August 11, 2009 – Catching up with Green Day on their arena-busting 21st Century Breakdown Tour was a rush, to say the least. Two songs, three aging punk rockers, and 15,000 screaming fans later, here are the goods.
Two songs, but I'll be damned if Green Day didn't make it feel like three. This was a super high-energy show, and Billie Joe and crew rocked the huge stage with a fantastic presence.
The setup for this concert included a catwalk out into the audience that terminated in a small T-stop stage at the end. The barricade wrapped around this ramp, so it was possible to move around a fair degree. Still, due to the length of the stage, the other photographers, and security all jammed into the pit, I kept cross-catwalk traversals to a minimum.
I started off stage right, just where the catwalk met the stage, where Billie Joe's mic was setup. Bassist Mike Dirnt's mic stand was positioned stage left, but he moved around the stage to such a degree that I didn't feel like I was missing out to any large degree working the right side of the stage.
During the second song, I moved to a stage left position, but honestly didn't feel there was a tremendous benefit either way. The band plays to both sides of the audience to pretty equal degree – or in other words, which ever way you go, left or right, the shooting is solid.
Toward the end of the first song, Billie Joe jumped out into the lower part of the bowl (not the GA floor) and went climbing about halfway back into the stands. Around this time, Mike came out to the catwalk to show the fans some love. Due to the shooting angles, I considered Billie Joe a loss and focused on Mike at this time. In hindsight, this would have been a good time to run over stage left to pick up some shots of Tre Cool, too.
Toward the end of the second song, Billie Joe came out to the end of the catwalk and pulled a fan up on stage. They sung a few bars, had a small heart to heart, and the fan launched himself out into the crowd. I have no doubt that kid is going to remember that moment for a long time. Pretty rockstar.
I shot this set at a comfortable ISO 1600 – my favorite ISO on the Nikon D3 and D700 cameras. Naturally, I'd like to shoot as low as possible, but the files are just so clean at ISO 1600 with these cameras that I'm happy to shoot there all day and all night long. No noise reduction is required, and that's a beautiful thing.
As far as lenses go, I used them all. The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 saw the most use, but I twisted on the 14-24mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 for good measure as well. This is just one of those shows that can lean a number of ways regarding lenses. You can go wide angle, telephoto, and anywhere in between, and I think you'll get great shots.
One thing I will say is that shooting with two bodies was immensely helpful for this concert, given how much the band moves around. It was very helpful to be able to put down the 14-24mm one second and pick up the 70-200mm the next.
Bonus for you guys, unless you hate reading: A fellow photographer, Chris in Florida, had shot Green Day twice last week. He saw that I would be shooting Green Day and sent me his notes and perspective. I asked Chris if I could post his notes and he kindly agreed, so here they are:
A catwalk extends out from the center of the stage. You will be allowed anywhere in the pit area and around the catwalk. Depending on how many photogs will be at your venue, you may be asked to stay where you're at as the band's security guards need to follow the guys when they head out to the catwalk. One night we had 13 photogs and had to stay put. The next night we had 7 and moving around was a bit easier.
SHOOTING TIME/ PHOTO OPS:
First two songs, “21st Century Breakdown” (a nice, long song) and “Know Your Enemy.” When they run on stage during the opening strums of “21st” a great photo op is when Tre stands on his drum throne to address the crowd, arms in the air. Thanks to Billie Joe's running into the crowd, this 2-song shoot time is extended. At my two shows, he didn't take a few steps in to the crowd, he walked through aisles and rows in the lower bowl. Have your 70-200mm handy for shots of him in the crowd. But also during this time, take advantage of Mike and Tre on stage. Tre holds the beat and Mike hams it up with the crowd. Overall, the shooting time is pretty generous
WHERE IN THE PIT?
I think great shots can be had from anywhere, really. You're dealing with great photo subjects. But I made a gut call after seeing some images from a newspaper gallery from a few weeks back. The photog was at the very end of the catwalk. Might be a neat spot for the limited amount of time they are out there but the rest of the time you'd be shooting down the catwalk at BJ and Tre or you're shooting over the crowd at Mike. So I knew I wanted to be closer to the stage.
The first night, I chose to be in the corner where the catwalk extends out from the front of the stage (stage-right side). The photogs were pretty jammed in so that's where I stayed. I like wide angles with the edge of the stage in the foreground and fish-eyes that incorporate the crowd or lighting rig. Wide angles from this spot allowed me to frame BJ between Tre (to the left) and Mike (to the right). From here I could also get a nice close-up of Tre with my 70-200mm @ 200. It's also a good spot to get Mike at his mic, shooting across to stage-left at about an 80 range. A monitor will be in the way so you'll likely lose below his knees.
The second night, I STILL didn't go out to the catwalk area. The softer angle didn't lure me in. Instead, I chose to hang on the opposite side, stage-left. Because we entered from the stage left barricade, I made sure I was the last in. I had the front stage-left corner of the catwalk entrance and the entire pit area stage left as the rest of the photogs were jammed around the catwalk. This put me in a great spot to get another angle on Tre (his entire left side) and some close wide angles on Mike.
If it's not too crowded, you can take a few steps out into the catwalk area and lean in over the edge of the catwalk and shoot back at BJ and the stage. Also, you can lean in over the edge of the catwalk and shoot out towards the end of the catwalk and capture BJ and the crowd when they're lit up. Towards the end of “Know Your Enemy,” BJ brings up a fan from out at the edge of the catwalk.
I preferred not to be trapped in the catwalk area, unable to go one way or another. You can feel it out during the opener. And if you like my rationale, then pick your side and determine whether you need to be the first one in or the last, depending on which side you enter from. If you have 6 or less photogs, you should have decent mobility.
Best wishes to you Todd,