Sunday had a strange feel to it, i wasn’t feeling too great, i was excited and at the same time i was really nervous, yet quietly confident… I hadn’t told many people about this amazing opportunity because i didn’t want to feel any more pressure than i already did. I’ve been trying to get a chance to photograph live music for some time now, I’ve spoken to local bands, emailed venues, contacted promoters and record labels. My efforts either got ignored or i received a straight ‘no’ in response.
I was in Birmingham on the 15th of November watching some of my favourite bands play. Florida based pop punk superheroes New Found Glory were headlining the show and in support were The Story So Far and one of my current favourites, The State Champs. I’ve followed New Found Glory since i was about 15 and have been to see them loads of times. When this tour was announced i booked a handful of tickets; Birmingham, Cardiff, Portsmouth and London.
I was probably most excited about seeing The State Champs, I’ve been listening to their album ‘The Finer Things’ pretty much non-stop all year; in the car, at home and at work. An album hasn’t grabbed me this much since The Starting Line released ‘Say It Like You Mean It’ and that was over ten years ago..
As they took to the stage in Birmingham i sipped my beer and grinned with excitement; the singer Derek DiScanio has so much energy on stage and had the crowd hooked almost straight away, they lived up to my expectations and i was so pleased that I’d finally got to see them, I’d had the tickets since March so this day felt long overdue. After the set finished Derek thanked the crowd and said that he’d be out by the merchandise stand if anyone wanted to say hello. That’s when i had an idea…..
I waited patiently behind a small crowd of people, he was having photos with fans, signing tickets, phone cases, CD’s and pretty much anything people wanted. When i got a chance to say hello i started by congratulating him on the awesome set and said that i was super excited to see them and i thought it was a great show. I figured i had nothing to lose and everything to gain, which is when i said ‘I’ve got a huge favour to ask….’ i went on to explain my passion for music and photography and how I’ve been trying to get a chance to shoot some live bands but had no success. I asked if there was anything he could do to help me out, what he did next was selfless, kind and awesome. He grabbed his phone out of his pocket and shared one of his contacts with me, he was more than happy for me to take photos of his band during the tour but said that I’d need to get the speak to their press agent first to get a photo pass sorted. I almost couldn’t believe what was happening, was this going to be my chance?
The rest of the show was really good and i left the venue with my mind racing. The next morning i composed an email to the press agent and had everything crossed for a positive response. We exchanged mails back and forth and i was informed that passes were rarely given out to freelancers, however, i would be able to get one on this occasion under the agreement that i wouldn’t take photos of the headline act, only the support bands. There it was, i had an email in my inbox confirming a photo pass for Cardiff; that’s when it all became very real.
I spent the next couple of days deciding what kit i should use, what exposure metering, what ISO, what lens and how many focus points. This was going to be unlike anything I’d shot before, I’ve done plenty of night and low light photography before but nothing that would be as high pressure or require as much quick thinking as this. With my current gear I’d have needed to change lenses and could risk missing that perfect shot because of having the wrong focal length. I decided to borrow a lens, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 which is widely regarded as one of Nikons best lenses and would allow me to shoot at a max aperture of f/2.8 from 24mm right through to 70mm, perfect for low light situations and having the zoom element would make life easier composing the shots.
The days leading up to the gig in Cardiff were strange to say the least, i found myself having the opportunity to speak to one of my inspirations and favourite music photographers Adam Elmakias, i met him in London whilst desperately trying to track down another favourite band of mine (A Day To Remember), but that’s a long story and I’ll save it for another blog post. Anyway, i met Adam and told him that i was shooting my first live show the next day and could he offer me any tips. He was really cool and helped calm my nerves, he said that i should concentrate on one person for a couple of songs to guarantee that i get good shots and then once these are in the bag, enjoy myself, and wait for ‘cool stuff to happen’.
As we made our way down the M4 towards Wales the sun was setting and turned the sky a crazy mixture of orange and pink. I’d been to the Cardiff Student Union before to see a few bands but the venue has recently been renovated, i was keen to see what the setup was like and how this might affect the photos. We managed to park up right outside the venue and grabbed an obligatory Subway before joining the queue. I was pretty nervous, i didn’t have my pass in-hand yet so there was always an element of doubt, what if it wasn’t on the door? What if my name wasn’t on the list? Thankfully it was, the press agent had kept to their word and put a pass aside for me at the venue.
We stood and watched a couple of the early bands play through their sets and i was busy thinking about various vantage points around the venue that i could get shots from. The standard rule is you’re allowed to shoot for 3 songs in the photo pit (between the crowd and stage), but after that i wanted to wander around and try to grab some other shots from within the venue to provide a different perspective.
The band prior to The State Champs were finishing up their set and that told me i had about 15 minutes before they’d take the stage. I’d been given a stage time of 7:50pm but i wanted to make sure i was set up and ready well before that. I grabbed a glass of water at the bar and made my way to the photo pit, man was i nervous, this could be my one chance and that made the pressure so much more intense. I approached the security guard stood at the entrance to the pit, he glanced at my pass and gave me an affirmative nod; he then mouthed ‘3 songs’ whilst gesturing with his hand, i gave him a thumbs up and a nod as i walked past. The stage was about 4 feet off the ground and luckily there was some space beneath it to put my camera bag, i had a couple spare memory cards and a selection of lenses with me. I ran through some final checks on my camera and paced up and down the photo pit getting a feel for the area, partly because i wanted to make sure there weren’t any cables, bags, railings or other trip hazards and partly to settle my nerves. I had my ear plugs in so everything was really quiet, the sound techs and a few people from the bands were on stage changing over kit and getting things ready. I glanced at my watch, 5 more minutes…….
As the stage cleared and the lights dimmed i started to get excited, I’m a huge fan of this band and i couldn’t wait to see them take the stage and to be part of this awesome show, i was also aware that i had a job to do and i needed to concentrate on getting some good shots. Derek took the stage and grabbed the microphone bursting into the chorus of ‘Nothing’s Wrong’.
From this point on things happened so quickly, Derek took the mic from the stand and was running, jumping and fist pumping his way around the stage, i was loving it, but it was so hard to get good shots, even when he stopped for a fraction of a second i had to hope there was enough light to capture the shot. There were only a couple of spot lights on the stage and they were moving as well so it was a case of watching through the viewfinder and relying on perfect timing.
I had an absolute blast during the first couple songs and even found myself fist pumping and singing along, the other photographers must have thought i was mad. It was tough work and there wasn’t a lot of room in the photo pit, security were doing their job, pushing past us and collecting bodies from the crowd which made even less space, but when these guys pat you on the shoulder you either move or get crushed.
As Derek was talking to the crowd before the third song started i ran to the side of the stage and grabbed my bag out from under it, i changed from the 24-70mm lens and put on my 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye lens. Before i knew it the third song was coming to an end and one of the security guys was waving at me to move on, i exited to the right of the stage and made my way up the stairs to the balcony, i wanted to grab a shot of the whole venue to put the show into perspective. I found a good spot and composed the image, it was a case of waiting for the right moment and taking the shot, Derek raised his microphone to the crowd during my favourite song ‘Easy Enough’ and the house lights came on at the same time which gave me a great chance to grab the shot.
The rest of the set was amazing and i got a chance to speak to Derek after, i thanked him for making this dream a reality and that i hoped I’d managed to capture some good photos of the set. He said it was cool that i managed to get a pass, he seemed genuinely pleased for me and said he was looking forward to seeing some of the photos. I let him know that I’d be at the show in Portsmouth on Wednesday and that I’d put them on a USB for him, he asked me to mail some to him too.
Wednesday was a rush, traffic was pretty bad on the way down and i had to eat my Subway in what seemed like record time, we literally walked through the front door of the venue just as Derek and The State Champs were taking the stage, these guys seriously get better every time i see them. After the set i spoke with Derek and gave him the USB with photos on, i asked if he’d received my e-mail; he looked at me and replied ‘yeah i got it, they’re amazing….. you killed it!’.
I’m happy with the photos and i learnt loads as well, i’m certain i’ll get better shots next time and can’t wait for the guys to come back, having said that, i’m seeing them again tomorrow night!