Image © Peter Finnie
Shooting live shows and events has always been a hot button for me. As a guitar player myself, I can really get into the energy of a live performance event. Most photographers who have ever captured a great action shot can relate to the amazing feeling of capturing that powerful and meaningful millisecond of drama. When it comes to consistently bagging the shots that capture those fleeting moments, there are a few things to keep in mind that will ensure you get the shots you want to walk away with.
Tip #1 - Know Your Gear!
Be sure you know how fast the frame rate is on your camera. When it comes to action photography, you need to know your hardware limitations.
If you are shooting in low light conditions, be sure to test your camera and know how far you can push your ISO before the noise in the images make the shots unusable. When you can, use long telephoto lenses with the range to pick up the intimate action. When you can combine range with large apertures, your lens can 'drink in' the most light in situations when you need to buy latitude with the next tip…
Tip #2 - Use Fast Shutter Speeds
Keep in mind that most minute action happens quickly! Be ready with a fast enough shutter speed to capture the moment you are looking to preserve. There is nothing more frustrating than capturing a great expression on a performer’s face only to find out that you have a blurry image because your shutter speed was too slow!
Test your camera in manual mode with the highest clean ISO you can manage. Check your shutter speed and make notes of how high you can push the shutter speed up. You will be rewarded with more sharp shots in your edit stage to choose from!
Image © Peter Finnie
Tip #3 - Be Ready for Anything!
Watch for key moments and get to know your subject. Preparation and a little research in advance can pay huge dividends. If you are shooting a sporting event, take the time to learn the key moments of the sport. When you can anticipate the critical moments, you can better judge when to press the shutter. This is especially true for capturing musical performances. When you take the time to familiarize yourself with the band you are shooting, you’ll know when the outrageous gestures, or the searing lead guitar breaks are coming. When you know when the lead guitarist is going to go for his signature lead, you can be ready and not miss the emotion and expression that follows.
Have extra memory cards in a handy pocket, formatted and ready to go. You don’t want to be fishing for cards when you max yours out when shooting lots of photographs in quick succession. Which brings me to my next point...
Tip #4 - Shoot More Than You Think You Need To
Unless you are going to win a medal for being conservative, shoot more frames than you think you need. When it comes to live events, there are shifts in light that will make some of your images useless. Performers weave and duck behind mic stands and even each other. In an event situation, shooting lots of extra frames means you will come away with more keeper shots when it all shakes out in the editing stage. Regret is costly when you pull too few frames and get left with soft shots, or unusable frames you needed/wanted.
Image © Peter Finnie
Tip #5 - Watch Your Composition... As Much As You Can!
Firstly - Be sure it’s better to get the critical moment even if it’s not the best composed shot in the world! That being said, when you have the time to compose your shot, take the time to do so. Be familiar with quickly shifting the auto-focus points on your camera, or preselecting zones of focus. This will ensure that you not only get sharper shots, but you can also build some compositional sense into your shots.
Tip #6 - PAY ATTENTION!
When shooting events, STAY VIGILANT!
When you are on-site at an event, always pay attention to your surroundings! At one particular event, I shot photos from an elevated pier, from a speeding boat, from the ground, from a floating dock being tossed by boat wakes, from amid a crowd of thousands, and also from the front and sides of a stage. In each of these locations there were risks and hazards to be aware of. The best shots are usually obtained from being fairly close to the action, but that never means you should compromise on being as safe as possible. I've seen a colleague photographer get taken out by a flying snowboarder, and I’ve even been hit by a flying skateboard myself. Even when you take precautions, things can go differently than originally planned.
When it comes to live events, always be sure of your footing, and be sure you don’t lose mental focus on the action close at hand and all around you. If you are working side stage or around any equipment, watch for trip hazards. The goal at the end of the day is to return home safely and with great images in hand!
By being sure about the capability of your gear with some advance practice, knowing your subject, and ‘being in the moment’ shooting lots of frames confidently, you will be better able to consistently capture many more of those awesome live event moments. Happy Event Shooting! - Peter
Peter Finnie is a portrait, wedding and commercial photographer, author and trainer based in Tottenham, Ontario, Canada. He is author of 'Photographer’s Mental Gear - The Mindset & Business Side of the Lens.'