Earlier, we introduced you to our 12 favorite music photographers in North Texas. We got more than 50 nominations, and our team of expert judges narrowed it down to these 12. Over the next two weeks, we'll be introducing you to each of the finalists in turn by having them share five of their favorite concert photos and answering a few questions about their process and passion. One of are final photographers is Lauren Landes of Soundcheck Dallas, whose work can be viewed from their website, Soundcheck Dallas
Lauren, what's the best thing about live music?
Live music is actually what got me into photography. The lights, the atmosphere, and seeing a band you jam out to in your car - there is something about that leaves you almost euphoric. You also get to experience musicians in their element and see their raw talent - or sometimes their lack thereof. A couple years ago when this man and woman walked on stage to perform and my immediate reaction was, "You have one guitar, two microphones and no band - how are these guys going to hold a crowd's attention?" Turns out when these two - The Civil Wars - hit their first note, they not only grabbed the crowd, but silenced them in a way I have yet to see matched. Other aspects that make live music great is the volume, the energy, the sense of community. But I think ultimately, it's the memory and the connection that each person leaves with that makes live music fantastic.
What makes a great concert photo?
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There are usually three things that I really focus on the second I walk into a venue. The first is lighting. For bands where a photo pass is issued, a photographer usually gets 3 songs to shoot while in the photo pit - so getting the lighting down fast is very important. I'll try to look up the band beforehand and see how their previous shows looked so I have an idea of where my camera settings should be - otherwise it's a toss-up. Some shows may only use one color of lighting or they may use a mixture. Some hardly have any lighting, which always produces quite a challenge because the use of a flash is almost always prohibited. If you can figure out the lighting, you're golden. My second focus is looking for an unusual shot. Some bands literally stay in the same place for most of the show - you can only take so many photos of a guy playing a guitar before it becomes mundane. So I look for quirks, face expressions, or try catching the artist looking into the camera. My third focus is to capture an overall feeling. When I look at a concert photo specifically, I want to feel like I'm back at the show. I want others to look at my photos and wish they would have been there. There are other important aspects like setting the camera correctly, making sure the subjects are in focus and choosing the perfect lens. But overall: lighting, an unusual shot and creating a connection are what makes a great concert photo.
What's the strangest thing that has happened to you while photographing live music?
On a professional level, one of the strangest things I have seen is a photographer who was drunk and still drinking while in the photo pit. I remember even the band glancing down with a look of "WTF" on their faces. Outside of the pit, every concert has its odd moments. I've seen everything from the inside of a toilet paper roll being used roll a joint to girls who burst into uncontrollable tears when the band hit the stage to people diving over me to try and get on stage. I've honestly come to the point where I don't notice all the crazy, because out of the ordinary situations are expected when more than a couple hundred excited fans gather in one space.
What makes a professional photographer as opposed to an amateur?
Being a professional versus an amateur doesn't simply mean one photographer has more knowledge of shooting than the other. In my opinion, what is done with the camera only plays into half the definition. Being a professional means knowing proper etiquette, understanding your gear, recognizing a good shot, being fast on your feet and not limiting your scope. The etiquette aspect is a big one, especially when shooting live music. Photographers are granted front row access to shows where fans pay a pretty penny to simply get in the door and that is something important to remember. I was at a show where a photographer literally stepped in front of my lens and shoved people on his way just to get the shot. Everyone was furious and it ruined part of the experience for the for the devoted fans.
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Knowing your camera and being flexible is key as well. Usually, photographers have 3 songs in the pit to capture the magic. So if the lighting is totally different for each song, that means 3 different adjustments have to be made on the fly. If you have no idea what settings can make something like all red lighting look decent, you're dead in the water.
Pick one of the photos you've submitted and tell us a little about it: Where was it shot, who is featured and (most importantly) how did you capture it? We'd love to hear logistical description or technical breakdowns or whatever else you want to tell us.
One of my favorite photos and favorite shows I've shot all together was Metric at the House of Blues. It was one of my favorites because it was ridiculously difficult to capture and I was the only photographer in the pit for a sold out show. This photo is of lead singer Emily Haines. She's an incredible entertainer and undeniably throws all her energy into each performance. I realize this photo would probably not be used as an editorial piece but I love it. The reason this show was so hard to shoot is because the lighting was a deep blue and purple the entire time, along with an ongoing fog machine. So I had three songs to make the band not look like smurfs or hidden by the fog. I was also shooting for the band and the only photographer there, so there was that additional pressure.
Emily moves around constantly, so capturing a solid photo of her in the midst of the blue strobes and dense stage was a little difficult. I was shooting with at 2.8 with the ISO at 1250 and the shutter at 1/200. She was standing behind her piano, which gave for a decent photo, but it didn't give me the feel I was looking for. So I focused in on just her microphone, waited a moment and then snapped as she raised her hand while holding out a note. Looking at this picture, I feel like you can see the passion in what she was singing - which was their hit Breathing Underwater. It was an incredible show and made for some excellent photos, even though I walked out of the venue nervous that everything I had was going to be either overexposed or color washed. But it worked beautifully.