PHOTOGRAPHING THE ATLIVE CONCERT SERIES FOR MERCEDES-BENZ STADIUM
Last year, back before all of this craziness hit, Rob Foldy and his team at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta hired me to photograph their inaugural ATLive Concert Series. To make sure I was properly equipped to photograph the event, I got some gear from my friends at LensProToGo. Thankfully, they had the new Nikon 180-400mm lens, which came in incredibly handy for the shows! Here is the recap of my experience, along with some examples of photographs from different focal lengths from that lens.
While plenty of huge concert tours have come through Mercedes-Benz Stadium, ATLive is the first concert series created by the stadium itself (as opposed to a tour using the stadium as the venue for its Atlanta stop). It was held across two days, and featured some of the biggest acts in country music, such as Sugarland, Brothers Osborne, Sam Hunt, Luke Combs, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, and more.
My primary objective was to make attention-grabbing photos that can be used for promotion of future shows and events that the stadium produces. This meant getting photos that weren’t artist-specific, but showed the venue and ATLive branding. My other objectives included photographing each of the artists’ sets, as well as showing the sustainability efforts of the stadium, and things they do to enhance the fan experience.
Because of the variety of photos this job would require, I requested two bodies, three lenses, and a flash:
- Nikon D5
- Nikon D850
- Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S
- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR AF-S
- Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR AF-S
- Nikon SB-5000 Speedlight
LPTG asked if I would also want to also add the new Nikon 180-400mm f/4E FL ED VR AF-S lens with the built-in TC1.4x extender to the order. I figured, sure, why not? Little did I know that this question would end up basically saving the job for me.
I knew I wanted the speed and high ISO performance of the D5 (which tops out at 12fps) for this job, so it was a no-brainer to go with this as my main body. And I went with the D850 as my second body because I knew its high ISO performance would be great, but I would also need its 45.7MP files for another job immediately following this one. Honestly, I set the D850 to medium RAW because my card would fill up too quickly with large RAW. Even at medium RAW, it still gave me 33.6MP files compared to the D5’s large RAW files at 20.8MP.
Since I knew I would be carrying a fair amount of heavy gear around for two days, I wore a SpiderHolster SpiderPro Dual Camera System Belt with Large Lens Pouch. One SpiderPlate went on the D5, and I swapped between the 14-24mm and 24-70mm lenses on this body. Whichever lens I wasn’t using was in the Lens Pouch, ready to go when I did need it. The other Spider Plate went on the 70-200mm, which was attached to the D850. When I used the 180-400mm, I would swap the D850 between it and the 70-200mm. Since the SpiderPlate was on the 70-200mm, it stayed attached to my belt when I was using the D850 on the 180-400mm.
The 180-400mm was supported by the Manfrotto MVMXPRO500 Video Monopod, which allowed for smooth movement when recomposing and following the performers thanks to the FLUIDTECH base.
Upon arriving at the stadium on the first day, I found out that the primary position for photographers would be from the soundboard, which was positioned about halfway back on the floor. When I heard this, I was immediately thankful that I was equipped with the extra reach of the 180-400mm lens and its built-in extender. Because I was working for the stadium, I was also able to borrow a ladder from the maintenance department so I could get a higher vantage point above the audience and their camera phones.
While photographing from the sound board, the 180-400mm was my main lens, incorporating a good range of medium to tight photos without having to move. This monopod also gave me enough height to reach my higher vantage point on the ladder (not all monopods are tall enough). The 70-200m was my wide to medium lens for photos of the entire stage.
Here are some examples of what I was able to get at different focal lengths from the sound board:
One thing I was quickly reminded of (since I don’t get to use glass this long very often), was that I needed to increase my shutter speed when using longer focal lengths to maintain sharpness. At 1/125 or 1/250 shutter speeds, I was still seeing blur from the movement I had as I was following the performers. Thankfully I caught it early and was able to increase my shutter speed to compensate.
The 180-400mm has a maximum aperture of f/4 without the extender engaged, and that becomes f/5.6 when you engage the extender. Keep this in mind if you ever use an extender so that you (or the camera) can compensate by increasing your ISO to maintain the desired shutter speed.
As the venue’s photographer, I was able to move around to different areas and keep photographing throughout the show.
I love roaming around in the crowd with a wide or medium lens to find excited fans, whether they’re holding homemade signs:
Or photographing the show with their phones:
Of course, I like to get wide stage photos from up close when I can. There wasn’t a photo pit at this show, and I couldn’t plant myself in one place for the entire event, so I got as close as I could and was able to make some exciting images.
It’s also fun, but challenging, to photograph performers from on stage. Being the venue photographer allowed me stage access for some of the performers. However, I never want to disrupt an artist, their band, or their crew, so I never actually go out onto the stage without their permission. But even photographing from the back and side of the stage with a 70-200mm can result in some cool photos!
I did get permission to go out on stage during Luke Combs’ set, thanks to his tour photographer David Bergman. Since I was able to get closer, I used the 14-24mm for a wide angle from behind the drummer:
And still used the 70-200mm to get tighter images of the rest of the band and Luke:
And here are some of my other favorites from the event:
Everything was a success thanks to the versatile gear kit from LensProToGo! The clients were incredibly happy with everything that was delivered, and I was thrilled with the collection of images created over the two day event.
If you’re a concert or sports photographer, I would highly recommend checking out the Nikon 180-400mm f/4E FL ED VR AF-S lens with the built-in TC1.4x extender. Having a little extra width on the short end (compared to other similar lenses) keeps you from having to switch off to a 70-200mm as much. And when you need that extra reach up to 560mm, just flip down the extender and you’re good to go!