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Live it Big Time - Big Time Rush

When I was growing up, the big boy band was New Kids on the Block.  I liked them, but unlike other girls, I didn't like-like them (as kids then would say).  

Getting older and out of the teenage range, there was 'N'Sync, Backstreet Boys, and don't forget about Hanson (secret note: I still enjoy listening to "MMMBop" occassionally).  Again, I liked them, but didn't get obssessed.  

Now you've got bands like Big Time Rush and One Direction, and I still can appreciate them for what they are.  A boy band designed to sing pop-feel-good lyrics, and get all the teenage girls to swoon when it appears they're singing to them individually ("omg omg omg he LOOKED AT ME!!").  But I still can appreciate the music, and definitely can appreciate the stage show.

Big Time Rush appeared at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield recently, and I had a blast shooting them.  First off, this was actually one shoot where I wished it was from the soundboard because when you have four guys constantly dancing and running all over the stage, closer isn't necessarily better.  It was a challenge to get all of them in the shot at one time (a very big challenge), and it was a challenge to get dancing shots.  Second, as a pretty large venue, the lighting was phenomenal.   I shot at ISO 800 the entire night, which was a far cry from other venues when I'm at 5000.  AND it was fun!

I had also gotten a review ticket so after the three songs and stowing my gear, I went back in, sat down, and enjoyed part of the show.  Surrounded by screaming teenage girls (thank you Etymotics earplugs), and even their parents, I still had fun, and thought back to when I was a teenage girl (although I didn't scream like that) in the midst of the 80's hair band era.

Don't knock the boy bands if you're shooting concerts, they can be a good time.

More photos for viewing or purchase!


On Shooting from the Soundboard

I had my first soundboard shoot recently when I shot Kelly Clarkson.  I found out pretty much that day that it was a soundboard shoot, and I went into the concert hoping my 70-200 was good enough.  I did try to calibrate my 1.4x extender, but couldn't get it calibrated right, so I gave up on using it.

Did I enjoy the soundboard shoot?  More no, than yes honestly.  What were the issues I came across?

1) Bring a stool or something to stand-on.  While normally the soundboard is set on risers, or a little platform, we were shooting from in front of the soundboard putting us on the exact same level as the crowd.  I'm too short to shoot over everybody when they were standing up, so ended up shooting up the aisle whenever the singer happened to walk across the stage. 

2) It's much easier to get more of the band on the stage from the back.

3) You need a really long lens.  70-200 was "ok", and it was only ok because the soundboard was about halfway back.  Any further and I would've been screwed.

4) Did I mention if you're short you have a problem when people stand up?

So it has its pluses and minuses, however I still like shooting from the pit better.


Photoshop World Concert Precon Review w/ 1 Year Later Update

I took Alan Hess and Scott Diussa's Concert Photography preconference at Photoshop World last year in Orlando. While they didn't offer it in Las Vegas, it's coming back for the upcoming DC show. I'm reprinting in full my original review for those who may be interested in signing up for it, and am adding a "how has it actually helped me a year later" section at the end, so make sure to look for that!

And now, without further ado:

Photoshop World Orlando 2011: The Concert Precon

This is the first of a few parts of my Photoshop World Orlando 2011 wrapup.

Orlando Photoshop World 2011 is in the bag. This was my second Photoshop World, and still had a lot of the same excitement as my first, the difference being I actually knew people this time.

Instructor Dave Black said that Photoshop World reminds him of summer camp, and that is one of the best analogies I've heard. It's so true. With my first PSW last September in Las Vegas, I didn't know a single soul, but I'm at a point now in my life where I really enjoy meeting new people, and try to be as social as I can. I met a lot of great people there, and have been talking to them over Twitter and email for the past 6 months. While not all of them attended the Orlando show, enough of them did so I was looking forward to seeing them again.

Last time I took the Photo Safari precon, this time I took the concert precon with Alan Hess and Scott Diussa. At the time I signed up for it, I really was just doing it because it sounded like fun. In the couple months before the precon, I had an opportunity to take photos of my first concert, and really enjoyed it, so decided to try pursuing that. 


Alan and Scott are not just amazing photographers, but amazing teachers. I had already watched their class on Kelby Training, and read several articles that Alan had written on the subject,  but there just was no substitute for the real thing.  The first part of the session was lecture/slideshow.  They presented the information in a clear way, followed by great examples, and had no trouble sharing their "secrets" with the class.

The second part of the class was the actual concert shoot. Big Electric Cat played, and just like in the real world of concert shooting, everybody only has the first 3 songs to shoot. You really need to try having all your camera settings dialed in before the shoot begins so you don't waste too much time fiddling with your camera. 3 songs really isn't a lot of time, so everybody was running all over the place trying to get shots. 

The only part which annoyed me about this, which I'm guessing is accurately reflecting a real world scenario, is the fact that Alan and Scott made a huge deal about what to do, and what not to do in the photo pit. Once we got to the shoot, I appeared to be the only one following any of these, especially the one about being careful if you're going to move or stand up so you don't get in somebody else's shot. It's like everybody was out for themselves without realizing it's much better to work as a team. There were even people leaning on the stage (a big no no), and creating weird shadows for the other photographers (Scott did talk to those people a few times, but considering how many of my second set photos have that same person's shadow, I'm guessing it didn't work). I guess I'm just too nice. :)


After 3 songs,the band stopped playing, and Scott and Alan got on stage and gave us real world advice pointing out things they noticed us doing or not doing, or certain aspects about lighting or positioning. This was something you couldn't get in the Kelby Training online class, and was easily the most helpful part of the whole precon. For instance, Scott pointed out that when Scott Kelby was singing, from the left side, you'd get a mic shadow on his face, but not from the right. So, if you were on the left, you either couldn't get a good shot of him singing, or you'd have to wait for him to pull back from the mic.  

Then the band played another set, this time with a bonus 4th song with Scott Diussa on guitar. With new knowledge in tow, we all set out to get some more shots. 

After the set, we did another small session in the classroom with info on workflow and post processing. It was then that we found out about the contest. If you're shooting for a service, you sometimes only have a little time to pick out your one best shot and submit it, so that's what we had to do. We had until 10pm to submit something, and the winner would get a new Nikon camera. 

I looked through all my shots, and while I thought I had some decent keepers, the one that really caught my eye was one I got of Scott Diussa on guitar. The pose was pure rock and roll, the lighting was nice, and it was in focus. Using Nik Silver Efex Pro I converted it to black and white, and submitted it. 

Scott Diussa shreds

It wasn't until the next morning at the opening keynote that I learned mine had been selected as one of the top 3 finalists!  While I didn't win, it was still awesome to have been chosen as a finalist. 

I highly recommend the precon to anyone, even if you don't necessarily shoot concerts, because besides being fun and having a couple of natural instructors, you learn a lot about low and odd light shooting situations which can be applied to other photographic pursuits. Shooting concert photography is extremely difficult, and takes a lot of practice, and I feel a bit better prepared now.  I'm hoping to apply this new knowledge in situations in the future.

Update: 1 Year Later

It's been almost a full year since I wrote that original post.  So in that time period, where have I gone since that initial class?  Prior to taking the class, I had shot 2 bands. 1 was just because it was part of a snowboarding competition that I brought my camera to, and the other was at a very very small local club.

When I got back from that Photoshop World, I started sending out letters to bands that were coming to town.  I didn't target any big bands or singers, I targeted bands that were playing a small club (but a step above that really really small club).  Was it scary at first to contact these guys? Yes, but I figured, "if they say no, I'm not any worse off than I am at this moment."  As I wasn't shooting for anybody but myself, I took Alan's and Scott's advice, and just said that up front.

Dear XXXX,

My name is Michelle Hedstrom, and I'm starting out in concert photography. I don't shoot for an outlet yet, but I wanted to ask you if it would be possible to get a photo credential for the XXX show in Denver, CO on XXXX?

Even though I'm just getting started, I definitely will not use any flash photography, and I'm very respectful of other photographers in the photo pit.  I also will adhere to any rules you put forth.

I thank you for your consideration, and hope to hear back from you

While I never heard back from the majority, I heard back from enough to at least let me start shooting.  Josh Gracin (from one of the earlier American Idol seasons) was my first, followed by One, a Metallica cover band.  It turns out these were all at the same club, so I started talking to the owners, who then gave me the go-ahead to come in and shoot whenever I wanted, which led to Bret Michaels.

At one of those concert shoots, I met a fellow photographer, Kate Martin, who told me about  It pays per page view (so, virtually nothing), but it was a good next step to being able to say "hey, I now shoot for these guys," and hopefully would get me better credentials.  I was accepted to that in May (for sports, I didn't start doing concerts for them until July/August), which started leading to bigger bands and bigger concert venues.  Hot Chelle Rae.  Queensryche.  B-52s. The Mayhem Festival with Anthrax and Megadeth. (you can see my stuff at I got to shoot the bands that I wanted (assuming I could get the credential), but I started getting more and more "yes" answers when I asked for a credential because I now had a valid outlet.

I knew I needed to move forward still, so started sending emails to some of the newspapers around here who had entertainment sections online.  I definitely got a lot of "we're full" emails back, but a few of them said, "ask again in a month."  I made sure to followup with that (a calendar is a wonderful thing), and just recently got a hit back from the local Reverb site.  I still can shoot whomever I want, assuming nobody else has taken it first from Reverb, and the editor gets the credential for me.  I just shot my first concert for them in the best-lit venue I've shot in so far:

So a year later, would I still recommend the concert precon?  Definitely a resounding YES.  If you're at all interested in concert photography, and want information and you have the personality to handle the follow-through afterwards, then definitely go for it.  And besides, it's just fun. :)

All Access: the ultimate how-to book in concert photography

What if you were a beginning concert photographer who wanted some information on getting started?  Previously you had to rely on blog posts, asking people over social media (which only started lately) or other photographers, randomly figuring it out yourself, or if you had the chance and the money, attending the Concert Precon at Photoshop World (note: still attend this if you have the chance even after reading the book - there's no substitute for live training and being able to ask questions as needed).

That's all changed with the release of the new book, All Access: Your Backstage Pass to Concert Photography by Alan Hess.

I've talked about Alan being my mentor before in this blog, and it's for good reason. With over 20 years of concert photography experience, and shooting bands like the Grateful Dead, Anthrax, guitarist Billy Morrison, and even teen pop idols like Justin Bieber, you can definitely say he's been through it all, the good and the bad.

When I say this book covers everything, it really covers everything. It starts off with how you get credentials for any type of show.  Who you need to ask, what your chances are of getting them, if you're just starting out what you should do.  Then it gets into the rules of the pit, the gear you should have, and basic exposure information.

(click to see book excerpt bigger)

Still not enough?  How about information on getting shots of each instrument or band member, the basics of shooting at different types of venues (starting from the small local bar, and going all the way up to the 20,000 and greater person venue), festivals, the different types of bands you'll encounter, and what to do if you happen to be able to get backstage.

And if your brain isn't going to explode at that point, there's an entire section on post-processing the images you got.

Besides all the fantastic information, Alan has a great and easy to read writing style. The first part of the book is like the opening band.  You don't necessarily want to see it since you've come for the headliner, but once you do, you're pleasantly surprised by how good it is, and it gets you excited for the rest of the concert.  The photos included in the book all have a purpose besides "hey look at me, I'm a cool concert photo," and you want to keep turning pages to see what's going to happen next.

Aside from all of that, Alan contacted several professionals for some of their expertise.  From photographers, to guitarists, to managers, and even a lighting engineer, their insight will help you start formulating your own plan.

(click to see book excerpt bigger)

I sat down with the book intending to read it over a matter of days, but it sucked me in and I finished it very quickly before I realized how long I'd been reading.  That's the beauty (and maybe the curse) of this book, and Alan's writing style. :)

Do I recommend this book if you're at all interested in concert photography? Definitely.  Do I recommend this book even if you've been doing concert photography for awhile?  Most definitely.  As photographers we're always learning, I don't care who you are. Everybody will be able to gleen something new they didn't know before. 

Book excerpts reprinted courtesy of Alan Hess.

Always Bring Your Credential Approval

We live in a technology age where everything is done via email, social media, and other technological means.  Our email archives are chock full because we can easily search (well, if you use anything other than MacOS X Lion Mail, but that's a different story) to find what we're looking for.

So when I tell you what Alan Hess told me, which is to always print out your concert credential approval, a lot of you are going to laugh and say "well I can always get it on my phone if needed."  However, I ran across a time last week where I did need it, and it was helpful to not have to search for it on my phone.

I had emailed back and forth with the Sister Hazel publicist a few weeks ago, and had filed away the email where she had given me approval to shoot, and printed it out while getting my gear ready for the concert.  On Wednesday evening, I showed up to the venue. The venue manager was in the box office, and was completely confused when I said I was picking up a photo credential.  There was no list, he didn't know I had prior approval, and definitely wasn't going to just randomly let me in with all my gear.  

At that point I reached into my pocket, and whipped out the approval email from the publicist.  He took it (see, another reason you want to print it out - so random manager doesn't take your phone) and went to contact the tour manager backstage.  I'll note that it was about 30 degrees outside, and I was wearing a thin sweatshirt since I normally leave my jacket in the car so I don't have to deal with it (another reason to print it out - so you don't have to stand in the cold searching for that email).  

A few minutes later he comes back and has made up a photo wristband and instructed the door guys and security at the front to let me shoot.  Apparently the tour manager also thought I was a random person just showing up, and said "no," but once the venue manager showed him the email from the publicist, he had no problems with letting me in.  I thanked the venue manager for his help, went in, shot the standard three songs per band (two openers and the main) from the side like I always do at this venue, and went about my merry way.

Always have a printout, it just makes things much easier.

Photo Friday: Death Angel

I shot Death Angel, Testament, Anthrax a few weeks ago. While I didn't end up staying for Anthrax (which turned out to be the correct decision based on the fact the crowd was rowdy and the photographers had to leave the pit), I hadn't looked at my Death Angel photos until today.  There is something to be said for not only being close, but having a good enough camera to shoot at ISO 6400.

Don't sign the concert photo release

This was actually going to be a post for Monday, and it was going to contain photos from my Tesla shoot tonight.

Wait, what? You don't see any photos of Tesla here, and it's the Wednesday before you say?  Oh, that's because even though I did get a photo pass for them, I declined the shoot.  Why? The release they wanted me to fill out.

This is actually the first time I've had to fill out a concert release, and I read it very carefully before deciding to not sign it. Here's the full release for your pleasure, with email addresses removed

Ok first, paragraph one, would actually be ok with me if they took out the word "noncommercial."  The way it's written is basically saying that I can't even post the photos online anywhere on my blog, for friends to see, on, Facebook, wherever unless I run it by them first.  Paragraph three is the same thing and not only can't you give them a link to the photos, but you have to give them the actual photos. Note it doesn't say anywhere they'll delete said photos when they approve them.  What's to stop them from just keeping them?

But honestly, the whole having to run images by them for approval is what stopped me from filling this out.  As somebody put it to me this morning, it's like letting the people who make the news tell the newscasters what to say about them.  

This definitely isn't the worst release I've heard about.  Apparently Black Label Society is allowed to request high res images from the photographer for any marketing and retail material (which they can then sell), and you have to give it to them for free.  Why anybody would sign that, I don't know, but stuff like this won't stop until photographers take a stand, and refuse to sign these releases.

Maybe if the bands start noticing they don't have any photographers this will stop. Or maybe they won't have to worry about it when the only people in the photo pit are the fanboys with their cell phones who are just excited about being that close and don't care about what they have to sign to get there.

Followup: Where to Find Contact Info for Publicists

I wanted to do a quick addendum to the post I did about a month ago on finding out publicist contact info.  That was dedicated to finding the publicist for a band. But there's a key person I completely left out. While I like contacting the publicist directly, what if you can't find them?  What do you do?  Well, contact the promoter of the show!  They'll have direct access to the publicists and can help you get a photo credential.  

So that begs the question, how do you find out the promoter?  Around here, it's a lot by venue, and there's only two main promoters (AEG or Livenation).  Call up the venue, ask them who's promoting a particular show, and more often than not, you'll get a phone number.  Then you have a direct line to the promoter to phrase your request.  Call the number, they'll probably give you an email address.  For the local AEG affiliate, they even said I can email any of the promoters in the office (there's apparently only three), and they'll forward it to the correct one, assuming it's an AEG show.

The downside I've found with this is that the promoter will normally not find out until the day before or the day of the show if they can get you a photo pass, so you need to be willing to move at a moment's notice. I haven't had that experience with the publicists - I've known normally a couple weeks in advance.  But the two times I've contacted a show's promoter I've found out that day if I got cleared or not.

Sometimes the Concert Song Limit is a Bummer

As a concert photographer, I completely and totally understand about song limits.  Well, I don't necessarily understand them, since they seem like an arbitrary standard, but I understand that they're in place, and if I expect to shoot shows, I need to abide by them.  I'm the first out of the pit as soon as that third song ends (or second, depending on what the limit may be), and always give the security guards a nod, or a wave, or some motion of understanding. It's very important to me to have a good reputation, not just with the promoters and publicists, but with the venue staff.

Most times, the song limit doesn't bother me.  However, there've been a few shows where I really wished that song limit wasn't in place. Last night, shooting Weird Al, was definitely one of them.

I remember being a kid driving in the car with my dad, and listening to Casey Kasem's American Top 40.  According to Weird Al's chart history on Billboard, it was 1984 which sounds about right.  "Eat It" came on, and I'd never heard it before, and after listening to the lyrics, I was hooked on the phenomenon known as Weird Al Yankovic.

Since then I've bought the majority of his albums, and seen him in concert four times.  When I saw he was coming to Denver on his new Alpocalypse tour, I had to try and get in and shoot him. Regardless of how that turned out, my husband and I had tickets for the show, so I was going to see him anyways, but figured he would be fun to shoot.

I'll get into more specifics of this particular shoot another time, but here's one of the photos I got from the first three songs (as was his limit).

Pretty standard type shot, but I still like it.  After the third song, I sat down in my seat to enjoy the rest of the show.

If you've never been to a Weird Al concert, it's an experience.  He does several costume changes over the course of the show, from putting on a fat suit for "Fat", to dressing up as Jim Morrison for "Craigslist", to not only dressing up as a Jedi for both encore songs ("The Saga Begins", and "Yoda"), but also has a full stormtrooper entourage, complete with R2-D2 and Darth Vader.

In fact, here's a photo of an older show that someone took to give you an idea:

Weird Al

Weird Al by Matt Schilder, on Flickr

Everytime he did a costume change, I was cursing the song limit. Was I tempted to pull my camera out of my bag (which was sitting comfortably under my seat) and take some shots? Yes. Did I? No. I had established a good relationship with the show promoter, and had agreed to abide by the show rules.  I didn't want to risk ruining that, which would in turn ruin any possibilities I had of shooting future shows by her promotional company (which they handle a lot of in Denver).

Sometimes though, it just stinks.

A Few Sports and Concert Tips

I've been learning a lot about shooting various sports and concerts over time, and wanted to share some of what I've learned/others have told me about here.  I'm not going to go over the whole "be respectful and considerate thing" since I've mentioned that before, and honestly, it should be obvious.  Most of this stuff will apply across the board to both.

I need to give kudos to Alan Hess here, some of this stuff he mentions in his Photoshop World Concert Precon, and in his Kelby Training class, but I don't remember which ones. It's one thing to be told, and another thing to see it in reality.

1) Try to get away from other photographers

This is more true in concerts, because in a lot of sports, you have a set place to shoot from.  Like for the Colorado Rockies, you can shoot from the 1st base photo pit, the 3rd base photo pit, or the concourse, nothing in the stands.  But for high profiled concerts where there might be a small photo pit, and a lot of shooters, try to not get caught up in the fray.  When I shot Mayhem Festival, everybody started on the right side for Megadeth, and was packed like sardines there, and I started on the left, and had a lot more breathing room.

2) Watch your background

In a lot of cases, you really don't have much of a choice.  If you're shooting a high school soccer game on a field which is surrounded by a fence with houses, the best you can do is make sure the background is as out of focus as possible.  However in a lot of cases, just moving around and switching angles is good.

I really like this snowboard photo, but the lift is in the background. Something I should've been more aware of when shooting it.

3) Shooting wide vs shooting tight

I know people who shoot very tight on their subjects so they don't have to crop. I also know people who shoot wider on their subjects and crop just a little bit if they have to.  Neither is right or wrong, just be aware if you shoot tight, to be careful of things you might cut off, like the guitar stock.  Not that I'm saying you never want to cut off the guitar stock, but there's ways to make it look good.  Personally I like shooting just a tad wide since I do have a bad habit of cutting off the top of the stock when I'm trying not to.

4) Don't crop at a joint

Cropping a person tighter is fine, just don't crop directly on top of a joint (knee, shoulder, elbow).

5) Microphone stands and microphones suck

That's it. They're a necessity of shooting at a concert, but they really suck because they're always in the way of something.  Just be careful how you shoot the performer that's behind the stand, and you should be ok.  

Here's an example of a really horrible angle to shoot the singer at since you can't see his face.

6) Watch your shadows

More of a function of concerts than of sports, but the lighting can play some weird tricks on the performer's face.  A lot of times if the singer is right up against the mic, you'll get a weird shadow on their face.  If you wait until they hit a high note and pull back just a little bit, you'll get less of a shadow.

While I'm not a big fan of this photo regardless, it shows what the shadow can do.  In this case, it's cutting part of his face in half.