Respecting the Room

I love going to quiet, intimate gigs and listening to acoustic music by solid song writers. I'm really lucky here in London to know people who organise some amazing evenings on a regular basis where writers and performers of insane quality pedal their melodious wares.

I went through to one such gig at The Old Queens Head in Angel on a recent public holiday.

I'll be honest and say that I find shooting at these gigs quite challenging. It's often difficult to strike a balance between moving about and getting interesting shots, and making sure I am no distraction to the artists, or those enjoying the music. The fact is though that you have to move around because, at the end of the day, you are shooting the same individual, in the same sort of pose, against the same background. So you have to find ways to mix it up, whilst being respectful of everyone else in the room, and not making a nuisance of yourself.

I have made a few simple rules that I follow:

  1. DISCRETION: I don't move during a song. I find a spot during the applause break and stay there until the next one. This often means having a quick look around the room before the gig kicks off and picking a couple of angles I'd like to shoot from. I also make sure that if I stand in those spots which will give me the shots I want, that I'm not obstructing anyones view. I don't have the right to ruin someone else's experience of the gig, just because I have a camera in my hand.
  2. TIMING: Once I've chosen a spot for the song, I wait for a moment. I use the timing of the song, and the structure, to anticipate highlight moments where the artist will hit a high note or do something interesting with their instrument. Don't just fire continuously. I was at a gig recently where this guy was running around the room, standing in front of the patrons and blocking their view, whilst shooting away on burst mode with his camera which obviously made for a huge distraction. Don't do that! Respect the room. Your shots will also be better if you are deliberate about when you click the shutter, rather than just adopting the 'spray and pray' approach.
  3. APPRECIATION: I always make sure to enjoy the song. I feel personally like I am doing the artist a great disservice if I am just concentrating on the shots I'm taking rather than enjoying the moment they're creating, especially in an intimate venue. In that moment I attempt to be present and soak up what's going on. I came to listen to music, and shooting the musician is a bonus. I never want to end up going to gigs TO shoot musicians (unless it's a job). I am there to appreciate the work the artist has put in. I see too many photographers shooting gigs and I think to myself, "Wow, you missed that entire set because you were obsessively shooting and chimping." Be a fan first! I think it will come through in your images.

This particular day I shot everything with my 50mm and 85mm primes, and I tried to use the afternoon light coming in through the windows wherever possible. I often shoot in these venues at night so I was keen to have these photos stand out from the rest by making the most of the sunlight coming in.

Here are a few of the shots I took. I have added links to the artist's web pages below the images. Be sure to look them up. They are all very good at what they do.

(Some of you may recognise the second shot is a Bokeh Panorama made up of 12 stitched shots.)


Antonio Lulic and John Parker


Russell Swallow

...and for a giggle, this was the impromptu media pit including the talented duo from Mid Tea Sessions. A very respectful group of photographers who shoot music professionally:


Mid Tea Sessions