Brad Moore on How Concert Photography Will Influence My Portraiture

When I moved to Florida, I needed to find something to get me behind the camera regularly, so I took up concert photography. With lots of advice and help from Alan Hess (whose new book you should order), I made the leap into the world of high ISOs, slow shutter speeds, long nights, and tight spaces between rowdy crowds and sweaty rock bands. And I loved it!

A fan sings along with The Word Alive during their performance at The Ritz in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida

Shooting concerts has helped me learn more about how I see, and to develop my vision. Through shooting regularly, I’ve been able to find my style, and to hone in on the type of lighting scenarios I enjoy having in front of my lenses the most. I’ve learned where to position the camera in relation to the light to get certain effects, like lens flare, in shots. It’s taught me how to tweak settings in post production to get the most impact out of the images. It’s opened my eyes to complementing and contrasting colors. To the impact of showing a full range of coverage, from close-up detail shots to wide coverage The list goes on.

Michael Maddox of Kill Hannah performs at The Ritz in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida

A fan body surfs over the crowd while A Day To Remember perform during 97X Next Big Thing in Tampa, Florida

Fast forward a couple years to today. I still love concert photography, and plan on continuing to do it. But this year I’m going making an effort to transition more into portrait photography. That doesn’t mean I won’t be bringing part of my concert photography with me, however.

Through honing my vision, I hope to bring a unique take on portraiture. By translating certain aspects from the stage to the studio, I plan on exploring new possibilities (to me anyway) in portrait photography. Thanks to all the lessons learned above, I have ideas sloshing around loosely in my head that I’m noodling on, trying to figure out how that translation is going to look when it arrives in the studio.

Can I make studio strobes mimic the effects of stage lighting?

Olga Yagolnikov of Kye Kye performs at The Roosevelt 2.0 in Tampa, Florida

Can I make a large empty warehouse look like a dance club?

Will anyone notice the large brick wall I’ve built where the cyc used to be? ;-)

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd takes the stage at the start of his “The Wall Live” tour at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida

Like learning any new craft, it’s going to take a little while to find my footing. While I’ve had the honor of working with a couple of the greats in McNally and Kelby, I haven’t had much experience directing subjects from behind the camera on my own. There’s a HUGE difference between being told where to put a light and making the decision of where to put it, much less pulling certain expressions, or more importantly, emotions from a subject. Through years of experience, these guys know how to connect with their subjects, make them feel comfortable, even confident, in front of the lens.

Sean Gadd and Andrew Wessen of Grouplove goof around backstage during 97X Next Big Thing in Tampa, Florida

And that’s something that doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s something I’ll have to work on. Which means setting up shoots and having subjects waiting on me to direct them to figure it out. Like I said, I’ve been watching Joe, Scott, and others for years. But there’s a big difference between the water boy and the quarterback… And there are only so many tricks you can pick up from other people before you have to find a way to make them your own.

Which is why it’s important to stay behind the camera, working to make the ideas in your head reality. Even if you don’t get it right on the first try, keep working on it until what’s on the screen matches your mind’s eye. It’s a process, and not something you can learn from a book or video. Those are great for learning the technicalities of photography, but not always for finding your vision.

Derek E. Miller and Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells perform for a sold-out crowd at State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida

Vision can’t be taught. It has to be discovered.

And once you’ve discovered your vision, keep feeding it with new work so it can continue to grow and find new possibilities to explore.

So, here’s to a new year, new possibilities, and new goals that will keep pushing us all to grow creatively!

You can see more of Brad’s work at, follow him on Google+ and Twitter, and come see him at Southwestern Photojournalism Conference February 24-26.

  1. Great stuff Brad, i am really looking forward to taking Alan’s pre-con, my brother has been in a band for 30 years and i’ve been lucky to enough to get backstage at a few gigs for other bands and the one thing that I have always longed to do was to get some great shots.
    This is the year for me to try this out ! And if i need any help and advice I know I can come to you Brad…..i’m pretty sure you have Alan’s cell number ;)

  2. An excellent post. And so close to what I am going to be doing this year. I can’t help but feel that this is an additional kick in the backside for me to get doing and not just thinking about doing ;)

  3. Interesting post. I’ve been constantly aware of how my background in travel photography influences my portrait work. If you can capture some of that raw emotion that you’ve captured so well in concert photography, you’re onto something big.

  4. Enjoyed reading your perspective on this, because I’m actually going in the opposite direction. I’ve been specializing exclusively in band/musician promos for the past couple of years, and now I’m beginning to get more and more requests for live coverage as well. I’ve practiced extensively at my church (which has a pretty impressive lighting/stage setup), so I’m familiar with many of the challenges.

    Anyway, as far as band promos go, I’ve been trying to get a few artists on board with the idea of emulating stage lighting with strobes, but they all generally want something closer to standard portraiture (for press kits, cd covers, etc). Maybe you’ll have better luck selling the concept! :) ~Russ

  5. Brad, you have lots of awesome concert photography! I have been shooting a local venue for a few years, it’s small but we’ve had some top performers. The question I have is this, is there any way to make money off of concert photography? I would like to branch out but not sure if there is a way to pay the gas. 8-)

    If nothing else it is fun shooting them! Thanks, Ken

  6. Waterboy. That’s going to be my word of the day.

    The nice part is that you already have your vision. You’re already thinking about how to create concert lighting in a different venue. I have no doubt you can do that. Of course, I want to see what you’re going to do after that. As you said, it’s a process of discovery. It’s part of what makes photography fun, moving and changing our vision, never being satisfied with doing the same thing over and over again. We need growth.

    That, my friend, is how you become a waterMAN. Don’t worry about being a quarterback. They spend much of their day being afraid of crazy water boys.

  7. I think that the ability to think on your feet that is so important in concert photography will help when things go awry…. as they sometimes do.

    Concert photography makes you think on your feet…

    and thanks for th ebook plug.. you should let folks know that you are featured in the book…

  8. Great post and concert shots!
    It is kind of funny, Brad – you are going to simulate stage light in the studio and I will bring the studio light on stage this year.
    In 2011 I used strobes on stage to push the image quality. This year I will use strobes again to create different moods on stage and “kill” annoying high intensive red stage light. I will have an eye on your projects in 2012. Cool stuff!


  9. Awesome shot of Roger Waters! A bunch of us at the company can’t wait for his return to St. Paul this June… it was absolutely epic in November 2010.

    From my experience as an amateur photographer and semi-pro journalist, concerts are definitely one of those situations that perfectly demonstrate the difference in quality between Point-And-Shoot cameras (which I always had to use) and the higher-end professional cameras, like Canon Digital Rebels and such. I lusted after those high-end cameras during my college years but never coughed up the money to invest.

    Do you know of any happy mediums that work well in your average concert setting that you can get for under $1000?

  10. Hi, my name is Mic, I’m the sliver thingy coming in from the
    left, not to be confused with MIKE LOVE the singer. (Not to be confused with the clean cut BeachBoys) Do I add to the image “telling
    the story” that Mike sings into the Mic or….. ?

    ”There’s just one thing I got to know,   should I stay or should I go?”    Jock
      By the way, you rock. We don’t get big acts here, so I shoot what I can.



    This indecision’s bugging me

    If you don’t want me, set me free

    Exactly whom I’m supposed to be

    Don’t you know which clothes even fit me? 

    Come on and let me know

    Should I stay or should I go?                                                     
                          with apologies to the Clash

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