUFFICIENT AVAILABLE LIGHTING IS NOT ON DEMAND—A SAD TRUTH FOR STAGE PHOTOGRAPHERS:

Having sufficient AVAILABLE Lighting—that’s also not very easy in many stage performances. If the lighting technician has not properly executed the plans & preparations for creating enough available stage lighting during the performances, a whole new set of problems presents themselves to the photographer.

THE TWO BIGGEST ENEMIES TO A STAGE PHOTOGRAPHER:

Lack-of-light problems and access are the two biggest enemies to a stage photographer. In the most basic terms, you can’t photograph what you can’t see! You also can’t photograph what you don’t have access to. For example, your magazine editor says, “We need high-powered closeups of the singer! Do It!” You get to the show and the organizer has decided that ALL press will be situated in the cheap-seats, far away from the stage. You are screwed! No access.


YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER STAGE LIGHTING!

You have no control over stage lighting and you better understand that fact before you go try to photograph a stage performance. HOWEVER, I suppose we can consider this possibility; perchance, you have the latest and greatest camera with ISO technical advanced systems, where you can set the controls up to ISO32,000, and get great photographs from very minimal light. With great new gear like that, you can get results without much digital noise in your photographs, then you have nothing to worry about! You can photograph in near darkness! That may be the case, but you’ll still get boring monochromized-colour photographs that have NO stage-character because the beautiful, exciting, and colourful stage lighting does not exist in your photographs. Therefore, you can have the latest camera technology, that can shoot in near darkness, and you will still get crap-photos because the character of your photographs does not include the colourful stage lighting.

Sometimes, the lack of proper stage lighting is due to a request by the performers because they want the performance more moody and dark. Dark and moody lighting may be good for the effect the performers want to express, but that is not favorable for a stage photographer. In fact, it is very bad for a stage photographer, for whose quest it is, to capture images that are acceptable, which definitely needs good, colourful, stage lighting. If it’s not the performers who demanded dark lighting, then you can blame it on the lighting technician. If the lighting technician did not do the lighting well, then the photographer still suffers.



TELL A STAGE PERFORMANCE STORY WITH YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY:

You may be thinking, “This is only a concert that you are photographing—people perform—photographers take photographs—there’s nothing more to it.” Contrary to that belief, and in my opinion as a photographer, I feel I am responsible for telling the story from the beginning to the ending, and that is what I try to do—stage photography is more than just taking performance shots! Stage Photography is about telling a story.

To create a story out of a stage performance photography assignment, I attempt to take introduction photographs of the show, ones that introduce the place, the environment, or the people involved in the event. The same goals apply for photographing the end of the event, where I like to take photographs that show the backstage, which includes still life photography of things that are involved in the event, and perhaps, candid portraits of people after the event. Like any story I tell as a photographer, I need to have a beginning, a middle, and an ending, and that’s just the way I prefer to tell a photographic story.



THE SEVEN MAIN TIPS TO GOOD STAGE PHOTOGRAPHY:

The seven main things I think you need to get in good stage photography are the following storytelling types of images. This list also includes things you MUST KNOW to create good stage photography.

1) Look for and Photograph Introductory Shots: Introductory images are those that show the place, and people, and action going on before the event…get these if possible.

2) It is ESSENTIAL TO CAPTURE Action, or Reaction, photographs of the main subjects that you are photographing.

3) Your Stage Photographs MUST HAVE exciting stage lighting. If the stage lighting is minimal, then, I’m not afraid to use flash, if necessary, to capture some action.  We NEED COLOURFUL Stage Lighting in our photographs, but we don’t always get what we need.  However, keep this in mind, the WORST thing to do is get NOTHING! And, if you are being paid to photograph a stage production, the next WORST thing is to get mostly crap-photos.

4) YOU MUST KNOW YOUR CAMERA, LENSES, AND THEIR SETTINGS, and KNOW THEM INSIDE-AND-OUT, and be able to change the settings on-the-fly, and according to what you see on stage with the action, and the ever-changing stage lighting, and do all of this in near darkness! In addition to that, you need to make all of your camera, and, your position changes while getting knocked around, or slammed into, by people who are going crazy or taking part in the chaos and “violence” of the mosh pit.

5) Look for good “Ending” photographs to conclude your story. Go backstage (if possible) and get some still life and candid portraits.

6) If you have any sort of health situations, like I do, with Ménière’s disease and a couple of very painful types of arthritic diseases, then prepare for your personal “complications” beforehand.  You need to survive the event the best you can so you can concentrate on getting good photography.

7) NEVER take your eye away from the viewfinder—the second you do, that’s when the BEST ACTION WITH BEST LIGHTING happens, and you will miss it!


OUTRO:

That’s about all I want to say at this point about stage photography. I went to this event on my own, with no client, because I just wanted to have a good time taking photographs of music stage performances that I enjoy, and to experience being in an exciting crowd. Hopefully, I came away with creating interesting stage performance photographs.

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The Photography from the INDIEPG MAKE IT LOUDER TURN IT ON Heavy Metal Music Festival:

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