Coachella Music Festival 2012, Indio, CA, USA
Time / Date:
20:25/ April 22, 2012
Camera Body: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon 28-70mm EF 2.8L
Filters: B+W protective filter
Lighting: Stage lights
Other: Spider Holster
Shutter Speed: 1/250
Focal Length: 28mm
This was taken during my first trip to the Coachella Music Festival. I was assigned to cover the festival’s second weekend for Prefix Mag. Luckily I had free reign on what bands to photograph, and this particular photo was taken during Girl Talk’s performance. If you have seen or photographed Girl Talk before, you are aware that he has fans flanking him on both sides throughout the entire performance. At a major festival, it can be incredibly difficult to photograph electronic music from the pit, mostly due to the height of the stage and most musicians’ use of tables. Girl Talk is by far one of the most difficult artists to photograph from close proximity from the pit at a festival. However, the fans onstage prove to be more energetic and photogenic than the artist.
For the first few songs I photographed the fans dancing on stage, trying to capture their facial expressions or their interactions with one another. They are told, by Girl Talk’s tour manager/ assistant to be as rambunctious as possible, so there is plenty of movement and action going on throughout the set. Toilet paper was shot into the crowd, water was sprayed everywhere, shirts were coming off, and the lights were completely unpredictable. Usually at a concert, the lights are somewhat predictable. Choruses are much brighter than intros or verses, so you try to prepare your settings accordingly as you hear different parts of the song.
I used my Canon 7d to make this photograph, as it was the only camera I had with me at the time, aside from a disposable. The Canon 28-70 2.8L lens was sufficient, as this didn’t require any ultra wide focal lengths or apertures. I have since upgraded to a full frame Canon, but some of my best work was created with the 7d/28-70 combo.
Making the Shot:
Due to the seemingly random lighting, initially it was difficult get into a rhythm. After a few miscalculated shots I found the range of settings in which I had to work. The shots of the dancers were interesting, however, I am always looking to photograph something non-archetypal. Especially in music photography, the subjects of the photographs I take are instantly recognizable. This is fine, but it sets boundaries regarding composition and subject matter, particularly when you are photographing on assignment (viewers like to see their favorite stars’ faces in focus). However, you can have a completely different outlook when photographing fans. You have no restrictions on what is acceptable or necessary, and you can be completely creative (something seen far too infrequently in music photography these days).
The shot in discussion was not taken on the floor of a dance club like many have suggested, but it was simply an observation of what was directly in front of me. As I stood facing the stage looking directly forward, all I could see were the dancers’ legs and feet, most of which were jumping. The photograph was executed exactly as I envisioned. Technically speaking, it was not a difficult shot, I simply held the shutter for a continuous five shots, and chose the one that I thought looked the most interesting.
Editing & Processing:
I used Lightroom 3 to import and make minor adjustments for sharpness and clarity. I also adjusted the tone curve on the shadows to make them more silhouetted — nothing too intense. Finding this particular image among the five that were captured didn’t take too long, maybe about 5 minutes once they were all adjusted. It was the most well composed, colorful, and well executed of the bunch. Decisiveness is key in music photography, for there are so many images from which you have to choose.
As for coloring, I decided to make the shadows cooler and the highlights warmer. There are many ways of going about this. Usually I would just split tone the image within Lightroom, but I decided to use Nik Color Efex to cross process the final image. The effect can be too strong on portraits or musicians onstage, but it works beautifully for something more abstract.
This was one of my favorite images that I took in 2012. It was one of my most well received pictures, and it even opened a few doors for me. Because of this, I am always looking for alternative perspectives within my confined field. I tend to photograph many pop-stars and popular bands, so finding a way to please my editors and give them a fresh perspective on already-exposed artists is one of my biggest challenges (and greatly appreciated!).
It may sound cliche, but if you are photographing music, take a minute or two and put your camera down to look around while you’re shooting. In this instance, the best picture from the entire weekend was right in front of me for 10 minutes before I noticed. Avoid archetypes: we’ve all seen a million images of Taylor Swift’s head tilted slightly back and the microphone held a few inches away while her eyes are closed and she’s yelling. Sure, these images may sell more, but your photographs will just blend in with the rest.
A few months ago when I was photographing a Justin Bieber show, and we were given the standard 3 songs. All of the photographers rushed to center stage to get close-ups of Bieber, except for me. They were being completely invasive and somewhat disrespectful, holding up cameras on monopods, shoving their cameras in his face, etc. Bieber quickly noticed and eventually told them to cool it. None of them listened. I was hanging out in the pit stage left for the entire three songs while this was going on. Sure enough, he noticed that I had a camera and I was being as unobtrusive as possible. Eventually he tended to migrate towards me, even coming down offstage next to me to reach into the crowd all while looking directly into my camera. Moral of the story? Don’t be an ass and good things will happen.
Lucy Hamblin: One of the best photographers I’ve seen, and she has given me invaluable advice. She has amazing attention to detail in her portraits and is a true artist.
Bruce Davidson: No explanation necessary: A master.
About the Photographer
Andrew Swartz is a freelance photographer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has been published by numerous publications and continues to hone his craft. Please feel free to reach out to Andrew:
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