Canon has had a good variety of wide angle lenses for a while, but as a HUGE fan of super wide angle zoom lenses, I’ve had an itch that was almost scratched but not quite. Now with the 11-24mm f/4, that itch has been scratched very well.
As a concert photographer who is usually limited to the photo pit without a lot of room to move back and forth, zoom lenses are a life saver. That’s why I was thrilled when Canon announced this new ultra wide angle lens, and even more thrilled to try it out during a couple of recent shoots.
Is there distortion on the edges? Well, sure, a little, but it’s incredibly minimal! Check out the completely un-cropped images above, with no lens corrections, shot at 12mm. The guys on the edges would normally be stretched quite a bit more, especially in the first one, but this rectilinear lens handles them really well.
I also love just how close this lens allows me to get to performers who come out to the edge of the stage or come out for some crowd interaction. The musician above looks like he’s still a decent distance from where I’m shooting from, right? Here’s an iPhone shot from the crowd where you can see me in the lower right hand corner…
I’m probably a bit closer than you were expecting, right? My only complaint about the ultra-wideness of this lens is that it makes it difficult to keep the other photographers out of my shots!
This thing is a bit of a beast though, coming in at 2.6 pounds (for comparison, another one of Canon’s wide-angle zoom lenses is 1.35 pounds), so it can add a little weight to your pack and shoulders. But for the results, it’s totally worth it to me.
I didn’t see any noticeable chromatic aberration in the images, and I have no complaints on edge to edge sharpness even its widest points.
This thing handles lens flare like a champ. Normally in a shot like the one above, with the sun beaming directly into the lens, you’d be lucky to see much of anything. But here you just get a little bit of flare near the headstock of the guitar.
As with any lens with a rounded front element, you’ll want to make sure you keep a lens cloth handy for the occasional accidental finger smudge. The built-in lens hood does help prevent that, plus it’s never going to fall off and get lost during a shoot.
So, is this lens worth it for music photographers? If you’re a fan of the ultra-wide look, then absolutely!
Red Rocks Amphitheater… It’s one of the most iconic concert venues in the US, if not the world. It was on my list of places where I wanted to see a show during my lifetime, and thankfully I got to do that and more this past weekend! Here’s a rundown of what happened.
A few years ago David Carr, drummer for the band Third Day, started getting into photography. He found the Kelby videos and books, and through those found some of my concert photography and saw that I had photographed them before. He reached out to me to invite me to shoot an upcoming show of theirs, and since then we’ve been buds! During that time, I’ve had the opportunity to photograph them a number of times, including at their sold-out Third Day & Friends show at Gwinnett Arena in Atlanta last year.
This year they decided to do another of these shows, not just in Atlanta, but also at Red Rocks. As soon as I found out about it, I contacted the band and told them I’d be happy to come out and cover this momentous show if they wanted. Thankfully they agreed, and out I went!
As soon as you arrive, you realize this place is just breathtaking (especially if you’re going up and down the stairs a bunch)! The band took the stage for sound check, and I wondered around snapping shots without getting in their way. Over the years I’ve learned that the stage is not just a performance space, but it’s also a workplace for the band and their crew. As I am their guest, I have to be very respectful of their space and make sure I’m not doing anything/going anywhere I’m not supposed to. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to cover their shows a number of times and gotten to know the crew a bit, this becomes easier to navigate. But if it’s your first time working with a band, you want to tread lightly and triple check with the crew before doing anything.
One reason you want to make friends with the crew (besides just to be a kind, decent person) is if you want to set up a remote camera on stage…
This is a Canon 5D MkIII with a 14mm f/2.8. On top is a PocketWizard Plus III connected with a CM-N3-ACC cable, and it’s all mounted to a Manfrotto 244 Variable Friction Magic Arm with Camera Bracket and Super Clamp. The clamp goes around the rigging for the lighting, then I positioned the rest of the arm and camera accordingly. Once everything was in place, I tightened it down and secured it with zip ties and a safety cable. Because of the wide variation of light, I set it to shoot bursts of three bracketed shots: two stops under, even, and two stops over. Auto ISO, aperture priority at f/5.6 (just for depth of field/focus safety), evaluative metering. I also focused the camera, then switched it to manual focus so it wouldn’t be focus searching during moments of low light.
Because of the size and uniqueness of the venue, I wanted to set up a remote camera at the top/back as well (also so I wouldn’t have to be going all the way up and back down throughout the show and missing up-close moments).
This is the same setup as on stage, but with the 8-15mm f/4 fisheye lens at 15mm, also set to f/5.6. The fisheye allowed me to capture the full rock on the left side of the image all the way over to the stage on the right, as well as some of the landscape beyond that, which you’ll see later. I triggered both of these remotes with a third Pocket Wizard Plus III that I kept with me and fired by hand instead of putting it on one of the cameras I had on me. I did it this way because the moments I would be shooting with the cameras I had on me wouldn’t necessarily be the moments I wanted to capture with the remote cameras. The remotes were more about the crowd than the stage, so I had to wait for moments where the crowd was lit up and not just the stage.
After sound check, there’s a good bit of time to set up the above remote cameras, chill, and grab food before the show starts. Of course even the dressing rooms in this venue are amazing because the venue is built around the natural rock formations!
The first half of the show was the “Friends” portion featuring Warren Barfield, Peter Furler, Phil Wickham, Brandon Heath, and Matt Maher. During this portion, the acts alternated between performing on the main stage and a secondary stage that was set up above the front of house sound area in the middle of the crowd.
To cover the show, I had two Canon 1DX bodies on me set to auto ISO with a 1/250 minimum shutter speed, aperture priority, and spot metering. One had the 70-200mm f/2.8 and the other switched between my new favorite lens ever, the 11-24mm f/4, and the not as favorite but still very useful 24-70mm f/2.8, all shot wide open at f/2.8 or f/4.
After the Friends all performed, there was intermission, so I retreated back to the band’s dressing room to snap some candids of them getting ready.
Just before they took the stage, they took a minute to go sign the iconic tunnel that leads from backstage, underneath the seating area, and up to the front of house sound area…
Pretty much everyone who plays at Red Rocks signs the tunnel, so it’s covered in legendary names. You could spend hours searching for your favorite musicians if you wanted!
With that rite of passage under their belts, the band took the stage for their sold-out show!
As the band performed, I shot from on stage, in front of the stage, side stage, the front of house sound area, and anywhere else I could find a decent vantage point. And all along the way I kept an eye on the crowd waiting for moments where it was lit up, then laying down on the remote trigger and hoping for the best.
I learned a lesson about remotes that are a decent distance away from you in large crowds of people that night… Theoretically every time I hit the trigger, both cameras should have fired, thus having pretty close to the same number of shots by the end of the show. But that was not the case… The on stage camera fired over 3,300 shots, while the one at the back of the venue only fired around 500 shots.
When I set them up, I tested the trigger distance, and it worked from the back of the venue all the way to the stage. But my guess is that once the venue filled up, all of the cell phone and radio frequencies caused interference. Since I was much closer to the stage throughout the show, that remote fired more reliably than the one at the back. Should I do another similar setup in the future, the remedy to this would be to set up another PocketWizard Plus III halfway back in the venue to serve as a “repeater.” This would receive the signal from the trigger, then relay it on to the remote with a stronger signal to ensure it fires reliably.
At the end of the show, the band took a bow, then I ran out to get a shot of them facing me with the crowd in the background.
And that was that! It was an amazing experience, one that I won’t soon forget. A HUGE thanks to the band for bringing me out to the show and letting me have a dream come true experience!
This past weekend I was able to shoot hip-hop artist Lecrae’s sold-out concert at House of Blues in Orlando. He’s out on tour supporting his latest album, Anomaly, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 when it released in September. Thankfully, I have some friends who have been working with Lecrae and his label, Reach Records, for a while now and were able to hook me up with an all-access pass to cover the show! I figured I would take this opportunity to share some of the shots with you, along with my thought process for covering the show and some post processing tips.
I started the set in the photo pit, the space between the stage and the crowd barricade. The stage at HoB is pretty high, so I always try to start from the sides and shoot tight to get those shots out of the way.
With a high-energy show, which hip-hop tends to be, there’s a lot of movement on stage, so I usually shoot a lot more wide shots than tight. While I still move back and forth in the pit to try and follow the action, shooting wide keeps me from having to move too much. There’s plenty of stuff to trip on in the pit, as well as the other photographers who are all trying to maneuver around each other, so the less back and forth there is, the less chance for bumping into someone.
This is one of my favorite shots from the show because it’s obviously a peak action moment with Lecrae flying high, but then there’s also the subtle background element of his backup singer also getting some air at the same time.
Needless to say, there was a lot of jumping.
Not always though.
There were even some quiet moments, which I took advantage of by getting in nice and close while he was at the edge of the stage.
But then there was more jumping! I liked the black and white edit of this shot more than the color version (below). I feel like not having the blue color of the lights and the red color of the screens intersecting his body below the arms makes it less distracting. Which do you prefer?
B&W PROCESSING TIP: One thing to keep in mind if you’re converting images to black and white in Lightroom or Camera Raw is that the color sliders still matter! Once you convert it to black and white, go back to your white balance sliders and tweak them. You’ll be surprised at how big a difference in light and contrast those adjustments will make.
Don’t stop there either. Head to the HSL sliders and you’ll see color sliders that will help you adjust your black and white mix. Depending on the colors in your photo, some of them might not do much of anything, but the ones that do affect the image will make a huge difference. It’s also a great way to selectively darken/brighten elements in your images.
And if you want more fine-tuning, head to the Camera Calibration sliders and see what you can do with those as well.
COLOR PROCESSING TIP: One thing I try to achieve in my color images is a nice contrast of colors. The main way I achieve this is also with the white balance sliders. Sometimes it’s a big move of the slider, and sometimes it’s the tiniest tweak. But I always try to find that sweet spot where the colors (in the case of the image above, red, blue, and purple) all pop the best. Then I’ll move down to the vibrance slider and see if pumping it up or, surprisingly, pulling back on it helps the image the most. In this case (and most of the shots from this show), dialing it back to -10 or so gave me the look I liked best.
After I was done in the photo pit, I moved up to a room upstairs and to the side of the stage that I had always wanted to shoot from but couldn’t because I didn’t have the access needed for it. This time I did, so up I went.
I only shot from here for a short time because there were already other people in the room, and I asked one of them if I could stand where they were for about 30 seconds just to get a few shots. I shot till I knew I had gotten a few shots with decent light and a good gesture, then moved back out to the main balcony.
From here I was able to get some shots of the whole stage from a different vantage point. And they broke out the lasers! Who doesn’t like lasers?
Apparently everyone loves lasers, because they turned them up to 11 and added a disco ball in as well. Because, well, why not?
While the crowd was blinded by the light (revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night), Lecrae snuck off stage and made his way into the crowd like the rule-breaking rebel he is (note the sign behind him).
I never am sure which shows certain moments better, tight shots like the first one, or wide shots like this one. In the first one, you can clearly see who it is and you have enough people around him that you can tell he’s in the middle of a crowd. But the second one shows the size of the crowd and the excitement of the people closest to him, and gives a bit more context by showing the stage and lights. What do you think?
During the last song of his regular set, my friends and I made our way backstage. Lecrae came off the stage for a short break while the crowd cheered for him to come back out, and I was lucky enough to grab this moment of him getting ready to take the stage for his encore. While it’s not the most exciting moment, it’s one of those things that few people get to see. So being able to capture it and share it with others is exciting for me.
I hope you like the images, that I was able to give a little insight into shooting strategy, and that the post processing tips were helpful! If you have any questions or input, leave a comment and I’ll get to you as soon as I can.
I recently had the opportunity to cover a sold out arena show for the band Third Day, who gave me full access to do pretty much anything I wanted. Today I want to share some of those shots with you, as well as my experience covering the show. I also recently shot some band portraits for another artist that I’ll share after the concert stuff.
As soon as I got the phone call asking if I was available to come to Atlanta and cover the Third Day show, and being told I would have full access, I knew I wanted to set up a remote camera on stage to capture the view of the band performing with the sold-out audience as well. I set it up during the band’s sound check (as you can see in the test shot above) using two Manfrotto Variable Friction Magic Arm with Super Clamp setups (one to hold the camera and another attached to the rail and arm holding the camera for added security/support).
The camera itself is a Canon 5D Mark III with a 8-15mm fisheye lens at 15mm, and I put the biggest memory card I had in it to make sure I didn’t run out of card space during the show as I wouldn’t have access to it to swap out cards. Since this was my first time setting up a remote camera on stage, I just took a guess at the settings and hoped it would work. I went with Spot Metering, Auto ISO with 1/250 as the minimum shutter and 12,800 as the max ISO, and f/5.6 just to be safe on depth of field.
To trigger the camera, there’s a PocketWizard Plus III in the hot shoe and connected to the remote port with the appropriate cable (in this case the CM-N3-ACC), and I had another PocketWizard Plus III in my front shirt pocket that I used to trigger it during the show. I could have put the PocketWizard I had on me on one of the cameras I was carrying if I wanted the on-stage camera to shoot at the same time I was shooting, but I opted not to.
This allowed me to capture some key moments during the show from a unique perspective, as well as show the size of the crowd. These guys aren’t doing too badly for a band that’s both been around for over 20 years, and it’s still four of the founding members!
It’s always a privilege to shoot soundcheck, so here are a couple of my favorites from that:
The band invited some friends to join them for the show, including one of my other favorite bands, Needtobreathe, who were also in town for their own shows at The Tabernacle that weekend and stopped by for a couple of songs:
And here are a few more of my favorites from the evening:
And at the end of the show, I went on stage to get a shot of them facing me with the crowd behind them:
It’s a cool experience being able to shoot for a band that you grew up listening to and can now call friends, so I’m hoping to have the privilege of shooting for these guys more in the future!
“How do I get a photo pass for concerts?” This is the question I get asked most often, and it was a question I myself asked a just few years ago. Once I had the answer, I had a front row seat to just about any concert I wanted to see.
Here is the key… You’ve gotta be shooting for someone. That someone could be a newspaper, magazine, website, the venue, the artist, the promoter, a radio station, an instrument company, and the list goes on. But that’s going to be the first question you get asked when you request a photo pass. Who are you shooting for?
Start Shooting Concert Photos
Of course, no one is going to let you shoot for them unless you’re a decent photographer. So, if you haven’t shot any concerts before, you’ve gotta start out shooting where you can get easy access. Smaller venues may not have restrictions on cameras like the big venues do. I know of at least two venues where I shoot in the Tampa Bay area that get great shows and, once you’re in the door, they could care less if you have a big camera or how much you shoot.
If you don’t have a venue that fits that description in your town, chances are you have a bar nearby that has local acts or open mic nights. Go check it out for a night or two, then introduce yourself to the acts, and ask if you can take some pictures the next time they play. Chances are they’ll say yes, and you’ve got your foot in the door. Alan Hess, who helped me figure all this concert photography stuff out, told me about a woman in one of his classes who started off by doing exactly this and has since become a local legend. She’s even earned the respect of the local lighting directors, who make sure she has great light when she’s shooting!
Try Alternative Venues
Another great place to get access is churches that host concerts. Not only is access generally easier to get, you’d be surprised at the lighting setups some churches have these days! The church I was attending when I first started shooting concerts had a decent show come through that I shot. I got some photos I liked, then used those to get access to a bigger show at a bigger church. After that, I was able to get a pass for a huge tour that plays at the biggest venues across the country.
Once you have a decent portfolio built up (say 10-20 of your best photos), find a local media outlet to contact and ask if they could use someone like yourself to cover local concerts. Send them a link to your website [Yes, your website… Not your Facebook or Flickr page] so they can see your work. In my case, I was able to start shooting for a local website that covered the Tampa music scene, and that allowed me access to shoot everyone from artists in small, sweaty clubs to Santana at the biggest outdoor venue in Tampa.
If you can’t find a media outlet to shoot for, things are going to be a bit more difficult for you. But, don’t lose hope yet! Go back up to the list at the beginning of this post and start contacting the other people in it. Just ask yourself, “Who needs pictures of this show?” and start reaching out to them. Eventually you’re going to find someone who says yes. Well, if you’re a good enough photographer, that is…
Get That Photo Pass
Who exactly do you contact to ask for a photo pass, and how do you find their contact info? Nine times out of ten your best bet is the artist’s publicist or manager. Finding this info can be as simple as going to the artist’s website and finding their contact page, or as difficult as using Google to try and track them down like a private eye. If the info isn’t on their website, my next stop is the About section of their Facebook page. If it’s not there, then I turn to Google and search “(Artist Name) Publicist” or “(Artist Name) Manager” and see what I can find. There are also a handful of publicity and management companies like Nasty Little Man, Big Hassle, Sacks & Co., and others that have sizable rosters, so I’ll check those. Still no luck? Try their record label. Also, sometimes a phone call can prove more fruitful than an email.
And sometimes there’s just no tracking these people down. That’s when you put your request in the (in my experience) trustworthy hands of the venue’s PR person. Someone at the venue has to be talking to the artist’s people, right? Figure out who that venue’s person is and get in touch with them. They’re normally used to handling these requests since they have to have a list of approved photographers anyway. Once you figure out who this person is at each venue, it’s good practice to copy them on future requests when you send it to the artist’s publicist/manager so they’re aware of it.
Big Shows vs. Small Shows
Now, the tradeoff of shooting small shows and big shows is this… Smaller shows are easier to get access to, and normally have fewer restrictions on how much you can shoot. They also tend to have subpar lighting setups (not always, but most of the time). And they probably don’t have a photo pit separating the stage from the crowd, so you have to get there early to secure a spot up front and be prepared to stay there all night (make a quick restroom pit stop as soon as you get inside, then plant yourself up front).
As you start working your way up to bigger shows, the bad things about smaller shows become better, and the good things about them become worse. Better lighting and decent photo pits, but it’s more difficult to get photo passes and you’re restricted to the first three songs (or less in some cases). You also may not get to stay for the show unless you have a ticket, so you’re escorted into the photo pit for the allotted shooting time, then escorted out when that time is up.
To recap, here are the three keys to obtaining a concert photo pass:
1. Be a good photographer. Start off by honing your skills at smaller shows and work your way up the chain by shooting slightly larger shows till you’re shooting the biggest shows in town.
2. You have to ask for a pass. Know all the people who hold the keys to the access you want and find out how to get in touch with them. Go through that list until someone says yes.
3. I haven’t actually mentioned this one yet, but it’s just a rule in life that also applies here… Be nice. When you’re dealing with any of these people, be courteous and professional. If they tell you no (which they will sometimes), don’t get grumpy. Thank them and go to the next person on your list. It even applies when you’re shooting. The people you’re standing in front of paid for a ticket to see their favorite band and have been waiting months to be standing where they are. Don’t deprive them of a great show by getting in their way. There have been times where I’ve been shooting in a no photo pit situation and there’s only one person between me and the stage. If I have a big smile and ask them to switch places for just one song, most of the time they’re okay with it. If not, I ask for 30 seconds and they usually say yes to that. So, all of that to say, just don’t be a jerk and people are usually willing to help you out.
Back in October, I made my annual trek to New York City for Photo Plus Expo. But this year I did something that I hadn’t done in previous years… I signed up to have my portfolio reviewed while I was there.
These portfolio reviews are a little different than most others. They’re done by creative directors from major magazines, art buyers from ad agencies, photo editors from wire services, and other people who see tons of images every day from a multitude of photographers (and some of them are photographers themselves). My experience with this was a good one, but that’s another blog post for another day. I mention these portfolio reviews because one of them led to the events that took place this past weekend…
The last review I had was with a photo editor from Clear Channel Media + Entertainment, a company that owns 850 radio stations across the country. She liked my work so much that she wound up hiring me to cover the Jingle Ball concerts for Y100 in Miami and 93.3 FLZ in Tampa.
The lineups for these shows included everyone from up and coming artists like Walk The Moon, Karmin, and Austin Mahone…
…to megastars like Flo Rida, Enrique Iglesias, and Justin Bieber.
And since I was shooting for Clear Channel, I got an all access pass to both shows.
I arrived to the venues early so I could make sure I knew my way around, and to shoot some of the gear with artists’ names on it (think along the lines of Scott Kelby’s Travel Photography class, where he talks about shooting license plates and other small things to include in your photo book).
This kind of stuff may not make it into the immediate galleries that get posted online, but my editor asked for it so they can have it to include in other things Clear Channel might create throughout the year. Plus some of it is just cool behind the scenes stuff that most people don’t get to see!
With the all access pass, I was able to roam the halls and try to bump into the artists before and between sets. I didn’t have too many encounters like this, but all it takes is a couple.
I saw the guys from Walk The Moon signing posters before the show and struck up conversation with them for a few minutes. That set me up to get these shots as they came out of their dressing room to take the stage…
Once the shows started, there was hardly any time to breathe with only 2-4 minutes between each act. Both cities had a rotating stage so that one band’s setup could be prepared on one side while another band was performing on the other side.
That’s a shot of the stage in the process of spinning around, with the radio station’s banner up in the middle to act as a wall between the front and back.
This was the first time I’ve ever had a “card runner,” which is someone who takes cards from me and delivers them to the photo editor so they can download and edit photos to be uploaded while the show is still going on. I had heard of this happening for Sports Illustrated photographers at the Super Bowl and other important events, but it was a first for me! My only fear was, “Oh crap… My editor is going to see all the bad shots too!” But, since she’s also a photographer, I’m pretty sure she knows the bad to good shot ratio that exists for just about any photographer, so all was fine.
Some of the artists were on the bill for both shows, like OneRepublic:
So after shooting them the first night, I knew exactly what to expect the second night. Which meant I knew that on their last song, lead singer Ryan Tedder was going to make his way into the crowd. The first night, I went into the crowd behind him and got some okay shots. But the second night, I walked backward in front of him, shooting as he walked through all the screaming girls till he wound up here:
That’s probably my favorite shot of the entire weekend 🙂
Though, it was definitely fun to photograph the most watched person on YouTube as well…
After seeing all these acts in such a short amount of time, one person I am interested to watch as his career continues is Ed Sheeran. This guy seems like the real deal. He was a bit shy and humble in the press line, seems very talented, and the girls were going crazy for him.
During his last song, he asked the crowd take out their cell phones and light up the arena:
All in all, it was an exciting, exhausting, fun, crazy weekend. Can’t wait till next year!
As with most shows I shoot, I used two camera bodies (D4 & D700) and three lenses (14-24mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, & 70-200mm f/2.8). I actually only had one body (the D700), but I also got a D4 from the fine folks at LensProToGo, and was able to rock all weekend long!