Earlier this year, we announced a concert photography contest. We received more than 46 submissions, and a crack panel of judges winnowed down the submissions to 10 finalists. We are now introducing you to each photographer, presented in random order. Next up is Joseph Abbruscato.
Up on the Sun: What separates a good concert photo from a great concert photo?
Joseph Abbruscato: When shooting a concert, getting "the shot" of the night is all about timing. Anyone with a camera can make a good photograph a guy playing a guitar or a bass, but managing to catch the musician losing himself in the music, forgetting there is an audience and simply letting their guard down as they play their heart out -- those are the important instances to catch. My favorite concert photos are those which give the viewer a glimpse into the music, not just a glimpse of the music. To me, those are the great concert photos.
How did you get into concert photography, and how many concerts would you say you've photographed?
For me, concert photography was a way of fostering a new creative outlet and giving back to the local music scene. I was always attending local concerts at Sail Inn, Long Wong's, Yucca Tap Room, etc., and wanted to capture those moments for everyone to enjoy the next bleary eyed morning. The camera enabled me to interact with the musicians and contribute my own art back to a scene that I'd been a participant in for so long. I started bringing a camera to every show I attended, and after a while I was working with some local and smaller national music blogs. Every local show I go to, I've got my camera on me still, as I love the energy, the positive vibes, and the uniqueness of a concert experience, big or small. Since I've started concert photography, I've probably photographed close to 75 to 100 concerts over the years, not counting local bands.
What challenges does concert photography present as opposed to other forms of photography?
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The biggest issue that concert photography presents is a complete and utter lack of control over the constantly changing stage lighting. If you don't know your gear like the back of your hand, and you can't quickly adjust your settings or predict what the lighting is going to do while on the move, capturing the photo that will make the entire set is going to extremely difficult. Timing is also an challenge in concert photography, because you only have three songs during which to get your job done. Fighting the lighting, the constantly moving musicians, jostling around other photographers in the pit (without getting in anyone's way), all contribute to the "dance" that concert photographers have to partake in, which photographers of other forms don't have to.
What advice do you have for aspiring concert photographers?
Don't stop shooting! Go to your closest dive bar that has the dingiest lighting and the most enthusiastic musicians, and bring a camera. Go to a national tour stop, bring your point and shoot (as most venues won't let you in with a D-SLR), and shoot. It's vital to always be practicing your timing, adjusting to different lighting situations, getting familiar with your gear. The more you shoot, and the more you share, the better you'll become. Constructive criticism is your friend, and the best way to get more of it is to shoot more concerts. Give it time, like anything else, good concert photography doesn't happen overnight. I'm still learning at every show I photograph, and I hope I'm still learning new techniques 50 shows from now!
Choose one of the photos you submitted. Tell a story about it --where was it shot, who is featured, what makes it one of your favorites, and what circumstances lead to your capturing it. The more details, the better.
One of my favorite concert photos that I've taken is the shot of Amanda Palmer reaching out into the crowd. This was taken a few years ago at the (then) recently opened Crescent Ballroom. It was one of the first sold out show's I'd been to there, and I was crushed in the crowd as there was no pit, no safety guard rail, nothing. Amanda Palmer doesn't believe in a large separation of audience and performer, as they are two sides of the same coin, so the energy in Crescent was electric. At this point in the show, Palmer and her band mates, and the wall-to-wall audience, were feeding off of each others energy, as if they were one in the same entity, all crying, screaming, singing along together. In Amanda's eyes and outstretched arm with splayed open fingers, you can see and feel her hunger and primal need for the audience, and this is met by the crowds hands reaching out to meet her, needing and asking for the same from her. All guards dropped, artist and audience yearning for one another, emotions bared. Being in the crowd enabled me to not only capture this moment, but to be a part of it. It's one of my most visceral and favorite concert memories of all time.
Visit the next page for more photos by Joseph Abbeuscato.
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