Photographing an “Unholy Din”

The evening of Monday 13th June saw a fascinating talk by Neil Chapman who specialises in photographing rock bands at their gigs. He has progressed up the tree and is now the in-house photographer for the O2 Academy in Leeds and band photographer for bands such as The Mission. A good attendance heard Neil start off with a potted biography to put things in context and then moved on to some photographs from his first 5 gigs – just to show some of the problems he encountered. The first problem he, and others, found was simply getting a pass to be able to take photographs at a concert. He eventually succeeded by writing about gigs which gave himĀ a pass to get in and eventually was able to get a photography pass. He used his early shots to show some problems likely to be encountered – and they demonstrated an horrendous environment for a photographer. There were mike stands in the way, loads of lighting behind the artists, strobe effects, mist from dry ice, coloured lighting, the audience (and the band) bouncing around, camera phones in the way, and loads of movement which in dark conditions usually means lots of motion blur.

Throughout Neil’s humorous take on the situations he found himself in enlivened his talk. One of the things that came through strongly was the need to learn about the lighting that may be used by the band and how to use it to advantage rather than fight against it. As a photographer in such situations you usually had to start at the smallest venues which, ironically, had the worst lighting and conditions so you needed more skill. Eventually you moved up to large venues where the lighting was better, making the job easier. Eventually he settled on a standard set of camera setting which would cope with most situation ( for information 1/125th sec, f2.8 – 4, spot metering, shoot in RAW and high speed continuous shooting). There were lots of fascinating atmospheric shots illustrating everything that Neil talked about which gave a real feel for the work he was doing.

In the second half Neil moved onto his portfolio rather than how to get the shot, just to show the range of images which could be achieved. With every shot there was an explanation and usually a story to put it into context. It also showed the range of band and artists he has worked with. One of his tips was to try and learn what is likely to happen so you can be ready for the good shot when it comes up. An example was a shot of the singer leaning out to the audience with the microphone in his hand. Neil ended up with shot of his back because he said he should have realised that he held the mike in his right hand so that if he held it out to the audience he would have to be on the other side of the stage. Simple knowledge but crucial. There was humour, information and great images all mixed together in a really good evening on a subject not many of us get access to. However Wakefield does have lively venues and a free festival each year so now we have the knowledge to go out and do something different.

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