6 years ago I’d decided to enter the live music scene in Perth as a live music photographer and it has been an interesting journey filled with moments of excitement, joy, sometimes stressful and moments where you thought you’ve seen everything then something comes along you jaw drops in amazement and you think to yourself “did that just happen or was I dreaming”. The reason that I’d started this journey was that one of my friends was in a band and I had a interest in photography (I’d studied it in high school), it was a hobby that I did in moments of spare time as I was working part time at the Western Australian Museum around 2007. So around March 2007 I applied as a contributor for the online publication FasterLouder and little did I know at the time that this was going impact my life in a way I’d never imagined.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that photographing live music is one of the most challenging types of photography you will ever have as the lighting at some venues in the local scene is not the greatest and can be very unpredictable.
In some ways I learned the hard way as I did struggle early to get a handle on things and try to get a foot in the door and become a regular photographer around Perth and some of the photos I was taking at the time weren’t exactly my best work, in fact they SUCKED and the crew at FasterLouder weren’t exactly pleased in what I was producing.
Things changed in early to mid 2008, a new Perth editor came in and she pointed me in the right direction and was actually was very helpful and encourging me to improve and since then I’d never looked back. One reference she gave me was a link to Sydney photographer Daniel Boud’s (you can check his stuff from here) blog post on how to do concert photography, not only that blog post gave me the information but more importantly gave me the inspiration I needed, fast forward 5 years later and I look back at the period as the moment things changed for the better and I do thank her for helping me to get to where I’m today.
Being a live music photographer gives you an unique perspective on the music industry, it exposes you to bands and artists you’d never heard of, meet new people and make new friends and you can actually tell if the big names in the industry do actually have the talent or they’ve been hyped up so much they can’t justify the status they achieved.
Another thing I’d realise is that you can’t just stick to one genre, you actually have to check out (sometimes begrudgingly) what else is happening in other scenes, for instance I’d never knew that Perth was big for hip hop/R&B but after covering a few shows for FasterLouder, I’d realised that I didn’t know everything and the experience I got was valuable.
In the live music scene you also learn very quickly on which venues have a decent lighting setup and which venues and/or bands to avoid (the only execption is the festivals tours and the very big bands who bring their own lighting setups with them).
Basically if you get shithouse lighting there is basically little to no chance your photos are going to be usable, however if you have the right gear i.e. a 50mm lens with a good aperture range (i.e. f 1.4) or have a digital SLR camera that can handle low lighting conditions comfortably then you have a pretty good chance of getting something.
If you are thinking of venturing into this field, forget using a point and shoot or your smartphone camera, you’re not going to get anything decent due to those conditions. If you are considering getting a digital SLR camera for live music you don’t need the most expensive camera and lenses to start off with, most of the entry level (or cheap) digital SLR cameras these days do come with some decent low lighting performance and you don’t have to get the stock Canon, Sony, Pentax or Nikon lenses, there are other brands like Sigma or Tamron that do offer the same thing for a cheaper price (for instance I got a Sigma 17-70 f2.8-f4.5 lens for my Nikon D40 and it served me well).
Most of my favourite moments in live music photography come from things you don’t expect, most of the time the bands just stay in the one spot for the entire set playing song after song until the set finishes, occasionally there will be one band that decides to shake things up.
Most of the time it’s usually the punk/hardcore and metal bands as they mix things up nicely from jump shots, to the facial expressions or in the case of some metal bands it’s the costumes and makeup they wear. Photographing hip-hop artists also mixes things up as your looking for the hand gestures and poses during the set.
Some band members do decide to interact with audience and some decide to do it up close and personal during their sets, for instance last year at the Groovin The Moo Festival in Bunbury during the Amity Affliction’s set, screamer Joel Birch decided to head into the photo pit area and interact with the punters at the front.
In that situation I had to think quickly in that moment so I got to the barrier, jumped onto one the steps on the barrier and quickly took 3 or 4 shots of him touching and/or shaking all the hands of all the punters that were near him then I got off the barrier step and at that time he decided to stand on the barrier rail and started to scream into the microphone so I managed to get some cool shots of that and because of those two moments it made that experience more enjoyable because I’d captured two very exciting moments that I may never experience again.
While most of the time I do try to capture everything properly in camera, live music photography is not the most perfect form of photography as unlike studio or location photography they’re more unpredictable elements in play (i.e. sudden light changes, sudden movement off frame, guy decides to jump off a drum kit at short notice) and you only get one chance to shoot it (for all major tours its usually the first 3 songs with no flash), so while I try do my best, sometimes I have do some tweaks in post production.
So in summing up it’s been a fun, interesting (and sometimes fustrating) 6 years in the Perth live music scene as a photographer, its been valuable experience and it’s been good that I’ve managed to have a hobby that not only gives me much joy but a sense of pride when some of the bands get in touch with you and thanking you for giving them exposure in the media (especially on the online publications) at times in a crowded media space where everyone is trying everything to break through walls and trying to get noticed, at least I can say that I did my bit to try and help them.