Band photography 101 from someone who’s figuring it out one plane ticket at a time.

My love for music and life on the road began when I saw Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” my freshman year of high school. I had recently been grounded for three months due to lying to my mother about where I was going one Saturday night. Every night of my winter vacation imprisonment I wallowed over a box of saltines, watched this movie and dreamt about life amongst rockstars.

band photography

As I got older I began to admire the early work of Annie Leibovitz and the photos she took for Rolling Stone Magazine. I found myself sitting in math class daydreaming about Doc showing up in his DeLorean and whisking me away to 1973.

band photography

I started taking photos in high school when I enrolled in a black and white darkroom photography class. I used my father’s film SLR camera, a Canon AE-1 with one lens. Having only one piece of gear forced me to use my eye and consider my frame. I had a fixed 35mm lens, so if I was too close I stepped back if I was too far I took a couple steps forward. This forced me to engage with my subjects while still figuring out how to maintain a photo journalistic style to my photographs. I have always been more concerned with capturing the moment rather than swapping lenses out. I have this fear the instant I put down my camera I’ll miss something fantastic. I fear this because it’s happened. That being said, I love having a plethora of gear to choose from and it’s important to have the right equipment for the right mood and situation. 

band photography

Lately I’ve been giving the Canon 24 – 70 f 2.8 zoom lens a go for my band photography and have been loving it. From shooting outdoors to inside the studio it holds up when I need it to. I’ve heard many photographers refer to this lens as their “desert island” go-to and I see why. It’s helpful to have a fast lens in low light situations as well as a zoom that provides that nice bokeh we all know and love. In most of the photographs you see I used the Canon 24-105 mm f 4 Lens, the Canon 16-35 mm f 2.8 Lens and the cheapo nifty Canon 50 mm Lens that you can pickup for close to a $100 at Samys.

Having the right gear for the situation helps. I found out with much trial and error (and frankly lack of budget to invest) how important a full frame camera and a fast lens is in low light concert photography. The 24–105 mm lens was my first L glass and though it was not the best for low light, seeing as it was an f 4, I had to do my best to make it work for my band photography. Trying out gear is a great way to see which lens is the right fit for your body of work. I had plenty of photographers recommend their favorite lenses, I read review on top of review but it wasn’t until I personally took these lenses out and shot with them that I could rate their usability for the content I was shooting.

music photography

When I’m shooting backstage or behind the scenes I find it important not to be in the way or too obvious when shooting band photography. So, I make sure to tuck my extra gear away somewhere safe when I’m not using it. I want my subjects to get used to my camera as though it’s a part of my body. This takes time but I find that engaging and establishing myself as a human helps and most times that means having the least amount of equipment on me. Musicians are people too and everyone has a brand or image to uphold. It’s important to be conscience of what the artist wants documented. I always ask before posting a photo I think might be controversial. It’s disappointing when you get something good then get the “no go” and have to tuck it away in your archives. However at the end of the day it’s important to be employable and that requires establishing trust. 

band photos

There are many fantastic lines in “Almost Famous” such as “Be honest and unmerciful” and “Here I am telling secrets to the one guy you don’t tell secrets to”. I think about these often when I’m shooting. I try and get everything because to me the art lies in capturing the raw moments. I take those honest and unmerciful shots for myself and no one else. It’s heartbreaking not being able to show the whole story to the world but giving a photographer “all access” means that these people are letting you in on their secrets and it’s up to your discretion what to share with the general public. 

band photo

I’m gearing up to hit the band photography road again and I couldn’t be more excited. Six weeks on a tour bus with European trance DJ’s “Above and Beyond”.  I’ll be documenting their tour behind the scenes while we drive across America. I’m loading up my backpack, buying another Compact Flash card, backing up my external hard drives and figuring out how many pairs of shoes I can justifiably bring with me. I could go on and on but I’ll cut my introduction off here.

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Until next time. 

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Jessica McCall
Jessica McCall is a California transplant, Portland based photographer. She’s constantly on the road working with bands, shooting weddings and seeing as much of the world as she can. She prefers to work with a photojournalistic approach capturing organic moments. She has worked with such bands as: Typhoon, Denver, John Craigie, Crow and the Canyon, Brothers Comatose, California Honeydrops, Sallie Ford, Horse Feathers, Bassnectar and Above and Beyond. She has enjoyed shooting festivals like Sasquatch, Kaleidoscope and SXSW. You can view more of her work at www.littlegreeneyesmedia.com