What separates a good concert photo from a great concert photo?
Katherine Vega: To me, it's very important for a concert photo to accurately represent the experience and atmosphere of the show; in order to do the musician's performance justice, preserve the memory, promote, and share the experience with both potential fans and veterans! As an artist and perfectionist, I aim to give solid musicians the recognition that they deserve! The basic requirements for a good concert photo are an interesting subject, strategically executed composition, and sharp focus; while minimizing grain, avoiding detail-loss in darks/lights, avoiding over-saturation of colors, and ensuring it isn't muddy or too contrasty. A great concert photo meets these standards, and then takes it to the next level with visual depth, striking complementary color, great skin tone with stage lighting, while exuding the energy of the performance, and encapsulating the emotion of the musician.
Up on the Sun: How did you get into concert photography, and how many concerts would you say you've photographed?
Music is my life; I sing, play instruments, and dance. My father is a lead singer, so I grew up in a household that really embraced music, and my extended family is full of artists of all sorts. I've loved shooting photos since I was a child, even at school recess, because I'm incredibly sentimental.
I started attending concerts with my camera as soon as I was old enough to drive myself to them -- which lead to attendance at one or more shows one to three nights per week! I religiously attended local shows, supporting AZ's local music scene, closely following greats like The Format, Peachcake, My Darling Murder, Mink Rebellion, For The Record, The Iris, and The Cover Up. I adamantly insisted on capturing the memories with photos; and since I'm always quality-driven, I was constantly pushing for better images. It was a very natural evolution to combine these passions. I love doing it so much, and the quality of the photography became so high, that it made sense to become a professional concert photographer. I have since built an artistic business upon it named Kataklizmic Design, which is my raison d'être (purpose for existence)!
In the past 12 years I've been to about 430 concerts, equipped with my camera for the majority of them!
What challenges does concert photography present as opposed to other forms of photography?
Concert photography requires a specialized skill set; a combination of en eye for aesthetics, technicality, and musicality.
You don't get to set up lighting equipment, pose your subjects, typically do not have sunlight at your disposal, and don't usually want to use flash. Shooting in low lighting requires every setting with your aperture, shutter, and ISO that makes it a real challenge to get a sharp image and capture quick movement! You usually depend on the lighting provided by the lighting tech and venue (they're not created equally). If you're shooting in an arena/theater, you're spoiled with stunning stage lighting worth thousands of dollars. However, the bigger acts usually limit the number of opportunities to capture your "money shot" to the first few songs. The lighting and the movement of the performer are often unpredictable (although you can observe patterns), and you need to adjust camera settings on-the-fly while paying attention to both.
Additionally if you're not shooting in front of a barricade, you often must maintain a steady aim and protect your camera while shooting amidst a crowd of pushy-shovey, excited and sweaty fans, while standing in a splash-zone! You must strive to move fluidly thorough the crowd without disturbing the environment, and manage proper image composition while various limitations on angle and proximity are often imposed. It's also physically demanding with consideration to things like the crowd, the heat, the weight of the camera, and necessary agility and stamina.
What advice do you have for aspiring concert photographers?
If you can't afford a D-SLR initially, that's okay! I say it's better to "rough" it to start, rooting yourself with experience with film and multiple cameras; this will help you to thoroughly understand your tools and techniques. I encourage entirely manual settings and focus. Keep challenging yourself; keep shooting with the best camera you have access to until you can afford that upgrade! Versatility is also very important, so be open to shooting a variety of genres in a variety of venues. Fine-tune your photography, practicing amongst the crowd, before you start requesting photo passes. Make it your goal to make your dive-bar photos look like arena photos!
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.
Each photo has a heartfelt tale behind it! The image I'll focus on is Amelia Arsenic of Angelspit -- a cyber-punk Industrial band from Sydney, Australia. The image is very special to me for many reasons. It was shot when they performed at 910 Live in Scottsdale in December, 2012. It was on the same night as my job's holiday party, but I was willing to arrive fashionably late. Angelspit is one of my all-time favorite bands; with lyrics confronting the status quo, hard aggressive music, killer fashion, and a genuine connection with their fan base. So, in addition to the photo including one of my top artists; I love it because it is animated, interactive, dimensional, crisp, has great skin tone, and cool colors that match the artist. Amelia is beautiful and brash, and I like the way it almost looks like her hand is magically casting the stage light with fog rising up! The band is quite familiar with my work; having received photo passes and built a reputation with their PR multiple times, and the opportunity to hang out with them at a number of shows. That helped with the capture of this shot, because she was looking straight at me. After the show, I was able to talk to band lead Zoog Von Rock, whom I immensely respect, and he relayed to me how much he LOVES my work, and that this is what I should be doing - never stop! This was an ultimate reassurance! (So I didn't mind missing the holiday party that night at all!) Afterward, Angelspit made this photo their profile pic on Facebook.
Visit the next page for more photos by Katherine Vega.