Remote Cameras for Concert Photography
As someone who has photographed over 1,000 concerts and teaches a series of live concert photography workshops, I’m often asked, “How do you keep it fresh?”
I toured with Bon Jovi for nearly a decade and just started traveling with country superstar Luke Combs earlier this year. On tour, it’s easy to make the same pictures over and over, so I need to challenge myself to make unique images every night. Something I do to help keep things fresh is use remote cameras.
I spent many years covering sporting events around the world – first for the Miami Herald and then for Sports Illustrated – and we would often set up remotes. Making this extra effort gives me two huge advantages over everyone else.
First, I can make images from places where it’s not physically possible to go, like behind the backboard at a basketball game or in the net during a hockey match. Capturing the action from those angles is pretty awesome, and it’s now commonplace to see television shots from those exact locations.
Second, by using multiple remotes, I can make pictures from many different angles at once. When I covered the NFL Draft, I had remotes all around Radio City Music Hall so I could get multiple shots of the first draft pic meeting up with the commissioner.
Many years ago, I started using remote cameras at concerts. Since I work for the bands, I’m allowed to go on stage to shoot. But I’m very respectful with that access and I pick my moments to go up there. I get the shot and get out. By putting a remote camera on stage, I can make those unique images from the band’s point of view all night long.
My favorite spot is on the drum kit, since it’s usually centered behind the singer. No matter where I am in the venue, I can trigger that camera and make pictures when they turn around and you can see the crowd behind them.
I will sometimes put a secondary remote in the lighting trusses above the stage. I have to set it up early in the morning when our crew is loading in, and I won’t have access to it until after the show. Luckily the battery on the Canon 1Dx Mark II camera easily lasts all day so I don’t have to worry about it dying before the show starts.
To attach the overhead remote, I use a Manfrotto Super Clamp and Magic Arm to attach to our trusses (with a safety cable of course!). For Bon Jovi, I used another Magic Arm to attach the camera onto one of the drummer’s mic stands. Luke’s dummer doesn’t have stands as his mics are clipped directly onto his kit, so I use a Platypod Max floor plate and Syrp ball head to position the camera on the riser. I taped some non-slip rubber material to the bottom of the plate to absorb some of the vibration and keep it from sliding around.
I fire my remotes using Pocket Wizard transceivers. I use the Pocket Wizard Plus IV on the bodies since it’s low profile, and I manually trigger it with a Pocket Wizard Plus III that hangs on the pass around my neck. Using the “long range” mode, I’ve triggered my cameras from the other end of a football stadium without any problems.
If I’m shooting on stage and want to trigger all cameras at the same time, I move the Wizard to the hot shoe on one of my handheld 1Dx2 bodies, and all the cameras will fire at the same time.
My remotes are all manual exposure because the spotlights often hit directly into the lens and that would throw off any automatic setting. With experience, I can usually guess the exposure and, shooting RAW, I have some latitude if I’m a bit under or over. I usually use autofocus since the subject moves around too much. Depending on how much I’m zoomed in, I’ll keep it on zone autofocus, which picks up my subject almost every time.
In general, shooting a concert with remotes is a numbers game. If I snap 1000 frames and get one or two awesome images, then I’m happy. Those are the only photos anyone will ever see.
By going above and beyond to make unique images, it’s more fun for me and keeps my clients (and the fans!) wanting more.
Canon Explorer of Light David Bergman is a New York based commercial photographer and photo educator who specializes in portraiture, music, and action. As the official tour photographer for Bon Jovi and Luke Combs, he has documented bands on stage and on the road in more than 30 countries, and shares his experience with photographers of all skill levels at his “Shoot From The Pit” live concert photography workshops. In addition to his other celebrity clients, Bergman has 13 Sports Illustrated covers to his credit and has photographed numerous Olympics, World Series’, Super Bowls, NBA, and NCAA Championships. His high-resolution GigaPan of President Obama’s first inaugural speech was viewed by over 30 million people, and he produced a 20,000 megapixel image at Yankee Stadium that was printed and displayed 130 feet wide. Bergman is an engaging and passionate public speaker and hosts the weekly web series, “Ask David Bergman” on the Adorama Instagram TV channel. He was a charter member of Apple’s prestigious Aperture Advisory Board, is on the design board for Think Tank Photo, and is an AdoramaPix Ambassador and Red River Pro.