Taking a break from their usual “X tips in Y minutes” type videos, COOPH interviews concert photographer Michael Agel in this one. It’s a peek into the world of somebody who’s been doing music photography for a living for over 30 years. COOPH caught up with Michael during the Montreux Jazz Festival, where offers up some advice for budding concert photographers.
Light is Key
As with just about any other kind of photography, the key component is light. Of course, at a concert, you don’t really have any control over the lighting. And you can’t exactly tell the act to stop and keep 50,000 fans waiting while you reposition the subject for a better shot.
So, you have to be keenly aware of where the light is coming from as well as where and how it’s falling on the stage. Look for light that’s interesting, and makes your subject stand out.
Whenever you’re photographing people, whether it’s concerts or portraits, there needs to be a level of trust between you and your subject. With concerts, though, it’s even more of a factor when you’re dealing directly with bands. When they know you and trust you, they’ll let you follow them right onto the stage, knowing that you won’t get in their way.
This follows on a little from the above and helps to build up the trust with your subjects. Be discreet, don’t get in the way, and try to be invisible. And this includes how you dress. Don’t wear white shirts or anything that attracts attention towards you, especially if you’re going to be on stage. That way you’re not disturbing anybody. The less hassle you make for other people, the more they’ll let you do.
Wait and observe
This is a bit like Bresson with his street photography. Sometimes, when you see an interesting shot with the right light, you just need to stay there, be patient, and wait for the right moment. It’s a bit like that with concerts, too.
Rather than not seeing a good shot where you’re at and then moving, stay where you are and then wait for the subject to be where you need them. You’ll just end up wasting a lot of time moving from one spot to another and back, and you’ll miss shots along the way.
Less is more
This is one of those gear talks. Keep the kit to a minimum. There’s no point packing every bit of equipment you own when you won’t use 90% of it. Just take what you know you will need, and don’t stress about the other stuff. It’ll keep you lighter on your feet, and stop you getting in other peoples way.
You also don’t have to worry about equipment disappearing or getting damaged when it’s out of your view if you don’t take it in the first place. For the Montreux Jazz Festival, Michael took a Leica CL with a 23mm f/2 prime lens offering a similar field of view to that of a 35mm lens on a full frame body.
I don’t shoot concerts, but I like hearing about the workflows and methods of other photographers of different genres.
Sometimes we can take some of those insights and adapt them to our own work. And many of the things mentioned in the video can apply to things like portraits, street photography, and many other genres.