You're Doing It Wrong

My name is Rob, and I am woefully ill-prepared. I had been to the venue before - WorkPlay in Birmingham. The last time I'd been there was the first concert I "covered". I managed to smuggle my DSLR in through security to shoot a MuteMath show. I shot everything from the same place in the crowd, and had an absolute blast.

I've never really been a concert guy. I mean, I've been to several. But, I'm always the guy who's just nodding his head, standing next to the sound booth. That's where everything will sound the best, and, ya know, people don't step on my feet or spill beer on me.

I've come to appreciate live music a lot more in the last few years. I think shooting that show sort of solidified the whole thing. DSC_2251-2 Recently, I was lucky enough to be granted an all access pass to the Brother Cane show at WorkPlay. A guy of whom I'm a huge fan, and seen countless times around town happened to be a member of the band. His name is Dave Anderson. Anyone that knows him, knows he's a cool cat.  While playing, he'll greet people and say goodbye to folks leaving, all without dropping a beat. He's a genuinely nice guy, and never seems to forget a face.

I went up to talk to him after a show, speaking of him being a nice guy, to thank him for singing happy birthday to me. He was busy packing up all his stuff for the next gig that evening, shuffling around, unplugging, etc. The conversation went something like this:

"Happy birthday!"

"Thanks, man! Hey, I hear you've got a Brother Cane show in Birmingham soon"

"Yeah, at WorkPlay." he says still shuffling around.

"Would you happen to want a photographer?"

"...yeah," as he drops what he's doing to look at me, "that'd be great! yeah... I can.. yeah! Yeah, I'd love to have you come down! I'll get you a pass."


I was gonna knock this one out of the park.  I bought a new lens I've been wanting for a long time to shoot this show. I started studying what I could about concert photography.

Then, the day of the show came. I made sure all my batteries were charged, and memory cards were functioning. I packed up all my stuff and hit the road, headed to Birmingham, blasting Brother Cane the whole time. I arrived right when I expected - one hour before the opening band was set to go on.

I text Dave as I'm walking in the door, letting him know that I've arrived.

The response I get back a few minutes later - "I'll be there in an hour."

I hadn't expected that one.

I wander around looking for the will call booth for a bit. Shortly after I find it, I decide it's time to go see if I can check out the lighting of the stage.

With two cameras hanging around my neck, all access pass in hand, I wind my way around to the lobby outside the actual venue. There's no one taking tickets yet. Odd.

I walk around to the entrance next to the stage, and see some folks milling around. They look like caterers.

Very odd, indeed. It's now half an hour before the show is supposed to start.

I hear some noise coming from inside the venue. I peer open one of the gigantic double doors, and poke my head in to see a DJ in one corner and zero instruments set up on stage. The place was packed with people all wearing formal attire. No one could have been under the age of 50.

It was that moment, I had a bit of an epiphany. They're not playing on the main stage. I didn't even know there was another stage. Shit.

Hauling ass back around the hallway leading to the entrance to the building, I duck into the only other area I could see holding enough people to harbor a rock show. There's a ticket taker there. Nobody in a tuxedo, but lots of people in t-shirts with Brother Cane stamped on them.

Still almost in full-on panic mode, I just about threw my camera bag at the guy behind the counter asking(telling) him to hang on to it. DSC_2060 As I entered the new venue that I'd never seen before, I notice it's already packed. There are people crowding the stage which can't be more than 2 feet tall. It's a really nice venue though. There's a sizable general admission area in front of the stage. Surrounding it, there was a walkway with lots of high-top tables and booths set up. The second floor was more of the same.

Meandering around, trying to find a decent vantage point while retaining the ability to move around, I realize it's probably not going to happen anywhere near the stage.

Double shit. My camera/lens configuration needed to be changed.

Just as I get everything all reconfigured, and walk back in, BeItTheMeans, the opening band, takes the stage. They're an awesome southern rock group hailing from Sylacauga, Alabama.

Trying to get the coverage I want, traversing the crowd with $2400 in moderately sensitive electronic equipment hanging from my neck, I run into Dave at stage left. He brings me back stage and introduces me to the band. Scott, Flip, and Damon all give me a really warm greeting, and seem pretty happy that I'm there. They get back to their pre-show routine. I manage to get a few snaps off, and sit down to sort through some of my shots of BeItTheMeans.

As Brother Cane is fixing to take the stage, I rush out the door to find a decent spot to start shooting. I managed to find my spot in Dave's "fan section" - a bunch of people I recognized from gigs around Huntsville. DSC_2078 The lights dim as the band takes the stage. Within the first few notes the stage is brightly lit. Bright red. Time to set to work.

I take my first few pics thinking this lightshow is really red.

I decide to make my way to the other side of the stage, flipping dials and mashing buttons on my camera to compensate for the lighting.

The opposite side of the stage proved to be just as bad. Triple shit. This was gonna be a real challenge.

It was then a quote popped into my head, a quote that I try to live my life by:

"If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong."

I was doing it wrong. I was worried about camera settings, lighting, positioning, perfecting composition, you name it.  Concerts cannot be shot in this manner. If I was constantly fiddling with the settings, and waiting for something I wanted to happen, I'd miss the whole damn show.  I needed to start having fun, and I did just that.

I got in the zone. I started letting the camera do some of the work for me. The camera served it's purpose - it became an extension of my hand. I captured anything and everything that caught my eye without discrimination.

I ended up with nearly 700 pictures that night, and had buckets of fun doing it.  There were fleeting moments captured in time that wouldn't have been possible had I still been concentrating on how it could have been a complete disaster.

I starting experiencing the world around me. I stopped doing it wrong, and started having fun.


To see what the disaster turned into, click here