From hardcore rock to bubble pop, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t like attending concerts! Think dramatic stage lights, international-standard stage presence and of course, the talented artists that make the night magical. Filipino photographer Lemjay Lucas tells us more about the art of capturing these moments.
EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/800, 160mm
Lead guitarist Wayne Sermon of Imagine Dragons pulling the right strings
Hi Lemjay! Tell us a little about yourself.
Before getting into Concert Photography, I started out as a Landscape and Architectural/Cityscape Photographer, which I’ve been doing for 9 years now. I know it’s a bit weird that I am also into Concert Photography, since I am into a genre that involves nature and buildings. However, my knowledge in low-light Cityscape Photography greatly helps me in capturing concert performances, which are usually in low light.
As a Concert Photographer, I’ve been into the craft for 4 years now. I’ve shot the likes of Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Maroon 5 and more recently Kylie Minogue, Adam Lambert, Queen and Imagine Dragons.
I don’t have a particular style when shooting concerts, however, what I always look out for is the emotion of the artists while performing their piece in dramatic lighting. It is very easy to take a photo of a performer singing on stage or playing the guitar, but capturing the pureness of an emotion is very difficult. As a photographer, I try my best to get a feel of that moment and know when to press the shutter. I want my viewers to feel the concert’s atmosphere, and take them through that moment in time just by looking at my photos.
Learn more about shooting in low light conditions here: In Focus: Night Photography
EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/4L USM lens, f/4, ISO800, 1/400, 149mm
What got you into concert photography?
Well before getting into photography, another passion of mine was music. I loved singing and was part of my school’s choir group. Growing up, there was a part of me that wanted to become a performer, just like my musical idols that I heard on the radio and watched on MTV. My taste in music is very eclectic, but I am a big fan of Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake.
In June 2013, I attended the concert of the band Fall Out Boy who performed at Fort Canning Park in Singapore. That was the very first concert performance that I watched live. The crowd’s energy and the band’s performance were so electrifying that it made me want to preserve images of those moments. That time, I had with me my Canon PowerShot S110 and I captured a few photos of the concert while I was in the mosh pit.
During the last part of the band’s performance, lead vocalist Peter Wentz jumped onto the crowd while singing and I snapped an image of that significant moment. The thrill of taking photos of moments and emotions during that performance, while listening to my favorite band made me realize that I wanted to get into concert photography and add this genre to my craft.
Tell us about the first concert you ever shot
Since I got hooked with the experience after taking a few snaps of the Fall Out Boy concert with my point-and-shoot camera, a few months later, I decided to try and shoot Rihanna’s concert during the 2013 Singapore Formula One Grand Prix at the Padang Stage, this time with my DSLR.
Back then, I had with me my EOS 5D Mark III and an EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens and that was my gear for the event. During that time, I only had a regular ticket and not a media pass so aside from the lighting, another challenge was shooting from within the crowd. It was very difficult to shoot clearly because most of the time, people were raising their hands in excitement while some were recording with their mobile devices and bumping me was well. Often times, I encountered arms and phones blocking my shots. Once in a while, the crowd got tired and they had to rest, so I took advantage of that window to shoot. Also, I had to be very considerate of the crowd around me and not hit them with my camera and long lens.
EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/800, 145mm
Lead vocalist Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons performing their hits.
What are some challenges you face as a concert photographer?
One of the major challenges in Concert Photography is the ever-changing light on stage. When I did my very first concert shoot, I relied only on Aperture Priority for my exposures, which was one of my rookie mistakes. Since the lights were constantly changing, the camera metering often times got confused, and as a result, produced a lot of overexposed and underexposed images. Even if I shot RAW, most of those images were beyond recoverable. Still, I was lucky to have taken home a few keepers.
Because of that experience, I realized that it is still best to use Manual Mode, which is more consistent over the auto mode because you have full control over your settings and you get to decide what exposure to use, especially when the lights keep changing at the scene.
Another challenge is the constant movement of the artist in a low-light scene. Unlike in studio or portrait photography wherein the photographer has control over the lights and the subject’s poses, in concert photography, we don’t have that luxury. So it is important that we know which camera settings to use in these kinds of situations.
EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/1600, 190mm
Kylie Minogue with a dazzling performance at the Padang Stage
What is your typical set up like?
There’s a saying that “photos are not about the gear, it’s about the eye of the photographer”. However, in this case, having the right tools for this kind of shoot is essential because not only will it enhance what our eyes sees, but it will also produce much better results.
For concert photography, I use an EOS 5D Mark III because of its high ISO capability, which is great for low-light situations. I also invested on an EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto lens that is essential for performances on a big venue, where zooming in for composition is crucial, especially when the performer constantly moves from one end of the stage to another. And just in case there’s an opportunity for me to be in front of the stage, I also bring with me my EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM for those wide shots.
Learn more about shooting with a telephoto lens here: Lens FAQ #9: What is the difference between an f/2.8 and an f/4 telephoto zoom lens?
EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/8000, 190mm
Kylie Minogue is pretty in red
Take us through a typical shoot. What is the process like?
One important thing that I do a few days or weeks before the actual day of the event is to research about the artist that will be performing on stage. I usually watch videos of their performances online to get an idea of how they move and observe some of their habits so I would know what to expect from them on stage.
Regarding shooting spots, I also research the layout of the venue and the possible position that I will be allowed to shoot. There were times that I only got to determine my shooting spot from the organizer just a few minutes before the performance. I came prepared by bringing a long and short lens just in case I am assigned either near or far from the stage.
Also, the organizer limits us to a number of songs wherein we are allowed to take photos (usually, the first 3 songs). This is another challenge in itself because we are pressured to come up with photos in a very limited amount of time. In order for me to focus on capturing the performance, I usually set my camera’s settings ahead of time so that during the shoot, I only have to do minimal adjustments.
These are my camera settings for concert photography:
Exposure Mode: Manual
Aperture: Wide Open (f/2.8 is recommended)
Shutter Speed: 1/320 or faster
ISO: 800-3200 (some may argue that the image would be noisy, but I will always take an image with a lot of noise over a blurred one)
AF Drive: AI Servo
Drive Mode: High Speed Continuous (to capture several frames of the subject’s movement)
White Balance: Auto (this can be adjusted to taste in post-process)
File Format: RAW (ALWAYS!)
Tell us about your favourite shoot
So far, my favorite concert that I covered was the Maroon 5 performance. The whole band was phenomenal on stage, especially Adam Levine. He sang and played the guitar so passionately and it is reflected in the images that I captured. The stage lighting was also amazing and it added a certain atmosphere in the photos.
What are some major things to look out for when shooting in big venues as compared to smaller venues?
For big venues, photographers are usually stationed to a specific spot far from the stage and movement around is improbable so most of the time, I use a telephoto lens for these instances. It will be the only way to capture the artist on stage without needing to move from my spot.
For smaller venues, photographers are usually free to move around in front of the stage. However, the problem sometimes is the lack of stage lights. My solution for this is by using a higher ISO. If noise is too evident in my final images, I convert it to black & white.
EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/5000, 185mm
Kylie Minogue performing her classic hits at the Padang Stage
If you had a choice, who would be in your list of top 5 musicians/bands to shoot?
Since I said in the beginning of this interview that I am a fan of The King and Prince of Pop, Michael Jackson (if he was still alive) and Justin Timberlake, they are obviously my top 1 and 2. I just love the way they move on stage, especially when they dance – their body movement and finesse would really look good on photos! It would be a dream come true to capture the images of two of the greatest musical performers of our time.
Third would be Aerosmith and fourth would be Incubus. Both bands give their hearts out on stage and it would be an honor if I get to document their performances. It would be epic for sure!
And lastly, fifth would be Lady Gaga. I like her outfits during her performances and the production is also astounding. It would be like a fashion show with a musical performance on stage. Capturing that event would be like killing 2 birds with 1 stone.
EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/2000, 190mm
Adam Lambert closes the show after a stellar performance with Queen
Finally, do you have any parting advice for budding concert photographers?
All of us have to start somewhere don’t we? However, shooting in big venues right away can be very daunting, especially for most of us who are starting in concert photography. So my advice is to be patient and not to rush yourself, and start in small venues. Get experience by shooting the bands at small bars or at small events where bands perform. Experiment in exposure and composition and see which will work for you. You will make a lot of mistakes, but make sure to learn from it. It will be tough at the beginning but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be surprised that concert photography is not that hard. Once you’ve honed your skills, it’ll be time to enter the big league.
Last but not the least, if you’ve finally decided that you want to do this in the long run, invest in your equipment. As I’ve said, it would vastly help you capture better concert photos.
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Lemjay Lucas is a Singapore-based Concert Photographer who’s into capturing the artist’s musical soul through his photos. He’s covered performances of international artists from the likes of Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Maroon 5, Kylie Minogue, and Adam Lambert + Queen to name a few. When he is not shooting concerts, Lemjay goes back to his roots and does Landscapes and Architectural Photography. He is also an EOS World Ambassador and a constant contributor to the community. In 2014, he won the 2nd Prize award in the Open Category of Canon PhotoMarathon Singapore XII.