Event Photography: Mono LPs Shoot
As a huge music geek, gigs are probably my favourite kind of event photography to shoot. Especially when the music is as raucous as The Mono LPs. The band told me that “Someone once described us as Baroque’n’Roll! We liked that.” Rock and roll with a cello? Hell yeah, I’ll have some of that!
Gigs are one of the most challenging events to make truly compelling images for. In a way, the subject matter is easy – a band or solo artist, on a stage (so you know where they’ll be) performing music (so you know what they’ll be doing), and there are millions of gig photos (so you can easily see what works). Sounds simple, right?
But Ste Reid, the Mono LPs lead singer disagrees – “Good photography is invaluable these days since social media is now the king of promotion and getting yourself noticed. It’s not all about the music nowadays, you’ve got to look good too, so image is vital. Getting a good classic photo of the band can really make or break opportunities. ”
Great event photography tells a story, and every band is different. So great gig photos should convey something unique about that performance, standing out from the millions of generic images floating around already. And that’s where the fun starts…
The photo above is the banger frame from an evening spent photographing the Mono LPs. They’re a really lively rock 5-piece band from Liverpool, but I was photographing them during their first acoustic performance. In a small independent art gallery with paintings on the wall. And they were sitting down. So contrasty lighting and dry ice were both out of the question. No rock and roll clichés today, then.
I forget who said it first, but the best tool a photographer has is the space between their ears. So I whipped out this tool and got to making some decisions about what I was working towards in this shoot.
The audience were packed in right up to the small stage, so I knew I wouldn’t have much room to move around, and using off-camera flash (a method I love to employ when the music and environment suits it) would have been out of the question as it would completely ravage the more intimate vibe of this venue.
On the other hand, the artwork behind the band could make an interesting backdrop, and I suspected that a rock band as successful as the Mono LPs would not be shy during their set. The lead singer, Ste Reid, was wearing a colourful jumper, so I decided I was mostly shooting for colour photographs here. Forget an easy black and white photo-riff on the “Mono” part of their name. Low ambient light levels meant I was using prime lenses and high ISO.
And a picture like this one below looks pretty decent, but it could be any singer-songwriter, and doesn’t necessarily suggest a rock band is performing here.
All of this led to my decision to draw from my street photography experience, and look for strikingly layered compositions that linked band members and exemplified the band’s energy, even if it meant breaking a few of the more traditional rules of photographic composition. With hard work and a little luck, I was confident I could make some unique gig photographs.
With event photography, you have to become a part of that event. Even if you’re making candid images, you have to be able to get behind the purpose of the event, build rapport with anyone you do interact with, and look for ways to make your images reflect the general feel of the event. This may mean sprawling on the floor, with a rock singer’s boot in your face…
Right after this image was made, the Mono LPs ended their song, and Ste went into some banter with the crowd. He’s really great at this, and made a joke that the band weren’t used to sitting down for their gigs and were having trouble staying put. He then said he mostly just felt sorry for the photographer having to shoot from the floor because the band were seated. I just laughed and said, “Whatever it takes, mate”. I knew I had the image I’d worked hard for.
The photograph isn’t a technically perfect one, but that’s to its benefit – it has a casually louche rock and roll feel, with the skewed frame, the “boot in your face” and the energy of the triangular diagonal lines. It’s an image that keeps the eye darting around the frame, and it reflects the edginess of their music perfectly. Who needs smoke and mirrors to make rock bands look good?
In the lead-up to this image, and following it, I continued to shoot with the goal of interestingly layered composition in mind. I also produced some close-up portraits of various band members. They’re more the “safety shot” style of event photography. Great to get them in the can early, because you can spend that time working out more creative ideas to pursue, and they’re make for decent functional photography for marketing and editorial uses. But they’re not the kind of images to rely on as your main source of creative work. Here’s a selection from the set I produced at this gig: