Seal in Parnu Estonia 2011: Challenges & Rewards of shooting concerts without a Zoom
By Steve Huff
Happy Sunday morning to all! Don’t you just love Sundays? I usually DO love them because Sunday is usually my lazy day off. This way I wake up on Monday energized and ready to post something new to this very web site. As I write this though, it IS in fact Sunday and I have some free time today after shooting a Seal show last night in Parnu, Estonia.
At this moment, I’m sitting here in my hotel room for the last day in Tallinn, Estonia. We will all leave here in about 5 hours for the airport to head to Lithuania for the next show. Just last night (Saturday) I shot the 1st show of the tour in Parnu, Estonia and right off the bat let me say WOW WOW WOW! This was a VERY energetic and fast flowing show.
Instead of just posting images from the show, this time I wanted to write a little but about the challenges of shooting a concert without zooms…meaning only prime lenses. Also, I am not posting every image I shot at this show in this post. More can be seen at SEAL.COM if you are interested in seeing more from the Parnu show. I also have my Seal 2011 gallery HERE if you want to see my fave past shots. So, on to this post…
It all started with Sound check as the band went through a few tunes with Seal… as always, click the images for better versions.
This one was shot with the 90 Summicron Leica sent me to borrow for this tour. Even with the slight misfocus, I love this image. In fact, I prefer it slightly out of focus.
on the other hand, for this tour my Noctilux has been tuned up and is focusing like a champ…
Holly Palmer – one of the new backup singers for the show
For this summer European tour there have been some band changes and additions and I have to say, I have never heard Seal sound better live. Maybe it was the fact that it was still bright outside at 10pm, or maybe it was just that crazy excitement of the first show of the tour that energized everyone, because the whole band was in top form.
1st pic: Me just before showtime all geared up.
J.R. – Fuji X100 – He was wantig to buy my X100 and offered me $1350 on the spot but I turned down the offer :) I do believe Seal sold him one though as he had an extra.
I had my M9 along with a 24 Lux, 50 Noct and 90 Cron. Also had the X100 but it did not get used much at all, if at all. I only shot with it during the soundcheck. Why? Well, when you shoot a concert, or in my case, a tour, some days can be better than others.
Every day when I arrive to the venue I immediately look at the setup of the stage, wether or not there are barriers, and if I will have room up front to shoot. Sometimes, like this first show in Parnu, there were no barriers which means I had to try to squeeze my way through the crowd to get close enough to shoot. Getting in close is the best way to get shots when shooting with a 50 or 35, and to get more intimate images as well.
Sometimes the fans do not like this as they think I am just some gung ho photographer trying to push my way in front of them. I usually get an odd look or two when moving up, and sometimes, like yesterday, I could not position myself to where I really wanted to be because it was so crowded up front.
Be The Zoom
Shooting the shows with just a 50mm means that I HAVE TO BE THE ZOOM. I am fine with this as it is how I shoot, and how I always shoot but some nights are just tough to get the right angles. This makes some nights a real challenge, but I am always up for a challenge and welcome them. In fact, it pushes me harder to get better results with what whatever situation I am dealt with.
Seal in Parnu Estonia 2011 – M9 and the 50 Noct, all wide open at 0.95
I Like to Keep It Simple
Many pro concert photographers have loads and loads of gear. Usually two pro DSLR’s, mass amounts of memory cards, lighting and flash equipment, triggers, and multitudes of lenses. They have cameras set up on stage and have full roaming access and can even position themselves ON stage! I am sure that with all of this equipment you can get some killer shots like THIS guy (love the Bon Jovi Elvis impersonation). I am sure if I wanted to lug around some pro Nikon gear and some super wides and mass zooms I could get some shots like that but upon closer inspection, I am not sure I would want to.
I am in no way knocking his work, hell, he seems to kicks the pants off of me and his images capture the moment, excitement, and thrill of the show but personally, for me, I like more artistic personal types of shots. I love to play with the color, the depth of field as well as the emotion, and the sweat and excitement of the moment. I also don’t want some automated trigger and flash shooting my shots on stage. I guess I believe more in the Jim Marshall approach (RIP). He is the only concert shooter I have ever been inspired by, and back in his day he walked in with a couple of Leicas strapped to him and shot the show and the personal moments before and after.
Jim’s images with Hendrix, Cash, Dylan and Morrison have what I like to call “Soul”. Was it the Leica that had a hand in this? Not sure, but to me, Jim’s style managed to create classics.
Again, it is all about simplicity. With a simple tool such as a Leica M9 and one 50mm lens, magic can be made. No flash, no zooms, no auto focus. When you hit it, you hit it. When you don’t, you can even still walk away with a great photograph. Other times you walk away with nothing but when you do, it feels really great.
Seal In Parnu. I missed focus in the 1st shot but Seal was in a moment, and that moment was captured. Shooting something like the Nocti or even a 50 Summilux ASPH propels a shot from flat and boring to deep and emotional. The Silhouette is Seals fave shot of the Parnu show. It may also be mine. Why? Because it breaks free from the norm of most concert images.
Over 95% of concert photos I see were taken with Nikon or Canon with Zooms and Flashes. This kind of system will indeed provide you with an almost foolproof way of getting great shots but I have to say it…the results usually look like all of the other concert shots out there.
I have scoured and scoured the net and studied thousands or even tens of thousands concert images and almost all follow the same DSLR/FLASH/ZOOM formula. I could switch to that route but to me that would not be as rewarding, even if I only manage to capture one magical shot per show with my M compared to 20-30 with the gizmos and gadgets.
Before anyone starts commenting that I am a Leica fanboy, what I say can also be done with a D700 or 5D and a 50 1.4, or 85 1.4. Doesn’t have to be a Leica. I am just not into Zooms and flash.
All in all this article was supposed to be about the challenges of shooting concerts with prime lenses but it has seemed to kind of stray off track a bit due to my rambling. Basically, it really is a challenge to shoot a concert without a zoom but my take on it is that you will always get more creative results when you do so. Want to stick out from the crowd a bit? Use one camera, one fixed focal length, and use your body, eye, and mind to create the magic.
Not all of the great shots happen on stage. I always take a walk around during the show to see what is going on in the crowd. Nocti wide open.
90 cron, f/2 (should have shot it a 2.8)
So even though I can’t stand and zoom to compose my shot, even if I don’t have AF, and even if I do not always get a good position to shoot in and a ZOOM would be an easy way to get a shot, I still would not give up shooting the shows with the M9 and Noctilux, which is the perfect lens for this kind of work (IMO) and gives me many rewards back.
As I was sitting here writing this time has flown by and it is now time for me to pack and get everything together for the flight out. Until next time!
The f/0.95 flare…